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April 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

EFL Students as Young Poets

Phuong Le was educated in TESOL and Applied Linguistics in Vietnam, Australia, the US, and the UK. She has worked as an EFL teacher educator and translator for 40 years in different contexts, which has enabled her to publish extensively on EFL issues over the years. Currently, she is lecturer of American literature at Phu Yen University, Vietnam and an independent IELTS trainer. Her professional interests include learners' creativity, intercultural communication, and language assessment. Email:



would like to show my great appreciation to all these students who have helped me to make my teaching such a highly rewarding experience. Without them, this article would not be possible.                                                                                           



A review of the literature has revealed extensive attention given to developing students’ creative writing skills in EFL/ESL teaching. However, personal professional observation has indicated that these skills still receive inadequate attention in Vietnam.  In line with the importance and benefits of creative writing skills to EFL students (i.e. Le, 2018, Manara, 2015; Maley, 2012; Pawliczak, 2015; Rippey, 2014), the author has attempted to promote these skills for Vietnamese EFL college students (Le, 2016, 2014). However, in this article, the author focuses more sharing the poems created by EFL students from both colleges and high schools to illustrate and reinforce the values of creative writing in EFL contexts like Vietnam.

Creative writing in this case refers to poetry writing by two major groups of Vietnamese students. The first group came from various schools in a town in Vietnam and were following private courses conducted by the author to get a satisfactory score for IELTS (International English Language Testing System) to serve their academic purposes. At the time of these writing tasks, they had been on their course from one week to 6 months. The second group majored in English in their third or fourth years from two colleges in two provinces. At the time of poetry writing, they were taking a short American Literature course (10 lessons of 150 minutes each) conducted by the author as part of their college curriculum.

This task was used mainly as a fun language activity for high school students and a chance for the teacher to see how they responded to it. For this, within about 10 minutes, each student was expected to write a free verse poem about themselves based on a given stem poem. However, for college students, it formed a small part of their American literature course assessment and each student was asked to write verses in response to the poems they had learnt on the course.

After handed in, their poems were put into power-point presentations to show in class in subsequent sessions for their respective groups. The college poem collection was later shared with some faculty and college staff at the end of the course to boost up the students’ self-esteem.  

The samples quoted in this article are just a minor proportion of the high school collection in 2019 (76 poems) and the college collection from 2012 to 2019 (165 poems), some of which have been shared in EFL conferences since 2012 and some publications (Le, 2016, 2014).


High school student poets

Based on the framework of “I am” (Cohen, 2011), “My bio” or “I wish” (Appendix A), the students introduced themselves in their own poems and they could make any adaptations to the stem poems as they wished. As observed, students did not need any further explanations in doing this task since the guidance in the stem poems was clear to them. The result was many meaningful pieces of writing which reflected the authors as fascinating human beings and effective language users. 


  1. human beings

As shown in the collected poems, each author was a different individual with his/her own characteristics. They varied from helpful social beings (friendly, generous, flexible, considerate and tolerant) to interesting individuals (dreaming, optimistic, artistic, careful, confident) and some even admitted that they were ‘stubborn and crazy’, ‘timid’ or ‘talkative’. As teenagers, they had their own worries and beliefs, i.e. ‘nothing lasts long’ or ‘life will treat good people well’ (Bui Xuan Yen) and nurtured different hopes or dreams which were big and lofty like ‘create a spaceship to fly into space’ and ‘contribute to the world’s future’ (Bui Xuan Yen) or more practical, like ‘to be a good person’ and ‘to make my parents proud’ (Bao Chau, Appendix B). They also possessed good imagination, i.e. ‘I hear the comet fly through the sky’ or ‘see the UFO at midnight’ (Minh Thien) and had good literary appreciation, i.e. ‘I hear the song of the sea’ (Bui Xuan Yen) or ‘I hear fences are crying’ (Bao Chau, Appendix B). The diversity of their personalities as reflected in their introductions helped them form a very interesting group.


  1. am     Bui Xuan Yen


  1. am optimistic and artistic.
  2. wonder what in the future is waiting for me.
  3. hear the song of the sea.
  4. see the person I want to be
  5. want to be a good person.
  6. am optimistic and artistic.


