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7 Powerful Writing Skills That Will Give Your ESL Students an Edge

Your ESL students need to keep their English skills sharp at all times.
Otherwise, writing English will be as frustrating as cutting veggies with a dull blade.
It’s time for your students to put pen to paper and explore their creative sides.
Arming your students with writing skills can open up a whole new world for them.
Maybe they aspire to be novelists, bloggers or play around with words in poetry.
Or maybe they would aspire to these things if given the chance.
It’s up to you to give them that chance.
Let them explore all their English potential.
By integrating some key writing skills into your lesson plans, you’ll give them the ability to make writing a part of
their lives, and you’ll enhance their understanding of other aspects of the language, too.

The Importance of Teaching Writing Skills in ESL

Writing is often overlooked in ESL teaching and learning. At a beginning level, it may be seen as a task for the
intermediate and advanced stages. Students will also shy away from writing due to its many complicated rules,
structures and idiosyncrasies.

However, placing importance on English writing skills is essential and has long-term benefits.

Your students will appreciate you putting English writing skills into your syllabus. Writing skills will be useful to them
in a variety of situations and can help them develop a more well-rounded English skill set. Writing is even something
they can fall back on in the event of a communication breakdown in an English-speaking country.

It’s important for you to encourage your students to think about writing through well-developed writing lesson
plans. With a slight nudge and some guidance, they can take newly discovered vocabulary and grammar and use it
to craft structured paragraphs in many different writing styles.

How to Build an ESL Lesson Plan Around Writing Skills

When it’s time for writing lessons, your students should have already read and discussed topics in class. Make sure
they have a good grasp on the spelling and vocabulary surrounding the writing topic, with a little grammar thrown
into the mix for added confidence. You may be surprised how the ABCs slip away from even the most advanced
English student.

For optimal results in your ESL writing lessons, think about the structure you plan to use when presenting the
material. Structure is one of the essential parts of your success as an ESL teacher. Leave nothing to interpretation
when presenting your writing material and tasks.

Make sure that your students are 100% clear on what they need to write about, as well as in what format and for
how long. Ask yourself if the material is sufficient to complete the task, if your students are clear on the intended
audience and if the material is relevant to them. No one wants to write about something they have no interest in,
and that’s a fact.

7 Powerful Writing Skills That Will Give Your ESL Students an Edge

1. Building on What They Already Know

Instead of having your students jump into the vast seas of writing all at once, teach them to strengthen their writing
bit by bit. Teach them the skill of building their writing around what they already know.

Their vocabulary doesn’t need to be anything special. You can start them off small and teach them how to build as
they go. Encourage a little writing in every class, whether it be note taking, dictation of a few sentences or a
short paragraph about their weekend. Let them try it out. You may be surprised at what they create.
Building confidence in note taking will create ample opportunities for your students to practice
writing. They can copy what you’ve written on the board or any important information you’ve presented. Clue your
students in to the importance of using writing as a tool and explain how much easier it will be for them later on if
they take a few notes from time to time.

2. Forming Sentences

Forming sentences is quite possibly the most important writing skill. It’s the foundation to all that is writing.
Without properly formed sentences, there are no topic sentences, no supporting sentences and no paragraphs.
Structure isn’t even approachable. The sentence is the glue that keeps all other aspects of writing together.
So what is a sentence? Essentially, it’s a noun and verb with a bunch of other additives. Think of a sentence like an
entrée on a menu. The main ingredients are listed, but the rest are in the background, unseen.

These unseen details are important, but showing your students the meat and potatoes first will help them look at
sentences with a better trained eye.

With the verb and noun in plain view, you can gradually introduce those unseen, often overlooked spices and
herbs that make the sentence a real sentence, the final product. Eventually introducing the importance and usage of
capital letters, punctuation, periods, question marks, quotations and other sentence spices will allow them to see
how it all works.

Presenting all this new sentence structure information to your students can be a simple and fun process. Using
examples in your presentation, along with practice, will allow your students to start seeing and developing
sentences.

Here’s one exercise you can do: Start writing a sentence on the board. Let them yell out a verb and noun to help
construct the sentence as you’re going. Once constructed and in view, deconstruct it, together. Analyze the reasons
behind, for example, the adjective being placed in front of the noun or the verb behind.

Dive deep into the punctuation and let them see the ins and outs before having them practice forming sentences on
their own.

Implement communication within sentence lessons so they can get some speaking practice while learning to write.
No student, young or old, wants to hear the material and then sit in silence writing. They want to communicate
about the new material they’re learning.

After they get the hang of creating sentences, you can mix things up by presenting them with challenging questions
or asking for longer sentences with more detail and depth. Keep them enthused about forming sentences and they’ll
continue to build confidence and comprehension in this skill area.

3. Building Coherent Paragraphs

Once your students have a solid understanding of how to create proper sentences, you can move them into
paragraphs. Showing your students how to construct paragraphs will give them a lifelong skill they’ll use in everyday
life as well as professional ventures.

It may be a good idea to separate sentence construction and paragraph building into two or three
separate lessons.Make sure they have a very good handle on sentences before moving forward. Otherwise, you’ll
spend half the class time backtracking.

In most paragraphs, the topic sentence is at the beginning, summing up what the paragraph will cover. Following
that are the supporting sentences, covering the thoughts and ideas that hold the topic sentence in place, giving it
validity and weight. Explain the structure of a paragraph to your students and let them see a visual of this structure
on the board or in a handout.

You can then give them examples of a topic sentence and a few supporting sentences before letting them give their
own paragraph-building a shot. Good visuals and easy-to-understand directions will go a long way in this crucial
area of ESL writing lessons.

You can also touch on some key linking words we use to combine two sentences together. Here are some examples
your students will be able to easily learn and understand:

 but
 because
 yet
 however
 and
 so

These words will help them make their sentences more coherent with a nice readable flow.

4. Communicating and Collaborating in Writing

Incorporating communicative learning into your ESL writing lesson will foster creativity and confidence in your
students. They’ll have a solid understanding of what they need to do when communicative learning is implemented
prior to writing.

Letting your students openly discuss the writing topic with you and their classmates is a great warm-up activity. It’s
exciting, and it allows them to generate fun, interesting ideas while learning the value of collaboration.

A great communicative technique is to break up the class into groups or pairs, depending on size, and let them work
out some of the writing topic details together. Brainstorming is one of the most important aspects within
writing and your students can build on their writing through discussion.

You can also allow some class time for presentations on what each pair or group has come up with. This can lead to
a collective brainstorming as students share their thoughts and ideas with everyone. Communicative tasks are
always great in any ESL lesson, so don’t forget to use it in your ESL writing lesson plans!

5. Choosing Writing Topics

You’ll always need to present writing topics in a way that’s effective, concise and fun for your students. An exciting
presentation of writing topics will lead to a cascade of enthusiasm with eager students ready to write at the drop of
a hat. Furthermore, making them part of the process will teach them to choose topics for themselves and open up
future ideas and possibilities for writing.

Utilizing short personal stories to present a topic is great. Visuals such as pictures or short videos can also be
effective, but make sure that the videos will be relevant and at the right level for your students.

Another great strategy you can implement into your lesson is to present a broad topic and give your students
the opportunity to shout out related words as you write them on the board. This gets them directly involved
in the presentation and they can begin to build creative ideas about what words they’ll use to construct their
sentences.

6. Understanding Writing Structures

As a teacher, you know the importance of structure when developing your lesson plans, so let your students in on
the secret! They’ll appreciate as much information regarding structure as you can give them.
Show them how to develop an outline that will make their writing easier when it comes time to create an
introduction, body and conclusion. Emphasize that a good outline can save them time thinking of what to write next,
giving them a flow that will keep them confident and prevent midstream writer’s block.

It’s essential that you think about the material you’ll need in order to convey the multiple possible writing structures
involved in writing. You can develop a structure together, with you writing on the board and your students taking
notes. Or you can utilize a workable student handout. Either way is great, but the handout could be more effective
for the first few writing tasks. The student handout will provide a set structure for your students to follow.

Including a section for topic sentences and supporting sentences will keep their writing minds
organized and focused.

In English writing, there are many forms and styles to suit different writing scenarios and needs. Teaching students
a basic structure (introduction, body, conclusion) before you put a label on any one structure is best, but the time
will come when they’ll be hungry for more.

Each lesson can incorporate a new topic and writing style for them to learn. For example:

 letters
 essays
 stories
 reports
 reviews
 emails

Build on structure basics piece by piece, giving your students more challenging tasks as they progress into
exceptional English writing.

7. Understanding Formal vs. Informal Writing

As your students progress into well-crafted writing, you’ll want to move them toward understanding the difference
between formal vs. informal writing. Depending on the students’ ages, levels and interests, understanding formal
and informal writing styles could be incredibly useful.

Granted, the young learner may not need this information for some time, so know your students and gauge what’s
most important for them.

Here are some key points to present when teaching a formal writing style to your students:

1. Stay away from contractions. Always writing the whole word is the best policy.
2. Never use slang in your formal writing.
3. Learn, recognize and expand on your formal phrases. For example, using phrases such as “approximately,” “due to,”
“sufficient” and “Sir/Madam” will come in handy for formal writing.

