Imagination in teacher education: initial thoughts

My Masters dissertation (2009) was on Imagination in Teacher Education. I haven’t had time since then to transform the work into a proper publication – which is something I still intend to do. My main argument in the paper is that imagination, in the context of language teacher education, has been, generally speaking, either neglected or severely constrained. The fundamental reason to attempt a study of imagination in teacher education was then – and still is now – my conviction that imagination is not something that is only manifest when teachers and teacher-trainers use creative material in their sessions or propose tasks which lead students and participants’ to employ their own imagination and creativity. It is much more than that.

Imagination is the core principle that defines the way we see the world, how we understand ourselves and how we act in society. Imagination is what shapes human actions and responses to the self and to others, and what enables human beings to communicate and change their world (Bronowsky, 1978, pp.32-5). Therefore, a discussion of imagination should have an important role in teacher education, since learning to teach necessarily engages the learner in a process of ‘personal meaning-making’ and in the ‘participation in and membership of a culture of teachers’ (Malderez and Wedell, 2007, pp.14-15) in particular socio-historical and cultural contexts that are rarely stable and require an imaginative stance and agency.

It is a curious thing that there is, in fact, plenty of material available for teachers who want to use activities that explore the imaginative, creative side of their English language learners. However, in very striking contrast with the number of titles on storytelling, drama and multimedia published as supplementary materials, the search for professional literature dealing with aspects of imagination in language learning and teacher education yields quite disappointing results.  It seems to be a trend in ELT publishing that the exploration of imagination, creativity and the Arts in language learning should be pursued and that teachers should be provided with a good supply of add-on material to use music, drawings, poetry, drama and role play in the language classroom. However, the same does not seem to happen when it comes to professional literature. Articles and books for teachers that promote the exercising of imagination are few and scattered (e.g., Carter, 2004; Malderez and Bodoczky, 1999; Woodward, 2001). The whole message seems to be that imagination is an important component of learning a language but does not have any major contribution to make to the formation of teachers as professionals.

Here there are some titles I find particularly inspiring. It is quite telling that none of them comes from anyone involved in English language teaching.

 Suggestions for further reading

  • Frye, N., 1964.  The Educated Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Kearney, R., 1988. The Wake of Imagination. London: Hutchinson.
  • Pope, R., 2005. Creativity: Theory, History, Practice. London: Routledge.
  • Ricoeur, P., 1994. Imagination in discourse and in action. In G. Robinson  and J. Rundell (eds). Rethinking Imagination. London: Routledge.
  • Warnock, M., 1976.  Imagination. London: Faber & Faber.


  • Bronosky, J., 1978. The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination. London: Yale University Press.
  • Carter, R., 2004. Language and Creativity. London: Routledge.
  • Malderez, A. and Bodoczky, C., 1999. Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Malderez, A. and Wedell M., 2007. Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices.London: Continuum.
  • Woodward, T., 2001 Planning Lessons and Courses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


4 thoughts on “Imagination in teacher education: initial thoughts

  1. You are right! Imagination and creativity are both missing from education in general. In the publishing field, many things are standardized and publisher fear that anything original or innovative may not be acceptable on the market and in class we are often overwhelmed by routine and teaching for testing. Yet, the response to anything that stimulates imagination in learning is positive, it motivates the learners and increases the levels of participation spectacularly. Incidentally, I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about “Imagination in Class” and was well received by colleagues. Looking forward to reading more on your blog and attending at the IATEFL conference!

    1. Hi Dimitris
      Thanks for your reply. It is reassuring to see that many of us think that we seriously need to bring imagination and creativity back into teaching,
      Great to know you will be at IATEFL – see you there 🙂
      Cheers – Chris

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