Key Elements to Consider in the Teaching of Writing

Writing is a productive skill and, as such, the way we treat it in class has some similarities with the teaching and learning of speaking. The focus of this post belongs to written assignments and creative writing; we will not cover written exercises that are designed to practice a language point.
The key elements to consider in the teaching of writing are:


Language:

It is essential to make sure that students have the level of English required to do the task. Analyze any tasks for language required before deciding whether to use it in class. If the teacher is using an activity from an EFL resource, then there should be comments on the language required. If the teacher doesn’t have any guidelines on the language required, think about how the teacher would do the task self and what sort of language you’d use. Check whether the level is suitable, and then decide how the teacher will revise and practice language items with students. This language work can be done in the same lesson as the writing activity or in a previous lesson. At higher levels (upper intermediate and above), this language review can be very brief. Depending on the type of written task, the language work might include analysis and practice of genre.

Genre refers to a type of writing, e.g. recipes, lonely hearts ads, newspaper articles that have similar organization and language. Language study might also involve work on linkers, for example: although, furthermore, alternatively. Students also need to be aware of the level of formality that is required; for example business letters will be more formal than a postcard or e-mail to a friend.




Time for preparation:

Allow students time to prepare their ideas; they can do this individually, in pairs or in-groups. The teacher can also work on the topic as a whole class and integrate other skills work before students start planning their writing. For example before planning a piece of writing about environmental issues, the teacher could do some or all of the following: read a text on the topic, listen to a recording and discuss the subject in class. If the teacher doesn’t have time for lengthy preparation, the teacher should at least brainstorm ideas with the class.

Once students have their ideas, they will find the actual writing easier.

Reason for writing:

Students need to have a reason or purpose for writing, even if this reason is fictitious. If the teacher identifies the audience, i.e. who the intended reader is, the teacher will add a sense of purpose. For example, if the teacher wants students to write a description of their town, tell them it is for inclusion in a brochure or on a website for tourists to the area. The teacher might even decide to send their work to the tourist information centre!

Creating interest in the topic and activating students’ knowledge:

Try to choose topics that will interest students and introduce variety into the type of writing activities the teacher do with classes to keep their interest. In business English classes it is also important to practice styles of writing that students are likely to do in real life; e.g. a sales letter or an e-mail confirming a meeting. The teacher can arouse students’ interest in and activate their knowledge of the topic, possibly through a debate (especially recommended if they will be writing about their opinions), by watching a video or listening to a recording on a related subject. Other ways of activating their knowledge of the topic are by asking them what they know about the topic and what experience they have of it.

Coherence and cohesion:

These are two terms that apply to the skill of writing. Coherence applies to the way a piece of writing is organized; a logical progression of ideas and careful organization within and between paragraphs. Cohesion refers to how ideas are linked; this is commonly achieved by the use of reference words (e.g. the latter) and linkers (e.g. on the other hand, alternatively). These language items are mostly, but not only, used in writing and help guide a reader through the piece of work, showing relationships between ideas. At a lower level, the teacher can work on linkers such as: but, both, and. The teacher can show two pictures of different people and ask students to write sentences comparing and contrasting the two characters and using the three linkers mentioned. She’s tall but he isn’t. She’s fair and he is too. They’re both fair. They’ve both got fair hair. At a higher level the teacher can cover more complex ways of linking. The teacher can give phrases that serve as both the beginnings and ends of sentences; ask students to combine them using the linkers. The following is inspired by a Jane Austen novel I’m currently reading, not by my own opinions! He loved her / she had no money. Although she had no money, he loved her. He loved her despite the fact she had no money.

Publication:

The teacher should also think about ways of publishing the students’ work. Ideas include: inclusion in a class or school magazine; produce a collection of work written by the class that the teacher could bind or staple and give to all members of the class; produce an e-book of students’ work; display students’ work on a school or class notice board. The teacher can also ask students to go around and read the work on the notice boards. The teacher could set a simple task, e.g. what is the main theme of each piece of writing? Is the author’s opinion negative or positive?


Ardhendu De

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