Here are some key points for informal writing:

1. Contractions are fine. Just don’t use too many, since this may be confusing to your reader.
2. Phrasal verbs or idioms are always welcome in informal writing.
3. Including informal words like “hey,” “thanks,” “best wishes” and “about” are more than acceptable in informal
writing and help create the right tone.

With a little planning and brainstorming, you can create exceptional, exciting and encouraging writing lessons to
teach your students essential writing skills.

It’s important to remember that the structure in your lesson plans is just as important as the structure you teach in
your ESL writing lessons, and your students will learn by example.
Be creative, be engaging, and your students will follow your lead into excellent English writing.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience
to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen
continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to
get a copy. (Download)

Oh, and One More Thing…

If you liked these tips, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music
videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and
your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the
regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.

You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much,
much more.

How to teach writing skills to ESL and EFL students


How to teach writing?
One of the headaches that the teachers of English in EFL and ESL classrooms face is how to teach writing. It is one
of the skills that require from the students not only to be equipped with the necessary skills but also to be
motivated. For most people writing is a painful process. It necessitates a training and patience.
This article is an attempt to cover the knowledge required in how to teach writing.
What is writing?
Before dealing with how to teach writing, let’s first see what is meant by ‘writing’. In this article, writing is seen as :
a purposeful human activity whereby the writer intends to communicate content – represented with conventional
signs and symbols – to an audience (i.e. reader).
In the above definition five elements are of paramount importance:
1. The writer (who)
2. The content (what)
3. The purpose (why)
4. The audience (for whom)
5. The medium (signs and symbols)
In addition to the above elements, writing involves many processes, including, the generation and organization of
ideas, drafting, revising and editing.
Writing as a communicative skill
Writing is a skill that is highly required nowadays. Written communication, for example, is the most common form of
business communication. Emails and formal letters fulfill conversational-like purposes that the students have to
master if they were to integrate today’s job market.
Writing serves not only communicative purposes in professional activities but also in social ones. In our every day
lives, we write or reply to invitation letters, thank-you letters, text messages, etc. Even journals carry a social
communicative load. Journal writers try to communicate their thoughts and feelings to themselves.
As a communicative skill, sometimes we initiate the need to write. Other times, we respond to someone else’s
initiation. When you write an invitation letter, you are the initiators of the conversation. Replying to the invitation,
by accepting or declining it, is the response to the initiator.
Writing vs speaking
Compared to the speaking skill, writing is more regulated. First, speech is often spontaneous and generally
unplanned. Speakers have support from interlocutors to convey the message. That is, while you speak, the
immediate audiences contribute to the conversation by nodding, interrupting, questioning and commenting to keep
the conversation going. Speech is also characterized by repetition, pauses, hesitations, para-language features
(gestures, facial expressions,…), and fillers (uhuh, ummm..). By contrast, writing has more standard forms of
grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. It is generally planned and can be subject to modification through editing and
revision before an audience reads it. In addition to that, writing does not tolerate repetition and if there is a
response to a written message, it is generally delayed. Last but not least, writers use a lot of cohesive devices (e.g.
however, in addition, in conclusion, etc.) that contribute to the overall coherence of the text.
What we usually write?
If you list all the things you have written during the past week, you will probably end up with a list that may include:
 Shopping lists
 Names
 Phone numbers
 Emails
 Letters
 Text messages
 Notes
 Presentations
 Articles
 Reports
 Curriculum Vitae
 …
These forms of writing which we also call genres, serve to express different purposes.
Why do we write?
Different forms of writing serve different kinds of purposes. The above pieces of writing are all done with different
intents in mind:
 Lists as reminders:
We write lists to remind ourselves of important information.
(shopping lists, names, phone numbers…)
 Writing as a learning tool:
Sometimes we write to organize and facilitate learning:
(note taking, copying…)
 Conversational-like writing
Other times, the purpose of writing is to get or communicate a piece of information
(emails, letters, text messages…)
 Writing for introspection and self-development:
In some cases, writing is a means for introspection.
(journals, diaries…)
 Writing as a means of reasoning:
Writing can be also a means to proceed by reasoning, making a point, convincing, arguing…
(discursive writing)
 …
Functional categories
When talking about the purpose of writing, we are in fact implying that writing has a functional role. This may
include
 Sequencing
 Comparing and contrasting
 Talking about cause and effect
 Describing
 Defining
 Expressing an opinion
 Arguing
 Persuading
 …
Knowing how to teach writing, entails making the learners aware of the different modes of writing, that is, the
purpose of their written text and the functional role that it plays in the communicative act (e.g. arguing, persuading,
describing,etc.)
How to teach writing in EFL and ESL classrooms
How to teach writing presupposes some prerequisites. Teachers of English should be aware of not only the
theoretical underpinnings of the writing tasks but also the practical procedures that contribute to the success of the
writing lesson. In the following section, we will have a look at:
 The basic knowledge that learners should develop in the writing lesson.
 The different types of writing activities.
 Writing as a tool for learning.
 Writing as a major syllabus component.
 Teaching writing as a product, as a process, and as a genre.
Levels of writing
Learners should be trained to develop different language subskills. The knowledge that they should develop range
from handwriting skills and mechanics to the ability to produce a coherent writing. Other types of knowledge include
vocabulary, grammar, and paragraph structure. The use of cohesive devices (e.g. however, nevertheless, but, etc.)
are also of paramount importance for good writers.

figure 1: Levels of writing (how to teach writing)


Writing activities
Writing tasks can be represented in a continuum that ranges from controlled activities to freer ones.

How to teach writing (activities)

Controlled Filling the Parallel Creative Free


Copying …
writing blanks writing writing Writing

The writing task in the classroom can be also seen either as a learning tool (i.e. writing for learning) or as
representing one of the main syllabus components (i.e. writing for writing) (Harmer, 2004).
Writing for learning
Writing for learning concerns those activities that necessitate the involvement of the students in some form of
writing:
 Grammar: providing examples of the target structures, gap filling, transformation exercises…
 Reading: answering the comprehension questions, summarizing…
 Speaking: preparing a conversation before an oral performance, jotting down ideas for subsequent discussion
about a topic…
 …
All the above activities are not part of a self-contained writing lesson. Writing in these activities is just a by-product
of the work on other language components.
Writing for writing
Writing for writing refers to the writing lesson as a major syllabus strand. It is a self-contained writing lesson that
aims at developing the writing skill.
There are three approaches to teaching writing:
1. Writing as a product.
2. Writing as a process.
3. Genre writing.
Product writing
The product writing approach refers to a writing procedure with an end product in mind. In this approach, the
students are encouraged to mimic a model text. Analysis of the model text focuses on the linguistic features (e.g.
prepositions, tense, adverbs…). Attention is paid to the accuracy of the students’ productions and the teacher is
concerned with where the students end not how they get there.
Here are the main features of this approach:
 The teacher provides a model text.
 Analysis of the linguistic features of the model text.
 The students are encouraged to mimic the model text.
 The writing is done with an end product in mind.
 The teacher evaluates the students on the final product they have handed in.
 Focus is on form and accuracy
This approach is criticized for not paying attention to the processes involved in writing. The writing process involves
far more than just producing an accurate piece of writing. Hence the development of a new approach that caters to
the pitfalls of the product approach.
Process writing
As its name implies, process writing focuses on the process a writer goes through before producing a piece of
writing:
“…process writing in the classroom may be construed as a program of instruction which provides the students with a
series of planned learning experiences to help them understand the nature of writing at every point.”
Anthony Sewo, 2002, p.315
In this approach, the learners are encouraged to go through different stages before producing their final version.
Generally speaking, four stages are identified in this process:
1. Planning
2. Drafting
3. Revising
4. Editing
Planning
At the pre-writing stage, the learners are encouraged to gather as much information about the topic as possible
through activities such as:
 brainstorming
 quick write
 answers to questions
 discussions
 …
After generating enough ideas about the topic, the learners sort and organize them into an outline, preferably a
visual diagram.
Drafting
Drafting is the first attempt at writing. When the learners have gathered enough ideas about the topic they start
writing the first draft paying attention to the following points:
 At this stage, focus is on the fluency of writing;
 The learners should not be preoccupied too much with accuracy;
 While drafting, the audience should be taken into consideration because having the audience in mind gives
direction to the writing.
There might be some kind of response to the students’ drafts either from other peers or from the teacher. This can
be in the form of quick oral or written initial reaction to the draft.
Revising
Revising is not merely checking for language errors. It is rather a look at the overall content and organization of
ideas. Using the feedback from their peers or from the teacher, the learners check whether their writing
communicates meaning effectively to the intended audience. For example, some ideas may be discarded while
others may be improved. The structure of paragraphs might also be affected during revision and the overall
organization may be refined to convey coherent content.
Editing
Once the learners have finished revising, they start tidying up their drafts. This can be done by the learners
themselves (i.e. self-editing) or with the help of their peers (i.e. peer editing). The focus is on elements like:
 diction (choice of words)
 grammar (tense, sentence structure, prepositions…)
 mechanics (punctuation, punctuation)
A checklist may be provided to this effect:
 Is the choice of vocabulary items appropriate?
 Are the verbs in the correct tense?
 Are the verb correctly formed?
 Have you checked the subject-verb agreement?
 Have you used correct sentence structures?
 Are the prepositions correctly used?
 Have you checked the use of articles?
 …
Figure 2 below, shows the different steps in process writing. As it can be seen, the process is not linear; it is rather
recursive.
“…many good writers employ a recursive, non-linear approach – writing of a draft may be interrupted by more
planning, and revision may lead to reformulation, with a great deal of recycling to earlier stages.”

