First the roles of writing in the learning and use of language are examined. The next sections discuss techniques for teaching basic and expanded writing skills and for helping learners gain control of the writing process. The chapter concludes with suggestions for ways to respond to students’ writing and sample exercises for teaching writing skills.
Let’s begin by putting writing into perspective in relation to the other language skills. Where your native language is concerned, in ordinary, everyday use, you are far more likely to be listening to, speaking, or reading the language than writing it. This is true even though you are a professional with a job which requires you to carry out frequent writing tasks: memos, letters, reports, lesson materials, and the like. When it comes to a foreign language, professional people may find that a good reading ability is essential, but for their on the job writing tasks they may be more likely to use their native language. Thus in practical terms, most people do not need to be as proficient in writing as they need to be in the other language skills. (2 – p. 45)
In the classes which you teach, whether for beginners or more advanced students, you will probably find that you often give writing assignments as a way of following up on listening and speaking exercises or reading activities. In addition, students in the higher grades (secondary school and above) may need to learn how to write well organized, carefully reasoned essays. The writing of one or more essays is often a requirement on national examinations. Widely used standardized English proficiency examinations also require such advanced writing tasks.
In the teaching of writing, just as in the teaching of reading, it is helpful to have a long-range overview of how proficiency develops. You will notice that the links between reading and writing become closer as students progress through the three main phases of the sequence.
Use commonly occurring word, phrase, and sentence patterns Write paragraphs with topic sentences and supporting details Use link words to signal organization of paragraphs Practice techniques for pre-writing, revising, editing.
The students may need writing instruction at the most basic level-learning to form the letters and other symbols of the English writing system. Students needing such instruction range from those who have neither reading nor writing skills in any language to those who are fully literate but who happen not to have learned a language which uses the Roman alphabet.
Here are some general points to consider when teaching writing at this very basic level:
- Teaching the printed forms of letters, both capitals and lower case, has the advantage that there will be a closer match between the shapes which the students write and the shapes which they must read. However, older learners may feel that printed letters are for children and insist on learning the cursive forms which they associate with adult handwriting. Choose the forms which work best for your students.
- When you began to learn to write in English, you may have learned the letters in alphabetical order. A more efficient way is to group the letters according to their shapes. For example, a number of lower case letters in their hand printed form are «ball and stick» figures: a, b, d, p, q.
- At the same time that students are developing a legible handwriting, they can also learn spelling rules of wide applicability, as well as the use of common punctuation marks (especially the period, question mark, comma, and apostrophe).
Even beginning students can handle simple writing assignments, once they are able to form English letters in a legible and consistent way and can recognize a few English words in their written form. Keep in mind that your students should be able to understand everything that they are asked to write. Thus it makes sense to present new content first via the listening and speaking skills, and to use reading and writing to reinforce what has been mastered in the aural/oral activities. (1 – p. 100)
Two themes which appear in Dixon and Nessel’s guidelines deserve further comment. The first is the emphasis on getting the students to communicate through writing. They recommend that even the earliest writing assignments be tied to narratives about personally meaningful topics. Contrast this type of assignment with another type in which the student writes out a list of unrelated sentences, either as practice to reinforce a particular grammar topic or as an exercise in the application of certain translation rules. If you are required to use textbooks which present writing as drills rather than as communication, you will certainly want to devise supplementary writing activities which allow your students to communicate on topics which have meaning for them.
The second theme is not as explicit as the first, but it is just as important. Composing is viewed as an iterative process. Writers gather their thoughts, search out additional information, rehearse vocabulary and phraseology, put something into rough written form, review what they have written, evaluate it for adequacy of content and coherence of organization, ask for critical feedback from another reader, add or delete content, reorganize to make the narrative or argument easier to follow, review and revise again (in fact, probably several times), and finally, edit to check for accuracy in grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation.
Note how much of this process is concerned with meaning. Note also that the writer usually does not «get it right» the first time around. Unfortunately, because of the way composing is most often taught, students get the impression that once they start putting words on paper, the result should be very close to a finished product. They fail to appreciate the importance of the pre-writing activities, and they are likely to think of revision solely in terms of proofreading for grammatical and mechanical errors. (2 – p. 54)
If you teach writing as a process it is almost guaranteed that you will encourage your students to communicate through their writing. But you must remember two key points. First, give your students enough time in pre-writing activities to gather their thoughts, discover the language needed to express them, and establish the focus of the composition. Secondly, show by your response to their writing that your first concern is the message they are trying to convey. You will defeat your purpose if you immediately start marking up the grammatical and mechanical errors that you find.
Many teachers find it unnerving to return a composition to a student in which there are errors which have not been picked out with red ink or otherwise commented upon. Perhaps it will help to view your students’ composing efforts in the following way. In the earliest stages of learning the writing skill, the goal is to gradually increase the length of the compositions. Don’t expect polished productions. Instead, place the emphasis on the prewriting activities and on helping the students to get their ideas down on paper. As your students’ writing proficiency increases, you can gradually lead them into techniques for revision and you can set up writing assignments so that they have time to produce one or more non-final drafts. Even then, as you respond to an early draft you should think primarily of how clearly and effectively the message has been presented. In a later section of this chapter you will find some specific suggestions on ways to respond to students’ written work.
