Shooting for the Stars: Creativity and Competition in the English Classroom

By Sabrina Völz

It has been my expe­ri­ence that com­pe­ti­tion, apart from the kind found in tele­vi­sion quiz shows, is often frowned upon in Ger­many. For Amer­i­cans, how­ev­er, com­pe­ti­tion may bring back fond mem­o­ries of grade school spelling bees, high school foot­ball games, and employ­ee-of-the-week awards. From an Amer­i­can per­spec­tive, com­pe­ti­tion helps to moti­vate peo­ple to be cre­ative and do their very best work. Even if you don’t win, doing your best is a great achieve­ment. Yes, for many Amer­i­cans, com­pe­ti­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty – some­times referred to as inge­nu­ity – go hand-in-hand. But what do they have to do with me, you ask? If you are a teacher or uni­ver­si­ty fac­ul­ty mem­ber, they have every­thing to do with you.

Schools and uni­ver­si­ties should be places where stu­dents don’t pull all-nighters in the name of binge learn­ing or write assign­ment after assign­ment that will end up in the prover­bial garbage can. They should be places which spark imag­i­na­tion and teach the stu­dents entrust­ed to them to think beyond the box. If there is one thing that I’ve dis­cov­ered over the years, it is that noth­ing moti­vates stu­dents more than pur­pose sprin­kled with a dose of cre­ativ­i­ty. If stu­dents under­stand that they aren’t pro­duc­ing yet anoth­er text for some dusty test archive, it helps their moti­va­tion tremen­dous­ly. Through the tri­al of sev­er­al drafts, stu­dents often cre­ate some­thing they are proud of, a piece of work that will stand the test of time. And it doesn’t hurt if they improve their Eng­lish while doing so.

Not only do Eng­lish class­rooms offer oppor­tu­ni­ties to read, ana­lyze, and dis­cuss poet­ry, short sto­ries, or cre­ative non-fic­tion; they also pro­vide a space for pro­duc­ing inven­tive expan­sion activ­i­ties, poems, and nar­ra­tives of all sorts. Some of them might even be good enough to share with a larg­er audi­ence, whether it is in the form of a class book­let, poet­ry slam, or sub­mis­sion to a cre­ative writ­ing con­test for non-native speak­ers of Eng­lish, such as the Dani­il Pashkoff Prize. While it is too late for this year, there is always the 2016 con­test to look for­ward to. Com­pe­ti­tion doesn’t have to be a dirty word; in fact, it can help us shoot for the stars.

Click here to read a stu­den­t’s sto­ry that has reached the stars.

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