Figure 2: Process Writing (How to teach writing)


Genre writing
Recent studies on the genres of writing have revived interest in some features of the product approach. Genre
writing is similar to the product approach in the sense that it also considers writing from a linguistic standpoint.
Nevertheless, there is a major difference between the genre and product approaches. The genre approach, unlike
the product approach, focuses on the social context in which writing is produced. As mentioned above, texts can be
classified into different genres and are normally written for different social purposes. Consequently, each genre (e.g.
email, formal letters, storytelling, etc.) has its own common conventional features and the teachers’ role is to raise
the students’ awareness of these features and help them learn how to produce texts with the same features.
The conventional features of genres include things like layout, diction, style, organization, and content. If these are
not analyzed and practiced by the students themselves in different examples, they will not be able to communicate
their intents appropriately and their productions will undoubtedly break the expectations of the reader.
Consequently, knowing how to teach writing presupposes that teachers should also focus on their students’
awareness and analysis of different genres to help them avoid producing texts that will likely cause a negative
reaction.
Texts are socially constructed and follow social conventions that the students have to respect. It helps to understand
the rationale behind the form of a discourse through examining not only its language but also its social context and
purpose. Wedding invitations, for example, share so many characteristics that when we see an example of them, it
is immediately apparent from its layout and its language.
Practically, the genre approach draws on Vygotsky’s social constructivismwhich considers language as a
consequence of human interaction. The procedure is based on three major stages: awareness raising, appropriation,
and autonomy. During the lesson, scaffolding is provided. That is, the teacher provides support for learners as they
progress in their linguistic competence and become independent.
Awareness raising
The first stage consists of having the students look, for example, at text models of a specific genre. The aim is to
make them aware of what constitutes that particular genre.
To that effect, different text models of the same genre are provided to the students for analysis and distinctive
features should be identified.
Appropriation
At this stage, support is provided when needed while the learners practice the target genre distinctive features :
 the linguistic properties,
 layout
 organization
 …
Collaborative work may play an important role at this stage. A text may be jointly constructed by learners and
teacher (Hammond, 1987).
Autonomy
At this stage, the learners are given enough time to independently construct their own texts. Guidance may be
needed for students with limited control of language.
A process genre approach to teaching writing
It would be a good idea to mix the advantages of the three approaches described above. This would lead to the
adoption of an approach that would undoubtedly benefit learning. Badger and White (2000) call such an approach
“process genre approach to teaching writing”. This approach recognizes:
 The importance of the linguistic features of texts as in product writing;
 The importance of the knowledge of the social context and purposes of texts as in genre writing;
 The importance of the skills needed in the process of writing.
The teaching procedure would include the provision of an input (i.e. model texts) that learners would study and
analyze and the development of the learners’ skills necessary in the process of writing. Here is a typical procedure:
 Model texts that represent specific social situations are provided for study and analysis in terms of:
– their linguistic features.
– their social context, that is the relationship between the writer, the purpose of the text, and the audience.
 After raising the learners’ awareness about the model texts distinctive features, some practice would be
needed.
 A topic is provided to the students which replicates a similar social situation.
 Learners construct their own texts through:
– planning
– drafting
– revising
– editing
 The teacher provides support and scaffolding during the learners’ progress towards autonomy.

Writing matters: Planning, drafting and editing

Writing is a process. Good writers plan what they will write, come up with ideas, draft, revise and edit. This article
will give some practical ideas for how students can be taught to become good writers.

Introduction

Writing is a process – or, at least, it should be. It involves thinking, jotting down ideas, refining these ideas, thinking
about the structure, linking ideas and much more. One problem is that writing is often neglected in the classroom –
it’s seen as time-consuming and ends up being relegated to a homework task with little or no proper preparation.

If we want our students to become good writers, then we have to spend more time in the classroom teaching them
how to write. This doesn’t simply mean getting them to write, as that isn’t teaching. Of course, practice is
important, but you can only practise something if you have a clear idea of what your goal is and how to reach it.

Talking about goals, it is absolutely essential that the goals are realistic. It is impossible for students to become
best-selling novelists overnight, and we (the teacher) have to set realistic targets and get students to see writing as
something that can be learnt.

What do good writers do?

The great twentieth-century writer Ernest Hemingway once said: ‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one
ever becomes a master.’ In other words, however good your writing is, it will never be perfect. There is always room
for improvement, and you should expect to have to write something more than once. Another writer, the popular
novelist Michael Crichton, said: ‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten … It’s one of the hardest things to accept,
especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it!’

So one of the key things to good writing is a willingness to go back over what you’ve written, edit, revise and
rewrite. At first, it can be really difficult and sometimes even painful, but, with practice, students will come to realize
that what they are producing is improving by leaps and bounds. It’s not simply a matter of reading through a piece
of writing looking for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors; it’s about reading through it to see how it can be
made better. In a way, a piece of writing should never be finished – it should just be one step further on.

Another thing that good writers do is read a lot. The more a student reads, the more language they are exposed to.
This is not so they can copy another writer’s style but rather learn how someone else structures things, the words
they choose, the way they express their ideas. Even reading something that is badly written can be useful – Why do
you think it’s badly written? How would you improve it?

The three rules


The British writer Somerset Maugham once said: ‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one
knows what they are.’ However, I would argue that we do know what it is that makes a good, if not a great, writer –
and, actually, it is three things: planning, drafting and editing.

Even if students sit down with a blank piece of paper in front of them (or, more likely nowadays, a blank screen),
they need to have some idea of what they want to write. For most writing, there needs to be a purpose and an idea
of who the reader is going to be. This is all part of the planning stage. Often the planning will take longer than the
actual writing, but if the result is a better piece of writing then there is nothing wrong with that at all. Planning can
take all sorts of shapes and forms, from brainstorming ideas to jotting down important facts or pieces of information
to be included (or, at least, not forgotten).

Once students start writing, they need to understand that this is just the first draft – that finishing the writing is
actually only the first step to getting a piece that is good enough. But how does a teacher help students realize this?
There are a few ways. For example, speed writing. Set students a time limit that is quite short, and explain that
they should not worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation – they should simply write as much as they can.
Once they’ve done this, they can go back over the piece, improving it, correcting the spelling and the grammar and
so on. Another way is to get the students to think about what it is they are writing and actually jot down different
ideas in the place on the page they will write each one. For example, if they are writing a letter of complaint, then
start by planning the paragraphs: 1 – what you are complaining about in brief; 2 – more details about what and why
you are complaining; 3 – what you want to happen as a result of your letter.

Finally, once a piece of writing is ‘finished’, students need to go back and edit it. Start by getting them to read
through the piece and see if they feel it says what they wanted it to say. Can they improve any of the vocabulary?
Are there any small mistakes they notice? Having to edit a piece of writing is not a sign that the writing was bad; it’s
a sign that the writer is good.

Is it a linear process?

The three rules listed above are written as if they are done one after another – in other words, as if writing is a
linear process. But this simply isn’t true. These three steps – planning, drafting and editing – are part of a continual
cycle: you’re editing even as you are jotting down ideas; you are coming up with new ideas while you are editing;
and drafting and planning often go hand-in-hand. It’s almost like an Escher painting where you don’t really know
where to start or finish. Of course, you can’t edit something until you’ve written it down, and you shouldn’t start
writing until you’ve done some planning, but, other than that, there is no particular order in which you should do
each of these things.

But I don’t have enough time!

Quite clearly, all of this takes time. Students often feel that they don’t have enough time to do all of these steps.
However, it’s worth pointing out that time spent at the start thinking about things and deciding how you are going
to link your ideas together will save twice as much time later on. As I’ve mentioned before, the planning often takes
longer than the writing, but this then means that the writing is far quicker than it would have been and the results
are infinitely better.

It’s a bit like cooking. If you check you have all the ingredients before you start making the dish, you won’t
suddenly find halfway through that you are missing a vital ingredient. You’ll know right from the start whether or
not you have everything you need or whether you’ll need to go out and get something. So students need to do the
same thing before they start writing – then, they have a better chance of producing an edible dish!

Some practical ideas

1. A mini-saga

If you are a regular onestopenglish user, you have almost certainly come across the idea of a mini-saga before. But,
for those of you who haven’t, here is the idea in a nutshell.

