Creativity in the English Language Classroom
British Council 2015, 180pp.
ISBN 978 0863557675
Available free online:
Reviewed by David Brennan
Alan Maley in his introductory chapter to this large volume (eighteen chapters in total) of collected papers on the subject of creativity, immediately sets the tone for what follows by opting to not do what is usually done in an introduction i.e. summarise what is to come. Instead he offers to follow 'common threads' running through the book which lead on to his definition of and ideas on creativity, why he believes it is important in language teaching and finally to suggestions of generic ideas to stimulate creativity in the classroom.
Indeed what follows this introduction are 18 chapters which are all structured in a similar fashion: ideas on what creativity is, how important it is, and how the current educational setup is often constructed in a way which fundamentally conflicts with the factors necessary for creativity. Lastly and most significantly each chapter provides practical activities ranging from introductory warm-ups to full lessons which are all outlined in an easy to follow step-by-step fashion. Is 18 chapters too many? Are not the chapters repeating the same thing? These are questions which can only be answered by reading the book for oneself but considering that there were over 200 proposals, from which the 18 were chosen it would seem there are a lot of teachers out there with a lot to say on this subject.
The editors, Alan Maley and Nik Peachey, state their aim in producing this volume is to demonstrate that 'creativity isn't something which is reserved for a specific part of a course or a lesson, but that it is something which can and should be integrated into every aspect of our classroom practice and at every Ievel of our learners experience' (p.4). Chapters cover a wide spectrum of levels and Iearners - from young learners, through secondary school, to adult and tertiary environments and offer a worldwide perspective from Brazil and Vietnam to Greece and Bulgaria, focusing on aspects such as learner creativity, teacher creativity and how creativity can be optimized in materials development and teacher training courses.
The importance of creativity in education has been recognized since the 1950's when Benjamin Bloom came up with his famous taxonomy of higher order thinking skills. The revised version (Anderson and Krathwohl 2000) places creativity at the pinnacle of higher order thinking skills. Despite its supposed recognized importance, Robinson's (1998) British government-commissioned inquiry found that a prescriptive education system was stifling the creativity of teachers and their pupils. As a result of this study and the growing industry-led interest and demand for creative workers, ministries of education in different parts of the world have encouraged schools to focus more on creativity in the curriculum across all subject areas - something that is believed to have widespread consequences.
In terms of the contributors, the book practices what it preaches, in that the contributions range from those with many years experience and previous publication to those who are just beginning, demonstrating that creativity in the classroom 'isn't limited to the gifted and talented but is something that any teacher can try to apply' (p.4).
Reviewing an edited volume of papers with 18 chapters poses some difficult problems. Due to the limitations of the length of the review it is impossible to review each chapter in detail. Certain book reviews e.g. McGrath's (2013) review of Harwood's 2010 book on ELT materials (ELTJ 6711) and Prowse's (2015) review of Hardwood's 2014 book on this topic in Folio 16/2 offer a practical solution to these considerations. Both authors summarize the contents, elucidate certain points and move in to focus on certain chapters which appeal to them. This reviewer will in general follow these examples.
Perhaps it is borderline blasphemy to use a cliché when describing a book on creativity - but this book is a breathe of fresh air. The style of all the chapters is written in language which is suitably semi-academic/semi-informal, resulting in it being suitably readable. Perhaps the intended audience being the average on the ground English teacher as much as the more academically inclined contributed to this welcome tone. What we have in essence is a book which serves up suggestions; on what creativity is, what it means in language learning and most importantly how you, the teacher, can implement games, activities, lessons, to help students engage their creative potential and to make language acquisition more fun and natural.