If you are teaching very young students, or absolute beginners of any age, most of the writing assignments which you give will be under careful control. Students may do copying exercises to learn letter formation, spelling, and punctuation. Written grammar exercises and written answers to questions on reading assignments are two other types of controlled writing. Even when you use the LEA to teach writing, you are controlling the composing efforts of your students. (5 – p. 83)
These controlled writing assignments play an important role in developing the basic language proficiency of your students. Of course, controlled writing also has its limitations. It doesn’t allow your students to be creative or to go very far in expressing their own thoughts. Controlled writing has even more serious limitations if you rely on it for teaching essay writing skills. Students don’t get the independent practice they need in selecting a topic to write about, finding supporting details, or discovering an appropriate way to organize their compositions.
So, while controlled writing assignments are useful for some purposes, your students’ writing activities need to be expanded in two ways. They must be allowed to be more communicative and they must be encouraged to be more independent.
In recent years, many English teachers have tried an interesting technique for encouraging students to write more, and to communicate more through their writing. The technique, called dialogue journals, is a form of interactive writing between the teacher and the student. The beauty of the technique is that you can use it with students of any degree of language proficiency, even with beginners. This is the way it works.
Teachers who have used dialogue journals with their students throughout a semester have found that they bring many worthwhile results, both personal and pedagogical. Because the written dialogues are informal and private, most teachers feel that they achieve a greater mutual understanding with their students. On the pedagogical side, the students gradually increase their writing competence, moving toward greater independence as writers. Thanks to the feedback provided by the teacher, they gain a greater understanding of the features of written English. Their entries become longer and more complex. At the same time, because they are exploring their own ideas and interests, they are building up a store of topical material which they can mine for later writing assignments of a more formal sort.
As your students advance to more complex forms of writing, the links between reading and writing become increasingly important. The texts that you use for instruction in reading provide your students with food for thought and topics for oral and written discussion. At the same time, the formal features of different types of written discourse serve as models which your students can use in their own writing. As you take up different features of discourse in reading assignments, you can introduce parallel writing activities which employ the same features. To complete the circle, when students have tried to incorporate new formal features into their writing, they become more aware of those features when they crop up in subsequent reading assignments. Thus reading and writing play mutually enhancing roles. (3 – p. 50)
In this article, among the examples of exercises for the development of the reading micro skills is one type which helps students to pick out formal discourse features. Such exercises are an aid to reading comprehension, but they also have a purpose in writing instruction. Properly used, they can help students learn to organize their thoughts and present them in writing according to commonly used patterns of written discourse.
Students learn, for example, that in a narrative the sequence of events is a central factor. Although the writer may deliberately choose not present the events in strict chronological order, once the tale has been told the sequence of events must be understood Another type of writing where chronology must be taken into account is in the description of a process. For maximum clarity, each step of the process should be described in order; otherwise confusion may result. Chronological order also figures in the explanation of a chain of causes and effects.
Other types of logical relations hinge on the perception of similarities and differences: contrast, comparison, analogy, the classification of like things together, and the definition of things, where distinguishing characteristics are pointed out. Whatever the logical relation, a certain thought pattern will be called for, and this in turn must be matched to the writing patterns which we conventionally use for presenting it.
In order to become independent writers, your students not only must master the formal features of written English, but must also become more conscious of the writing process itself and learn techniques which will make the process work more smoothly for them. In particular, you can show them various devices to use during the pre-writing phase which will launch them more confidently into the first rough draft. Further, you can give them guidelines and techniques for the revising phase of the process which will encourage them to look for and remedy substantive deficiencies in their writing, rather than simply making a clean copy of the first draft. (4 – p. 24)
One of the most flexible of these techniques is brainstorming. It can be done with either novice or experienced writers, young or old, individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. The point of a brainstorming session is to free associate, to produce as many ideas on a given topic as possible, as quickly as possible, without worrying about the quality of the ideas or about grammar, spelling, or punctuation.
Ann Raimes points out that, with any one of a number of different points of departure (a personal experience, a picture, a map, a reading selection, a textbook topic, even an examination question), brainstorming can be used to start the writing process. You can vary the type and content of the prompt according to the nature of the writing assignment and the language proficiency of your students. Here is how used brainstorming together with a picture as a prompt. The students see a photograph in which a young girl and an old man are sitting together on a park bench and playing checkers. They are asked to observe and talk about the picture.
Examples of responses from a group of four students:
- She is probably about four years old.
- I wonder who is winning?
- Where is her mother?
- Does her mother know she’s playing with the old man?
- He’s her grandfather.
- I like his face.
- He looks like my grandfather.
- She’s pretty.
- What time of day do you think it is?
The students make comments and free associations for about five minutes. Then they make written notes, examine them, summarize them, and develop them into a topic for a more focused discussion. After the second, more focused discussion they do a writing assignment. (1 – p. 125)
- Ann Raimes. Techniques in Teaching Writing. Oxford University Press, 1983.
- Carol N. Dixon and Denise Nessel. Language Experience Approach to Reading (and Writing). Alemany Press, 1983.
- «Dialogue Journals: A New Tool for Teaching Communication. «ERIC/CLL News Bulletin 6(2), Jane Staton. March 1983.
- Jane B. Hughey et al. Teaching ESL Composition. Newbury House Publishers, Inc., 1983.
- Ronald V. White. Teaching Written English. George Allen & Unwin, 1980.[schema type=»book» name=»THE IMPORTANCE OF TEACHING STUDENTS TO WRITING SKILLS» author=»Uralova D. S., Abdurakhmanov D. M., Karimova Z. A.» publisher=»БАСАРАНОВИЧ ЕКАТЕРИНА» pubdate=»2017-05-03″ edition=»ЕВРАЗИЙСКИЙ СОЮЗ УЧЕНЫХ_ 28.03.2015_03(12)» ebook=»yes» ]