Give your students a title and tell them you want them to write a piece that is exactly fifty words long. It can’t be
fewer (like forty-eight) or more (like fifty-one): it must be exactly fifty words. Give them a time limit (maybe ten
minutes) and tell them to start writing. At the end, you could get the students to post their texts around the
classroom and vote on which one they like the best.

The beauty of the mini-saga is that it requires students to re-read what they have written and edit it. However,
because it’s presented as a challenge and is immensely fun, students don’t feel bored with the editing and rewriting
process.

2. You edit mine and I’ll edit yours

In previous articles on writing, I’ve talked about collaborative writing. One of the best ways of getting students to
help each other is getting them to work in pairs. They should exchange their pieces of writing and carefully read and
edit their partner’s work. This needs to be done with the aim of helping each other, so students need to take this
seriously and have a degree of trust in each other. It’s also important for them to realize that they should be trying
to ‘understand’ the piece of writing – in other words: What’s the aim? Who would it be aimed at? How would it make
the reader feel?

Encourage students to ask questions about each other’s writing, not simply correct spelling and grammar mistakes.
The best way to do this is actually co-edit a single piece of work together in class (possibly written by a student not
in the class but with their name removed from the work), talking through all the comments and changes you might
suggest. In the past, I’ve done this by handing out a piece of work and getting students to discuss it first in pairs,
and then displaying it on screen and going through it together.

3. From L1 to English

Ask your students to bring in a piece of writing they’ve done in their own language – it could be a letter or an email
or even a school assignment. Then, ask them to read through it and see if they are happy with it or if they would
make any changes to the original. Next, ask them to turn it over and try to write the same thing, or similar, in
English. Tell them not to translate but to try to keep the main ideas and to concentrate on getting the message
across in English. At this stage, you might well need to monitor and give help when they need it, especially in terms
of supplying vocabulary or helping with a grammatical structure. Then, ask them to read through the original again
before reading through the English version, making improvements as necessary.

Note: This only really works with students of intermediate level and above, as students at lower levels often struggle
due to gaps in their English.

Writing matters: Short texts

In this article Adrian Tennant focuses on short texts such as messages, notes, instructions and notices. Although
these kinds of text are read and written on a regular basis, they are often neglected despite being extremely
common in everyday life.

Introduction

Writing is often a neglected skill in the classroom and when it does take place it almost always seems to focus on
long texts such as letters and essays. This is extremely unfortunate for a number of reasons.

Firstly, during their lives, students will be required to write a lot and yet their writing often doesn’t truly reflect their
language ability.

Secondly, writing helps consolidate other aspects of learning such as grammar and vocabulary. When students are
writing they often have more time than they would if they were speaking and this gives them the opportunity to
think about the language they use and learn from the choices they make.

A third issue I want to raise here is the type of texts we ask students to write. As previously mentioned, these are
often quite long and this in itself is a problem as the texts students are more likely to need to write are short texts
such as messages, notes and instructions. The features of these texts differ radically from long texts and yet
students seem to be expected to be able to produce short texts with almost no teaching having taken place.

One of the most important things to emphasize is that writing texts of any kind requires an understanding of how
such texts operate and what they look like. The key to this is exposure to the text types – in other words,
opportunities to read such texts. The writing of any text cannot come in isolation – writing and reading are
intertwined and the best writers are people who read a lot. Therefore, before expecting our students to start writing
texts – whether they are short or long – we need to give them lots of examples. Let them read the texts, notice
their features and think about the context and the message.

What is different about short texts?

To begin with it’s important to state it is just that – they are short! And, because of this there are a number of
implications. Firstly, the use of ellipsis (i.e. leaving out words as they are unnecessary for comprehension of the
text/message). This requires an understanding of the context and a shared understanding (or at least the
expectation of such) between the writer and reader. Secondly, the register used in short texts tends not to be very
formal – this doesn’t mean they are informal but simply that there is usually some kind of relationship between the
writer and reader already, so a degree of informality is normal. Finally, short texts cut to the chase – the message is
key and words are not wasted. This means that messages can appear to be almost rude in nature simply because of
their brevity. All of these things are reflected in the language used in short texts.

What kind of language is used?

In short texts, grammar words – such as pronouns, articles, conjunctions and prepositions – are often omitted. This
can be quite challenging for both the student and the teacher, especially if we’ve spent quite a lot of time teaching
students how to use such words! It almost feels as if short texts are ungrammatical when, in fact, this is not the
case. Although the words are not written, the reader will automatically reinsert them if necessary. Take a look at the
example note below:

Gone to dentist’s

Ask students the following questions to test that they understand the nature of the message:

Q.Who has gone?


A. the writer

Q.Why doesn’t the note say ‘the dentist’s’?


A. because there is an assumption that the reader knows which dentist the writer is referring to

Q.Why is there an apostrophe?


A. because it’s the dental surgery that the person is visiting in order to see the dentist

Q.Why have they gone to the dentist’s? What are they going to do there?
A. There is no explanation, however the reason in this case is fairly obvious.

The next thing students need to try and understand is the reason for the note. It’s been written not just to tell the
reader where the person has gone but why they aren’t at the location where the note has been left. In other words,
it’s been left for someone to read who would be surprised not to see the person who wrote the note. So there is an
underlying message, which could be something like Don’t worry! or You’ll have to get your own dinner.

Another feature that we often find in short texts such as notes and instructions is the use of the passive. There are
two main reasons for this: the first is that what both the writer and reader are interested in is the action not the
person doing the action (which is often known anyway); and, secondly, the passive is more neutral and almost helps
soften the tone that a short text has, e.g. Please make sure the rubbish is taken out. However, even when the
passive isn’t used, the ‘agent’ or person being asked to do something is often left out (usually because the
expectation is that it is the reader who is going to carry out any action that is required). For example:

Turn the lights off before leaving.


Please feed the dog!
Leave outdoor shoes here.

Instructions

Most of the examples of short texts we’ve looked at so far have been notes and messages, although some could be
interpreted as instructions as well (for example, Leave outdoor shoes here). But what about other types of
instructions such as directions or those left to tell someone how to do something? Here are two examples:

Go through the village and take the second turning on the right. Our house is the third on the left opposite the big
tree.

Switch on at the wall. The red light should start flashing. When the light stops flashing, press the button.

Although these texts are longer than the other examples, many of the same features are evident. The ‘agent’ or
person carrying out the action isn’t mentioned. As with many of the other short texts, these start with a verb, but
they do include articles and prepositions. One feature that is very evident from these texts is how short the
sentences are and how the language is kept fairly simple.

Some practical ideas

What’s the context?

 Show your students a number of short texts (see the examples in the boxes below).
 Put the students in pairs and ask them to discuss the following: Where would you see such a notice or message?
 Give the students time to discuss each one, monitor and help where necessary and then check as a class.

Back Please leave post Get well soon. Hope you Fragile! This Sorry, had to go out. Dinner’s
soon with no. 42 like grapes! way up! in the fridge.

Suggested answers:

Back soon – a notice on a shop or office door or stuck to a computer screen at someone’s desk.
Please leave post with no. 42 – A note left for the postman (possibly on the front door). The use of with is
interesting here as it refers to the person/people living at number 42 rather than the house itself.
Get well soon. Hope you like grapes! – a note either attached to a bunch of grapes or in an accompanying card
sent to someone either in hospital or at home recuperating after being ill or having an operation.
Fragile! This way up! – a note attached to a parcel or a case, either sent through the post or being taken as
luggage on a plane.
Sorry, had to go out. Dinner’s in the fridge. – A note from a parent/partner to a son/daughter/partner. Probably
left on the kitchen table or somewhere they know it will be seen and read.

Cross it out!

This is a fun activity that can be done with absolutely any level and pretty much any age of student. The main aim
of the activity is to get students to focus on the core message and understand that often it is grammar words
(words like articles, prepositions and pronouns) that can be left out.

 Give students the following instructions: Look at the message. It contains 26 words. Can you cross out 17 words so
that there are only nine in the message? Remember, the meaning still needs to be clear! You might want to change
the order of the words as well.

Hi Barry,

Paul phoned and wanted to speak to you, but you weren’t at your desk. Can you call him back? He says it’s urgent.

Emma

Possible solution:

Barry,

URGENT – Paul phoned. Please call him back.

Emma

 You can also try to reverse it by giving students a short text and asking them to put back the words that have been
removed (the only problem with this is that there are often lots of possibilities).
Gapped text / Reorder text

Students need to be exposed to as many different types of texts as possible. They also need the chance to develop
an understanding of how the texts work – like teaching any aspect of the language, you need to do it step-by-step
so students know how things are done. So, before asking students to write their own short texts they need models.
It is also more helpful if students complete exercises around these models and not simply read them. Here are two
simple ideas using the same short text.

1. Complete the text with the words in the boxes.

check close drop enjoy open press put switch

(1) _____ the machine on – the on/off switch is on the right-hand side. The light should start flashing. When it
stops flashing, (2) _____ the flap at the top and (3) _____ the capsule in – the silver part facing towards you. (4)
_____ the flap, (5) _____ a cup on the tray. (6) _____ that the water level is above minimum. (7) _____ the
button next to the light. (8) _____ your coffee!