The interestingly titled opening chapter, Medium: companion or slave by Andrew Wright demonstrates the idea that creativity is ubiquitous - all that is required is the ability to see it. By 'everywhere', Wright means the classroom, the school, the students, the teachers, the neighbourhood and all things contained within. For example he starts out by looking at the teacher as a resource, which he further reduces to voice, body and life experiences. Although he acknowledges that some teachers in some contexts might be reticent about sharing stories he argues that doing so 'can be extremeiy powerful and can lead to students being willing to reciprocate' and it can lead to language being 'meaningful and memorable' (p.16). He goes on to demonstrate how poetry, drama and songs, can be used in conjunction with the surrounding environment to involve the students in meaningful and practical ways. All activities require almost no resources and little planning. This is an excellent chapter to open the book with and clearly demonstrates the ideas and concepts Maley played with in the introduction; namely creativity is all around us and we are all capable (to varying degrees) of tapping into it or as Wright puts it 'openness to potential is a fundamental characteristic of creativity' so it is up to us teachers to see our medium as either companion or slave.
Chapter 13, The learner as a creativity resource, by Marjorie Rosenberg, offers further activities to develop these themes, and Chapter 15, Fostering learners voices in literature classes in an Asian context by Phuong thi Anh Le looks at how American literature is used to promote creative expression and language development in university students in Vietnam.
The content of Chapter 2, Challenging teachers to use their coursebooks more creatively, by Brian Tomlinson examines, as the title suggests, existing coursebooks and how the activities therein can be made more creative. Opening up closed activities is one of the main themes of this chapter as well as readiness activities which get students to think about their own experiences so as to ready themselves for what they are going to be asked. Also examined are Discovery activities which help students discover things for themselves about language features highlighted in their coursebooks. Tomlinson describes a coursebook adaptation workshop in Bogata and pre-workshop and post-workshop adaptation activities, the results of which suggest that once made aware of the possibilities of adaptation teachers will be much more open to it. In the pre-workshop teachers came up with 3.5 adaptations per pair while the post workshop teachers came up with 5.5 per pair on average.
Although Chapter 3, Seven pillars of creativity in primary education, by Carol Read is aimed at teaching children, these seven pillars could as easily be used to inspired creativity in students of all ages. These pillars are given as follows:
1. Build up positive self-esteem
2. Model creativity yourself
3. Offer children choice
4. Use questions effectively
5. Make connections
6. Explore ideas
7. Encourage critical reflection (p. 30).
Chapter 11, by Malu Sciamarelli, returns to the realm of creativity in children's education and specifically to mascot-inspired projects. Chapter 4, by Chrysa Papalazarou, Making thinking visible in the classroom: nurturing a creative mindset, examines using visualization and art to affectively and cognitively engage students while Chapter 5, by David Heathfield, examines personal and creative story telling. Both chapters 4 and 5 are full of useful activities and informative insights. Heathfield again emphasizes what was touched upon in Chapter I i.e. our students' life stories are our richest resource. Chapter 14, Practicing creative writing in high school foreign language classes, by Peter Lutzker, again offers more activities to promote creative writing as does Chapter 17, Drama and creative writing: a blended tool, by Victoria Hlendschi-Stroie.
Traditionalists, grammarians and those in general skeptical about creative approaches should warm to this book after reading Chapter 6, Teaching grammar creatively, by Jill and Charlie Hadfield, which appears to conflict with the common view that grammar and creativity are somehow incompatible.
Chapters 7, From everyday activities to creative tasks, by Judit Feher and 8, Fostering and building upon oral creativity in the EFL classroom, by Jiirgen Kurtz, prove to be, in this reviewer's estimation, two of the most interesting chapters in the volume. In Chapter 7, Feher takes everyday familiar activities across the four skills and shows how they can be adapted and how these adaptations lead to increased motivation and autonomy. Again, as with each chapter, the benefits of creative engagement are emphasized: 'Through their creativity and the freedom creative thinking gives to them, students get involved more deeply and in more ways than with activities that do not call for the use of their creativity' (p.72).
