From teacher to manager: Installing a creativity app in teachers


Some practical ways to encourage creativity in the staffroom and classroom

Having been born missing my lower left arm I had to be creative right from birth. My poor parents panicked… would I be able to crawl? How would I manage to swim? Would I have to wear Velcro shoes forever?!

Of course, I didn’t just crawl; I wrecked havoc racing around my Leodian terraced house. I became a lifeguard and completed marathons (swimming presented no problems except sculling when I went around in circles!). I learnt to tie my laces faster than anyone else in my primary school and people still stop and stare when I bend down to tie my laces in the street. The fact remains, creativity is part of me. It was a small step to transfer it to my teaching.

What is creativity?

We could define creativity as ‘The ability to take commonplace ideas or articles and recreate them in an unexpected way.’ For teaching this definition could become ‘the ability to turn commonplace student interaction into something special’.

Where does creativity come from?

Everybody has their own ‘spark’ of creativity. My teaching flint was first struck in Kashmir, Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. This experience forced me out of my comfortable technology-SmartBoard-printer-photocopier-resources-books world and into a far less welcoming one, peopled with 40° heat, teaching in tents, malaria and no resources. I realised that the focus of our classes must be the students themselves. With such a diverse and fascinating bank of materials contained within, creativity is easy.

Creativity in the Classroom

The moral of this story is you can never rest on your laurels. As ESL teachers we must be more up-to-date than anyone. We must embrace change and ‘mix-it-up’ in our classrooms. Why not try forgetting the course book and focusing on student led and driven interaction and language? Teach with ‘nearly no resources’ – use the students themselves and a basic ‘teaching toolkit’. It can be enormously liberating and beneficial.

Teaching toolkit

• Balls
• String
• Dice
• Paper
• Pens
• Cards
• Pictures

Word clouds

Create beautiful word clouds with either your own words or chunks of text from the internet, like this one based on suburbs in Brisbane. Use them to:

• Predict content of a reading/listening text
• Create interest in a topic
• Activate schemata
• Introduce lexical sets
• Support students as they give presentations
• Highlight frequency of common written words


Try one of the following links. Insert useful/high frequency words from your course to review them, or use the crosswords to test their existing knowledge. Project them onto the whiteboard and voila! A paper-free, communicative activity!

Also try:

Intonation: Elicit one word exclamations/short sentences and give students different emotions to speak them in
Tongue twisters: Practice tricky phonemes: red lorry, yellow lorry /r/ & /l/
Just a minute: Students must talk about a given topic for 60 seconds
Statues: Form a picture to illustrate a theme/word/story
Using props: Use realia to elicit opinions/likes/dislikes
Mime: Act out adjectives/adverbs, present continuous sentences etc.)
Role-plays: Get students to use functional language by assuming a role
Narration: Provide description to accompany miming
Back to the board: Write a word or sentence behind a student – their team must define/explain and the first team to guess correctly wins a point
Wall walk: Put up recently reviewed word definitions or topics and get students to write corresponding words or phrases for another group to match
Pelmanism: Students create a set of recently learned words then turn them over and try to find the matching words (i.e. phrasal verbs/collocations)
Running words: Students write pairs of words (synonyms, antonyms etc.) then must grab the pair to the one called out
Call my Bluff: Pairs/teams write definitions of obscure words (only one is correct); others have to question them and guess the real one
Definitions: Students write a set of words (from a recently studied text?) they need to learn, pick one at random and describe until others can guess
20 questions: Students ask yes/no questions to guess what is on their partner’s card
Getting students to teach each other
Students writing class newsletters, blogs and web pages
Interviews, questionnaires and reports designed and carried out by students (using Surveymonkey)
Excursions to local places of interest, guided by students

Creativity in the Staffroom

How can we inspire teachers to ‘do different’ when they’re stuck in a rut? When they’ve taught Entry One or IELTS or Intermediate for what seems like millennia… when they’ve mulled over every methodology question and grammar point and can rival Michael Swan in their grammar or pronunciation knowledge… we must encourage our staff to keep things ‘fresh’.

I’ve tried to address the staffroom doldrums by:

• Writing a staff wiki; encouraging others to submit ideas, giving staff responsibility to create and update pages of personal interest. Asking people to think about everyday material with their teaching hat on leads to surprising results; Fawlty Towers is routinely used now by our Business English teacher: Basil Fawlty is a model of what not to do in customer service (see episode Mrs Richards, among others).

• Monthly quizzes to encourage staff to specialise, share their expertise and have fun whilst teaching lexical areas, structures and cultural diversity. Each public/bank holiday or significant celebration is therefore introduced and explained, and each month has a different focus, for example: January – Australia Day, March – Earth Hour, October – Oktoberfest.

• Highlighting useful Continual Professional Development (CPD) resource books so teachers can study themselves on areas of interest/weakness. Staffroom posters for books and websites.

• Observations do not have to be scary, punishing and humiliating activities.  Observations of other teachers not only can create a collegial, cooperative spirit, but can be an excellent way to share ideas and techniques and promote discussion. I take a different class weekly for an hour; freeing up the teacher who goes into another class to observe and then records good ideas/materials in their  ‘inspiration books’. These are small books where teachers are encouraged to record useful or innovative techniques, ideas, websites and activities.

There is no excuse for not making our classes creative and engaging. To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, “To teach one bad class, may be regarded as a misfortune. To teach two looks like carelessness”.

Blogs and websites

Useful reading
Davis, P. & Rinvolucri, M. (1988) Dictation, Cambridge University Press
Ladousse, G. P. (2002) Role Play, Oxford University Press
Marsland, Bruce (1998) Lessons from Nothing, Cambridge University Press
Meddings, Luke & Thornbury, Scott (2009) Teaching Unplugged, DELTA Publishing
Maley, Alan & Duff, Alan (2001) Drama Techniques in Language Learning, Cambridge University Press
Ur, Penny & Wright, Andrew (2008) Five-Minute Activities, Cambridge University Press


If you would like to read more in the ‘From teacher to manager…’ series, please follow the links below:


CPD. What the…?

UK vs. Oz… Same same or different?

From teacher to manager to conference speaker


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