2. Put the sentences in the correct order.

a. Check that the water level is above minimum.


b. Close the flap, put a cup on the tray.
c. Enjoy your coffee!
d. Press the button next to the light.
e. Switch the machine on – the on/off switch is on the right-hand side.
f. The light should start flashing.
g. When it stops flashing, open the flap at the top and drop the capsule in – the silver part facing towards you.

Conclusion

The earlier teachers start to incorporate the reading and writing of short texts in their lesson, the better. Students
need to be equipped with the skills required to deal with what is an important area of language. This doesn’t mean
we need to use technical terms (e.g. they certainly don’t need us to talk about ellipses); often what we are actually
asking them to do is quite straight forward, i.e. cross out any words that aren’t necessary for the core message,
keep things clear, think about the context and what the reader needs to know.

I’ve often found lessons where part of the focus has been on short texts lots of fun and extremely useful in getting
students to think about grammar and vocabulary in terms of communication.

I’ll just leave you with one short message: Try it!

Writing matters: Creative writing

In this article we take a look at what is meant by 'creative writing' and why it can be a useful tool in helping improve
our students’ writing skills and overall level of English.

Introduction

When I look up the word creative in the dictionary I find that it means 'involving a lot of imagination and new ideas'
*. For me, most writing involves imagination and ideas (they might not all be new). But, in many instances writing
is fairly formulaic: there is a particular structure, fairly rigid content and much of the language is predetermined.
Just think of letter writing with set phrases such as Dear Sir/Madam, I’m writing to you …, I look forward to your
reply, Yours sincerely. Even essays often have fixed patterns and discourse markers.

Firstly, let’s try and define exactly what we mean by creative writing (at least for the purposes of this article).

* Definition taken from the Macmillan Dictionary https://www.macmillandictionary.com/.

What is creative writing?

We have already mentioned the formulaic nature of things such as letters and essays. It is important to realise,
though, that creative writing can also be formulaic: for example, a poem will often have a fairly rigid structure. Most
limericks start with the opening phrase: There was a X from X. The number of lines, the number of syllables in each
line and the rhyming patterns are all also more or less unvarying. Yet limericks are seen as creative writing whereas
letters usually aren’t. So what makes a limerick creative?

The main difference here is that the possibilities of pushing these limits and boundaries are far more acceptable
when writing a limerick than when writing a letter.

So, our definition of creative writing in this article will be: giving students the opportunity to push the boundaries.

Does anything go in creative writing?

No, not at all. Although many people think that you can do anything you want in creative writing, this is just not the
case. Creative writing does not equal nonsense writing. In fact, it can be extremely organised and demand quite a
high level of control of language in order for students to express precisely what they mean.

Why teach creative writing?

As we have seen, creative writing requires controlled use of language in order to express meaning. The main reason
then to use it with your students is as a way of practising the language they have been learning. It equates very
neatly with the idea of a free-practice stage in many lessons where the activities include role-plays, discussions, etc.
Some of the best writing lessons I’ve had are when I ask my students to write a dramatic dialogue. Although there
is a structure to the dialogues – turn taking, the need for statement/question, response patterning, etc – there is far
more flexibility involved.

So, creative writing activities:

 give students a chance to practise language they have learnt during the lesson or course;
 give teachers the opportunity to see how well students can use language as opposed to regurgitating it;
 allow for imagination;
 are motivating and fun;
 are demanding in terms of language choice.
Do all students like creative writing?

No. Just as not all students enjoy learning grammar, listening activities, role-plays or any of the other activities we
might do in class. However, just as with other tasks it is important that students understand why we are doing them
and that the activities themselves are set up clearly. If we just expect our students to produce a piece of creative
writing without any planning and lead-in then we are being unrealistic and will find that nine times out of ten it will
fail.
Having said this, even the best planned activities might still not work with all our students. Some students find
creative writing too demanding. They might prefer logical/mathematical type tasks or kinaesthetic activities.

Can creative writing help students who are taking exams?

Yes. A good example of this is the mini-saga activity outlined in the practical ideas section of this article. This type
of activity is excellent practice for summary writing which often crops up in exams such as IELTS.

How do you set up creative writing activities?

There are two different approaches to setting up creative writing activities. The most common is to start with a
reading approach. This means that students see model texts that demonstrate some of the features of a particular
genre. Treating these texts as part of the presentation stage of the lesson – answering comprehension type
questions, analysing the language (and structure where applicable), etc – will enable students to produce a better
piece of work later on.

The other approach is for students to start by writing a piece of their own. This is a kind of ‘cold’ approach, or
‘throwing them in at the deep end.’ This approach relies on the fact that students will already have done the reading
aspect beforehand and will therefore already be familiar with some of the conventions. For example, most people
will have read some poetry at one time or another, even if only in their L1. Therefore, they should know some of the
conventions for writing poetry and will be able to produce something.

Are there problems with either approach?

Yes. If, for example, students read a number of texts as ‘models’ it may be that they try to copy these. Quite clearly
these copies will be weaker versions of the original and it defeats the creative aspect. In extreme circumstances it
may even ‘block’ the students resulting in them producing nothing at all. On the other hand, having no models at all
may mean that students don’t really know where to start.

Some practical ideas

Mini sagas

A mini saga is a piece of writing exactly fifty words in length. The saga tells a story and should have a beginning,
middle and end, and not just be a description of something.

A good way to start the actual writing process is to choose a topic or start with a key word or phrase. In the past
I’ve used idioms such as A bird in the hand … or Let sleeping dogs lie with upper intermediate and advanced classes
to stimulate ideas. At lower levels, I’ve used pictures or simply topics such as My birthday, Last weekend, The kiss.
The key thing is that when you initially ask students to write a fifty-word paragraph or text, the task is achievable
and they are happy to start. Later on they have to edit, check and rephrase and find that it isn’t as easy as they first
thought. Mini sagas are a great way to practise summarising and also allow students to focus on accuracy. For more
on mini sagas go to:

http://www.onestopenglish.com/section.asp?docid=146335

Limericks

Limericks have been around for centuries – even Shakespeare wrote some – but were made popular by Edward Lear
in the 19th century. Limericks are short rhyming poems containing five lines. Lines 1, 2 and 5 have between seven
and ten syllables and rhyme with each other. Lines 3 and 4 have five to seven syllables and rhyme. To give your
students examples just look on the internet as there are hundreds of sites containing limericks.

Dramatic dialogues

We often ask our students to write dialogues, especially as preparation for role-plays. In order to make them more
creative (and dramatic) give your students a set of words or expressions that they should try and include in these
dialogues. Or give them situations which, by their very nature, are dramatic, e.g:

You’re in a lift that has broken down. Have a phone conversation with the engineer.

Collaborative poem
Put students in pairs or small groups. Tell them they are going to write a short poem together. It might be a good
idea to choose a topic or theme beforehand. Give one piece of paper and pen to each pair or group. Explain that one
student will start by writing the first line, then hand the pen and paper to the next student who will write the second
line. This carries on for a set time or length. To make it slightly harder you could say that lines 1 & 2 should rhyme
and 3 & 4 and so on. Or lines 1 & 3 and 2 & 4.

Writing matters: Developing accuracy

Accuracy in written work is important, but how can we help our students to become accurate writers? In this article,
Adrian Tennant tries to answer this question and provides some practical activities that focus on accuracy.

Introduction

When students produce a piece of writing, one of the first things they want to know is, ‘Is it okay?’ By this they
usually mean, ‘Have I made lots of mistakes?’ In lots of teaching situations there is an emphasis on getting things
right – on accuracy. It may be that as teachers we want to focus on something else, i.e. whether they enjoyed doing
the task, how long it took them, whether they found it easy to come up with the ideas, etc. But, in many cases, both
students and teachers are looking for a piece of work that doesn’t have too many mistakes.

In this article we’ll examine what exactly we mean by accuracy in writing and how we can help our students become
more accurate writers.

Are there different types of accuracy?

The simple answer is ‘Yes’. When we talk about accuracy in writing, we are not just referring to whether the correct
choice of tenses was made. There are lots of different mistakes that can be made in writing and, sometimes,
grammatical accuracy is not as important as one of these other aspects. Of course, that doesn’t mean that
grammatical accuracy isn’t important, but it is only one of many levels of accuracy. Here are a few examples:

 Spelling: In many cases spelling can be crucial. Not only does bad spelling have a negative affect, especially in
formal situations, but it can sometimes impede communication. Often people who are not good at spelling are also
labelled lazy, although there can be many reasons for poor spelling, especially in English. However, in many cases
spelling mistakes are simple ‘slips’ that could be corrected if, and when, the piece of writing was reviewed.
Encouraging students to read through anything they have written and just check the spelling will often lead to
immediate improvements.
 Register: Students need to think about who they are writing for, what their relationship is to the person (social
distance) and the purpose of the piece of writing. Discussing these questions and thinking about the degrees of
formality will help students become more accurate. Awareness-raising activities as well as exposure to different
registers will help students improve their writing.
 Organization and layout: Many types of writing in English follow a fairly well defined structure. Looking at the
organization and layout of different kinds of writing – from messages to letters, discursive essays to postcards – will
help students when it comes to their writing. We often spend time looking at the layout of letters: for example,
where to put the addresses, how to start, how to close, etc. but fail to look at the way to structure each paragraph
and then how to link these paragraphs together to make a coherent and cohesive letter. Therefore, looking at these
aspects on a micro level, as well as a macro level, is important.
When should I focus on accuracy?

