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Enhancing Student Creativity: Debates, Projects, Talks and Films

Marianne Raynaud held a workshop for Tesol France, Saturday April 28th at Telecom Paris - Rue Barrault

Write-Up by Marie-Pierre Beaulieu-Marianni, past president of Tesol France

It was glorious weather outside. Still a group of 16 or so dedicated teachers met in an auditorium of Telecom Paris to hear Marianne’s presentation. In her presentation, Marianne shared impressions of her experiences while running an English course for the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, and demonstrated for us the kinds of teaching materials she used for the course. The institute comprises 10 engineering schools for which she regularly had classes of 12 to14 students. She emphasized that class size remains a key factor in designing courses that will enhance student creativity.

Maximize student speaking time

Marianne has designed courses that aim to maximize student speaking time, making the most of the students’ creativity. Indeed she reasonably assumes that creativity is not just the property of exceptional people, but an exceptional property of all people. So how do we offer students the opportunity to be creative while guiding them through various projects?

"Car Ads" - made with and by students

In the first part of her demonstration she gave the lecture she had prepared for the TESOL Convention in Seattle in March of this year entitled “Student Films as a Memorable Linguistic Experience”. Marianne showed us films – car ads and parodies - made with and by students under her guidance. In the case of the car ads, we watched sequences of students acting out advertising slogans they had previously written. The ads, which focused on the “Ski Car”, “Batman’s Car” and the “Health Preservation Car” were acted out each time by 2 or 3 students. The aim of the activity was not to focus on students’ mistakes, but rather to boost their confidence and self-esteem and to provide entertainment. As for the teachers attending Marianne’s workshop, we laughed wholeheartedly.

Requirements, equipment, preparation for a "car ad" assignment

After watching the sequences, the immediate question that came to mind was …"What do we require as teachers in terms of equipment, preparation… to come up with student films of this kind?" Much work is actually required before any filming takes place. That includes building one’s vocabulary (semi-technical vocabulary dealing with car fairs, automobile equipment etc. introduced with gap filling exercises), listening comprehension, tutorials, interviews… alongside grammar points from the course. Students also have to write and send in a scenario on time to the teacher, so that he/she can correct it and improve it if necessary. For filming, a Canon MW 700i, an inexpensive digital camera, is sufficient. The students are in charge of the filming and the students also do the editing outside of class time helped if need be by a technician. Students may book time slots to use the editing software on one of the school’s computers under the guidance of the
technician.

Requirements for 10-minute filmed parodies

The requirements for parodies differ a little from those of the “Car Ads”. Teams of 3 to 6 students choose a well-known film (“Charlie’s Angels”, “Indiana Jones”…) or a television series and write a parody scenario (in the form of a graded exercise incorporating vocabulary and expressions previously studied in class). Once their scenario has been corrected and approved by the teacher, they then submit it to the webdisk of the English course, film it, edit it and deliver it to a technician. The films thus made are shown to all the 1st and 2nd year students and even teachers who wish to attend the film festival at the end of the school year. This creates a tradition and represents a unique moment in the year in which teamwork, application of what has been learned and acquisition of new skills all come together. Student films are also available on the intranet site of the institute. Incoming students can consequently watch these films in order to prepare early in the year for their own productions.

“Snappy” Debates

Marianne then moved on to other aspects of her teaching experience that enhance student creativity, for example “Snappy” Debate questions. This activity is conducted in groups of 3 to 4 students. Each group has 5 minutes to debate a subject, such as – “Is marriage a necessary institution?” “Is there life after death?” While debating, students have to use as many as possible of a set of given expressions. These expressions come in the form of a handout.

“Introducing us to your partner”

Marianne also presented an oral assignment called “Introducing us to your partner”, in which students have to introduce their partners to the class, following a set pattern (name, appearance, personality, interests, achievements, shortcomings, nickname, conclusion), and again using given expressions to match the categories.

“Brain Training” sessions, a memory exercise

Marianne finished the workshop with a description of “Brain Training” sessions, a memory exercise in which a group of 3 students teaches the class and tries to make them learn something they’ll never forget. Those listening will not be taking notes, but they will try to remember everything the group says. Possible topics for these brain training sessions include a short presentation on how to do something or on how something works, or unusual facts and figures that “a future engineer should know.” The performance of the group itself has to be short – 6 minutes maximum. To conclude Marianne showed us some of the detailed instructions she gives her students to help them give “Talks” that will be beneficial to everyone present in the class.

A 5-minute thank you speech

She emphasized the “Oral Synthesis” session, in which 2 or 3 students from the audience have one minute to recap the content of the talk and evaluate it i.e. give encouraging feedback to the speakers. The students have to stand up in front of the class without any notes, except the handout of the talk. They are required to learn by heart certain expressions and to use them properly while reporting on the talk they’ve heard. For instance they would say – “On behalf of (choose) I’d like to say that we thoroughly enjoyed listening to (choose)….” At the very end Marianne showed us an esxcept of her film “Scenes From An ESL Classroom” with students performing such an “Oral Synthesis”.

Many avenues to explore

In my account of Marianne’s presentation, I have attempted to give a detailed description of some of the projects and activities she relies on to enhance student creativity. I hope that this write-up will prove useful for the teachers who were unable to attend her workshop. Out of the 16 teachers present, only 4 had made films with their students. This means that for a large majority of teachers, there are many avenues to explore for our students to become more active and creative.

A lively group of dedicated teachers

Marianne Raynaud said at the end that she truly enjoyed working with such a lively group of dedicated teachers, who asked such interesting questions and made pertinent remarks. We certainly enjoyed having her.

Write-Up by Marie-Pierre Beaulieu-Marianni, past president of Tesol France


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