Writing in the Second Language Class
Adjusting lesson content to the contexts in which writing is needed
These fall into four main categories:
- Within the school instigated by the teacher
Outside the school in U.K.
- Note-taking (involves copying)
- Coping with various types of homework.
- Examinations / Major test (predominately written)
Within a place of work, study or the context of a personal hobby or interest
- Form filling (especially cheques), registration, giving feedback or evaluations, surveys
- writing messages and notices (changed family, fone on excursion, 3rd person wanted for car share to London)
- writing personal resumes
- filling out application forms for university & CFE.
In future life
- informal & formal communication: messages, letters, emails, notes, memos, orders, receipts
- secretarial: taking dictation, notes, Minutes of meetings, summary, precis, paraphrase
- pedagogical: essays, compositions, assignments, theses
- hobbies: keeping diaries and personal records, exchanging recipes, posting on web forums, selling on ebay
- artistic creation: dialogues, plays, stories, poetry
- graphic displays with text: signs, posters
- Postcards to old friends
- booking holidays abroad
- business letters.
Two views on writing tasks
- Modern academic - Never ask a student to write something which they won't be called upon to write in real life. Meaningful tasks only. Why should they write a diary in English. The importance of writing depends on students' specific needs.
- Practising teachers - students enjoy dictations and compositions. Why shouldn't they write them? There's a need to observe students' wishes to some extent. Pedagogical purpose is just as valid as others. Writing is founded in oral work and also in activities such as reading, summarizing and note-taking.
Most students will not seek out possibilities to exhibit their written ability in English. Don't assume that students will have to do more writing than they really will. However, consider the importance of e-mail today (often used in preference to the phone: permanent record & reliable way of leaving a message). Similarly, web sites (ebay) are often used for transactions and sellers need to post in written English to advertise to the widest market. Do not neglect the revival of writing through email and web forums.
How we teach students to write
Problem 1 - too much teaching is at Q & A level. Students tend to wait for teachers to provide stimulus. This may be necessary at low levels to ease the memory load which beginners have to bear. However, rarely does this "question and answer approach" allow us to witness sentences totalling more than 20 words.
Problem 2 - writing doesn't have the fillers, repetitions, hesitations, incompletions - i.e. the REDUNDANCY that Oral Speech has. We cannot go back and qualify our meaning.
Actual writing - a model
- Language ability is exercised, not imagination or literary talent
- Should be grammatical
- Should be guided and organised according to accepted patterns c.f Jupp & Milne: "Paragraph Writing"
- Written exercises should be appropriate stylistically: formal/informal, spoken/written, friendly/business.
- Very controlled at the beginning and very short.
- Shouldn't be allowed to write anything they have not already said (?)
- Within their interests/ experiences
- Within their intellectual maturity.
- Linking/transitional expressions (markers etc) should be practised.
Exercises offering a fair degree of control while keeping writing meaningful
- Question & Answer exs
- Substitution tables
- Transformation exs
- Translation exs (where appropriate)
- Postcard & letter-writing
- Reports & reviews
- Advertisements & Publicity material
- Note-taking & Official Minute-taking
- Informal notes: Messages etc.
- e-mail & fax.
Five suggestions - Help in evaluating writing material
- Giving models: don't over-control i.e. give too much help
- Don't concentrate on grammar at the expense of organisation and appropriacy
- Written exercises should communicate something.
- The grammar of the paragraph can be more important than the grammar of just one sentence.
- Functional training: persuading/complaining.
Training writing skills
- Copying (as many sentences as possible from a substitution table in 2 min); Sorting tasks (cards with one word on each)
- Spelling: (little & often): Hangman; Kim's game, word families, relationship between pronunciation and spelling.
- Dialogue writing (e.g. one-side of the dialogue is given. Students write the other half after they've practised it. Open dialogues)
- Summaries and note-taking (expand notes in telegram form) Make notes on books, tapes, group discussion.
- Letter-writing: Business / Informal: groups can write to each other. Help them to organise their paragraphs. What they did last weekend. Describe own house. Paragraph from a travel brochure.
- Composition: paragraph cues, diagrams & pictures.