Is this wrong? I don't think so. Is it bad? Well, for whom? The students copying? They get a good grade don't they? And after all, that's what China has been telling its students for hundreds of years, maybe even thousands.
Anyone who has studied Chinese history knows that the civil service examinations held once a year were a make-or-break opportunity. If you passed you got bumped up in the social-economic structure. If you failed you got bumped down into the toiling masses, with the assurance that you could always try again next year.
Things haven't changed much since then. Each June thousands of parents clamor at high school gates as their young son or daughter sits inside taking the exam of their life, the NCEE, or National College Entrance Examination.
The exam is tough and a top score almost guarantees you a spot in one of China's top universities. Students study long and hard for this exam, often beginning their preparations years in advance. Is it any wonder then that they will memorize and copy whatever they think that the exam graders will want to hear? To do anything other would be foolish, after all.
I often tell my students that in China they make all the iphones, but in America we had the idea. China is really good at copying the iphone and making cheap knockoffs, but I don't really see anyone trying to make something better. That would take creativity, not just the ability to copy.
It's for this reason that I try to get my students thinking as creatively as possible. Even writing out mundane sentences in the book, such as we were doing yesterday, can be creative.
We had the example of "instead" and "we can."
"It's a very easy formula," I told my students, "a little math with your English today. All you've got to do is make sure you put instead in front of whatever you were going to do, and we can in front of whatever you want. Take a look at number three. 'The flower shop is closed so you can't buy your mom flowers for her birthday.' It's easy. Instead of buying flowers we can buy her candy, or cookies, or a dress, or new car, or a house!"
The students all smiled, because they hadn't thought of it that way. Their imaginations just don't stretch that far. But when you tell them to try, to go to that place where anything can happen, most of them are happy to try.
After the exercise we had some good sentences, sentences that were more creative than usual. Still, I was alarmed, although not too surprised, to see several students write 'Instead of buying my mom flowers we can buy her a house.'