Professional Development

More creative ideas for the ELT classroom

Sarah Longfield

When the Cambridge University Press bookshop re-opened its ELT and Education section in July, the guest of honour was Alan Maley.

Maley is the author of a recently-published Pocket edition in the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series, and his book Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities focuses on how creativity can be fostered by using a range of classroom ideas.

At his bookshop talk, Maley gave the example of a king who needs to employ the best archery trainer. Along the castle walls one day, he sees a line of targets, with each arrow planted firmly in the middle, at the centre of the bull’s eye.  He discovers that the arrows had been shot by a young boy. When asked how he managed to always hit the bull’s eye, the boy simply replied: ‘I shoot an arrow, then where it lands, I paint the target around it.’

Maley’s point is that there has to be a structure, but within that, there should be creativity – when you have creative activities in the classroom, you shoot your arrow, then you and your students paint their target around it.

What does creativity bring to your classes? How does it benefit you and your students?

Alan Maley answers this question in the introduction to his book: “Why is creativity perceived as desirable in our field of language learning and teaching? Clearly, language itself is inherently creative: we constantly coin new utterances.

“Anything which supports this is to be welcomed. Many people cite the power of creativity to arouse motivation and to sustain self-esteem among both students and teachers. The fact of making something original in another language is deeply satisfying. Activities involving creativity also seem to encourage risk-taking and spontaneity, and to free up inhibitions, which allow students to draw on the full range of their abilities.

“We should also consider the long-term effects on both students and teachers of engagement with creative processes and outcomes. Arguably, one of the major benefits of such an approach is the formation of enduring attitudes among both students and their teachers – a more critical and exploratory mind-set, receptive of new ideas and alert to new ways of doing things.”


Activity: New headlines for old

Below is a stage-by-stage activity from Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities, using newspaper headlines as a stimulus.

As Alan Maley explains: “Headlines have to fit into a defined space on the page, catch the attention of readers, and convey the essence of the article which follows. In this activity, students are invited to have fun recombining headlines to produce some original new ones.”

Class discussion:

After distributing the list of headlines, discuss at least some of them with students.

  • Are there words they do not know?
  • What might the articles they belong to be about?


Then show them how the headlines can be broken down in different ways, as in the example above.

Pair work:

Students then work in pairs to make some new headlines by combining parts of two headlines. Each pair should try to make up at least three new headlines. For example:

Group work:

Each pair joins another pair. They exchange and discuss the headlines they have created.

Everyone then reports back to the class. They should suggest what the articles corresponding to their headlines might be about. Record any specially striking headlines on the board.

Follow-up activities:

  • Keep a record of all the new headlines. In a later class, students can use this bank of materials to select lines which fit together into a headlines poem.


  • Introduce Paul Dehn’s poem Gutter Press(easily found on any search engine). This is very suitable for discussion of the issues around unethical journalism. It is also excellent as a performance poem.


Go further:

Try another practical activity from Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities.

Heidi Burrows
Professional Development

The changing focus of adult ESL

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