- Key words: Collaborative learning, dialoguing, creative writing, peer-editing
- Learner level: Beginner to advanced
- Learner maturity: High school and university
- Preparation time: 5 minutes
- Activity time: Four to six 45-minute lessons
- Materials: Blackboard, writing paper
The process of writing is not necessarily a silent and solitary act. Collaborative writing is a social activity in which students can practice communicating and co-operating in the target language. The following is an example of a writing project that is an interactive, four-skill language task because it requires students to speak, listen, read and write together.
Step 1: Write the following on the board:
Part 1: They Meet
Setting: Dotonbori Bridge (or another well-known spot notorious for romantic interludes)
Step 2: Ask the following: “If the boy is trying to pick up the girl, in English, what should he say?” Write the best or funniest answer, then continue with: “How should the girl reply?” Write the best answer, ensuring that it is an answer upon which a good storyline can develop. Continue this for ten lines or so, until you decide that the dialogue has reached a satisfactory conclusion, but has the ability to continue in the next scene. By this time, students’ imaginations should have sparked.
Step 3: Tell students that they will become co-authors of a love story and let them choose a partner to work with. Give each pair a copy of a prepared handout (see Appendix) to write their story. The handout consists of six pages of paper stapled together.
- Page 1: Students create a title and draw the cover of their “book.”
- Page 2: Students create profiles and draw their two fictitious characters.
- Pages 3-6: Students decide on settings and write out their story in a four-part/four-page plot.
The story doesn’t have to be told with the typical “Boy” and “Girl” dialogue. It can be “Old man” and “Young lady,” or “Boy” and “Boy,” or “Dick” and “Jane,” etc. Students may also wish to create extra details, such as background narratives or text-like messages.
Some examples of settings are “At the Eiffel Tower,” “A beach in Bali at sunset,” or “In the classroom.” Deciding the setting before writing will help students imagine and focus on a scene.
When the stories are completed, students can peer-share by silent reading or reading aloud another pair’s work in the form of dialogue. Not-so-shy students may wish to dramatically perform their own or another pair’s work in front of the class (I encourage this with bonus marks). Peer-assessment can also be done by asking students to give comments (oral and/or written).
I believe this assignment should be marked based on creativity/originality, storyline/plot and characterization more than on grammar and spelling. I like to give personal feedback and not just point out where grammar and spelling are wrong. Students should also be assessed on their collaborative ability and peer-editing skills.
As a teacher, I admit, I can complain about a big pile of marking. However, marking these stories is much more fun than marking essays or traditional quizzes or tests. When I hear and read my students’ stories, I feel like I am getting a little treat back from them. What teacher wouldn’t enjoy reading a gay comedy? Or an action-packed story about a male pilot who falls in love with a female hijacker/terrorist? Or a dramatic story that develops when there is an uneven number of students and a group of three has to create a love triangle theme? And don’t be surprised when reading a teacher-student love story, because one seems to be written in almost every class!
When a good writer is having fun, the audience is almost always having fun too. ~Stephen King
The appendix is available below.