Q&A from webinar on 'Tapping into the creative potential of groups' by Margit Szesztay

4th August 2019

On 2nd June 2018, Margit Szesztay presented the following IATEFL webinar: 'Tapping into the creative potential of groups'

In this webinar, Margit Szesztay will explain her fascination with the potential of groups, large and small, and her exploration into how to activate and draw on group creativity. This webinar will focus on a number of activities which build on curiosity and imagination and can encourage learners of English to engage in free-flowing, spontaneous interaction. It will also focus on the role of the teacher to help create the kind of classroom culture that can nurture such creative interaction among group members. Most of the activities are suitable for large classes in state education, as well as smaller groups in language schools.

If you would like to watch the recording and find out what the activities mentioned in bold are, you need to be a member of IATEFL. If you’re not a member, Margit has shared her responses to some of the questions asked during the webinar with us on the blog. Over to Margit…

Thanks to everyone who participated in the webinar. Here are my responses to the questions I didn’t have time to answer.

For which level are these activities suitable?

Some creative, open-ended activities require only a low level of English. Out of the ones I shared with you, there were several creative brainstorming tasks. For example, in the Picture Cover-Up activity, students guess what might be missing from the visual. They can also guess in their mother tongue – this is a good opportunity for the teacher to feed in some new language. Contributing to the Group Picnic doesn’t need a high level of language either – it’s a kind of creative pattern drill.

If groups compete, do you assess them in any way? 

In these group creativity activities students only compete against time. The whole group or the whole class is challenged to think, imagine, brainstorm, play together for a common goal. There are no winners or losers. What we do is to appreciate the richness of ideas, creative solutions that different groups come up with. For example, in the case of the Scene from a Film activity during the webinar you came up with very different film titles, and in a classroom students also come up with different titles – some funny, some evocative, some surprising.

Is it OK if a teacher asks some informal and personal questions before giving a task?  

There are no universal recipes or rules about what a teacher can or cannot do. I think the personal dimension is very important and asking some questions which show the students that you relate to them as individuals and care about their well-being, not just about their level of English, is a good way of building trust, interest and motivation.

Are there any specific strategies to make role play effective in a large classroom? 

Create a relaxed, playful learning environment. It can be helpful if you as a teacher move in and out of various roles, for example, by telling stories, jokes, acting out short situations with some of the students. Demonstrating the specific type of role play can be useful. For example, do a few rounds of Instant Role Play with some of the students, asking for volunteers. This shows them how the activity goes, and it also moves them into creativity mode. Then you can ask them to follow this up by playing the game in groups of 4-5. If you have large classes, it can save time to set up home groups that are fixed for a few weeks. Then you can just say: ‘Sit with your home group friends’, instead of having to set up groups. If some students are absent, you can just readjust the groups to make sure you have roughly equal numbers.

There may be many reasons for a student not wanting to join in. Of course it depends on the situation, but would you encourage them or let them be? 

As you say, it depends on the situation. Some shy students just need a gentle nudge. Others might find even a simple role play high risk, especially with the whole class watching. I usually don’t force anyone to perform in front of the whole class, but everyone needs to participate and contribute during pair work and group work. I find that the atmosphere makes a huge difference. If there is a fun, relaxed, non-judgemental atmosphere, ideas flow more easily and there is less performance anxiety.

In doing “Instant Role Play”, is there any criterion to choose the one who would respond to the triggers? Because some students would feel more stressed in that situation. Do we need to change role? 

Start by calling on students who like to be in the limelight. Once they get the idea, they can also do it with you being ‘in the hot seat’. You can give them some possible triggers e.g. ‘We hear you would like to be the school principal’. Or they can just improvise without triggers. In any case, you will know which students really don’t want to be called on as they will avoid eye-contact with you. Wait till they are ready.

Do these activities work better with a specific level or age of students? 

Well, I work in higher education and my students have a pretty high level of English. But I have now seen generations of teachers work successfully with these and similar activities in state schools in Hungary ranging from false beginners to advanced learners. I’ve also had positive feedback from teachers I’ve worked with in China, Turkey, Tunisia and a few other countries, so I don’t think they are culture-specific.

How do you ensure students do not start speaking in their own language? 

By building a positive, inclusive learning environment where every effort is appreciated, everyone is pushed to their limits (and beyond … because there are no limits really), and at the same time where it’s OK to make mistakes. Making English feel natural, making it the language of communication for the classroom community. Even if I succeed in all this, students will occasionally slip into their mother tongue and I think that’s OK.

Margit, where can we get an energy meter? 

The way a thermometer can measure body temperature, a G-energy meter can measure the amount of energy in the group at any given moment. … Well, such a gadget hasn’t been invented yet, but in actual fact  we have no need for it, either. If we give it attention, we can pick up on the constantly changing energy levels in the classroom.  In other words, as teachers we have an in-built energy meter.

In Freinet pedagogy, students create newspapers which they then also exchange with with students in other cities, countries. That is an interesting angle, isn’t it? 

Putting together a newspaper is an excellent example of a project that encourages groups to tap into their creative potentials and create a joint product. And then sharing this with students in a different part of the world makes it all the more meaningful – there is an audience for the joint product.

Do you have any link where we can find the collection of activities for developing creativity, Margit? 

Have a look at the last slide of the webinar. There are several publications and resources listed there.

Margit Szesztay has been involved in teacher education for many years. Her special areas of interest include group facilitation, group creativity, global issues, social intelligence for teachers, and community building. She works at the Department of English Language Pedagogy at ELTE University in Budapest, Hungary. She is currently the President of IATEFL.

Thank you to Margit for agreeing to write for the IATEFL blog. 

If you’d like to write a blog post or present a webinar for us, please contact blog (at) iatefl (dot) org.

You can find out more about upcoming webinars on the IATEFL website. If you are an IATEFL member, you can access the recordings and slides from all of our webinars in the members’ area.