What happens when
students do creative
writing?
Tan Bee Tin
Dept of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics
The University of Auckland, New Zealand
Email: [email protected]
8th Asian Teacher-Writers conference on creative writing, PPPPTK
Bahasa, Jarkata, Indonesia, 6-7 November, 2009 .
Background
A project in Indonesia:
‘Investigating the language learning
opportunities created through
creative writing tasks in EFL
classrooms’
Participants
A group of Indonesian students (with the
help of local teachers)
Data
Creative writing tasks (short poems)
Recordings of their performance
(discussions, think aloud)
Post-writing interviews
Two poetry writing tasks:
Acrostics
Similes
Task 1: Acrostics
RICE
Task 1: Acrostics
R
I
C
E
Really
Important
Crop to
Eat
(Alan)
Task for you!
J
O
Y
Rules
1. every line must start with the letter
2. the whole poem must be related to the
key word ‘Joy’
J
O
Y
Jump
Out of
Your sorrow
Just thinking
Of
You
Jar of amazing feeling
Overcoming sadness
You should get it
Jingle bells of the ring
Opening the Christmas day and
Your life has begun
Jovial and
Outstanding feeling in
Your life
Jump for it
Or singing for it
Yet before you lose
Just
Open
Your eyes
Phase 2- June 2008
1. Writing acrostic poems (pair work)
SCHOOL, TEACHER, HOLIDAY, JOY
Task 2: similes
Writing similes (pair work)
‘Our teacher is like ……’
‘Our friend is like …….’
Task 2: Similes
My little brother is like the pepper flower.
He makes me laugh.
He jumps out at me, in the field,
with a red hat.
Spiro (2004: 52)
My father is like a rock.
His chin is sharp.
He looks at me from the top of a mountain.
He is very old.
Spiro (2004: 52)
Task for you!
Our teacher is like ………………
………………………………………………….
………………………………………………….
………………………………………………….
Our friend is like …………………
………………………………………………….
…………………………………………………
…………………………………………………
Tree
Flower (rose, jasmine, etc)
Lake
River
Stone
Mountain
Ice
Sand
A leaf
Fruit: an orange, a mango, etc
Road
Rock
(or any other words related to ‘nature’)
Qs for you!
What do you think are the differences
between the acrostic task and the
simile task in terms of:
1. the quality of language (product)
students produce?
2. the process students go through?
Nature of tasks
Acrostics
Rule-based task
Similes
Imagination-foregrounded
Formal constraint
Semantic constraint
Fore-grounds the
imaginary situation
(Imagine A is B)
Fore-grounds discourse
(give two reasons)
Q1: The quality of language (product)
Happy day in
Our
Life and
Important
Day
After test
Yes! It’s holiday!
Holiday is an
Occasional day to
Look for a new
Idea that makes our
Day brighter than the
Activity that we did
Yesterday
Our friend is like an orange
She always freshes us
She is stubborn when unripe
But wiser when ripe
Our friend is like fruits
She can be sweet like a mango
She can be ‘asam’ like a strawberry
But she is very kind
Interpretations:
Which shows more complex language
(complexity of language)?
Acrostics or Similes?
Which shows more surprising/novel
ideas (transformation of ideas)?
Acrostics or Similes?
My interpretations:
Which shows more complex language
(complexity of language)?
Acrostics
Which shows more surprising/novel
ideas (transformation of ideas)?
Acrostics
Different approaches to
creativity
The product approach (characteristics
of creative products)
The process approach (thinking
involved in creative tasks)
The linguistic approach (language play)
The product approach
• ‘the ability to come up with new ideas that are surprising
yet intelligible, and also valuable in some way’ (Boden 2001)
• transformation, surprise (Amabile 1996)
Torrance and colleagues:
• fluency (quantity of ideas produced),
• flexibility (variety or number of different responses),
• originality (uniqueness or statistical infrequency of ideas
produced),
• elaboration (refining or adding details to ideas to make
them richer or more complete) (Ball and Torrance 1984).
The linguistic approach
Creativity as a form of language play
(Carter 2004)
Two levels: form, meaning (Cook 2000).
Language play at the formal
level
• involves manipulating textual
features such as words, syntactic
patterns
e.g. ‘jar of amazing feeling’
e.g. ‘Our teacher is like a loud speaker.’
Language play at the semantic
level
• combines different units of meaning
in unfamiliar ways to construct an
imaginary world (Cook 2000), to
transform our current conceptual
world.
The process approach
Examines the process experienced in a creative task.
Two thinking types (Finke 1996)
Chaotic thinking:
• Spontaneous and divergent, focusing mainly on occurrences
of the moment and exploring novel alternatives without
specific plans or goals.
• involves the natural emergence of structure from
complexities.
Ordered thinking:
• generates new ideas through purposefully analysing and
extending existing ideas.
• The structure is imposed and complexity is reduced.
Language play  language learning
Playful creative language helps to
stretch and destabilize learners’
interlanguage (Tarone 2000)
Q2: The process (types of
thinking)
An acrostic (SCHOOL) written by Susan
(female) and Dita (female) in pair. The
task takes about 6 minutes.
Study hard and
Competition with other student to get
High grade are our
Obligation to make
Our parents
Love us
*S: S ..C .. H ..O .. O .. L …
{ } = translation added
*D: S ... S nya apa ya? {what does ‘S’ stand for?} ..
aaa = L1 (Indonesian)
(….)
aaa = L1 (Javanese)
*S: study hard
aaa = L2 (English)
*D: study or study hard?
*S: study hard ….study hard …C ..
*D: C …
*S: competitive …eh…competitive …
*D: C nya? {what about the ‘C’}
*S: ni coba kompetisi {what about using competition?} ((sound of
flipping through pages, checking the word in the dictionary))
*D: kompetisi {competition} …. hmm …ya wis lah kompetisi. {okay,
competition is okay} (….)
Study hard
*S: competition .. H ..
Competition
*D: high ...
High Grade
*S: high grade …
O
O
*D: high quality or high grade?
L
*S: high quality? … high? ...
*D: terserah kamu aja lah {it is all up to you} …ya grade … O
*S: O ….
*D: O ((flipping through the dictionary)) …… obligation …
kewajiban {obligation}