In most cases after a fluency stage. Initially students should review their own piece of writing. Then the focus can
shift towards improving accuracy. It may be that students begin to organize their ideas, deciding which ones to use
and how to link them together. This is a form of accuracy work, focusing on organization, layout and structuring.
There can be a number of stages where different aspects of accuracy are the focus: stage one is organizing the
ideas, stage two is linking them together, stage three is checking the tenses, etc. stage four is looking at the
register, and so on. These don’t necessarily all have to be done in one lesson, but may be spread over a period of
time. Using the portfolio idea mentioned in Speaking matters: Developing fluency gives students a chance to return
to pieces of work and to continually improve on what they produce.

What should I correct and when?

The first thing to do is to consider the purpose of the writing. Who would read the writing in the real world? How
would they judge the writing? If the piece conveys the information required in an appropriate way, then this needs
to be acknowledged. For example, if the register chosen is correct but there are some basic grammar mistakes, then
these will probably not be the focus of any correction. It also depends on the target you set your students and their
level.

Secondly, decide on whether you need to make the corrections or whether you are just going to indicate that some
mistakes have been made, where, and of what type, and then get the students to self-correct their work. In the
long term, self-correction may be a far more useful strategy.

Does it matter if I don’t correct everything?


No, not at all; in fact it can be counterproductive. Too much correction can be as bad as no correction at all. Nothing
is more disconcerting for a student than receiving a piece of writing covered in red pen and comments. Choose what
to focus on, preferably before you set the task and let the students know. Targeted correction is far more beneficial.

Will a focus on accuracy stop students from enjoying writing?

Not unless it’s overdone. Usually the problem is that accuracy becomes the main focus rather than simply one
aspect of writing. When this happens students become so concerned with getting things right that content suffers;
seeing writing as a means to an end is lost and students find writing tedious and hard work.

How can I find time to correct my students’ writing?

The first thing is to consider whether you should be the one correcting their writing. As was mentioned earlier, self-
correction may be far more beneficial than the teacher always correcting everything.

Encourage students to read through things before they hand them in to you. Don’t accept work from your students
if you think they haven’t done their best. Give it back to them and ask, 'Is this the best you can do?' When they
answer, 'Yes!' then accept the work.

Peer correction is also a good thing. Put students in pairs and groups and get them to look at each other’s work. Tell
them to talk to each other about any mistakes they find or things they don’t understand. This is better if it is
focused and targeted so that students know what kinds of things are important in each piece of writing.

Some practical ideas

1. Looking at spelling
There are lots of activities that can be done on spelling, but here are a couple:

 Activity 1 – Type out a short text with a number of common spelling mistakes in it. Put students in pairs and hand
out the text. Tell them that there are ten spelling mistakes (or any number you have decided) and that they should
write out the text and correct the mistakes. Encourage them to work together, discussing their ideas. This works
really well if the mistakes are ones taken from the students' own work.
 Activity 2 – Dictate sentences with tricky words that are commonly spelt incorrectly. I’ve used this activity a lot for
homophones.
2. Gap-fills
These are often seen as grammar-focused activities, but are also a form of structured writing where accuracy is
paramount. They can vary from sentence gap-fills to paragraphs and often look at tenses or word formation.

3. Marking codes and error sheets


Make sure your students are aware of any marking codes you use, i.e. T = tense mistake, sp = spelling, w/o = word
order, etc. Ask students to keep an error sheet where they record the type of mistakes they make. So, for example,
if they make a spelling mistake they can record the word they spelt incorrectly. Or, if they keep on missing out
articles they can record this and then, by glancing at their error sheet, can know immediately what areas they need
to work on.

Writing matters: Developing fluency

Most teachers have heard of fluency in terms of speaking but what does it mean when applied to writing? In this
article we examine the concept of fluency in writing.

Introduction

We often talk about the importance of fluency over accuracy when we discuss speaking activities for the classroom.
By this we mean that our students should try to say something (convey a message) without worrying about every
mistake. Fluency can be important because if we only focus on how we say something, rather than what we say, we
may fail to communicate properly.

Why is written fluency important?

But fluency isn’t only important in speaking – it has its place in writing as well. For example, there are occasions
when we have a limited amount of time in which to write something (e.g. when taking down a phone message) and
what we need to write is simply the content or information and grammatical accuracy becomes less important.

How do I get my students to write fluently?

Speed writing is one way. Choose and discuss a topic – it might be a good idea to brainstorm ideas in groups and
then write these on the board. Set a time limit (e.g. 10 minutes). Your students should now spend this time writing
down their ideas without worrying about the spelling or grammar. The aim is for them to write as many ideas about
the topic as they can. During this speed writing phase they cannot cross anything out or correct any mistakes. If
they cannot think of a word or a phrase, they should leave a blank space or write it in their own language. Once the
time is up, shout, ‘Stop!’ Students should now work in pairs or small groups and read out what they have written,
with the other students just listening. Next, as a group (or pair) the students should work through the text,
correcting mistakes, changing punctuation, translating words or phrases into English, and filling in the blanks. This
reviewing stage is important but should be done at the end and not while the actual writing is taking place.

Another way of helping your students to write more fluently is to adjust the way you mark their written work.
Instead of focusing on their mistakes, look at the content. Respond by writing a reply to them rather than covering
their piece of work in red pen.

But what happens if they make lots of mistakes?

There are a few points to make here. The first is that the aim is not to produce an accurate piece of work, the aim is
to collect as many ideas as possible. Secondly, you can build a review stage in afterwards where editing and
accuracy can be the focus. In fact, it’s important to see the fluency stage – or speed writing – simply as one step in
the process of producing a final piece of writing. It is not an end in itself. Finally, if students are making lots of
mistakes it is worth going back to the task itself. Is it too difficult? Was there enough preparation? And so on. More
often than not, if students fail at a specific task, it means that there was a lack of adequate preparation or that the
task was not the right level.

Will developing fluency lead to a lower level of accuracy?

Not necessarily. In fact, it’s not helpful to see the two aspects as diametrically opposed. It is quite possible to be
both fluent and accurate at the same time. It is also possible to be inaccurate and not fluent. The important thing to
consider is that when you are trying to develop one aspect, then activities should be designed for that purpose and
comments should be targeted to work towards that one aim. As soon as you start looking at other aspects or
commenting on other issues then students start to get confused.

Can fluency lead into developing accuracy?

It’s probably worth drawing a comparison here between fluency and accuracy in speaking activities and fluency and
accuracy in writing. When we focus on fluency in speaking we don’t ignore the mistakes our students make, we
either note them down to deal with later or we use unobtrusive strategies, such as asking a question, so that the
student reformulates what they have said (and hopefully corrects themselves in the process). With writing, the
same techniques can be applied. If the mistakes are impeding communication, we can indicate that we don’t
understand the message by writing questions to the student, such as: Do you mean …? and When you say …?

The main difference between writing and speaking is that in the latter the feedback given to speakers is often
immediate, whereas in written communication there is a time delay. However, writing does have an advantage in
that it is easier to review because there is a permanent record.

When should we shift our attention to accuracy?

We must remember that activities focusing on fluency are simply one part of a process. In other words, when a
student has finished a piece of written work where the focus is on fluency, they can return to the same piece of
work at a later stage and focus on accuracy. In fact, this is a natural process that most writers go through in their
L1: brainstorm, draft, review, order ideas, link ideas, review again, redraft, and so on. It is very unusual for
someone to write a perfect piece straight off.

But isn’t this all too time-consuming?

The answer to this is both yes and no. If all the stages are completed in a linear fashion then the task will take quite
a long time. However, there is no reason why a piece of writing can’t be filed away to be returned to at a later date.
In fact, it may well be extremely beneficial to take such an approach to language teaching. Instead of seeing
language as a linear process we can see it as a cyclical one. This approach is often advocated with the use of
portfolios. Students are asked to keep a personal diary of their learning and a collection of some of their work. This
collection can be added to, things replaced and so on, at any time.

We can take this idea and develop it further with a particular focus on our students’ writing. For example, in lesson
one we get our students to brainstorm ideas on a topic, discuss these ideas in pairs, think about how the ideas could
be organised, etc. For homework we ask them to produce a piece of writing. In lesson two we put students into
pairs and get them to compare their pieces and discuss the content. Then we collect them in and look at them. At
this stage we focus on the ideas and whether the message is clear. We then return the pieces and ask the students
to put them in their portfolios. A few weeks later we may be doing a lesson on spelling. We then ask our students to
look at two or three pieces of work from their portfolio and correct any spelling mistakes they find. Again, this
reviewing stage can be done in pairs. We are thus encouraging our students to regularly review the work in their
portfolios, and rather than simply discarding pieces and replacing them with new ones, we ask them to spend time
reviewing and improving what is already there.
Can all activities develop written fluency?

