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Stav Papadopoulos : Paving the Way to Class with Creative Thoughts

Paving the Way to Class with Creative Thoughts

By Stav Papadopoulos

As the door shuts behind me, from my first step in the street, and on my way to work, my mind keeps fiddling with creative thoughts on how to improve the day’s lesson. I am a teacher and as prepared as I am, I still think about how I can make the difference, how I can walk in with a new proposition — every day — even as I cross the threshold of my classroom. “Now, let me see…I want today to stand out. I don’t want to repeat myself. What surprising or new element could I introduce today? What do I do today to involve everyone? How do I bring them into the light? What sense of purpose do I give them?”

So, here are some of my thoughts all creative teachers will relate to and some ideas I’ve come up with all these years, while walking to work.

Your students are a source of inspiration.

Finding creative elements to give that special oomph to the usual lesson is neither difficult nor time consuming. On the contrary, it is usually a simple, appealing and familiar to the student idea that works best. It’s what you have to do to make it work. Your class is a creative powerhouse and your students a continuous source of inspiration. They come to you every single day with an endless current of ideas. Their every question, their every request, the look of wonder or doubt in their eyes is a subtle call for you to bring into play your most imaginative self and join it with that of students.

Be unpredictable!

Do something different every day even if it means that you teach from the back of the classroom for an hour or for the day. Trade places with your students and let them teach you something for a change. Change the rules — even if for a day — and teach them a valuable life lesson. Use an object they are unfamiliar with to study for a day. Close the books and write and read messages instead. Use the day to talk and not write anything. Study the history of the school, of the town. Let your students get to know you better. Get to know them.

Start with a smart plan.

When I started sending a short summary of the day’s lesson to my students I knew it had to be attractive and fun to read. I decided I had to write a daily comics strip and thought up a character named Oruro, who would convey the basic ideas of the lesson in her zany but very effective ways. I had them waiting for their own heroine to strike again with yet another grammar rule.

Learn from your students.

You may be the authority in the classroom but so are they, each in a different domain. You’ll be surprised how much they can teach you. Through the “I teach you, you teach me” project I started, the skills and smarts of many students came to light, and with their newly found confidence they went on to explore other areas of interest to them.

Get to know them.

Once you get to know them as individuals, you will also get an understanding of what motivates them to learn. Encourage them to share and to try their hand at something new. It’s to find the hidden talent and potential that creative activities aim at. Introduce them to any creative and fun activity and they will take it off the ground like you’ve never imagined. I discovered over the years that not all students talk about what talents they have or what accomplishments they’ve made. I’ll never forget how impressed everyone was to find out that the extremely shy student in the back of the class turned out to be a Bronze Medal European Champion in taekwondo.

Give everyone a sense of purpose.

Students tend to put in a greater effort when they know that their work will not be done only for the sake of assessment or to satisfy the demands of the curriculum. They need to be rewarded and acknowledged. This very idea made me think that their writing and arts and crafts will be put on display for other to see when they visit the school fair. When they heard that the whole school would turn out to see and hear their work on cultural similarities and differences, they took care to do their very best work. The summaries of their work were posted for everyone to see and learn and their findings were recorded in a souvenir booklet.

Work and play.

How could younger students fully understand complex grammatical structures? By writing very short dialogues, directing themselves and then performing in front of an audience, we got the students assuming fun roles and becoming more interested in how they can learn more through dramatization. The title of that project is “From Grammar onto the Stage” and it is still in progress, the results of which we will see at the end of the school year event.

Bring everyday life into the classroom.

You can find authentic texts everywhere; the kind students can also find at their doorstep. These real life texts can be used to learn from, to read from, to calculate from, to choose from, and to think about. Advertising literature such as store circulars, sales notices but also informative pamphlets you pick up at different services and professionals, applications for jobs and for studies, restaurant menus, travel brochures and store catalogues are only a few of the materials you can use to bring your lesson closer to their own daily experiences.

Make it happen. If you are also intent on passing your love for learning and creativity onto your students, as you make your way towards your classroom, have a look around you. Everywhere you turn, everyone you talk to, every place you visit is a source of information waiting to be learned. Surprise them, make them smile, shine a light on them, make them aware of their environment. Bring fun and play into your classroom and let your students explore other — more creative — ways of learning. •

© 2013 Stav Papadopoulos. All rights reserved.

Stav PapadopoulosStav Papadopoulos is a life-long learner and teacher of foreign languages. She conducts creative language teaching workshops, travels for inspiration, and writes e-books and school plays. More »

Updated 1/9/14