Creative Writing in an Erasmus+ Project : A Teaching Paradigm
Dimitra Patapiou Mytaki is a teacher of Greek Language and Literature (BA, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) at Gymnasio Loutrakiou, Greece, and also a student of the Joint Master’s Degree in Creative Writing in the Hellenic Open University. Her research interests have to do with applying creative writing as a methodological tool of language teaching, as well as its extensive usage in alternative methodological approaches. She has been the Deputy Head of Gymnasio Loutrakiou for five years. Εmail: email@example.com
This creative writing class has been designed and implemented as a component of the Erasmus+ /KA229 project, titled “CLIL threads and trends in the solar-system Labyrinth”, which is being coordinated by Loutraki Junior High School (Gymnasio Loutrakiou, Loutraki, Greece) in cooperation with schools from Bulgaria (Secondary school of European Languages “St. Konstantin – Kiril Filosof”, Ruse, Bulgaria), Hungary (Bicskei Csokonai Vitez Mihaly Altalanos Iskola Hungary) , Poland (Zespol Szkol: Szkola Podstawowa im.gen. Jana Henryka Dabrowskiego I Liceum, Dobrzejewice, Poland) and Portugal (Agrupamento De Escolas Miguel Torga, Braganca, Portugal).
The aim of our Erasmus+ project is to introduce the CLIL methodology to the EFL classroom, teaching Astronomy and Mythology in English and, at the same time, seeking their affiliations to other subjects, such as Biology, Art, History, Literature, Geography, RE -more information about our Erasmus + project is available on the website: clil2018.webnode.com. The methodology is cross-curricular and I had the chance to approach it through the lens of Creative Writing.
Currently, the term “Creative Writing” has a dual focus, according to Kotopoulos (Κωτόπουλος 2014/A΄, 801-802), which has to do with
(translated by the author) “…both the ability to control somebody’s creative thoughts and convert them into written form, as well as with its wider meaning that encompasses all the different educational practices and techniques, which aim at mastering the writing (mainly literary) skills, that is, the didactic processes through which we are led to an attractive and playful production of language with the proper stimulation of creativity. [….] Creative Writing could be included in the field of Philology as literary writing, as the art of writing, or as a literary theory of reading, in the field of Pedagogy as an experiential educational method of teaching of mostly, but not exclusively, literature and language, and in the field of Psychology as a therapeutic method”.
Moreover, according to Xesternou (Ξεστέρνου 2013,40),
(translated by the author) “The benefits of creative writing in the educational process are plenty, as narration is considered a didactic method, through which the educators transfer knowledge to the students pleasantly, using stories aiming at the involvement of the audience, even emotionally”.
Additionally, Grekos and Tsilimeni (Γραίκος & Τσιλιμένη 2007, 22) support that
(translated by the author) “the narration of stories challenges the student’s imagination, creates an exciting learning environment and contributes to shaping an ideally emotional atmosphere which makes knowledge more accessible and enjoyable to children”.
Creative writing workshop: Τhe parameters
In the first meeting of the Erasmus+ coordinators in Greece (November 2018), a model lesson that bore on all the above parameters was presented, created exclusively for students in their second grade of Junior High School, namely, the eighth grade, aged 14 to 15, with their knowledge of English ranging from A1 to B1+ in the CEFR band. This two-teaching-hour class (about 1 hour and 30 minutes) was taught in real classroom conditions, initially to the group of teachers, and, later on, to the group of students with the presence of the teachers as facilitators. A presentation projection program, a projector, visual means and stationery were used, while the lecture of the instructor was minimized and was used mainly for further guidance.
Specifically, as far as the students were concerned, after dividing the class into five (05) groups of four or five, with one teacher assigned to each team for psychological and communication support, the prepared slideshow was presented. The title of it was “Creative Writing Workshop: create your own myth”, while the combination of Astronomy, Greek Mythology, English Language and Literature and the purpose they serve were clarified from the beginning. The slides were divided into discrete steps and their final goal was for the students to come in contact with methods, techniques and theories towards the creation of their own, complete story.
Creative writing workshop: The aims
The already defined aims were, firstly, the active participation and acquisition of the information, since the students would be learning through narration, without the intervention of the teachers, but only with their guidance and their discreet presence. At the same time, in a cooperative context, the students would have positive emotions and impressions both towards knowledge and their own potential, while, through the playful mood of the class, they would develop their creativity and imagination freely and they would express their personal point of view.