The simple answer is no. There are many activities where accuracy is required. For example, filling in a form. It is
pointless to do this type of written task quickly, without attention to writing the correct information. However, many
activities do lend themselves to a fluency-first approach. Tasks such as discursive essays, letters, stories and even
short pieces of writing such as notes are great for this approach.

Some practical ideas

1. Lists: This type of activity works at all levels, but is particularly good at low levels. Tell students you will give
them a category and you want them to write 10 words connected to the category. You will give them a time limit of
30 seconds. Call out a category such as colours, transport or adjectives. Students should write as quickly as possible
without worrying about spelling at this stage. Put students in pairs and get them to compare their lists. Now ask
them to look at their lists again and check the spelling. The first two steps focus on fluency and the final step on
accuracy.

2. Pros & cons: On the board write up a statement, such as: Money can’t make you happy. Ask students to work in
pairs and write down as many ideas as they can to support or attack the statement. To encourage them to write as
much as possible make it competitive by telling them that the pair with the most ideas wins. After collecting the
ideas students can review them to see which ideas are good, etc. Then they could think about which ideas they
would choose and how they would order them if they were to write a short essay on the topic.

3. Dictation: Here I’d like to mention two ideas: dictogloss and phone messages.

 Dictogloss – Ask your students to put their pens down. Explain that you are going to dictate a short text (maybe a
sentence or a very short paragraph) and you want them to listen but not to write anything. As soon as you’ve
finished dictating the text, ask the students to write down what they can remember. For a fluency focus, explain
that you want them to get the main ideas down, but not worry about grammatical accuracy. After a few minutes,
pair the students and get them to compare their ideas. Finally, ask a few students to tell you what they wrote and
as a class discuss the key content.
 Phone messages – Tell the students you will phone them and give them a message. Explain that they won’t be
able to write down everything as it will be too fast. Tell them to focus on the key information and just to note this
down. You might want to brainstorm what kind of information could be key, e.g. who is calling, for whom, what
about, any important times. This is similar to the dictogloss activity above in that you want students to focus on
content rather than grammatical accuracy. Of course, accuracy in terms of having the correct information is
important.

Writing matters: Getting started

This article takes a look at getting started with writing practice and examines why students often find writing
difficult.

Introduction

When we talk about teaching writing, most teachers will say that it is a fairly low priority in their classrooms. Of
course, there are exceptions to this. For example, in a writing class, a business class or an exam class where one
component is a writing paper, it clearly has its place. But, in general, writing often falls below speaking, vocabulary,
grammar, and even reading and listening in terms of perceived importance. One of the problems is that writing is
often seen as time consuming. When we only have 45 minutes in a lesson, to take a large chunk of time to do some
writing seems a waste. This is compounded by the fact that writing is seen as an individual or solitary activity and
usually requires a fairly lengthy product, e.g. a letter, an essay. Therefore, writing is often set as a homework task
and neglected in the classroom.

In this article we'll look at a number of these issues and try and dispel the myth that writing cannot be done
effectively in the classroom.

Why teach writing?

There are several good reasons to teach writing:

 It is something we do in our first language and will probably need to do in our second language.
 It involves a different process to speaking and gives students more thinking and preparation time.
 It is more tangible than speaking. Students are able to look back at what they have written, analyze it, edit it and
improve it.
 Writing is a form of consolidation and can help students remember things.
 Being able to look back and reflect on what was achieved and also see concrete examples of progress can be
incredibly motivating.
 It's a good activity for noisy classes and can also be used to change the pace of a lesson.
What is wrong with setting writing for homework?
Absolutely nothing as long as the groundwork has already been done in the classroom. The problem is that this is
often not the case. Writing is set cold for homework and then students struggle to write anything half decent, and
we really shouldn't be surprised. For example, students do a lesson on holidays. The lesson starts with a vocabulary
lead-in activity, followed by a listening on three different holidays, then reading a postcard and matching to one of
the holidays mentioned in the listening activity and finally a speaking activity where students discuss which place
they would like to visit. Students are then asked to write a postcard imagining they are in that place. To my mind,
not enough work has been done to enable the students to produce a good piece of writing. And yet, there is the raw
material within the lesson to help students to focus on how to write a postcard and what to include. If a little bit of
time had been devoted to this, the written task would have been appropriate homework.

How can teachers help students with their writing in the classroom?

The first thing to do is to decide what exactly we mean by 'writing', because if we define what types of activities are
included, then we can take a closer look at how these can be developed within a classroom.

An essential thing to realize is that writing does not just mean extended pieces. Simple things such as copying down
sentences from the board, or writing out a jumbled word sentence from a workbook are writing activities. In fact,
they are often very important activities in terms of helping our students with their writing. If students are unable to
copy sentences correctly, then they will make lots of mistakes when they come to write something longer. Simple
writing activities such as copying, filling in the blanks, unjumbling sentences and completing forms are a great way
to get students to write at lower levels and will stand them in good stead later on when they do need to write longer
pieces.

At higher levels it is important that teachers contextualise any writing activities. Discussing any writing activity in
pairs or small groups is extremely beneficial for students. These discussions can be directed with a series of
questions: Who are you writing to? Why are you writing to them? What response do you want from them? What is
your relationship with them? How formal does the piece of writing need to be? Is there a particular style or format
associated with the type of writing? etc. By getting students to discuss these kinds of questions they are no longer
going into them cold. Additional classroom tasks focusing on particular language issues such as choice of words,
paragraphing, syntax and so on will of course increase the chances of students producing quality pieces of work.

How can students be motivated to write?

Purpose is the key here. If students see a reason for writing that is relevant both to their learning and to their life,
they are more likely to be motivated. It is not enough for a teacher to say I'd like you to do this because it will be
good for you.

When we write in our daily lives we always have a reason for doing so. It's often worth discussing the type of writing
students do in their first language, and trying to mirror these types of things in the target language. So, if your
students write lots of texts and emails, why not start with these?

Also, when we write in real life we often receive some kind of response. This may be in the form of a phone call, a
spoken comment or a written reply. Is there any way you can build in a response to anything your students write? It
doesn't necessarily have to be you replying to everything. Perhaps students can write to each other!

Does writing have to be a solitary activity?

No, not at all. In fact, writing is hardly ever a solitary activity even when only one person actually does the writing.

In many ways writing is like speaking. In both cases there is an audience, someone we are addressing. We would
not think of speaking as a solitary activity because we would usually expect someone to be listening to what we
were saying. Well, when we write it should be the same; we are writing with an audience in mind (a reader). The
main differences are that there is a greater distance and this means there is a time lapse in the responses we
receive. However, when we write we often require or expect a response in much the same way we do when we
speak. When we are speaking we will usually get an immediate response to what we say. When we write we still
want a response, but we have to wait for it.

When we write we have to think about the person who will read it and therefore we have to include them in some
form in the process of writing the piece. Probably the only piece of writing that is solitary, and is meant to be, is
when we write a personal diary.

In the classroom we can also extend the idea of writing involving more than one person by doing collaborative
writing.

What is collaborative writing?

Collaborative writing is where students work in pairs or small groups to produce a piece of writing. In many cases
this involves only one student actually putting pen to paper but all the students contributing through ideas,
discussion on content and language, and checking through the final product before refining, editing and improving.
By getting students to work together the focus shifts from being solely product-orientated to emphasizing the
process – how you get to produce the final piece.

For more on process writing go to:

http://www.onestopenglish.com/section.asp?catid=59423&docid=146340

Some practical ideas

 Analyzing
The first place to start is by actually looking at the kind of text you want students to produce and dissecting it. For
example, if you want your students to write a postcard, take a few examples into the class. Start with standard
reading comprehension questions, i.e. Who wrote it? Who is it to? What is it about? Is it formal or informal? How do
you know? What tenses are used? Why? What kind of information does it include?

By deconstructing a text in such a way it is much easier for students to then reconstruct a text when they write one
themselves.

 Answering the writing


Make as many writing tasks as you can into a form of correspondence. For example, if you ask your students to
write a letter of complaint, instead of marking it in the normal way of scribbling over it in red pen, answer it as if it
was written to you. Within your reply you can correct mistakes by modelling the right form. Ask questions when you
don't understand something because of an incorrect word or a mistake in tense and then ask the student to write a
follow-up letter responding to yours.

Initially, this kind of written dialogue takes slightly longer than conventional marking. But, after a while it takes less
time and the results in terms of noticeable improvements in your students writing are well worth the initial effort.

 Preparing in class
Writing is a process that involves thinking, discussing, jotting down ideas, refining these ideas, thinking about the
structure, and so on. Most of this cannot be done as homework and is certainly better done in pairs or small groups.
Go through these steps in class before even getting to the actual 'putting pen to paper' stage and the final results
will be much better.

