Tag Archives: Imagination

Imagination in teacher professional development

In a previous entry on imagination in teacher education I focused on publications intended to promote creativity and imagination in English language teaching and learning. Now I would like to focus on professional development since the way the content and ideas advanced in books and articles are disseminated among ELT practitioners is mainly through teacher education programmes, courses, workshops, seminars and conferences which are sponsored and supported by major publishers and educational organizations.

Disputable as it may be in terms of long term results, sustainability and impact (Lamb, 1995, pp.78-9) and cultural appropriateness (Leather, 2001, p.232), attendance at short courses, talks and workshops in conferences is still an important and stimulating part of ELT professional life for most teachers and teacher trainers (Beaven, 2009, p.8). Conferences organized by TAs usually attract a fairly good number of delegates and a flow of ELT professionals linked to the publishing industry, education providers, and institutions interested in the promotion of English around the world, such as the British Council. A way to see how much currency imagination and creativity have among ELT professionals who participate in such events is to look at conference programmes.

For instance, the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language’s (IATEFL), Annual Conference consists of a 4-day programme of over 300 talks, workshops and symposia (IATEFL, 2014, online). In the past ten years, there has been a small but steady increase in the number of presentations related to classroom techniques and activities to promote creativity using songs, drama, storytelling, literature, visual arts, and new media. The IATEFL Literature, Media, and Cultural Studies (LMCS) SIG has also been promoting imaginative and creative uses of material to promote language learning in its pre-conference events and in its SIG day presentations for years. At Cardiff 2009, there was a symposium especially devoted to Art in ELT, convened by Alan Maley. At Harrogate 2010, I delivered a talk on Imagination in Teacher Education which largely focused on the research I carried out for my MA degree. At Harrogate 2014, we saw the creation of the C Group, and had a symposium devoted to Creativity in ELT, once again largely organized by Alan Maley. The C Group and the LMCS are now organizing a joint event to take place in October 2014 in Oxford which theme is Teachers Create Learners Create. On the whole, it seems to be true that there has been a growing awareness of the importance of creativity in teacher education and language learning, at least among teachers and teacher trainers associated to IATEFL.

We should also consider if the same tendency is present at formal teacher education programmes, both at initial teacher training and continuing professional development levels. As for academic qualifications, it is virtually impossible to draw accurate conclusions about the status of imagination and creativity in the syllabus of degree programmes due to the overwhelming number of undergraduate and postgraduate Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) courses being taught at education colleges and universities around the world. What we can do is to look at the syllabuses of some of these courses in the hope that this will reveal a general trend in some specific contexts. This can be a potential area of investigation for educators interested in taking future research in the field.

When it comes to professional qualifications, the market of TESOL short certificate and diploma courses is unquestionably dominated by the Cambridge – Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA), the Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DELTA) – and the Trinity College – Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) and Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DipTESOL) (Barduhn and Johnson, 2009, p.62). These are courses for candidates who have little or no previous English Language teaching experience; candidates with some teaching experience but little previous training; or candidates with some experience but who wish to achieve a higher professional qualification in ELT. These courses are usually taken by both English native speakers who want to obtain a professional qualification to teach English abroad and non-native speaker EFL teachers who seek to obtain an internationally recognized qualification to improve their career prospects. There is considerable controversy and criticism regarding the efficiency and suitability of such courses to prepare people to teach EFL (Brandt, 2006; Ferguson and Donno, 2003), but it is undeniable that they can provide some training where otherwise none would be given and that they can be a first step towards further later academic TESOL qualifications.

In these courses, the knowledge and skill development model of teacher education is embodied in the concern for the development of teaching skills, with emphasis on classroom management, teaching methodology and language awareness, which reveals the strong influence of competency-based training. This is in turn coupled with a marked tendency towards analysis and reproduction of supposedly effective teaching practices and focus on knowledge of and about the English language. The words ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’ do not appear in the syllabus or handbook any of these professional qualification programmes.

