TEFL Q and A, Chapter 9: Teaching Writing Skills

Q: So far, when we've discussed skills, you've continually emphasised the communicative aspect of the skills. For example, with reading, we discussed what we read in the real world and why. Does the same apply to writing?

A: It sure does.

Q: Can you give me some examples of why we write?

A: Sure: to remind ourselves of the things we need to take on holiday with us, to pass on important information to all the people working in our company, to try to get a job, and so on.

Q: These are all very different kinds of writing.

A: That's right, they are. And each uses a different medium. The first might just be a scrap of paper, the second a memo slip, the third a sheet of writing paper (perhaps letterhead).

Q: I imagine there are other differences between these three kinds of writing (besides the medium).

A: Yes, the first is literally just a list. The second consists of complete sentences. The third contains special greetings (e.g., "Dear...") and endings (e.g., "Yours...").

Q: What should I do if I were teaching a class to write each of these three things?

A: Well, basically, it's a good idea to show students one or two models. This way, they get to study what a memo looks like. In addition, you can ask questions to check that the students understand what features are incorporated in each bit of writing. For example, you can say, "When you finish a letter, what do you need to write before you sign your name? Do you always write the same thing there? What does it depend on?"

Q: When it comes to actually writing in class, aren't some students rather unmotivated?

A: Perhaps, but you can get them motivated by providing a reason to write (e.g., setting up the scene very carefully and trying to activate the group's imagination).

Q: When we looked at reading there were some specific language features that we focused on (e.g., signpost words). What about writing?

A: Many foreign students have difficulty writing paragraphs. Indeed, in their language, they may not write in paragraphs at all. So, to help them, you can show them some good examples of paragraphs in English. You can, moreover, elicit from them the fact that each paragraph should only have one main topicand there is usually a space between paragraphs.

Q: How else can I assist them with writing paragraphs?

A: You can give the main facts that you might find in one paragraph. Then each student has to convert this information into complete and connectedsentences. Then students should check their work in pairs before checking with you.

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: Sure.

Recent increase in cost of living--petrol prices up by 8% a litre + increased interest rates by a quarter % > increase in average mortgage by £25 a month.

Q: That sounds like a tall order.

A: That's true, but you can do this exercise orally first and correct any mistakes that students make. This way, you're not throwing your class in at the deep end, and the task is much more achievable.

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