 Addressing the audience


Choose a topic for which there can be a number of different pieces of writing. Either divide the class into groups and
get each group to write one of the pieces, or ask the students to write each one addressing a different audience
each time. For example, ask students to think about a disastrous holiday. Discuss the different things that can go
wrong and then set three writing tasks: a postcard to your parents, a letter of complaint to the holiday company and
a short text to a friend. When complete, compare the different pieces as a class.

Writing matters: Getting started

This article takes a look at getting started with writing practice and examines why students often find writing
difficult.

Introduction

When we talk about teaching writing, most teachers will say that it is a fairly low priority in their classrooms. Of
course, there are exceptions to this. For example, in a writing class, a business class or an exam class where one
component is a writing paper, it clearly has its place. But, in general, writing often falls below speaking, vocabulary,
grammar, and even reading and listening in terms of perceived importance. One of the problems is that writing is
often seen as time consuming. When we only have 45 minutes in a lesson, to take a large chunk of time to do some
writing seems a waste. This is compounded by the fact that writing is seen as an individual or solitary activity and
usually requires a fairly lengthy product, e.g. a letter, an essay. Therefore, writing is often set as a homework task
and neglected in the classroom.

In this article we'll look at a number of these issues and try and dispel the myth that writing cannot be done
effectively in the classroom.

Why teach writing?

There are several good reasons to teach writing:

 It is something we do in our first language and will probably need to do in our second language.
 It involves a different process to speaking and gives students more thinking and preparation time.
 It is more tangible than speaking. Students are able to look back at what they have written, analyze it, edit it and
improve it.
 Writing is a form of consolidation and can help students remember things.
 Being able to look back and reflect on what was achieved and also see concrete examples of progress can be
incredibly motivating.
 It's a good activity for noisy classes and can also be used to change the pace of a lesson.
What is wrong with setting writing for homework?

Absolutely nothing as long as the groundwork has already been done in the classroom. The problem is that this is
often not the case. Writing is set cold for homework and then students struggle to write anything half decent, and
we really shouldn't be surprised. For example, students do a lesson on holidays. The lesson starts with a vocabulary
lead-in activity, followed by a listening on three different holidays, then reading a postcard and matching to one of
the holidays mentioned in the listening activity and finally a speaking activity where students discuss which place
they would like to visit. Students are then asked to write a postcard imagining they are in that place. To my mind,
not enough work has been done to enable the students to produce a good piece of writing. And yet, there is the raw
material within the lesson to help students to focus on how to write a postcard and what to include. If a little bit of
time had been devoted to this, the written task would have been appropriate homework.

How can teachers help students with their writing in the classroom?

The first thing to do is to decide what exactly we mean by 'writing', because if we define what types of activities are
included, then we can take a closer look at how these can be developed within a classroom.

An essential thing to realize is that writing does not just mean extended pieces. Simple things such as copying down
sentences from the board, or writing out a jumbled word sentence from a workbook are writing activities. In fact,
they are often very important activities in terms of helping our students with their writing. If students are unable to
copy sentences correctly, then they will make lots of mistakes when they come to write something longer. Simple
writing activities such as copying, filling in the blanks, unjumbling sentences and completing forms are a great way
to get students to write at lower levels and will stand them in good stead later on when they do need to write longer
pieces.

At higher levels it is important that teachers contextualise any writing activities. Discussing any writing activity in
pairs or small groups is extremely beneficial for students. These discussions can be directed with a series of
questions: Who are you writing to? Why are you writing to them? What response do you want from them? What is
your relationship with them? How formal does the piece of writing need to be? Is there a particular style or format
associated with the type of writing? etc. By getting students to discuss these kinds of questions they are no longer
going into them cold. Additional classroom tasks focusing on particular language issues such as choice of words,
paragraphing, syntax and so on will of course increase the chances of students producing quality pieces of work.

How can students be motivated to write?

Purpose is the key here. If students see a reason for writing that is relevant both to their learning and to their life,
they are more likely to be motivated. It is not enough for a teacher to say I'd like you to do this because it will be
good for you.

When we write in our daily lives we always have a reason for doing so. It's often worth discussing the type of writing
students do in their first language, and trying to mirror these types of things in the target language. So, if your
students write lots of texts and emails, why not start with these?

Also, when we write in real life we often receive some kind of response. This may be in the form of a phone call, a
spoken comment or a written reply. Is there any way you can build in a response to anything your students write? It
doesn't necessarily have to be you replying to everything. Perhaps students can write to each other!

Does writing have to be a solitary activity?

No, not at all. In fact, writing is hardly ever a solitary activity even when only one person actually does the writing.

In many ways writing is like speaking. In both cases there is an audience, someone we are addressing. We would
not think of speaking as a solitary activity because we would usually expect someone to be listening to what we
were saying. Well, when we write it should be the same; we are writing with an audience in mind (a reader). The
main differences are that there is a greater distance and this means there is a time lapse in the responses we
receive. However, when we write we often require or expect a response in much the same way we do when we
speak. When we are speaking we will usually get an immediate response to what we say. When we write we still
want a response, but we have to wait for it.

When we write we have to think about the person who will read it and therefore we have to include them in some
form in the process of writing the piece. Probably the only piece of writing that is solitary, and is meant to be, is
when we write a personal diary.

In the classroom we can also extend the idea of writing involving more than one person by doing collaborative
writing.
What is collaborative writing?

Collaborative writing is where students work in pairs or small groups to produce a piece of writing. In many cases
this involves only one student actually putting pen to paper but all the students contributing through ideas,
discussion on content and language, and checking through the final product before refining, editing and improving.

By getting students to work together the focus shifts from being solely product-orientated to emphasizing the
process – how you get to produce the final piece.

Some practical ideas

 Analyzing
The first place to start is by actually looking at the kind of text you want students to produce and dissecting it. For
example, if you want your students to write a postcard, take a few examples into the class. Start with standard
reading comprehension questions, i.e. Who wrote it? Who is it to? What is it about? Is it formal or informal? How do
you know? What tenses are used? Why? What kind of information does it include?

By deconstructing a text in such a way it is much easier for students to then reconstruct a text when they write one
themselves.

 Answering the writing


Make as many writing tasks as you can into a form of correspondence. For example, if you ask your students to
write a letter of complaint, instead of marking it in the normal way of scribbling over it in red pen, answer it as if it
was written to you. Within your reply you can correct mistakes by modelling the right form. Ask questions when you
don't understand something because of an incorrect word or a mistake in tense and then ask the student to write a
follow-up letter responding to yours.

Initially, this kind of written dialogue takes slightly longer than conventional marking. But, after a while it takes less
time and the results in terms of noticeable improvements in your students writing are well worth the initial effort.

 Preparing in class
Writing is a process that involves thinking, discussing, jotting down ideas, refining these ideas, thinking about the
structure, and so on. Most of this cannot be done as homework and is certainly better done in pairs or small groups.
Go through these steps in class before even getting to the actual 'putting pen to paper' stage and the final results
will be much better.

 Addressing the audience


Choose a topic for which there can be a number of different pieces of writing. Either divide the class into groups and
get each group to write one of the pieces, or ask the students to write each one addressing a different audience
each time. For example, ask students to think about a disastrous holiday. Discuss the different things that can go
wrong and then set three writing tasks: a postcard to your parents, a letter of complaint to the holiday company and
a short text to a friend. When complete, compare the different pieces as a class.

Writing tips

Jackie McAvoy provides some useful tips for integrating writing into your English lessons.

Tip 1: regular writing

One problem with ‘writing’ is that in many EFL classes it is relegated to homework or classes devoted to writing. The
first tip is to include a ‘bit’ of writing into your regular classes.

Tip 2: giving the writing a purpose

Another problem is that writing is often done ‘cold’, in ‘real’ life this isn’t the case. Writing is normal in response to
something else whether it be another piece of writing (i.e. answering a letter), a conversation (i.e. taking notes
during a telephone conversation), or after reading something (i.e. replying to a job advert). This means that the
piece of writing has a context and, in most cases, a ‘thinking’ time.

Therefore, it would be useful to try and make the writing you give in class (or for homework) as realistic as possible.
So, discuss the topic and writing before starting to write.

Tips 3, 4 and 5: fitting writing into your lessons


Writing is often seen by students as being ‘boring’. This is partly because of lack of ‘thinking’ and discussion time
but is also due to writing being seen as an individual task and not one that is collective. As many EFL classes use
lots of pair and group work ‘writing’ (and long texts of reading) often don’t ‘fit’.

3. Break the writing up. Talk about the topic, plan, discuss the plan, write the outline and discuss, write the first
paragraph & discuss etc.
4. Make it part of the lesson by talking about the topic, reading about it, developing role plays from the situations
etc.
5. You can also make much of the writing collaborative.

Tip 6: it’s finished

In a way a piece of writing should never be finished. The more you can reuse/recycle a piece of writing the better.
So, use students’ writing as the starting point for a future lesson (either for discussion) or to be responded to with
another piece of writing.

When you correct a piece of writing, instead of marking mistakes (which are often seen as spelling, punctuation or
grammar) in red pen, respond to the content and style with questions and make the student think about what they
have written and give them a need to write again responding to your questions.