Kurtz in Chapter 8 claims that in many foreign language classrooms around the world there is often little room for learners to voice their own thoughts and ideas and, furthermore, experiment with the target language in meaningful contexts and ways. Kurtz encourages improvisation, risk-taking, changing routines. Here the teacher must lead the way and become what he refers to as the sage on the stage rather than the guide on the side. As with all chapters in this book, activities are provided to back up the theoretical foundations. The following quote sums up precisely the dynamics necessary for creativity to exist: 'Ultimately, however, creativity will only flourish if teachers break old patterns and embrace spontaneity and unpredictability as essential parts of everyday classroom interaction' (p.83).
Chapter 9, Old wine in new bottles: solving language problems creatively, by Kathleen Bailey and Anita Krshnan, again returns to themes touched upon in Chapter one with a focus on under-resourced areas and how teachers working in these areas have come up with ingenious and inexpensive materials to engage students creatively, while Chapter 10, by Libor Stepanek, focuses on how students who produce creative work should be recognized, encouraged and rewarded. Stepanek also encourages the use of student-generated sources. Perhaps the materials we as teacher choose are often not as interesting to the students as we think and by allowing them to select their own material we not only overcome this problem but also promote student autonomy and cater for individual learner styles.
Chapter 12, Creating creative teachers, by Marisa Constantinides, is a stand-out chapter and brings attention to the serious neglect of creativity as a required asset for teachers entering the ELT world. Neither CELTA nor DELTA programmes include creativity in any way in their courses. A recent survey of CELIA and DELTA trainers (Constantinides 2014) revealed the majority of trainers do believe it is important. Constantinides outlines numerous problems which may occur if teachers do not embrace creative thinking. She then outlines practical suggestions and activities for teacher trainers who are working with teachers on training courses. In one activity she describes, teachers are asked to state a problem (e.g. 'My students don't do their homework') and take on different roles to discuss the situation - parents, directors of studies and so on. Another example used is 'Balloon' debates where it is decided who stays in the balloon based on their proposed approach or method.
If by this stage you have any preconceptions left about creativity and creative people, Chapter 16, A framework for learning creatively, by Tessa Woodward, will reinforce one of the recurring themes of this book; creativity is for everybody. This chapter provides activities to stimulate an atmosphere of creativity in the classroom.
Finally Chapter 18, by Zarina Markova, presents the findings of a case study of three primary schools in Bulgaria which concludes that in this case creativity did not come easily to the students; there was unwillingness to experiment, Iack of confidence to take risks and tolerate ambiguities. The teachers had to spend time to draw them out and gradually the students gained confidence and began to engage more 'enthusiastically and imaginatively in the activities' (p.172) which resulted in more signs of appreciation of their English lessons and their teachers who were in turn stimulated to introduce more creative activities into their teaching.
Although enjoyable and enlightening, there is often considerable overlap between the chapters. Each chapter begins with the importance and a definition of creativity, which unfortunately is very difficult to define leading to 18 different opinions which are all in essence similar. In addition it might have been a good idea to group certain chapters into sections, for example a section on children's learning, underresourced areas and so on, making it easier for the reader who is searching for a specialized area.
This book does not claim that creativity is a panacea for the woes of educationalists and teachers the world over; simply it highlights the importance and effectiveness of creativity and how this is often overlooked. Most importantly however this is a practical and potent book for teachers looking to develop their skills. This long overdue book has something for everyone involved in the field, new and experienced teachers, teacher trainers, school managers, materials developers and academics.
About the reviewer:
David Brennan has taught English in Japan for twelve years. He recently completed his MA in TESOL from the University of Limerick, Ireland. He has published poems and short stories. His forthcoming academic publication examines creativity in the ELT classroom.
Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition. New York, Longman. Bloom, B. S. Et Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.)
Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York: Longman.
Constantinides, M (2014) Creativity in Teacher Education Courses. Unpublished Survey, results available online at:
McGrath, I. (2013). Review of English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice, N. Harwood (ed.) 2010, ELT Journal 67, 1, 141-143.
Prowse, P. (2015). Review of 'English Language Teaching Textbooks Content, Consumption, Production', N.Harwood (ed.) 2014, Folio (16,2),73-76.
Robinson, K (1998). All our futures: creativity, culture and education, London: NACCCE.