Earlier this year, I had a very interesting conversation with one of our Axium alumni who matriculated in 2014. We were speaking about learning English as a first additional language, and the difficulties presented by each of the three exam papers. He spoke, in particular, of his struggles with paper 3 – the writing paper – and his frustration with the way he had been taught to answer the paper. He told me his teachers had always instructed him to write the discursive or argumentative essay because that way he could learn the structure before the exam and be prepared for what was required. The problem with this approach, in his opinion, was two-fold: First, if he didn’t have much knowledge on the given argumentative topic – he would struggle to write anything even if he knew the structure perfectly. And second, it stifled the creative development he might have gained from being taught how to answer the narrative essay questions.
This was all particularly interesting for me as an English teacher – it highlighted a problem I had encountered from very early on in my classes with rural students. They were reluctant when asked to perform tasks which involved creative thinking, imagination, or make-believe. Whether it was coming up with a short story, drawing creative images to represent words and phrases, or even inventing a product to advertise in a creative way.
Obviously, a lot of the shyness I observed when it came to oral presentations and perceived lack of creative freedom of thought can be attributed to the difficulties in engaging with second language acquisition. However, I also feel a lot of this has to do with the way in which students – high school students in particular – are taught to engage with English. The same rote learning methods used in the more content-heavy subjects are applied for the most part, even to the literature components of the syllabus. And as such, reading for enjoyment and out-the-box thinking are neglected. For a culture that is so steeped in storytelling, song, and imagination, I felt that to continue to undervalue this more creative side of the curriculum was to do a great disservice to these students.
So after an intensive figurative language bootcamp, in which we discussed in detail, each of the different examples of figurative language – I asked the students to write an essay entitled “A Day in the Life of My Hero”, with the added twist that they needed to include at least five different examples of figurative language. I then pulled quotes from their essays of the best and most creative examples of figurative language and asked the students to illustrate each one. What you see below are the final results. Similes, metaphors, personifications, alliterations, and even onomatopoeia are all present!