In the cognitive field, they would practice in the understanding, collection and handling of data as well as their deducting ability in a plethora of key issues about Mythology, Astronomy, Art and Poetry etc. At the same time, through the process of writing, they would have the opportunity to express themselves freely and use their grammatical, syntactical and vocabulary knowledge of English in a real communication framework, to develop their written and oral language skills, as well as to practice their narrative skills towards the creation of a story.
Another main goal was the multisensory and experiential dimension of teaching and learning, not to mention the realization that every class, knowledge and civilization item is intertwined and complementary to each other.
Creative writing workshop: The four steps
The workshop discussed in this article was designed as an original four - step creative writing class, following the Kotopoulos (Κωτόπουλος, 2016) analytical references of the characters, the setting and the plot.
In the first step, titled “Building up the heroes”, the student group had to get acquainted with the heroes that would be used in their stories. So, five (05) envelopes were randomly distributed among the students for them to choose one. Inside the envelopes there were cards that gave information about one of the famous Greek gods or goddesses, namely Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes, Aphrodite and Ares. On the one side of each card there were depictions (images) of mythological gods and goddesses on ancient jars, paintings, statues, but also of planets that are named after those gods. On the other side, there was written information about appearance, behavior, the stories that accompany the deities, as well as factual details about the planets and the reasons why they were thus named after. Each team studied those cards and composed a list of the divine and human (anthropomorphic) characteristics of their assigned god or goddess: physical appearance, ethos, flaws, virtues, habits, fears and desires. This way, the first big step for the creation of a story (fact collection) was complete and the students had a clear image for their material.
For the second step, titled “Choosing and building up the scenery: Place and Time”, a dice was given to each group. Students had to throw the dice and, depending on the piece of information on its side, the place was randomly determined among these options: “Mountain\ Sea”, “Town\Village” and “Another Planet”. A second dice alike determined time among the choices of: “Ancient Time”, “Modern Time” and “Future Time”. The group should think and build the scenery of the story based on the options shown on the dice. Of course, the details of the description were with the students to decide.
For the third step, the students should build the plot for the “Narration of Events”. Further help was given to them by the theory of Gustav Freytag (1863) and its detailed presentation through theory and images. His famous pyramid (Pic. 2), that analyzes the steps for a successful story building, became a guide for this stage.
In the fourth step, the students were asked, based on the key elements they had collected by that point, to put their own story together, a new myth about their hero-god, while taking into consideration the parameters given. Their text should range in length from 100 to 150 words, carry a title and be written in English. As far as the type of the narrator and the type of the narrative were concerned, they had absolute freedom of choice. After the given time limit and the election of a representative, the groups should present their story to everyone. A reflective interaction and assessment of their work, as well as the lesson, followed.
Creative writing workshop: Sample stories of the students
Group A: “Last day on Earth”
It’s 3018 AD. The man called Ares lives in a peaceful village in Himalayas. He used to be a soldier in Afghanistan where he killed many people. Now he has a wife called Aria and a son called Peter. Suddenly a nuclear war starts and everybody on Earth is supposed to die. Ares takes his family to another planet to save them, when he realizes that his wife and son are bleeding. As they are dying, the color of the planet is changing into red. Ares get furious, wears his helmet and puts on his weapons. He wants to find the bad guys that started the war and take revenge. Finally he kills Hercules, his last of the enemies, and since then he lives a lonely life on the bloody planet called Ares.
Group B: “Ancient Gods are real”
It was a normal Monday and I was drinking my coffee in Starbucks at Monastiraki with my two best friends, George and Maria. There weren’t many people inside. All of a sudden a customer started asking for help, because he wasn’t feeling well. I called an ambulance to help him.
When the ambulance arrived, the doctors told us that he was already dead. Suddenly a mysterious man with old clothes from ancient Greece came into the café. Everybody stepped back except the doctors. He told the doctors to leave and, when they left, he got into the ambulance and closed the doors. When he got out, the body of the man had disappeared and everybody freaked out.
Some days later journalists started recording reports about a man haunting the Starbucks store at night.
Group C : “The giant toxic mouse”
It is the year 3000 and Ryan, a middle-aged strong man with long hair and beard is the king of the planet. He lives in his castle, sitting all day on his throne and thinking. Suddenly he hears a loud noise out of his cellar. He gets there to check what is going on. He smells a toxic gas and he feels something that he doesn’t like. He turns back and he sees a giant toxic mouse in his basement. He runs quickly to the pet shop and buy some mouse traps and to the supermarket to buy some cheese. After that he returns to his cellar and he places the traps. Unfortunately the mouse is very smart and it doesn’t get trapped. Instead it gets mad; it places dynamite all over the cellar and blows it up. The king is no longer sitting and thinking on his throne. Instead, the mouse does. The mouse is called Hermes.
