Foam Rubber Frames for Creativity: Discovering Our Deep Emotions
Carmen Marchante has taught Spanish and Italian as foreign languages and has been a teacher trainer in Brazil and in Italy. She now teaches Italian in Escuela Oficial de Idiomas Tribunal in Madrid. She has worked for years on Spanish theatre classical texts adapted into commedia dell’arte scenari.
This project described in the article probably wouldn’t have been possible if I had not been this summer at Pilgrims at Drama course. It is the result of a special mood that flourished in autumn after having lived in a particularly fertile climate in summer, (and rainy days!) So thanks to Peter Dyer, my teacher, and my colleagues in the course.
The role of creativity in my classroom
Creativity it is important in my classroom because it is directly connected with making deep emotions jump out. This is especially important when you are teaching adults because in most cases they have quite forgotten how to make their emotions come out in their own language. So, if the foreign language becomes a way to do this work, they will have not only a joyful learning but also a deep connection with the new language which will become a rich unexplored land where to make a valuable vital journey through themselves. There will be multiple benefits in their activities as creativity is the path towards their own experiences, their emotions and also the way to express them in the foreign language. Most of this looks surely more attractive than reading politically correct texts about topical issues or just writing about ideal topics.
Creativity can be pulled out from most of the current situations you come through in the classroom, it is not necessarily apart from usual activities. It’s a mood. You have just to find the way of changing the code of your teaching in order to make students think, feel and change. Let’s give an example. Students have been working with a physical object and have been referring to it for what it really is in their dialogues with other students. It’s time you demand them to imagine that it is a different object and to continue their conversation referring to it as if it were another object with different characteristics and properties they have to attribute to it.
Creativity involves senses and makes objects breath and talk. A good idea to contribute to this atmosphere is to use folk tales. In this kind of texts practically everything is possible. Usually students are afraid of not having understood properly and when I assure them they have perfectly understood they feel comfortable and relaxed. They need a little help to break down the barrier of logical thinking and appreciate a fire in the chimney that is talking, a leg walking alone or the different meaning of time respecting our life.
Creativity it is multisensorial: the more you involve senses, the best the learning you will get. So creativity is integrating senses in a global experience, not just reading or writing or listening.
Creativity needs rules because only with rules can you give the space to your feelings and find the way to express them. Like music.
Creativity demands a lot of energy from the students, involving different actions and activities in their everyday lives like, for example, ferreting around in old drawers for black and white photographs or recycling waste materials to give them a new life in the classroom. But all this work is extremely valuable and enrichening and it is felt as a challenge by the students. An opportunity for a good learning.
Implementing creativity: Foam rubber frames
The project is taking some 15 - 20 minutes of several lessons, so I think it can take globally about 90 -100 minutes in an Intermediate or Advanced level depending on how many students work in the project.
The inspiration came to me from a recycling bin near a big luxury hotel near my home in Madrid. I was rushing to school when a pile of brilliant orange boxes caught my eye. Obviously the precious gifts inside them had gone to their fortunate owners but the luxury brand had preserved them into square pieces of rubbery foam (25x25 cm) which were perfect to make light frames, as there was a square cut inside much of them . There were also ribbons hanging from them. They suggested me the sense of lack of weight.
Now I had the frames and I needed something to put inside them as light as they were.
I thought of limericks as a fresh form of poetry matching the lightness of the frames well. I gave some limericks to my students. I asked them to enjoy them. Then they could investigate the structure, the rhythm and the pattern. And to look at all these things in relation with the content. And that was my first day carrying out the project.
The next day I hung some of the foam rubber frames in the classroom. Everybody was surprised. I told them about the story of the treasure they could admire on the classroom wall and I asked them to make an improvised short story about the gifts that had been so well preserved in the rubber foam and their hidden “life” .
Some students improvised fantastic stories of these luxury objects as a way of making a happy end to a love story. Other students made a portrait of the person who gave the gift or of the person who received the present. Some of them disagreed and all of them laughed at all the absurd stories of adventures, lovers, quarrels and magic objects.
Then I asked them to forget the emptiness of the boxes and the frames and to think about something that had recently happened in their lives and to write a limerick about this. Some limericks had been read a week before in the classroom. They should write the limericks at home. All the limericks should have their place in the frames.
And that was the second day of “rubber foam frames”.
It was very touching for me to read the first limericks. They were involving deep emotions in their agile form. And they showed clearly the effort of being free of some pain. To avoid it flowing in the verses.
One of the students wrote a limerick in which she told us about a “schoolmate named Isabella” (her name) whose son “wanted to fly”. It was written in third person. There was fortunately a happy end.
She explained us later that her son had had a car crash in which he was literally reborn the week before. But it could be guessed emotionally in the verses.
Another student evoked the memory of her town: Barcelona. She had left Barcelona with her family a few months before and she lived now in Madrid. It was a very touching and nostalgic portrait of a beautiful town.
Every student read their limerick and I put them in the frames.
Everyone was empathic with the limericks and a warm atmosphere was created all around. There were more limericks to come as there was no dead line to write them. So the wall would receive all these verses and pieces of student’s life.
The thing to do now is to colour the limericks giving each word its own colour. For this purpose I’ll bring a bunch of flowers of different sizes, types and colours and everyone can pick one of them, while reading the limerick. They should choose the flower that “matches” the limerick and use it as if it were the topic.
I could say that the normal objects we find around can become important to inspire good learning. Recycling everyday objects in order to give them another signification for language classroom especially if they are chosen by learners is a good practice. This work can be trained by students and surely it shall be an adventurous teaching procedure as it focus on surprise. The project works also with creative writing as it is defined in Alan Maley (2012) and increases learners’ motivation as they have an active role in the whole process.
Johnstone, K., 2007, Improvisation and the theatre, Bloomsbury.
Maley, A., 2012 , Creative writing for students and teachers, HLT, issue 3 June 2012.
Puchta, H., Rinvolucri, M., 2005, Multiple Intelligences in EFL, Helbling languages.
Woodward, T., 2006, Headstrong, A book of mental frames for mental exercise, Tessa Woodward publications.
Please check the Creative Writing with Mario Rinvolucri course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the CLIL for Primary course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.
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