In my classes I tend to take a few lessons to focus on writing. Just as young children learn to speak fluently, they also need to learn how to write fluently. Writing in English is quite rewarding for the students as it is a visual representation of their language skill (Cameron, 2001 in Linse, 2005). It is therefore important for us as teachers to take our time in helping our students write as well as possible.
In our classroom we employ the process-writing approach, which can be adapted to both Elementary and Middle school levels. This approach involves a step-by-step build up to the final written piece (Linse, 2005). We talk about what we will write by brainstorming and collecting ideas, and work towards our direct objectives .
Step 1: Pre-writing
Pre-writing or warm-up activities are essential for all students as they provide encouragement and build up the students’ confidence ahead of the main task (Linse, 2005). During pre-writing activities the students are able to share thoughts and ideas, as well as expand their vocabulary. For instance, a short conversation about the topic can be enough to collect thoughts and ideas. We can facilitate by asking simple questions related to the topic. One of my favorite pre-writing techniques is the use of mind-maps. Mind-maps are a good, creative foundation for writing since all thoughts and ideas are consolidated, and students can easily transfer those thoughts and ideas into their main writing piece. Mind-maps have proven to be effective at both Elementary and Middle school levels.
Step 2: Write
For the main writing process you can use different approaches based on your students’ language ability.
Controlled writing or guided activities help students practice the language, and build up their concentration and confidence in the target language (Linse, 2005). It is also a good way to ease low-level students into writing practice.
Guided writing practice can be in the form of a fill-in-the-blanks activity where the students are provided with a word bank to help them complete their writing piece. For ESL students it is also a good idea to include pictures in your word bank as many of the students are still learning to read and will therefore be able to build associations based on the pictures provided (Wright, 1989).
In a few of my information-gap-fill worksheets, I also included a simple checklist, with multiple-choice options. In this activity, students were provided with a range of options and they chose the appropriate word to fit their story. Once they had completed their checklist they filled in the gaps on a paragraph based on our topic.
Free writing covers a much wider range of activities, such as, poems, book reviews, letters, invitation cards, and short stories. These activities give the students an opportunity to creatively express their thoughts and ideas (Linse, 2005). However, writing freely can be difficulty for ESL students. For this reason I like to include a sample of what the students work should look like as it gives them a basic idea on the common goal that we set for the class. Our main aim is to get students to write complete sentences using proper grammar and punctuation. For the lower level writing practice we include a few articles, and subject words, just to facilitate their writing practice. For higher level students we use key questions as a reference. With this approach, we have seen a great improvement in all our students, at both levels.
Once students have completed their first draft, you can work with him/her to revise and edit their written piece. This will give you the opportunity to correct grammatical errors and ensure that the student's ideas have a logical flow. At my school, we like to get our students involved in the editing process. This method has helped our students improve their writing while helping their classmates.
Step 3: Publishing
The final piece should be re-written in a presentable form so that it can later be displayed or shared. We provide special paper for our students to write their final piece because we always display their work around our classroom, it also creates a sense of pride for the students.
Dos and Don’ts on writing
· Concentrate on content. It is important for us to help our students produce work with substance.
· Spend time on pre-writing activities. Talking and planning ahead of writing is just as important as the final product. Get the students into the habit of planning and organizing their thoughts and ideas first, this solid foundation will be beneficial to their language progression.
· Walk around while students are writing and offer suggestions to help them improve their work.
· It is not good to announce the subject you intend on teaching out of the blue. You want to ease the students into the topic. This is where the pre-writing activities play a major role. My co-teacher and I tend to get a little animated when we start a new topic. We do a little role-play, which includes key phrases and vocabulary from the new topic. We then ask the students to describe what they just heard and then proceed to present the lesson, and finally introduce the topic we wish for them to write about.
· Avoid setting work that is beyond your students’ language capability. I suggest spending some time observing your students, make notes on their strengths and weaknesses; this will help you when you planning your lessons and ultimately ensure that you meet the needs of all your students.
The tips and ideas presents above can be adapted for any grade level. I encourage you to observe your students and assess their abilities before planning your lessons. Teaching English as a Second Language requires patience and flexibility, in order for your lessons to be effective.
Linse. C. T (2005) Practical English Language Teaching: Young Learners, McGraw-Hill: New York
Scott. W. A & Ytreberg. L. H (1990) Teaching English to Children, Longman: New York
Slattery. M & Willis. J (2001) English for Primary Teachers - A handbook of activities and classroom language, Oxford University Press: UK
Wright. A (1989) Pictures for Language Learning Cambridge University Press: Glasgow