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Teaching Writing

Writing and speaking as productive skills The differences between written and spoken English imply various types of exercises which focus on different aspects of language and demand different levels of correctness. Perhaps the single most important difference between writing and speaking, which are productive skills, concerns the need for accuracy. Speakers constantly make mistakes when they are speaking. They hesitate and say the same things in different ways and they often change the subject of what they are saying in mid-sentence. Except in extremely formal situations this is considered normal and acceptable linguistic behaviour. A piece of writing, however, with mistakes and halffinished sentences, would be judged by many speakers as illiterate since it is expected that writing should be correct. From the point of view of language teaching, therefore, there is often far greater pressure for written accuracy than there is for accuracy in speaking. The writer also suffers from the disadvantage of not getting immediate feedback from the reader and sometimes getting no feedback at all. Writers cannot use intonation or stress, and facial expression, gesture and body-movement are denied them. These disadvantages have to be compensated for by greater clarity and by the use of grammatical and stylistic techniques for focusing attention on main points. Perhaps most importantly there is a greater need for logical organisation in a piece of writing than there is in a conversation, for the reader has to understand what has been written without asking for clarification or relying on the writers tone of voice or expression. Lastly, there are the twin problems of spelling and handwriting. It is well known that English spelling is notoriously difficult for speakers of other languages, especially of phonetic languages. When teaching writing, therefore, there are special considerations to be taken into account which include: the organising of sentences into paragraphs, how paragraphs are joined together, and the general organisation of ideas into a coherent piece of discourse. There is also, of course, a need for communicative writing activities. Students need to see the difference between spoken and written English. In part, this will happen as a result of exposure to listening and reading materials, but it will be also necessary to provide exercises that deal specifically with features of spoken and written discourse. The uses of writing Writing can be used: as a means: to note down new vocabulary, copy out grammar rules, write out answers to reading or listening guiding and/or comprehension questions, do written tests, etc. Writing can be used as a means of getting the students to attend to and to practise a particular language point or as a method of testing it;

as an end: tasks that invite learners to express themselves using their own words, state a both as a means and an end: purposeful and original writing is combined with the learning

purpose for writing and often specify an audience (e.g. narrating a story, writing a letter) or practice of some other skill or content ( e.g. a written response to the reading of a controversial newspaper article, the writing of anecdotes to illustrate the meaning of idioms, etc.) Writing techniques / procedures - The teacher will often use the writing as reinforcement for an oral presentation. Thus, either immediately before of after the immediate creativity stage1, the teacher asks the students to write sentences using the new linguistic structure. The sentences may be the original models that the teacher used during the accurate reproduction stage, and the students might be asked to copy these sentences from the blackboard. They might write the same sentences, but the teacher might leave out certain words (this is commonly called a fill-in exercise). - The students might be shown model sentences and then be asked to write similar sentences of their own. This is a written version of the immediate creativity stage. - The SS might see a short piece of connected discourse using the new language and then be asked to write a similar piece. This is often called parallel writing. - Copying is an often unchallenging and boring writing technique. The main objective, though, is to relate the spoken and written forms of the new language, and to enable the SS to write the new pattern as well as say it. - Sometimes, of course, we may want the SS only to write the new language, not say it. In this case we might go through the explanation / presentation phase in the normal way, but then, after giving a clear written model, we can ask SS to write sentences using one of the techniques mentioned above. Where SS write in class as part of the introduction / presentation of new language, it is often advantageous to correct the written work in front of the whole class. One useful way of doing this is to ask the SS to do the written work in their books / workbooks. When we see that a student has finished (before the others), we ask him / her to write the first sentence on the BB. The second student writes the second sentence, and so on. When all the sentences are on the board, we go through them one by one, asking the class if they are correct. If they are not, we can ask another student to write the correct sentence, or correct the sentences ourselves. This technique is particularly useful since it gives the SS feedback and allows the teacher and the whole class to focus on grammar points if such focus is necessary.
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This is a stage in the teaching of a grammar structure, which will be discussed later in the course. However, the three main stages in such an activity are: presentation (where T illustrates and explains the main use of the grammar item by using relevant linguistic contexts familiar to the SS) , practice (where SS have to make up sentences using the newly explained item either in the patterns modeled by the T during the presentation stage or in other easy-to-use patterns; also called the accurate reproduction stage), and production (also called the immediate creativity stage, where the SS make up examples of their own using the new grammar item in contexts of their own choice or suggested by the T).

Written communicative techniques and activities / tasks It is often easier to provide opportunities for spoken communication in the classroom than it is for the written medium. Frequently, writing is relegated to the status of homework. This is a pity since writing, especially communicative writing, can play a valuable part in the class. a) Relaying instructions, b) Writing reports and advertisements , c) Co-operative writing, d) Exchanging letters, and e) Writing journals are only a few of the written communicative techniques that we can use in the classroom. These techniques and one or more illustrations of specific activities / tasks for each of them are described in more detail in what follows. a) Relaying instructions One group of SS has information for the performance of a task, and they have to get another group to perform the same task by giving them written instructions. Activity 1: Making models Stage 1 - A small group of SS is given material to make a model with ( e.g. building bricks, Lego, etc.) and they are told to make a model. Stage 2 The group now writes instructions which will enable other SS to duplicate the model Stage 3 Other SS are given the instructions and told to build the model by reading them. There is, of course, feedback: the original group can see how well they have written the instructions by watching the efforts of the other SS to duplicate their model. Activity 2: Giving directions In this activity the SS write directions which other SS have to follow. Stage 1 SS are told to write directions from the place where they are studying to some other place in the same village / town / city. They are told not to mention the destination by name. Stage 2 SS give their directions to a partner who has to guess what the destination is by following the directions. Activity 3: Writing commands SS write each other messages which contain commands. Stage 1- The T tells the SS to write a command for one of their classmates on a piece of paper. The student might write something like this: Maria: Take off your left shoe! Stage 2 The written messages are passed to the SS who have to obey the commands. This activity is especially appropriate for beginner SS and is most enjoyable.