  1. pretend that I’m a doctor.
  2. feel sorry for the people who died.
  3. touch the patients’ skin every day.
  4. worry if I make mistakes.
  5. cry when someone die.
  6. am optimistic and artistic.


  1. understand nothing lasts long.
  2. say life will treat good people well.
  3. dream of a better world.
  4. try to make my dream come true
  5. hope I can contribute in the world’s future.
  6. am optimistic and artistic.


I am     Minh Thien

I am dreaming and optimistic.

I wonder if there is any world outside the earth.

I hear the comet fly through the sky.

I see the UFO at midnight.

I want to create a spaceship to fly into space.

I am dreaming and optimistic.


I pretend that I’m a super hero.

I feel bad when I can’t help people.

I touch the clouds when I fly.

I worry when I am sick.

I cry when I see my parents sad.

I am dreaming and optimistic.

I understand my parents are older.

I say I will make my parents proud.

I dream about a beautiful place.

I try to make me better day by day.

I hope I will be a successful man someday.

I am dreaming and optimistic.


In their self-introductions, these ‘novice’ poets expressed a variety of likes and dislikes, which confirmed their individuality. For example, Dang thi Minh Nguyet was keen on ‘imagination, beautiful dreams’ and ‘being treated with respect’ but she was frightened by ‘nightmares, death and blood’.  Or, Nguyen Chu Nguyet Minh liked ‘Japanese animation’ and ‘to be a person who is admired’ while she disliked ‘loneliness, all animals and ghosts’. Unlike his peers, Nguyen Minh Khoi showed interest in ‘games and novels’ but disgust for ‘insects, especially spiders, examinations and horror movies’. These likes and dislikes contributed to making their personalities even more clearly as unique and highly fascinating individuals.


My bio   Dang thi Minh Nguyet


Who is flexible, careful, and tolerant

Who is the daughter of the most warm-hearted woman

Who loves imagination, beautiful dreams, being treated with respect.

Who feels optimistic, positive, confident

Who needs family, best friends, good learning results

Who gives dreams, knowledge, good attitudes and behaviour

Who fears nightmares, death, blood

Who would like to see Avril Lavigne, my idol, Robot Sophie.

Who shares happiness, sadness, loneliness

Who is a future lawyer, elegant girl, with a good education.


My bio   Nguyen Chu Nguyet Minh


Who is stubborn, crazy and friendly

Who is a daughter of a wonderful mother who knows me well

Who loves Japanese animation, love, to be a person who is admired.

Who feels happy, comfortable with life now

Who needs friends, family, a purpose to do in everything,

Who gives a funny atmosphere, food and friendliness

Who fears loneliness, all animals and ghosts

Who would like to see my favourite characters in animation and comics, William Shakespeare and Harry Porter.

Who shares knowledge, secrets with friends and hobbies.

Who is a girl that always dreams and likes new things.


These teenagers also displayed their creativity and sense of humour in their own versions, inspired by Tan Bee Tin’s “Can you let me pass the exam please?” (Maley, Mukundan and Rai, 2009). In their poems, these teenage poets showed their adaptations which diverted from the original one, both in form and content. They fabricated cute explanations and entertaining excuses to their teacher, like ‘Right now I’m not stressed. But tomorrow I will’ (Xuan Thu) orI had to go home in the rain. And all of my books got wet. And I dried them on the floor. But my dog tore them all’ (Nguyen thi Khanh Hoa). Many other funny excuses were devised to ask their teachers for a favour.


No more essay for me please?   Xuan Thu

Dear Teacher,

Right now I’m not stressed,

But tomorrow I will

Because the essay day is approaching

And I still don’t have a thing in my head.

Plus my dear sister will be gone for college tomorrow

So now I’m sad and depressed.

No more essay for me please?


Can I have no more assignments please?    Nguyen thi Khanh Hoa

Dear Teacher,

Can I have no more assignment please?

I had to go home in the rain,

And all of my books got wet.

And I dried them on the floor.

But my dog tore them all.

And my nose was sneezing all night.

Can I have no more assignments please?


