Visualisation to Enhance Creativity in the ELT Classroom

This is a simple but powerful technique we can use to encourage students to see things in their ‘mind’s eye’. This involves persuading students to close their eyes, concentrate and visualize. Then guide them through some form of short imaginary experience. This can be in the form of a memory or can be something more creative, like a dream or story.

To make this technique effective you need to ensure that the classroom is quiet and the students are calm. When you first try this, you may find that a few students are reluctant to close their eyes. Don’t worry too much about this, we are able to visualize with our eyes open, though closing them can make the images more vivid and help avoid distraction. Some students may become disruptive during these kinds of activities as they tend to be quite unfamiliar and people often feel threatened by that which involves change, but if you take your time you will find that they should soon settle. It can take some time for students to get used to this technique, but the more often you try it the quicker they will settle and the more useful you will find the technique.

Tips for managing visualizations

When you do these visualization activities with your students try to:

  • Guide the students through the visualization. 
  • Set the scene for them and place them in the visualization, e.g. You are sitting at your desk. The sun is shining. OR You are in the cinema. The lights go out and the film begins.
  • Ask the students questions, but be sure they understand that you don’t expect answers to the questions and leave plenty of time for them to visualize the answer before you ask another question.
  • Make sure students stay silent. If they start to laugh just wait calmly for them to relax again.
  • Stay relaxed and calm yourself.
  • Make their visualizations multi-sensory by asking about tastes, smells and sounds. You can also ask about their physical or emotional feelings.
  • Keep your voice calm and don’t try to influence their visualization by adding drama or emotion to your words.
  • Once the students have finished and you ask them to open their eyes, give them a few moments to come back to the classroom.
  • Give the students the opportunity to talk in small groups or pairs and share and compare what they saw.

Visualization exercises for the classroom

Lesson review – Ask students to try to visualize what they did in the last lesson.
Example: You could ask the students what topics they studied.
– Who did they speak with?
– What did they see written on the board?
– What new words did they learn?

Example: You could try to guide them chronologically from when they entered the classroom.
– Who did you sit next to?
– What exercise did we do fist? Etc.

A meal – Ask students to visualize their dinner or another meal from the previous day.

Example: Ask the students to try to visualize
sitting down and eating it.
– Who was with them?
– What was the first dish?
– What did they eat first from their plate?
– What did they leave until last? Ask them to try to imagine the flavours in their mouth. 

A film – Ask students to visualize the last film they saw.

Example: Ask them to think about who they went with.
– Where did they sit? What did they eat?
– Ask them to try to remember the sound of the music in the cinema the moment the lights went out.
– Ask them to visualize the opening scene and try to hear the music.

A text – Read a short text and ask students to visualize what they see while you read it. This could be something as short and simple as a sentence or could be a longer text from your coursebook.

Example: Say “There are three people waiting for a bus.” Then ask the students to try to imagine:
– What are they wearing.?
– Are they carrying anything?
– What are they doing as they wait?
– What is the weather like?
– How do they feel?
– What can they hear?
– What can they smell?

A role-play – You can ask students to visualize a role-play before they do it.

Example: If you want students to role-play buying a bus ticket, ask them to close their eyes and imagine themselves at the bus station.
– Ask them to try to imagine walking up to the counter.
– Ask them to imagine what the ticket seller looks like and what he or she says.
– Ask them to try to imagine their dialogue with the ticket seller. Then ask them to imagine walking away from the ticket office with their ticket.
– Ask them to imagine how they feel at having successfully bought their ticket using English.

A character from a text – You can review any listening or reading text you have done with students by asking them to imagine they are one of the people involved in the text.

Example: If your students have been reading Cinderella, you can ask them to imagine they are one of the ugly sisters.
– Ask them to visualize the ball.
– What are they wearing?
– What does the prince look like?
– How do they feel when they speak to the prince?
– What does the music sound like?
– What do they eat and drink?
– How do they feel when they see the prince?
– How do they feel when they see the beautiful mysterious princess arrive?
– How do they feel when they see the prince dance with her?