Group D : “The big war”
Once upon a time, Zeus decided to travel to planet Mars and gave it a magnetic field and life. Then humans did a space colony there, but they have some problems about their territory. Because of them a war started and all the Gods took place in it. In the end only three countries were left and together gods and people decided to do a peace treaty. But Zeus was so disappointed of the human that he exiles them from Mars.
Group E: “A new world for Aphrodite”
On November 28, 2018, Aphrodite suddenly woke up after sleeping since the ancient times. She woke up because she heard a big noise, like an earthquake in Corinth. She left her house troubled: « What was going on?». Everything was different and the road was full of strange vehicles and traffic. Then she started talking to strangers, trying to find out what was happening, but no one wanted to talk to her. While she was passing a bookshop, a boy who was reading an ancient history book, looked at her and he was shocked, as he recognized her and he said: “Wow! I think I am falling in love”. He explained to her what was happening. He then took her at his house and lent her some modern clothes from his sister and after that he took her with him at his school and meet her his friends. Aphrodite loved her new life, but she also missed her family, back in ancient times, so she begged Zeus to help her. Zeus listened to her and transferred Aphrodite and the boy back in ancient Greece. The boy also became a god, the loyal helper of Aphrodite.
Creative writing workshop: Conclusions-Evaluation-Suggestions
The workshop was successful, as most of the goals set from the beginning were mostly accomplished, while the greatest profit of the whole procedure was the positive response of the students. The originality of the students’ ideas, even though they were not always compliant with the requirements, and their linguistic ability, without the absence of mistakes, were obvious. The students’ stories prove the freedom of ideas, expression, imagination and creativity.
While taking into consideration time and space constraints, I believe that the existence of a distinct fifth step would be of utmost importance. During this step, each student team would be given the chance to correct and reflect on each other’s work in literary, grammatical, verbal and syntactical terms. This would offer students a deeper understanding of the others’ linguistic and cognitive procedures towards story making, as well as language improvement.
At the same time, the workshop could be enriched with the use of ICT in the first step of the project, in which the research for the characteristics of the heroes could be done by the students themselves online, based on the teachers’ suggestions of verified websites and digital libraries, like http://www.greek-language.gr/digitalResources/ ancient _greek/mythology/lexicon/gods/, thus boosting the students’ confidence in making choices. As far as the fourth step is concerned, students could produce and present their products digitally, adding sound, image, text and narration or creating a comic/animation strip to further delve into digital tools and to make the most out of the Web.
I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude to my colleague, Konstantina Zavalari, this Erasmus+ project coordinator, for the golden opportunity that she has offered me to be involved in this project and her constant support and encouragement.
I would also like to express my deep appreciation to my tutor, Dr. Konstantinos Paleologos, for his encouragement and his valuable and constructive suggestions on this work. His willingness to spare time and energy so generously has been very much appreciated.
Γραίκος, Ν. & Τσιλιμένη, Τ. (2007). «Αφήγηση και περιβαλλοντική εκπαίδευση», Εργαστήριο Λόγου και Πολιτισμού Πανεπιστημίου Θεσσαλίας Π.Ο.Φ.Α. και Κ.Π.Ε. Ανατολικού Ολύμπου, Παλαιός Παντελεήμονας Πιερίας, 17-53.
Freytag, G. (1863). Die Technik des Dramas, Leipzig: Verlag von S. Hirzel
Κωτόπουλος, Η. Τ. (2014). «Πράξη και διδασκαλία της “Δημιουργικής Γραφής” στη σύγχρονη ελληνική πραγματικότητα». Ε’ Επιστημονικό Συνέδριο «Συνέχειες, ασυνέχειες, ρήξεις στον ελληνικό κόσμο (1204-2014), οικονομία, κοινωνία, ιστορία, λογοτεχνία, 2-5 Οκτωβρίου 2014, Θεσσαλονίκη: Ευρωπαϊκή Εταιρεία Νεοελληνικών Σπουδών (European Society of Modern Greek Studies), Α΄/801-822
Κωτόπουλος, Η. Τ. (2016). Πανεπιστημιακές Σημειώσεις - Δημιουργική Γραφή Φλώρινα: Πανεπιστήμιο Δυτικής Μακεδονίας.
Ξεστέρνου, Μ. (2013) «Η ψηφιακή αφήγηση στην εκπαίδευση. Διεθνείς και ελληνικές πρακτικές», Παιδαγωγικός λόγος 1/39-60
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
Creative Writing in an Erasmus+ Project : A Teaching Paradigm
Dimitra Patapiou Mytaki, Greece