Effective language users

These initial attempts in making poems also reflected the students’ language abilities. Given adequate guidance and assistance, with no pressure of tests and scores, the learners enjoyed more freedom to produce as much language as they can. In this way, they displayed more English to express their ideas. As witnessed in their charming and distinct self-introductions, their poems included a wide range of vocabulary which provided vivid images of themselves, with their own personalities, thoughts, likes and dislikes. More interestingly, these learners indicated some sophisticated language in their writings. Richer vocabulary items, rhymes and poetic expressions were evidenced in phrases like ‘keep my summer forever, no more goodbyes, rocket sky-high, reach the moon, cool like an ice cream’. In their poems ‘I wish’, these novice poets expressed the best things about their dream world and in this way, the thinkers, dreamers and poets inside themselves were revealed.


I wish   Le Minh Nguyen

I wish I could keep my summer forever.

I wish I could have more pleasures.

I wish I had more free time.

I wish I could do the things that I like.

I wish I had no worries about school.

I wish I were not considered a fool.

I wish I knew how to control my emotions.

I wish I had not been so outspoken.

I wish there were nothing that drag me down.

I wish I had no nervous breakdown

I wish my mom would know what I am thinking.

I wish I could do something more interesting.     


I wish   Cao Minh

I wish I could have a quad-copter.

I wish I had a better brother.

I wish I had no worries about school.

I wish I knew how to be cool.

I wish I could rocket sky-high.

I wish there were no more goodbyes.

I wish my mommy wouldn’t be so stressed.

I wish I wouldn’t ever lose my bets


I wish    Le Quan

I wish I could reach the sun.

I wish I could join a deer hunt.

I wish I had no worries.

I wish I knew how to be always happy.

I wish I could lie beneath an apple tree.

I wish there was no gravity on me.


I wish my mommy would out of her sickness.

I wish my daddy come home with no tiredness.


College student poets

As mentioned above, these undergraduates were not assisted by stem poems as high school students; instead, their poems were their own products in response to the poems they had learnt. Their works were good reflections of the authors as fully grown youths both in personal and language developments. With their life stories and their thoughts, they showed to be determined, optimistic and thoughtful. Their poems also showed their strong capability as language users.


Mature youths

The poetry writing task offered a golden opportunity for these young people to share their life stories naturally. The examples below were inspired by “Acquainted with the Night” (Robert Frost, 1874-1963). Cao thi Nhan’s highly touching poem unveiled her true life experience about the huge challenges that she had to face as a poor student living far from home. Despite numerous hardships, she showed a strong determination to conquer them all to study well so that she could come back home as a college graduate to make her mother proud. The poem has given us deeper understanding about the author as a young and strong person struggling hard to achieve her goal and as a daughter striving to realize her mother’s dream.  


Acquainted with the difficulties   Cao thi Nhan

I have been one acquainted with the difficulties

I have walked the long roads to schools.

I have ridden my old bicycle in the boiling heat.

of the day or in the darkness of the night.


I have hoped my English studying.

Writing, speaking and understanding well.

And passed all exams for the graduation.


I have lived with long days.

No rice, no money, and many more.

I have passed long nights

Impossible to sleep.


I have experienced Tet holidays alone.

No family and no relatives.

No best wishes for me.

Only sadness and tears.

For me and my terrible Tet here.


I have lived through sad rainy nights.

When I miss my parents and everyone home.

Whom I haven't met for four years.

I was in tears then.


I have dreamt of my Mom.

Her smiling face and gentle voice.

"My baby", she called me.

And looked at me with loving eyes.

Suddenly I cried and begged her,

"Don't! Please don’t leave me."

The dreams were too short.


I have promised my Mom.

"I will always live and study well.

I will pass the next graduation exam.

And I'll come back to visit you."


Other students also showed substantial growth as decision makers for important issues in life. They realised the difficulty of this process and readily accepted responsibility for their decisions which possibly led to success or failures because both could bring them experience and lessons. This marked a great step in these youths ’personal development to become fully mature.


The challenge of life    Nguyen thi My Hai

Challenges are normal things in life.

But life is not an easy road for most.

It twists and turns with many forks.

And it’s made me get stuck.


I was given a choice of jobs.

I had to think very hard indeed.

Money, passion, colleagues and promotion.

And many choices become an obsession.


I took the one with less resistance.

And collected from it lots of lessons.

I have become much more experienced.

And I now know it has lots of problems.


My wonderful decision    Cao thi Ngoc

Life is an exercise

About making decisions.

