How to Integrate Extensive and Active Reading to Creative Writing

It's been a while since I  have written a  blog post for my own blog. As a Brazilian, I spent half opf my winter holidays enjoying  the Football World Cup and the other half I was working for pleasure, form my home, writing posts and articles for teachers' sites and  newsletters and , the best of all, presenting and attending presentations online in online conferences such as RSCON2014,   TOBELTA and #ITDIMOOC . 
Amazing holidays , indeed,  when I learned a lot form educators , friends and colleagues from all over the world and who are part of the best PLN on Earth. What a pleasure to watch them , share ideas , learn, discover and having them watching me too. Great!

Having said that,  this blog post is the result of what I presented for TOBELTA  , with a few more ideas that time prevented me to present.

Although I am a very talkative person, reading and writing are my favourite skills because I am  very visual and emotional too. On the contrary, as a teacher and  a leaner, I've noticed that reading and writing  have been a burden for a lot students , mainly when learning a second language. In order to change this situation a bit and make my students have fun while reading a writing, I've tried my best to show enthusiasm ( one of the best skills for effective teaching) , create and learn activities from my PLN and colleagues to make my students make the most of their learning.

This post has to do with the use of literature in the EFL/ESL classroom  and I aim to show how reading literature is an excellent way for students to make progress in English.

       " The best way to improve your knowledge of a foreign language  is to go and live among its speakers. The next better way is to read extensively in it." 
 ( Nutell 1996)

Let's then define some basic concepts before we share ideas :

Reading : The activity of understanding written  words ; it's  perceiving  a written text in order to understand written words. 

Extensive reading : A way of language learning through reading : reading for pleasure.  

Active reading :  Refers to the assumption that reading is an active -meaning - building process

So is reading a passive skill? No!  After all, when you read you assimilate information , follow instructions, perceive meaning , make inference and bring a number of emotions to an action , don't you?

Literature:  According to Macmillan English Dictionary, literature consists of stories, poems and plays , especially those that are considered value as art and not just as entertainment.

                                             Photo from eltpics  by @mkofab

Why should we use literature in the language classroom?

There are four many reasons: 

1. Literature encourages interaction: Reading a book is like sharing your feelings with the author and characters. Sometimes it serves us as a mirror where we see some scenes of our lives, some of our dreams and experiences reflected there. Texts are often rich with multiple layers  of meaning which allow us , the readers, to make inferences and different interpretations. Furthermore, in the classroom, literary texts can be effectively mined for discussions and the sharing of feelings and opinions.

2. Literature expands language awareness: Literary texts are, perhaps, the best standard of written language (usually high standard) we are exposed to. they have sophisticated or non-standard examples of language which will certainly raise students' awareness of the norms of language use ( Widdiwson, 1995). So it enriches our students' vocabulary acquisition and , consequently, will improve their speaking and writing skills.

3. Literature is authentic material: Literature produces language to fulfil some aspects of the society.It often exposes us to exciting plots, interesting characters and authentic dialogues to learn a language in context.  It also allows students to examine values in literary texts and develop attitudes towards them. These values and attitudes relate to the world outside the classroom . which is of great benefit for the students' growth. Literature reflects different aspects of society in different cultures, and when those cultural doors are open, they have a deeper understanding of other countries, peoples, cultures and values.

4. Literature is motivating:  As an avid reader and cinema fan, I have similar feelings when I read a book or watch a film. You just get into a new world, meet new people, get involved , picture scenes in your mind and your imagination simply flows. Literary texts are of high status in most cultures and countries. So they help students to feel real sense of achievement when they understand and interpret any piece of  respectful literary text. In addition, literary texts are usually more interesting than those texts found on coursebooks.

In spite of all these benefits, the wrong approach to reading literature can make it a boring and frustrating endeavour. In order to change this scenario, let's reflect a little on extensive  reading , mainly on the use of readers in the EFL classroom and how I integrate them to creative writing

Why Readers ? 

So readers have graded language for : vocabulary, grammar complexity and number of words according to the students' level.