A note of warning is necessary here though. Even with the content of academic and professional teacher training programmes excluding overt references to imagination and creativity, it does not necessarily follow that the teacher trainers’ approach in class excludes those. Teacher trainers working on such courses may well introduce tasks involving imagination and creativity in their own sessions and propose the discussion of such issues in their lessons with their trainee teachers. There is no way of knowing the extent to which imagination is actually present in the everyday sessions of student teachers without an ethnographic study in specific institutions as it depends on the trainers’ own views and understanding of what is important in teacher education, which makes the whole discussion of the roles of imagination and creativity in teacher development even more indispensable.


  • Bardhun, S. and Johnson, J., 2009. Certification and Professional Qualifications. In
  • A. Burns and J. C. Richards (Eds) The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Beaven, B., 2009. Exeter Conference Selections. Canterbury: IATEFL.
  • Cambridge English, 2014. Teaching English. [online]Available at http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/teaching-english/ Accessed 10 Aug 2014
  • Lamb, M., 1995. The consequences of INSET. ELT Journal, 49/1.
  • Leather, S., 2001. Training across cultures: content, process, and dialogue. ELT Journal, 55/3.
  • Trinity College London, 2014. Teaching English. [online] Available at http://www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=293 Accessed 10 Aug 2014

Imagination in teacher education: initial thoughts

IATEFL is already on the horizon and this year a group of us will be launching an initiative to motivate teachers to adopt a more creative approach to English language teaching. You will be hearing more on this in time but one of the reasons for me to join the initiative is my firm belief that we should be giving both teachers and students more opportunities to develop their creativity and imagination.

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.

I hope I will be able to develop more on this in the months to come. Meanwhile, here there are some titles I find particularly inspiring. It is a pity that none of them comes from anyone involved in ELT. If you know other titles that have escaped me, please do post a comment and share them. It would be very much appreciated and would help us to do more justice to people in the field.

 Suggestions for further reading

  • Bronosky, J., 1978. The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination. London: Yale University Press
  • 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.

Imagination in ELT: Journal Articles

No account of ELT professional reading would be significant without considering articles from the ELT Journal. A search for ‘imagination’ in the entire ELT Journal Online Archive since 1946 produced a result of 328 items. The search for ‘creativity’ resulted in 191 items, including articles, comments and reviews. However, these articles do not deal specifically with imagination in the learning process but are mostly concerned with creative ways of teaching language and literature.  A few examples are Elliot’s (1990) ‘Encouraging reader-response to literature in ESL situations’; Ghosn’s (2002) ‘Four good reasons to use literature in primary school ELT’ and Ross’ (1991) ‘Literature and Film’.

A survey of the articles published at the TESOL Quarterly between 1986 and 2005 on topics related to imagination and creativity resulted in three articles on the use of literature in second language learning, one article on the use of role-play (Heath, 1993), one article on the use of comic strips (Liu, 2004) and one on metaphorical competence in language learning (Littlemore, 2001). I did not find any articles with overt reference to imagination and/or creativity in neither in language learning nor in teacher education.

On creative uses of language in everyday communication and its implications to language teaching and learning we have Carter and McCarthy’s (2004) ‘Talking, creating: interactional language, creativity and context’ published in the Oxford Applied Linguistics Journal and also Prodromou’s (2007) ‘Bumping into creative idiomacity’ published in English Today.

Apart from mainstream ELT publications it is important to highlight the existence of The Journal of Imagination in Language Teaching and Learning which was published from 1993 to 2003 and which ‘is concerned with theoretical and practical relationships between the imagination and the acquisition of first and subsequent languages.’ The contents of the six volumes are now available online . Among the 117 articles published there, it is worth mentioning Moskovitz’s (1994: online) ‘Humanistic Imagination: Soul Food for the Language Class,’ where she argues for the importance of ‘setting examples of creativity’ among teachers.


