This Exquisite Forest | A writing prompt

The exquisite corpse was invented by French surrealists as a creative exercise where people contribute words to a sentence based on a pre-assigned structure or by reading the end of the what was written by the last contributor.  However, the writer is not supposed to read anything else from what has already been written. This Exquisite Forest extends this concept by allowing users to build an ever-expanding forest of narrative but through trees of animated online drawings. The forest also exists as an installation at the Tate Modern.

Each tree is seeded with an animation and then you can add your own to the original frames to create an animated sequence. Some of them are quite surreal and beautiful like Blink. Others like A Bad Day and The River are loaded with images but are perhaps a little more conventional. I thought it would interesting to transform it from a collaborative visual activity back into a collaborative writing activity.

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Level: A2+

Materials: Ss will need access to laptops, tablets or computers with Internet connectivity.

Duration: 45 min

Pre-work

  • Divide Ss into pairs and as homework, have them to sign up for This Exquisite Forest, explore the site and select a tree they like. They can then extend the animation by contributing additional frames.
  • You don’t need to sign up to explore the forest, only if you want to contribute to the animations or start your own tree.

Procedure 

  • Ask pairs to share their selection with another pair. They should talk about why they chose this tree.
  • Ss now work with their partners to orally construct a story using the elements in the animation. For each significant frame in the animation, ask them to consider the who, what, why, how and what next to build the characters and action.
  • Ss team up with another pair and narrate their story. Encourage Ss to give feedback on things they liked and things they think are missing, for example if the character fell down, then why did he fall down, how did he feel and what happened next.
  • Give pairs a few minutes to discuss changes they might want to make to their story.
  • Now have Ss work individually to write up story on the class blog.
  • Ask Ss to read their partner’s story and compare it with their own. How similar or different is it?  Lead a discussion around perspective, voice, and tone and how these can change the “feel” of a story.

Variations

  • Some trees are more minimalist and may require a lot of out-of-the-box thinking to facilitate storytelling. However, they could be good prompts for poetry.  Give Ss a skeleton structure of a poem (there are loads in Jane Spiro’s Creative Poetry Writing from OUP) and then ask Ss to use their reactions to the images in This Exquisite Forest to fill out the poem.     

This exquisite forest

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3 thoughts on “This Exquisite Forest | A writing prompt

    1. Thank you Ljiljana 🙂 I don’t really get to use any of these creative writing and speaking activities because I teach in a very specific business/ESP context. Would love to hear your feedback if you get an opportunity to try any of these ideas out.

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      1. I teach English to secondary school students (general and aviation English, i.e. ESP too) and very often, unfortunately, I enjoy doing some creative writing or speaking activities in class much more than they do (maybe, because I’m more of an artistic type and they are technically oriented; and, also, teenagers are very difficult to motivate).
        I’ll be very glad to try some of your ideas out with a few of my better classes next school year, summer holidays started here a few days ago.
        Sunny greetings 🙂

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