b) Writing reports and advertisements Activity 1: The news broadcast The SS write items for a news broadcast which they then organise for transmission. Stage 1 The T asks all the SS in the classroom to write two news items on a piece of paper. Stage 2 The T then collects all the pieces of paper and forms the class into small groups. Stage 3 The T distributes the pieces of paper equally between the groups in no special order. The SS are asked to combine the items (making changes where necessary) to make up a complete news broadcast. Stage 4 Each group then reads its broadcast to the rest of the class. Ideally, of course, each group could record their broadcast to make it more realistic. This activity is attractive; it involves all the skills, as well as the ability to order and organise ideas into a coherent piece of discourse. It also involves current events and is thus interesting and motivating. Activity 2: The advertisement After discussing what successful advertisements contain, SS can write and design their own. Stage 1 The class discusses (together or in pairs / groups) what makes a successful advertisement. Stage 2 The class is divided into groups. They are told that their task is to select a product and write an advertisement for it which will appear in a magazine. Stage 3 When they have completed their advertisements, they can pass them round the class. Alternatively, they ca be given a period of time (e.g. a weekend) to design the artwork (such as pictures, photographs, drawings, etc.) for their text. The advertisements can then be pinned to the class notice-board. c) Co-operative writing These are activities where SS actually write things together, where the process of co-operation is as important as the actual fact of the writing itself. Activity 1: The fairy-story The SS are put into groups and told they are going to write joint stories. Stage 1 The SS are organised in groups of equal numbers, if possible. Stage 2 The SS sit in a circle. They take a sheet of paper and write the following sentence on it:
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a large castle at the edge of a forest .

Stage 3 The SS are instructed to continue the story by writing the next sentence.

Stage 4 The SS give their piece of paper to the next student on their left. They should now continue the (new) story they have in front of them by writing the next sentence, and so on until the first paper reaches the last but one student. Now the T tells the SS to write the penultimate sentence. Stage 5 The stories are now returned to their originators. They must write the concluding sentence. Stage 6 (Optional) - The SS can read the resulting tales to the rest of the class. Another alternative to this activity is not to supply the original sentence. Of course, there can be written different other kinds of stories on various topics. Activity 2: Story reconstruction The SS are put into four groups (A, B, C, D) each of which is shown a picture from a story sequence. Stage 1 The SS individually write two sentences (in the past tense) about the pictures they have seen. Stage 2 The T forms new groups of four ( i.e. one student from the original group A, one from the original group B, one from the original group C, and one from the original group D). Stage 3 The SS show each other their sentences and then they use them to construct a narrative. The finished stories are circulated round the class, put on a board or used for student-student correction. d) Exchanging letters This technique offers the SS a good chance to practise real written communication. Activity 1: Writing messages b (appropriate for beginners) The most basic form of letter writing is the message. Stage 1 The SS are told to write a message to another member of the group which demands an answer. (To X.From Y) Stage 2 The completed messages are then given to the student whom it has been written to. Stage 3 The student who has received the message writes a reply which is passed back to the original writer. (To Y.From X) Activity 2: The agony column (suitable after the SS have been working on the language of advice, at all levels)

The SS write letters to agony columns (those parts of newspapers and magazines where supposed experts give advice on everything from marital problems to trouble with neighbours). In this activity, SS invent some problem and then have it answered by other members of the class. Stage 1 The class and the T discuss agony columns, getting examples from the SS knowledge or by looking at some authentic ones taken from British and American newspapers and magazines. Stage 2 The T arranges the class into small groups and asks each group to think of a problem and then write a letter. Stage 3 The letters from each group are then given to another group who has to consider the best answer and write a reply. Stage 4 The replies are then given to the original groups to consider. The T can put them into a folder which can be passed round the class. Activity 3: The complaining customer (for intermediate and advances classes) The SS write complaining letters about goods that they have bought after seeing an advertisement. The SS representing the companies that make the goods have to reply to these letters in writing. Stage 1 The SS are divided into small groups. Each group is given an advertisement (either an original one or one made by classmates). Stage 2 The groups are told to imagine that they have bought the item that is advertised but are not satisfied with it for some reason. They should write a letter of complaint to the company. Stage 3 The letters are given to different groups. The new groups have to study the letter of complaint and decide what to do about it. When the decision has been reached, they can write a reply to the original letter. Stage 4 The letters are returned to the original groups who read them and discuss what they have been sent. d) Writing journals / diaries This technique represents a way of using written communication. In these diaries the SS can write what they want about anything that interests them: they can comment on the classes they are experiencing, they can write about their personal lives, about politics, their families, their pets, their hobbies, they can write stories, poems, etc. These diaries are handed in to the T. Of course, the SS should know when / how much to write. Teachers should not treat these diaries as they do other pieces of written work. They shouldnt be corrected, but reacted to (content feedback is more important here than form feedback). Other writing activities / tasks: Copy of pp. 164-166, Penny Ur, A Course in Language Teaching, CUP, 1999.