  • Carter, R. and M. McCarthy (2004) Talking, creating: interactional language, creativity and context. Oxford Applied Linguistics Journal, 25/1.
  • Elliot, R. (1990) Encouraging reader-response to literature in ESL situations. ELT Journal, 44/3.
  • Ghosn, I.K. (2002) Four good reasons to use literature in primary school ELT. ELT Journal, 56/2.
  • Heath, S. B. (1993) Inner city life through drama: imagining the language classroom TESOL Quarterly, 27/2.
  • Liu, J. (2004) Effects of comic strips on L2 learners’ reading competence. TESOL Quarterly, 38/2.
  • Littlemore, J. (2001) Metaphoric competence: a language learning strength of students with a holistic cognitive style? TESOL Quarterly, 35/3.
  • Moscowitz, G. (1994) Humanistic Imagination: Soul Food for the Language Class. The  Journal of the Imagination in Language Learning and Teaching. Vol. II.  Available from: http://www.njcu.edu/cill/journal-index.html Accessed 13 Jul 2009.


Imagination in ELT: Books for Teachers

In very striking contrast with the number of titles on storytelling, drama and multimedia published as supplementary materials, the search for imaginative content in the Books for Teachers category yielded quite poor results. Palgrave Macmillan online catalogue of books for teachers has one title on literature in ELT, Hall’s (2005) Literature in Language Education.  OUP has one title in the Applied Linguistic series, Cook’s (2000) Language Play, Language Learning. Titles concerning imagination and language are usually found in publications on the fields of literature, philosophy (Fry, 1964; Kearney, 1998) and education in general, instead of ELT (Egan, 1992).

It seems to be a trend in ELT publishing that the exploration of imagination, creativity and the arts in language learning must 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 happen when it comes to professional reading. Articles and books dealing with the principles and implications of understanding and exercising imagination are few and scattered.

Some titles such as Woodward’s (2001) Planning Lessons and Courses, do take into account personalisation, exploration of trainee teachers’ feelings, styles and preferences. Although most activities are still based on factual information, situation analysis, mini-case studies and sample of teaching materials, there are some activities with a definite potential for imaginative work such as the ones based on teachers’ biographies, and responses to literature, where participants are encouraged to create a work of their own.

In Malderez and Bodoczky’s (1999) Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers, metaphors are frequently used in activities proposed to participants, who are invited to create and explore their own images of teaching and learning.  Malderez and Wedell’s (2007) Teaching Teachers, gives a privileged place to stories, personal narratives and game play in the process of educating teachers.  James’ (2001) Teachers in Action, is a collection of materials and tasks for in-service training with activities focusing on personal experience, analysis of professional discussion of key concepts and terminology and summary of professional articles. Tasks are based on conceptual maps, questionnaires and interviews, opinion sharing and matching exercises. There is one task involving the use of metaphor; however, the metaphor is given to participants instead of being elicited from them.

Scrivener’s (2005: 360) Learning Teaching, almost falls into the category of resource books for teachers, but proposes a more principled discussion of the use of drama, simulations, guided improvisation and poetry as a way to stimulate teachers to see, hear and think of linguistic points beyond ‘predictable textbook examples.’

Wright and Bolitho’s (2007) Trainer Development clearly points to a significant change towards a more personalised approach to teacher education, where metaphors, games and drawings are used to help participants to make sense of their experience and unpack their beliefs and perceptions about teaching and learning. Important and relevant as they are, these books, however, still represent a very tiny fraction in the EFL catalogues of books for teachers which are dominated by titles on applied linguistics, research and different aspects of classroom management.


  • Cook, G. (2000) Language Play, Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Frye, N. (1964). The Educated Imagination. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Hall, G. (2005) Literature in Language Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kearney, R. (1998). The wake of imagination. London: Routledge.
  • Kieran, E. (1992). Imagination in teaching and learning: ages 8 to 15. London: Routledge.
  • James, P. (2000) Teachers in Action Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Malderez, A. and C. Bodoczky (1999) Mentor Courses: A Resource Book for Trainer-Trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Malderez, A. and M. Wedell (2007) Teaching Teachers: Processes and Practices. London: Continuum.
  • Scrivener, J. (2005) Learning Teaching. Oxford: Macmillan.
  • Woodward, T. (2001) Planning Lessons and Courses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wright, T. and R. Bolitho (2007) Trainer Development. http://www.lulu.com