*S: obligation itu apa sih? {what is obligation?}
*D: kewajiban ((laugh)) ...
*S: obligation ya ndak papa lah {obligation is okay} ((laugh)) …
obligation … study hard … competition ... study hard ..
disambungke bisa loh {they can be connected} … study hard and
competition with ..each other.. to get high grade.. that is our
obligation ((laugh))…eh…bisa nggak sih? {is it possible?}

*D: mhm nggak papa {yes,it’s okay}
*S: study hard …and competition …with …other students …to
get ..high grade … are ..our.. obligation ((reading as writing))
*S: jadi kalo diartike belajar giat dan berkompetisi dengan murid
lain untuk mendapat nilai yang lebih tinggi adalah kewajiban kita,
terus O-ne lagi apa? {it can be translated as studying hard and
competing with other students is our obligation, what about the
other O?} (….)
Study hard and
with other student to get
*S: study hard and competition with other studentsCompetition
to get high
grade .. are .. our ..obligation ((reading out))… High grade are our
Obligation
O
L
*D: ((flipping through pages)) apa yah? {what is it?}
*S: ini aja, apa namane {this one} hard competition with other
students to get high grade are our obligation ((reading out the lines
written so far)) …errr… to ..make.. our.. parent ((reading as
writing)) …
*D: L e opo? {what about the ‘L’?} ...
*S: mhm happy ((laugh)) happy kok ..L {how can happy start with
an L?}

*D: L kok {it is L} L…L…L ….. L nya {the L} ….. tak bukakin
{let me open the dictionary} ((laugh)) …

*S: ((laugh)) … ini loh {here it is} ((laugh)) L ... Oh! Oh! ((sounds
excited)) to make our parents love … us ((laugh)) …

*D: ((laugh)) <x>
*S: study hard and competition with other students to get high
grade are our obligation to make our parents love us ((reading
out)) … terus apa? {what is next?} .. ‘teacher’? ...Study hard and
Competition with other student to get
High grade are our
Obligation to make
Our parents
Love us
A simile about ‘our teacher’ written by
Susan and Dita in pair. It takes about
3 minutes to write this simile.
Our teacher is like stone
Because they have
Hard heart and
Big soul
*S: our teacher…it’s your turn ... giliranmu {your turn}
*D: ((laugh)) our teacher is like …
*S: tree or flower, lake, river, stone, mountain ((reading the list of objects
provided))
*D: mountain
*S: why? …
*D: because … it’s huge ((laugh)) ..
*S: not everyone…not every teacher …
*D: not every teacher … like mountain … mhm …
*S: don’t have idea ((laugh)) …
*D: apa toh? apa toh?{what is it? what is it?}… or any other words
related to teacher? …
*S: we can choose another word …
*D: our teacher is like apa {what}…flower? …
*S: why?... flower…flower …
*D: flowers
*S: flowers mhm ….. skip it … our friend first ((the pair skip to the
second smile))
*D: our teacher is like …
*S: like what? like tree.. flower? …
*D: stone
*S: stone? … because it’s hard ((laugh))… our teacher is like a stone
because …

