Write about a dream: Language activity for intermediate+ students

Where two oceans meet, Western Australia

Where two oceans meet, Western Australia

Dreams are great to write about – there are plot twists and turns, fantastical characters, unlikely situations and worlds to explore. Many people like explaining their strange dreams to others – you can laugh about them, discuss likely (and unlikely) hidden messages, and be curious what your subconscious is trying to work through.

Dreams make great conversation topics too!

I found my adult students generally preferred to prepare for this class, so I use this as a homework task, with a following conversation class based on the topic of dreams and nightmares.

The task

Although this writing task may be more suited to people who can remember their dreams easily, or for those who don’t suffer from nightmares, you can encourage students to write about a dream they’d love to experience.

Let students to choose a grammar point that they will focus on and try to use it correctly throughout their written piece. When everyone has created a draft, let students work in pairs or small groups to correct each others’ language/grammar and provide constructive criticism. With younger classes, you may need to give some examples of what constructive criticism sounds like.

I’ve set this task a few times as homework for my intermediate and higher conversation classes, and those who actually did their homework progressed much faster in their language learning. Those who didn’t have time still enjoyed discussing their dreams and providing feedback to those who wrote. Once the students had completed a second draft, I collected them, and provided feedback. Of course, as this was for language learners, the focus was on vocabulary and grammar.

For teaching writing skills or in an advanced language class, you can focus more on stylistic issues.

An example

I wrote this very short story in 1994, for a portfolio of English work as part of my final year in high school. It’s not high fiction, but I found both the exercise (and good marks!) enjoyable.

I used past tense, was highly descriptive, and attempted to use a third person narrative.

The Dream

Sunlight glinted off the mirror like surface and crazy reflections danced on towering ferns surrounding the water. Crystal drips of water hung delicately on the tips of the fronds of the overhanging foliage before falling gently, breaking the glassy surface of the water, sending circular ripples to the edges. The rocks, having dried out were now warmed by the summer sun streaming gloriously from above.

A piercing scream startled the birds wheeling in the distance over a school of silver fish and sending those nesting in the trees scattering in fright. Laughter rippled through the air and echoed eerily from the surrounding rocks and cliff face. The water was icy cold, emerging from an underground river and lake system, contrasting the hot dry air. Seagulls wheeled maniacally, ever scavenging for food, screeching protests when they were denied. A crab scuttles out of the pool, startled by a foot landing on the rocks above it. Sunbeams were broken on the surface as water was splashed everywhere. The choppiness was not to last however, as the two friends raced each other to their towels in the shade, driven from the water by its coldness.

The silence had changed somewhat. Instead of being peaceful and relaxing, it was eerie and ominous. Sunlight no longer streamed down. The world was now covered in thick, inky clouds. The light breeze had disappeared and the birds no longer cried. A strip of lightning tore the sky in two and the boom of thunder rocked the earth’s foundations. A gale whipped waves dashing against the rocks and screamed hysterically at the cliff face.

Equipment was hauled into a higher cave while the wind clutched, threatening to toss the friends to the rocks below. Wet-suits were zipped and tanks were hung on their backs. They launched themselves into the water, towards the suffocating black expanse of the underground waterways.

Time passed unseen, unheard and unfelt. Bleached fish, if that is what they could be called, with saucer like eyes and gaping mouths, cringed away from the bright lamps, painfully, like Gollum. The cavern gave way to tunnels, totally submerged in the clear freezing water. There seemed to be no end and claustrophobia was edging nearer to the diver’s consciousness. Suddenly the floor of the channel rose, trying to grab hold of the roof, but it was defied as a tiny gap enabled the swimmers to wriggle through. Claustrophobia attacked and would have succeeded had it not been for the cavern in which they emerged. Quartz veins twinkled at their lamps and an eerie glow emanated from the worms on the roof and the fungi on the ledges circling the underground lake. The divers lay down, exhausted after their adventures in the cave system.

They awoke on the sand heated by a shaft of sunlight, which streamed through a gap in the fallen boulders. Fresh crisp and hot air ripped at their lungs, as they stepped into full sunlight unencumbered by their equipment, looking cautiously for signs of the storm. All traces had disappeared lending a dreamlike haze to the journey through the submerged channels.

A waterfall trickled into the rock pool below. Water droplets hung perilously from the tips of the fronds and the light reflected of the water danced beautifully on the ferns overhead. Birds cried in the distance, wheeling crazily around a school of fish, pausing their outbursts of noise long enough to dive into the water and snatch a fish.

Had the friends fallen asleep and dreamed the same dream?

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