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THINKING OUT OF THE BOX FOR CONTENT: A POSSIBLE ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR ESL WRITERS



Image credit to: https://ec.linkedin.com/company/out-of-the-box-ec


Let’s look at the question below. Noticeably, there are a few tasks to be accomplished. However, in this write-up, based on the task “How can I make her birthday celebration very memorable?”, the focus is on content or ideas which are the outcome of thinking out of the box; presenting ideas which could be considered as uncommon. Perhaps, thinking out of the box may not suit learners with low proficiency as it is much easier for them to focus on common and simple ideas. Ultimately, teachers know best which group of their learners that should attempt to present ideas which are uncommon and exceptional.


Teachers, if you give the two questions below to your potential A candidates, what kinds of ideas will you get from them? How many of them will surprise you with their exceptional and interesting ideas? I would say that most of the time, you will get common ideas like the ones below from some or most of them.


Task 1: What would be the best gift?


Perhaps, they would suggest give her a bouquet of roses, buy her a handbag, get her a diamond ring or purchase a flight ticket to her favourite holiday destination. No doubt those ideas are acceptable and definitely, they are not wrong. However, don’t you think the ideas are common?


Task 2: How can I make her birthday celebration very memorable?


Teacher, why don’t you give this task to your own pupils and see the ideas your students will offer. Perhaps, your pupils will suggest one of these ideas: to treat her for dinner at her favourite restaurant, to invite all her close friends to the party or to organise a surprised birthday party at a five-star hotel.


Obviously, the ideas presented above are relevant to the task and there is nothing wrong with them. However, how can teachers nurture their learners’ ability to think out of the box? Based on my own classroom practice, it is simple. We just need to give them sample ideas which are out of the box or uncommon.


To exemplify ideas which are uncommon, after my SPM candidates shared their common ideas, I gave these examples to them:


  • To make her birthday celebration very memorable, you must invite her long-lost twin sister whom she has not met for twenty years.

  • Alya, since your father is a millionaire, why don’t you plan to fly her to London and celebrate her birthday there?

  • I know your brother is a close friend of Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza. Why don’t you invite Dato’ Siti to make a special appearance at the birthday party?


Then, my learners were grouped, around 3-4 members per group and they were required to think about ideas which are out of the box. Here are some ideas presented by my students.


  • Since your mother hasn’t seen your brother who is serving in the military for more than a year, why don’t you arrange for his special return on her birthday? That would make it very memorable.

  • I know your mother has been nagging you to have a boyfriend for the past one year. Why don’t you surprise her by introducing him at her birthday party?

  • I would suggest you and your siblings make a prank on her birthday. Perhaps, you need to plan a five-minute ‘robbery’ in your house which will end with the robbers singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her.

  • Alya, call her favourite radio station which is Hot FM and make a special birthday wish! It is going to be like the whole nation will celebrate her special day!

Obviously, the ideas above are not common ideas. I am confident your potential A candidates will also have the ability to think out of the box, if coached properly. Perhaps, they can produce ideas which are far better than what my candidates offered. Therefore, what be concluded here?


  • Potential A candidates or any candidates I would say, if guided well and given opportunities, they will be able to provide ideas which are different from the common ones.

  • Scaffolding or modelling is still crucial in language learning. Some of our learners need sample ideas from us to trigger their minds to think of ideas which are out of the box.

  • Our learners’ competence to think creatively and critically can and must be nurtured. Whenever possible, they should provide creative and interesting ideas or details when they write.

  • Learner autonomy can always be practised in language classrooms when learners are given total freedom to contribute ideas of their choice; common or uncommon ones.

  • Promoting ideas which are out of the box among our learners enhances their HOTS or KBAT and this is indeed laudable.


Let’s keep developing our learners’ cognitive domain!

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