Why Extensive Graded Reading?

To make literature more accessible and enjoyable.
Because readers reach all levels of literate learners
Readers develop good reading habits  as they encourage learners to take responsibility for their learning process once they develop good reading habits.
Reading can be easily done anywhere (it's not necessarily  a classroom activity)
It incorporates a content- based approach to language learning and  a lot of other benefits.

Creative Writing 

"Creative writing is anything where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions  rather than simply convey information." ( Ali Hale) 

                                                                                                                                photo by Ali Hade  
Creative writing:
Involves fluency-based activities
Students can use their creative-thinking and language skills
It can also include discussions, simulations, communication games and/or also real life experiences 
It can be expressed in many forms such as acrostics, haiku, poems, storytelling from a narrative and once you start writing you discover new and different ways to express yourself and it will never stop. 

Creative writing combines handwriting and cognitive processes (mental behaviour) mainly associated with the memory integrating information from different sources and spontaneous thoughts and feelings. 

Writing has been reinvented 

No! Don't panic! Everything we have learned and taught about writing matters a lot! Nothing is irrelevant. All we have done is important and value. It is just done differently now. but the basic concepts are there , even if taught differently. However, notebooks, notecards and other types of writing are now electronic
Handwriting is not to be despised , but we should recognise the benefits of electronic apps and web tools for collaborative writing, for example , that makes it easier for  the students to work together than if it were to be done with pencil and paper. The picture below illustrates very clearly how writing has been reinvented:

A lesson plan 

This lesson plan is about one of my favourite books " Of Mice and Men" . I was  very lucky to have a very motivated  upper intermediate group of students who engaged this project and  worked beautifully on this moving and touching  novel. 

You can see the whole lesson plan  including the students' production below on slideshare:

A bag with six  ideas - More activities 

Important : These activities were experienced and worked for my groups  of students of different levels. Feel free to adapt them to your groups and make sure they'll fit your students's needs and learning styles.

Activity 1:

  1. The cover : Deliver different readers to groups  of  students and ask them to guess the story from the cover. Get some feedback from the students. 
  2. If you have a screen (IWB) for example, display each cover  with a very short summary of the plot. Don't forget to introduce the characters. 
  3. Presenting vocabulary in context : Provide each group of students with  sentences from the stories.  These sentences should contain difficult or unusual words. 
  4. SS could look up the meaning of words in their mobile devices  or in a regular dictionary 
  5. Set  a date for the students to read the book and present the class projects that (preferably) should contain some of the following items: 
  • Information about the author 
  • The historical context when the story was written  (cultural background )
  • A film on the book ( if there's one)
  • A song  that reminds the plot or the film  based on the book 
  • Their impression about the book. 
  • If they would recommend the book  to other people or not.  ( They should give reasons for their choices) 
  • A creative written summary about the book  such as  : Ghost stories and New Zealand  both written by teenage students . 
Activity 2

1. Each student chooses a book from the school library ( in my school , a monolingual language institute, books are organised by level from starters to advanced) 
2. They read the book and prepare a  presentation 
3. For each book there is a quiz for the other students to answer after the presentation so that it raises interest. 
4. Students who get more correct words  should be awarded with sweeties or any other treat. 

Activity 3

Using comic strips : My favourite is bitstrips. If the whole group is reading the same book , each group could choose a chapter that could be broken into chunks tp make a comic strip . Encourage students to be creative with the characters speeches. What they said or would say, etc. Provide students with the type of language they should use in the speech bubbles. 

Activity 4 : Using Animoto and 

These electronic tool is great for projects . After reading the book and working  on the language, students can create a video with Animoto using their drawings and/or photos, adding texts and  music.  The other students can write comments and ask questions. Animoto can  also be used to make book trailers , click here to check. 

Activity 5: Using  Voicethread 

Voicethread is a totally web -based application that allows you to have conversations and to make comments around images using any mix of text, a microphone , a webcam , a telephone or upload audio file.
See here an example of  students  narrating a story  based on a book they've read  after they have written the story with their own words. 

