Monday, November 21, 2016

Guidelines for Teaching Writing

Writing isn’t the most interesting language skill that teachers usually like to teach in class, nor do student enjoy learning it. There are several reasons for this assumption: students might not be accustomed to writing in their first language (L1), not familiar with the conventions of writing with a particular genre (e.g., formal letter, business report, etc.), and/or usually left alone to conduct the task. Above all, most teachers focus on the writing product, not on the writing process. In other words, most teachers are concerned with what students write, not how they write.  The following basic lesson framework helps you motivate students to write.
  •  Expose your students to different texts in the same genre. If students are learning how to write a thank you letter, they need to read more than one example. Analyze the texts and ask students questions about the style, register, grammar, and vocabulary. Draw their attention to the conventions and features of writing a thank you letter; for example, how to start the letter, where to add the address, and how to close it.
  • Give a purpose to the writing task; tell students that they might need to write something similar in a form of a letter or email in the future. Therefore, they need to practice writing a thank you letter similar to the ones they have read and worked on. Give a time limit and allow them to consult their dictionaries but only for a few words. Encourage them to spread their linguistic wings and try to use recently-learned items to integrate grammar and vocabulary learning with writing. Circulate and monitor as students are writing. Give them guidance and suggestions on how to improve their texts regarding organization, content and topic-related words.
  • Once students have finished writing, advocate peer-editing. Have students work in pairs to check and comment on their colleagues’ work. Let them feel that their work is worth reading and, in this case, another learning experience is set in motion. Next, have students write their final drafts to pin them up on the board or the walls. Ask students to mingle and read all the drafts if time allows and vote for the best composition. Finally, lead an open-class discussion on the best composition eliciting why it is the best.

Building the writing habit

Even when you follow the aforementioned procedure, some students might still be reluctant to work on their own or seem at loss when they write. For this reason, you need to build the writing habit by enthusing and engaging students in the writing process. Make your writing class interactive, collaborative, and communicative. ‘Sugar-coat’ your writing lesson with the following four activities:
  • Put students in groups of five or six, preferably sitting in circles. Ask each student to write the first sentence of a story/paragraph and then passes the paper on to the person on the left to write the second sentence. The students continue this way until they finally come up with five/six different stories. Next, they choose the best story to edit and modify before reading it to the whole class.
  • Students can write virtual emails or text messages to each other in class. Ask students to text each other or write emails to decide on what to do on the weekend. You most probably need to review the acronyms and style used in text messaging or features in neutral/informal emails before students start writing.
  • Another way to add a variety to the wiring activities and make them more engaging is to add pictures in the writing process. Put students into small groups and provide them with several pictures. Ask them to choose four or five pictures and construct a story around them. In the end, students read their stories and explain the connection among the pictures in an open-class feedback.
  • Another activity that includes a visual prompt is that students watch a video and write a scene expecting or imagining what will happen next. Students work in pairs or groups to discuss and generate ideas about the next scene before writing about it. Then they read their scenes to the whole class and vote for the best one.

The last two activities appeal to most students with different learning styles as they include looking at pictures or watching a video (visual), listening to others (auditory) and discussing their ideas (interpersonal).

Varying the interaction patterns and the writing activities turns the writing class into a more productive, enjoyable learning experience. However, preparing students for writing exams needs individual work. So, the closer the exam is the more individual work should be done.  

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