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.