*D: melambangkan guru itu kaku {symbolizing that teacher is stiff}
*S: our teacher …because…mhm...but it kaku {stiff} ((laugh)) ...
*D: our teacher is like a stone gitu aja lah {just like that} because ..
because…every … every teacher …. have ….heart .. apa {what}
memiliki hati yang keras {has hard heart} ((laugh))
*S: ((laugh)) have a hard heart ((laugh)) … it is difficult to say…
because they have hard [heart]
Our teacher is like stone
*D: [hard heart]
Because they have
*S: ((laugh)) and .. they are … jiwa {soul}
Hard heart and
Big soul
*D: jiwa {soul} …what the meaning? …
*S: hard soul ….. is like a stone … because .. they have ..hard
heart ..and ((reading as writing)) …
*D: jiwa yang besar gitu aja lah {big soul, that’s it}
*S: big soul ..
Emergentist perspectives of
language learning
Language is dynamic, changing as we
use it (Larsen-Freeman 2006).
Linguistic signs are ‘continually created
to meet new needs and circumstances’
(Toolan 2003).
Interpretations
Which involves more chaotic thinking?
Which involves more language play (playing
with words, sentence structure, shaping
and transforming L2)?
Which would be more useful for language
learning?
Acrostics or similes?
My interpretations:
Which involves more chaotic thinking?
Which involves more language play (playing
with words, sentence structure, shaping
and transforming L2)?
Which would be more useful for language
learning?
Acrostics
Acrostics
vs
Conceptual systems (ideas)
are activated through L2
directly, then translated into
L1.
Similes
Concepts are first retrieved
in L1 then translated into L2.
*S: study hard …and competition …with …other students …to get ..high
grade … are ..our.. obligation
*S: jadi kalo diartike belajar giat dan berkompetisi dengan murid lain
untuk mendapat nilai yang lebih tinggi adalah kewajiban kita, terus O-ne
lagi apa? {it can be translated as studying hard and competing with other
students is our obligation, what about the other O?}
------------------------------vs.---------------------------------*D: our teacher is like a stone gitu aja lah {just like that} because ..
because…every … every teacher …. have ….heart .. apa {what} memiliki
hati yang keras {has hard heart} ((laugh))
*S: ((laugh)) have a hard heart
Acrostics
vs
Similes
Conceptual systems (ideas)
are activated through L2
directly, then translated into
L1.
Concepts are first retrieved
in L1 then translated into L2.
L2 forms co-evolve with
meaning. Collision of form,
meaning and mind
L2 forms lag behind meaning.
Acrostics create more
opportunities for L2 making
and L2 creativity, requiring
learners to construct meaning
through L2 directly.
Excessive L1 use may hinder
opportunities for the
destabilisation of learners’
L2.
Not all play tasks may promote language play and
modification and stretching of learner language.
While acrostics (rule-foregrounded tasks) lead
students into uncharted waters, shaping and
reshaping language in dispreferred,
unprecedented ways, similes lead to stepping in
well-trodden waters, shaping language in more
preferred, predictable ways.
The formal constraints in acrostics contribute to
the emergence of more complex language while
similes, possessing looser formal rules, result in
less complex language.
constraints rather than freedom 
more chaotic thinking and creativity.
‘creative thinking is made possible by
constraints’ (Boden 2004: 233)
‘the ‘freedom’ of creative thought is
not the absence of constraints, but
their imaginative – yet disciplined –
development.’ (Boden 2001: 102).
Better understanding of the processes learners
encounter and the language they produce in
different play tasks will help teachers to design
more effective play tasks.
More research is needed to understand the nature
of affordances offered by various play tasks.
More investigations are needed which analyse the
transcripts of learners’ interaction in play tasks
and the language they produce.
Acknowledgments
The study is part of a project funded by the
University of Auckland. I would like to
express my sincere gratitude to students
who participated in the study. My special
thanks to Dra Ristiyanti Prasctijo, Debora
Tri Ragawanti, Christine Manara and all the
other teachers for their help during my
data collection in Indonesia.
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