I hope these activities and this technique helps you to enhance your students’ creativity and the way they experience language learning. You can find many more techniques and activities like these in my ebook Hacking Creativity.

book cover - hacking Creativity
Hacking Creativity

Why we should stop doing debates in the classroom – And what we should do instead

I think it’s hard for anyone to deny that at present we live in polarized times with an increase in extreme views, extreme politics and extremism in religion.

So, how do we as teachers attempt to have a positive influence and help our students to navigate this situation?

One thing that we could do to help change the mindset of students without trying to influence their beliefs and to defuse tensions that may materialize within our classrooms is to stop having classroom debates and start helping students understand how to engage in dialogue.

So, what’s so bad about having debates?

  • Firstly, debate is confrontational. It usually revolves around setting up opposing opinions and then pitting the students that are defending the opinions associated with these opposing views against each other.
  • In debates, there are often winners and losers. This is seldom dictated by who is actually right, but rather by who is the best at debating.
  • The act of debating usually involves constructing sound arguments, but also in undermining the arguments of others. This doesn’t lead to a clearer mutual understanding.
  • Debates are often fast-paced and so favour people who are more aggressive competitive style. Again this doesn’t bring students any closer to understanding or to truth, but it may well help them win the debate.
  • The fast pace and aggressive nature of debates tend to make them more heated and emotional. This usually results in less clarity of thought and so increased polarization.
  • Through the nature of debate, lack of understanding of the views and opinions of others can be perpetuated.

So what can dialogue do to help this situation?

  • Dialogue is based around working at understanding each other’s views rather than undermining them.
  • Engaging in dialogue usually slows things down a lot and gives students time to think and consider. They aren’t under time pressure. There are no winners or losers, but only people who understand each other better at the end of the process.
  • Slowing down the interaction and encouraging students to listen to and understand each other helps to defuse the negative emotions.
  • Dialogue is a collaborative process of working together to build understanding and so brings students closer together rather than further apart.
  • Dialogue is based on active listening, asking questions, helping to make sure we have a clear understanding of what the other person believes and the foundation for their beliefs. Asking these questions doesn’t just help us to understand the other person’s views, but helps them understand and articulate their views in a way that others understand.
  • Dialogue encourages students to find common ground in their beliefs and opinions and helps them work together to resolve issues.
  • Although dialogue may not always resolve disagreement it does help students understand that we can share our ideas and be open to the ideas of others, whether we agree with them or not and still see that we can be friends at the end of the process.

The real key to building students abilities to engage in dialogue lies in helping them to develop their active listening skills and by this I mean their ability to engage with the listener and get them to explain themselves more clearly and clarify what has and hasn’t been understood.

This is a skill that many native speakers lack and it takes comprehension beyond teaching students what words and expressions mean but is developed from an understanding that communication is a complex and often inefficient and fragile process and that if we really want to understand what people feel and believe then we need to work with them collaboratively not competitively.

Here is some useful functional language that can help students develop dialogue.

Asking for clarification:

  • You mentioned … could you explain that a little more?
  • I don’t quite understand what you mean by … Could you clarify that?
  • Could you tell me a little more about…?

Encourage students to try to dig deeper and get more information from the person who is telling them about their opinions, beliefs or views.

Summarising:

  • So if I understand you correctly, you believe that ….
  • So to summarise, you feel that …
  • So, as I understand it, you believe that …
  • If I hear you correctly, you’re saying that…?
  • So you mean that…? Is that right?
  • Did I understand you when you said that…?

Encourage students to try to summaries the views of the person they are talking to, in order to check that they have understood correctly.

Agreeing to disagree:

  • I understand what you’re saying, but I just don’t feel the same way.
  • I respect your right to your views, but I don’t feel that I could ever share them.
  • I appreciate the sincerity of your beliefs, but I don’t really share them.

Encourage students to accept that the other person has the right to hold their views and that views and opinions are not facts. We can all be mistaken.

Explaining:

  • I feel that…
  • I believe that…
  • From my perspective…

Encourage students to explain and rationalize their views for others, but not present them as fact. Encourage them to take time and assume that the other person needs time to understand them.