Activity 6 : An interview ( An activity adapted from Lindsay Clanfield  ) 

Another way to have students writing creatively about the books they've read is asking them to write questions and interview the characters of the book. Students role-play interviews with  the main characters ( on, two, three.. depending on the size of the group). Teachers assign the students the roles of the characters  and the rest of the class prepare questions   they would like to ask them. The students playing the role of  the characters must try to put themselves into the characters´shoes and give suitable answers. Time and support must be given by the teacher to both interviewees and interviewers in order to make this successful. Depending on the book and character to be interviewed,  you could imagine that the interviews are taking place in a police station, on a TV, in a famous hotel, in a big party full of famous people or simply in the character's house or wherever seems appropriate. It can  also be recorded. " With a little imagination it can be a lot of fun" (L. Clanfield)

Sources of inspiration


I have already mentioned the benefits of  integrating reading and creative writing. However I'd like to reinforce what other  benefits I've observed (and still do ) when my students engage in projects like those mentioned above:

Students feel real and quick sense of achivement
They interact better ( using Edmodo has helped me a lot to have my students interacting better )
The four skills are naturally integrated 
It's  a great opportunity to raise students´s curiosity and cultural awareness
reading and writing allow students to good range of vocabulary acquisition 
And most of all, they read and write for pleasure! 

All the book projects can be done electronically or not, and all the activities can be adapted accordingly.
 For the written projects to be presented, students can use web tools such the ones you have just read about and some others such as thinglinkglogstersmoreprezi, or any flipping book creator ( and many many more web tools or apps).  They can also use cardboards, role play scenes of the books and / or  create paper-based books.

A final reminder: It's crucial  that reading and writing projects have a clear purpose, It's worth being to meet students needs but also wants as they usually don´t have the best experiences with extensive reading at school ( at least in Brazil,  in most of the cases).  If possible, negotiate with them what to do, what to read , what to write and how to present. You won't regret at all !

Enjoy your teaching!


Patricia Salguero said...

Indeed it is still possible all of these great techniques. As you mentioned here, there is always the chance to negotiate to create a good rapport in our classes. Thanks for sharing such as great post and plennary with us dear, Roseli. There is a long path to go on and our main source of inspiration should be our learners and our own growth as educators. Congratulstions for being an inspired educator and humsn being!!

Patricia Salguero said...

Indeed, Roseli. It is still possible to follow these useful techniques to develop good results in reading and writing. I find very interesting the way of Literature with teenagers and young adults. I also believe that by negotiating we can get awesome rapport in our classes which influences a lot in the production and development of our students. There is a long path to go on in our field and I am sure our beliefs in our students will make the success of our learners real. Thanks for sharing and special congratulations for being an inspired educator and human being!

Hana Tichá said...

Dear Roseli,
I love the post and I loved your presentation - it was one of the few I was able to attend during the holidays, and it was worth it. I liked the way you elegantly blended reading and writing; two skills so mutually dependent. I also loved the way you presented - your calm and engaging manners made me feel secure and motivated, and at some point, almost as a side effect, I realized I'd definitely want you as a language teacher. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I love being connected with you.

Roseli Serra said...

Hi Hana and Patty,

Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I feel really happy and proud to share such my ideas with you. Feel free to use them, improve and adapt them. You both made my day with your moving comments.
Feel warmly hugged :)

Blog di Signora Perla said...

Great and refreshing ideas. Thanks for this article.

Adam said...

Hi Roseli!

I came here looking for your classroom management blog post, but I really enjoyed this post too!

Roseli Serra said...

Hi, Adam,

Than you for visiting my blog and reading my new post. As for the post on classroom management, you can find it on
What a pleasure!

Vocab Monk said...

Thank you for the post!
Learning to spell helps to cement the connection between the letters and their sounds, and learning high-frequency "sight words" to mastery level improves both reading and writing. English writing system is not merely to ensure accurate pronunciation of the written word – it is to convey meaning. helps you to learn new words with their spellings, meaning and pronunciation.

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