Languages & Creativity: Are creative or functional teaching approaches more effective in the language classroom? by Suzanne Graham and Heike Krüsemann

The European Literature Network is delighted to be collaborating with Creative Multilingualism – a large-scale research project led by the University of Oxford, which studies the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. In our new series of blogs entitled Languages & Creativity, ELNetter and post-doctoral researcher on the project Heike Krüsemann will curate a selection of Creative Multilingualism posts for a fascinating glimpse into the world of language research. Over to you, Heike!

It’s official – languages and creativity go together! Who knew? Well, clearly not everyone, so the Arts and Humanities Research Council gave us money to do some research and spread the word. Don’t you just love it when things fall into place like this? Our intrepid research teams right now are busy studying the creative power of metaphorthe construction of a meaningful world in nature (that’s naming plants and animals to you and me), intelligibility between languages and communitieslanguages in the creative economyworld literaturescreative possibilities in translation, and creativity in language learning. While we’re doing that, we’d like to share some of our findings and related musings with you, dear ELNetters, in bite-size chunks and blog post format. Do let us know what you think – we’re always happy to hear from you!

By Heike Krüsemann

Heike Krüsemann is a UK-based researcher, writer and translator with an interest in Language, Culture and Education. Blog: German in the UK, Twitter: @Dr_Heike_K. Heike’s #RivetingReview of Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf; Heike’s #RivetingReview of Bühlerhöhe by Brigitte GlaserHeike’s Short Story with a translation twist: German Cinnamon

Blog post 17:

Are creative or functional teaching approaches more effective in the language classroom?

The contents of your pencil-case, the furniture in your bedroom and what your best friend looks like ‒ not exactly the most riveting conversation-openers. Yet such tired topics are not uncommon in classrooms up and down the country. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Our classroom-based research project explores the impact of using poems (on such themes as love, death, migration) and different teaching approaches (‘creative’ versus ‘functional’) on 14 year-old language learners’ motivation and creativity levels. We have been working with approximately 600 French and German learners in year 9, and, of course, their teachers, from 16 secondary schools across England. Since age 14 is the end of the compulsory stage of language learning in England, students in year 9 (though sometimes also year 8) tend to make important decisions about whether to continue or drop the language they are currently studying.

After designing and piloting tests to assess general creativity, vocabulary, reading, writing, and a detailed motivation questionnaire, we conducted a series of baseline tests in our project schools in October 2017. In collaboration with language teachers, we developed around 50 PowerPoint presentations and lesson plans in French and German for the intervention phase. 18 language teachers came to our training event in October 2017, and soon after began the exciting first phase of teaching interventions.

Classes were allocated to a text type (literary or factual) and a teaching approach (creative or functional) for use in their year 9 language lessons. Once all intervention lessons had been taught for Phase 1, our team of researchers visited the project schools and conducted the same (or very similar) tests with the pupils. So that we could compare the text types and teaching approaches, classes then swapped over text type and approach for Phase 2, at the end of which we collected learner data for a third and last time, completing the process in July 2018. During the data collection year of  2017/18 we got to know our partner teachers and schools very well ‒ we popped in for regular lesson observations and we interviewed teachers and learners on their thoughts on the project.

With so much data from so many participants to crunch, our analysis of findings is still on-going. What we have found out so far though, is that at the start of the project, learners’ decision to continue with the language they were studying was very much bound up with their sense of self-confidence in using the language, especially regarding how well they could express their thoughts and feelings. Their decision on whether to continue language study was also related to how far they could envisage themselves as a future user of that language, and to their level of interest in the culture of the countries where it is spoken. Perhaps in contrast to popular perceptions, both ‘language continuers’ and ‘language droppers’ believed that it was important to learn a language.

Overall, feedback from learners and teachers has been encouraging. Our teenage learners emerged as insightful, emotionally intelligent and open to new language learning experiences. Learners told us that studying literary texts “was really fun, cos you get like to learn new stuff, learn how to express your feelings” and “I quite liked finding the emotions … through the text”. Teachers liked that the materials allowed them to engage with the bigger issues, and they enjoyed seeing a different side to their pupils. One teacher spoke for her colleagues when she said “the literary texts allowed [pupils] to open their minds and express themselves in different ways, dipping into their emotions. Taking part in the project has given me the courage to try out more ambitious things in my classroom in the future”.

Example teaching materials

A challenging poem: ‘Der Schmetterling’ by Pavel Friedman (Topic: the Holocaust). For the full poem, go to:


Image below: Accessing emotions in the year 9 language classroom, using the Holocaust poem ‘der Schmetterling’

Creative Teaching activity exercise based on poem

By Suzanne Graham and Heike Krüsemann

Suzanne Graham is Professor of Language and Education at the Institute of Education, University of Reading. She leads Creative Multilingualism’s 7th strand: Linguistic Creativity in Language Learning.

Heike Krüsemann is a postdoctoral researcher on Linguistic Creativity in Language Learning.

This post was first published on the Creative Multilingualism site on 9 October 2018.

Read previous blogs in the Languages & Creativity series:

Blog 1: My love affair with eight languages by Alice Sze

Blog 2: A tale of two city guides: multilingual identity, writing, and translation by Heike Krüsemann

Blog 3: How language learning can be inspired by a fictional world by Emma Huber

Blog 4: Do you have butterflies in your stomach or little deers jumping in your heart? by Marianna Bolognesi

Blog 5: Creative translation: bending to rules to keep it personal by Philip Bullock

Blog 6: Why translation matters by Julie Curtis

Blog 7: We are Children of the World

Blog 8: Helping to balance the European argument – John le Carré speakes out for language learning by Katrin Kohl

Blog 9: “Reader, I went through a wedding ceremony with him”: Translating Jane Eyre by Eleni Philippou

Blog 10: How curiosity led me to learn 7 languages by Yulia Polishiuk

Blog 11: How I produced my first-ever (multiligual) school play by Ann Poole

Blog 12: How learning languages can help in a career as a film producer and writer by Jessica Benhamou

Blog 13: ‘Lessons learnt’ by a professional translator – adapting the same play three times over three years by Noah Birksted-Breen

Blog 14: Creative translation in the classroom by Charlotte Ryland and Lucy Christmas

Blog 15: Korean pop – BTS and fan translation by Sowon S Park

Blog 16: Translating a Russian play into Hip-Hop theatre – a conversation by Rajinder Dudrah and Noah Birksted-Breen

Category: Languages & Creativity


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