Some are easy to decide.

But others are really tough.


Many times I wished.

That life was a ruler

To help measure things

When I had to make a decision.


Now I can tell this with smiles.

Two jobs, one hard decision.

I spent much time thinking.

One was mother’s advice.

The other was my heart.

I took the one with more cons than pros.

A job in a small village.

Regret, regret, regret?

No, not a bit of it

Ever on my mind


Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s (1830-1886) “Hope is a Thing with Feathers”, the students showed to be brave and optimistic people in their beliefs for hope and in their attitudes to fear.  They strongly believed in hope as an inseparable part of their lives, i.e. ‘Hope is my life. The same as fire.’ (Truong Ngoc Thuy) or ‘But if I ever make mistakes. Hope gives me more chance.’ (Nguyen thi Dinh Thia). They were both practical and philosophical in their beliefs as expressed by Nguyen Yen Khoa in the last stanza of her poem. In fact, these young adults also understood the challenges posed by fear but they demonstrated a highly optimistic attitude ‘Why do I have to fear. When that's what facing me?’ (Tran thi Thanh Thuy).  Her peers even encouraged others to conquer it ‘Don't be panic. Let's overcome fear’ (Huynh Ha My) or identified the upside of fear as in ‘Fear is not bad’ (Hoang thi Thu Hang).


My hope    Truong Ngoc Thuy

Hope is my life.

The same as fire.

The light in darkness.


Hope is my dream.

All nice things that beam.

In beautiful color scheme.


Hope is my heart laughter

I really like to nurture

For my present and future.


Hope is my chance    Nguyen thi Dinh Thia

Hope is the chance.

For me to enrich my life

For me to learn and work

For me to have good time.


But if I ever make mistakes

Hope gives me more chance

To start things all over again.

Hope is a lenient friend.

Who stands by me in the rain.


And never leaves me at dead end.

Hope certainly never says no

So never I feel real cold.

Nor I ever feel so old.


Hope is beautiful.   Nguyen Yen Khoa

Hope lights your mind

In your darkest times

Hope brings you faith

To fly to a new height


Think of a greenish field.

Think of a youthful spring.

Think of a singing stream.

No need for lofty things.


Just small things will do.

Little hopes can shine your life.

Let’s hope and let’s dream.

For we can live only once.


Fear   Tran thị Thanh Thuy

Fear of oneself in darkness

Fear of the difficult life

Fear that the love will break

Fear that the joy won't last.

Why do I have to fear

When that's what facing me?


Fear   Huynh Ha My

What is fear?

We can't define it clear.

It may knock you down.

It may bring you tears.

But you can also hear

Your heart is saying

"Don't be panic

Let's overcome fear."


Maturity   Dao thi Thu Hang

What is fear?

Don't ask me.

Why do you fear?

I don't know.

But I understand.

Fear is not bad.


I fear blood.

You fear mice.

He fears sadness.

She fears ghosts.

Humans fear wars.


Don't worry

Because when you fear something

And you can overcome it,

You become more mature.



These young people also displayed their thoughtfulness and deep understanding in their apologies to those they had done something wrong to. Inspired by This Is Just to Say (William Carlos William, 1883 –1963), each author has her own way of expressing the apology. For example, Do thi Kha Tu displayed her genuinely contrite attitude in admitting her wrongdoing by repeating ‘I am sorry’ many times for the damage of her actions. This poem, thus, managed to convey her heartfelt regret and her sincere wish for forgiveness.


I am so sorry   Do thi Kha Tu


I am so sorry for the worst words I said.

I am sorry to make you angry.

I am sorry I make you mad.

I am so sorry.


I am sorry for what I do.

I am sorry to make you hurt.

I am sorry I make you cry.

I am so sorry.


I am sorry for breaking your heart

I am sorry I make you sad.

I am sorry I can’t make it right.

I am so sorry.


Now I’m feeling so bad.

And can’t forgive myself.

But I regret.

I am so ever sorry.


Do thi My Duyen expressed her apology in an implicit but very powerful way. Instead of saying sorry, the author chose to confess her wrongdoings through a strong contrast between what she received from her mother and what she gave in return. Though she admitted that she had realised her mistakes too late, her apology still showed her good will and her poem deserved some mercy.


