Reading, Writing but no Arithmetic

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I wrote a couple of weeks ago about studying (excerpts of) The Hobbit, and writing about Bilbo Baggins in my literature class. Since then we have examined some love sonnets. But as the main objective of this course is to instill the love of literature in English, I thought it would be nice if my pupils could read large chunks of writing without having assessment in mind – at least for a while.

So when I saw a message on a forum for English teachers from a colleague in Morocco who was looking for people to read and appraise her pupils’ short stories, I jumped on the occasion and suggested my own students could be part of the jury – her original idea was for teachers to rate the stories.

My colleague was quite enthusiastic about it and sent her pupils’ works via email. I printed the short stories and gave them to my pupils to read. Their task was to read them and pick out their favourite piece. It was a pleasure to see them read and discuss their choices for two hours.

My colleague’s students had been set a common topic through a question ‘What does a Moroccan think when he drinks mint tea?’ They were to write a maximum of three pages. Twelve students volunteered and submitted their works; their stories include a variety of themes such as child sexual abuse, drugs, sexual identity, childhood, memories, culture clash…

When my own pupils marvelled at the other students’ abilities to write in English, I thought that maybe I could challenge them and suggest they write their own short stories. My school has writing competitions in French but not in English. Next year, with my colleague, we have plans for a contest that will include several schools but I’d like my pupils to have confidence in their writing abilities first.

Have you ever taken part in a writing competition? Do you think that a set topic reins in writing creativity?