Writing in the Second Language Class

1) Exercise-types for teaching writing

  1. Copying (used as a punishment in schools) Copying is a very complex activity. When people copy they make mistakes. Copying trains muscular memory. It is a good diagnostic activity e.g. alphabet problems (b v d)
  2. Delayed copying
  3. Jumbled sentences
  4. Fill in - These exercises are a good test of structural knowledge.
  5. Dictation - N.B. all language given as dictation should be known i.e. a recombination of language Ss have already seen. There are many forms of dictation. Gap fill is a limited form.
  6. Essay writing - may be a waste of time in terms of real needs. No real purpose for writing and they don't know what to write.
  7. Labelled diagrams as prompts for written paragraphs

2) Is writing an extension of speaking?

The brilliantly successful course book writer L.G. Alexander famously said:

Nothing should be spoken before it has been heard
Nothing should be read before it has been spoken
Nothing should be written before it has been read

[ xii: "First Things First": New Concept English Course 1967 Longman ]

During the 1970s, the work of many applied linguists in differentiating between forms of spoken English (such as conversation and spoken prose) and forms of written English led L.G. Alexander to regret his earlier advice. His New Concept English Course was ground-breaking in its own era, though later courses (many by L.G. Alexander himself!) made finer adjustments to different forms of discourse.


Written English is usually very different to conversation:

Spoken Prose: is scripted in advance, read or recited is usually not created spontaneously. The speaker may also be in visual contact with the audience.

L. G. Alexander's HEAR SAY SEE WRITE is a difficult order to maintain. Students, especially those who are enjoyable to teach, read ahead. Even if the teacher doesn't write, students will try to write. It's the only way they can keep a record.

ESSAY TITLE: At what stage in a teaching programme would you introduce practice in written English and why?
In what way should writing activities differ in the early and late stages of language learning?

LESSON PLANNING: In a fairly advanced intermediate class in which you are just beginning to introduce practice in writing English you want to introduce them to the idea of the shift from informal to formal written English and vice versa.

Work out a plan for this lesson and the material you would use to give students practice in class and also suggestions for homework. e.g. complaint by telephone (give students the dialogue of the conversation) and then by letter in writing (ask students to write the formal letter). In linguists' jargon, the conversion of the one form of communication (i.e. the telephone dialogue) to the other (i.e. the formal letter) is known as Rhetorical transformation.