Dear Mom         Do thi My Duyen


You filled my soul

With love and care.

But I left your heart

Glum and bare.

You filled my life

With all nice things

But I filled yours

With worries and cries.


Though now I’ve changed,

It’s way too late.


Written in a simple but very touching way, the poem “Bananas” reflected Cao thi Nhan’s unforgettable memory related to bananas. In general, this fruit was widely available and inexpensive in many parts of Vietnam but the country’s economy after the wartime was difficult and bananas were the only source of income to many poor peasant families. Her poem was a heartfelt admittance of her mistake in stealthily eating the bananas which were supposedly to be sold for her family’s essential needs. Her childhood mistakes made the readers love her, rather than blame her. And this poem was a beautiful product that had brought about lots of empathy from her classmates and teachers for the author.   


Bananas    Cao thi Nhan


And bananas

With my family

Bananas were rice

Bananas were fish.

Bananas were fish.

And everything in our life.



They were also a cause of sin.

I used to eat a lot of them.

When my parents went away.

I didn't know

It was a sin.

I didn't think

They gave basic health

To my family.




And bananas…

I never forget my mistakes.


Dao thi Thu Hang recognised the fragile and lonely existence of her grandfather and associated it with the gloomy nature of a solitary cold winter day. This showed her deep love and consideration for him not only as a considerate grand-daughter, but also as a thoughtful human being. It was this that made her a special young person.    


My grandfather   Dao thi Thu Hang



Big wind.



Heavy rain.





My grandfather.

Late winter is coming.


Another poem also showed the author’s growth as a young person was “Eyes”. Although it was mainly an expression of a daughter’s regret for a lack of love and care for her parent, it was filled with her subtle observations about the changes in her parent’s eyes. Being able to ‘read’ the changes, she successfully conveyed her great love and deep gratitude to her parent. In this way, she marked a big step in her growth as a young adult.


Eyes    Tao My Duyen



When I was born


When I took the first steps


When I grew up


I don’t see that



When I don’t obey


When I go away


When I go home late

I regret I didn’t see

Deep in those eyes

A boundless love.


Capable language users

As observed in many samples, the language of the poems was refined and their contents were mature. Some poems even displayed artistic beauty in language choice and literary appreciation. The next section will clarify these comments even further.

These young people’s definitions of different colours (inspired by the poem ‘Blue’, Saito, 2008)

manifested literary beauty of their language via the use of many poetic metaphors, as in Nguyen thi Diem Huong’s “Green” and Nguyen Vu Doan Thuy’s What colour do you like?” These poems confirmed the students’ success in expressing abstract concepts about life as in ‘Green is both living and peace’ or ‘Black is the beginning of an end’.


Green   Nguyen thi Diem Huong

Green is a living colour.

Green is the sound of dancing trees.

Green is the taste of herbs.

Green is an old tree when I'm under it.

Green is the feeling of comfort in the countryside.

Green is both living and peace.


What colour do you like?   Nguyen Vu Doan Thuy

What colour do you like?

Black, blue, yellow or red?

The colour I like best.

This is the black of the night.

Black is the depth of the sea.

Black is the secret that no one knows.

Black is the opposite of white.

Black is the beginning of an end.

But black is the colour I like best.

What colour do you like?


Many other beautiful poems boasted of creative language use and “A number poem” was a successful example in integrating numbers into a love poem.


A number poem   Le thi Lai

The third day you went away.

I wrote your name in the sky.

Two hearts that beat as one.

But the wind blew it away.

The fourth day you went away.

I wrote your name in the sand.

But the waves washed it away.

The fifth day you went away.

I wrote your name on the face of the lake.

But the moonlight brought it far away.

The sixth day you went away.

I wrote your name in my heart.

And forever it will stay.

Seven days quickly passed.

I'm waiting for you on the eighth and ninth days

below the full moon we used to date.



As witnessed, the poems from these college students clearly displayed their cognitive, emotional and linguistic development. By comparison, for the students, the products were still largely guided and not linked directly to other parts of the lessons, this task achieved many benefits as analysed above. Undeniably, these creative writing activities provided opportunities for these young people to think out of the box, to sharpen their imagination and thinking skills to express themselves in a creative way. Also, they helped these learners to venture beyond their limits to enhance their language capacity. In this way, these individuals were hoped to improve their satisfaction and confidence as human beings and learners. 

