Monday, April 7, 2008

"LifeWriting" stimulating students

From Mark Richards - James Lyng Adult Education Centre, Montreal, Canada

Dr. Sid Butler wrote an excellent book called "LifeWriting" which uses stimulating ideas to inspire students to write about their own experiences. Here's one example.

Students brainstorm lists of their "first times": first time I drove a car, first day in the army, first time I kissed a girl, first time I met my wife/husband, first time I saw my baby, first day in my new country, first day of school, first day of work, first time on an airplane, etc.

They then pick one which inspires them and they make a stick man drawing depicting this experience. Next they get together in groups and discuss their drawings. (As corny as this may seem, I've never had a group that didn't enjoy talking about their pictures, especially after I'd modeled an example on the blackboard). Other students can ask questions which often provoke more memories of this first-time situation.

Students frequently request assistance from the teacher on how to describe the situation or to express an idea. The last step is that the students sit down to write. Because they have been discussing their anecdote and reflecting on the experience, the ideas and the vocabulary come more easily. A simple way to increase the speaking practice is to put students into groups of three or four and after each student has had five minutes or so to recount their narration you have students rotate to a different group and start over again. In my experience, the more times students retell their stories the easier it is when they sit down to write.

Another suggestion from the book which I have used successfully for brainstorming ideas is "My Favorite Place". This activity also lends itself to the stick man drawing approach. Over the years, I have read some amazing narratives from even intermediate students.

The book, LifeWriting, is full of ideas like this. I have used it successfully in intermediate to advanced ESL classes in Quebec C.E.G.E.P.'s (middle college). Students are motivated because the topics are interesting and they are about the students' own life experiences.

In 25 years of teaching, Dr. Butler's workshop on "LifeWriting" was the most interesting I ever attended and that was almost 20 years ago.

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