For the teacher, these creative products improved her understanding of the students. They seemed to be more capable as language users and certainly showed to be more interesting as individuals. These results were highly rewarding to the teacher and they helped her to orient towards a more appropriate way of teaching for her students.  For these benefits, it is highly recommended that other teachers try creative writing activities in their EFL contexts to gain better insights into their students and to achieve more desirable outcome for their work.



Saito, P. A. 2008. Between me and the world: Teaching poetry to English language learners. Teaching Artist Journal, 6/3, 197-208

Cohen, B. 2011. Teaching Poetry: The Ultimate Guide. Teacher’s Discovery.

Le, P. 2018. Using six-word stories to trigger EFL learners’ creative writing skills. Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching. Vol.13 (2). Oct. 2018.

Le, T.A.P. 2016. Fostering learners' voices in literature classes in an Asian context. In  A. Maley & N. Peachey (Eds). Creativity in the English Language Classroom. British Council. London.     

T.A.P. 2014. Diversifying the input and the outcome: A case study. Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. Vol. 22 (1) 2014.

  1. A. 2012. Creative writing for students and teachers. Humanising language teaching, 14 (3): 1-14. Retrieved from

Maley, A., Mukundan, J. and Rai, V.S. (Eds). 2009. Life in Words and Words in Life. Bagbazar, Kathmandu. Bhundipuran Prakashan.

  1. C. 2015. Experimenting with language through creative writing tasks. Indonesian 
  1. of English Language Teaching. Volume 10/Number 2. October 2015.
  2. J. 2015. Creative writing as a best way to improve writing skills of students. Sino-US English Teaching, May 2015, Vol. 12, No. 5, 347-352

J. 2014. Creative writing in EFL in Japan: A spirit of inclusion. Lit Matters: the Liberlit Journal of Teaching Literature. Issue 1. at on April 21, 2020.



Appendix A


Who is (descriptive words that describe you)
Who is the of (brother/sister or son/daughter)
Who loves (three ideas)
Who feels (three ideas)
Who needs (three ideas)
Who gives (three ideas)
Who fears (three ideas)
Who would like to see (three ideas)
Who shares (three ideas)
Who is (three ideas)
Who is a resident of (your town)
(last name)



Retrieved on 3rd Feb 2018


  1. wish
  2. wish I could ___________________________
    wish I had ____________________________
    wish I had no _________________________
    wish I knew how to ____________________
    wish I could _________________________
    wish there were no __________________            
  3. wish my mommy would _______________
    wish _______________________________

on  3rd Feb 2018



  1. B


  1. am   Bao Chau


  1. am generous and considerate.
  2. wonder when the first Nobel prize was held.
  3. hear fences are crying.
  4. see the sky is blue.
  5. desire to study in England.
  6. am generous and considerate.


  1. pretend to do something bad.
  2. feel lonely when my friends do not understand.
  3. touch my destination.
  4. worry if I can have more free time.
  5. cry because my sister and I cannot get on well.


  1. understand my family’s worries
  2. say love does exist.
  3. dream to be a good person.
  4. try to make my parents proud.
  5. hope to understand others’ difficulties
  6. am generous and considerate.


My Bio   Nguyen Minh Khoi


Who is a timid person with strange people but talkative with my friends

Who is the brother of a boy who is one of the “hot teens” in my school

Who loves games, novels and family

Who feels shy when standing in front of the person that I love, scared when I see spiders, happy if someone laughs because of my jokes.

Who fears insects, especially spiders, examinations and horror movies.

Who shares the TV, the computer and snacks with my brother.


I wish  Khanh Trinh

I wish I knew how to write the poem.

I wish I had many ideas about this theme.

I wish I could have great vocabulary.

I wish I finished this poem immediately.

I wish there were no more assignments.

I wish my friends would like my suggestions.

I wish nobody could read this poem

Because it’s not cool like an ice cream.


Please check the Enhancing Language Learning through Creativity course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creating a Motivating Environment course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Practical Methodology and English Language Development for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Practical Ideas for Teaching Advanced (C1-C2) Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creating a Motivating Environment course at Pilgrims website.

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