Category Archives: Motivation

Ideas to make the teaching/learning of writing more enjoyable

Teach me_Writing (1)

Productive skills like writing can be hard to deal with not only for students but also for teachers. Learning how to write can become a nuisance for students unless we, teachers, make it a more interactive and entertaining activity. The odds are that if we get bored when teaching writing, so will our students when trying to learn it.  So why not working around that to make it an enjoyable experience for all?

There are a lot of alternative ways to teach writing rather than just making students read a sample model with some notes on what to do and what not to do before letting them venture on their own pieces. The idea is to provide some kind of scaffolding first until our students become more confident and are able to write on their own and within a fixed time limit – in the case of exam preparation. Having said this, let’s have a look at some fun but productive activities we can implement with our students when dealing with writing.

1. The first and most widespread approach is reading the task and brainstorming ideas as a whole-class activity before starting to write. Some students have difficulties coming up with ideas and this gets worse when they are under pressure due to time limit guidelines. They will have to get to used it, of course, but on the initial stages we can make them feel more at ease by pulling ideas together before making them write a piece from scratch by themselves. When brainstorming, content is important but so is layout which, needless to say, is different for each type of writing. We shouldn’t disregard this last aspect and we must, therefore, work together on the distribution of paragraphs and writing structure in general.

Once the skeleton is ready, we can provide students with a list of useful linkers and connectors, among others, so that they can join ideas and avoid a choppy style or, even worse, an kind of undesired “stream-of-consciousness” technique. And this, in turn, reminds me of the importance of punctuation, which we shouldn’t take for granted either. Only after we have dealt with this preliminary issues we can proceed to either divide students into pairs making them write a piece together or letting them write on their own, depending on how confident they feel about it.

2. Another useful and fun approach to the teaching of writing is whole-class correction of writing samples. There are many samples provided in books and online so we can then choose a sample and do two things:

  • Work with a printed copy of the writing sample so while they work together on trying to find the mistakes they make those corrections in their copies, too.
  • Project it on the interactive board – if you have one – and make students volunteer to stand up and make the corrections on the interactive board with the e-pen.

We can even turn any of the two ideas into a game which we can call “Mistake Hunters”. We can divide the class into different teams and assign each group a certain type of mistake to find; namely, spelling, grammar, choice of vocabulary, style, punctuation, etc. When they come to the board to make the corrections they can choose different colours to show each correction belongs to a different mistake category.  I am a strong supporter of this kind of activity because it has proved useful at least for the groups I’ve taught; they have great fun and they learn how to improve writing pieces at the same time. It’s worth the try.

3. Still another engaging activity to get the adrenaline going is working on group writing in innovative ways. For instance, we can divide the class into groups and make them work on the layout and brainstorming together and then do two things:

  • Either make each of the members of the groups work on a different paragraph of the piece during a certain amount of time
  • Or set an overall time limit for the writing task, let’s say, 20-25 minutes, and tell each group to start writing and go on doing so until a bell rings or an alarm goes off, in which case they will have to pass the piece of paper to the next member of the group and he/she will have to start writing to continue with the idea his/her partner has started and keep developing the topic even further

In both cases, since they have worked on the planning stage together, the writing process should be easier because they just have to develop the ideas they have brainstormed.

These ideas are intended to be done with pre intermediate groups and above. However, I am sure you can also adapt some of them for lower levels and make the most of them with your students.

The important thing here is to move away from more traditional approaches to the teaching of writing and start engaging our students in more innovative –  though not less productive –  ways of doing it. Trust me, it’s worth the try!

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(Image 2 credits: “Why is a raven like a writing desk text” by Barbara, Flickr.com, Creative Commons)

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Filed under ELT activities for teenagers, Motivation, Teaching Writing Skills, Uncategorized

International English Exams Are Approaching: Time to Work on Motivation

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!’

(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

No matter how self-confident our students are, whenever the countdown for international language exams begins many of them start getting worried about going through that experience. That’s the time when us, teachers, have to swing into action and start building our students’ confidence so that they can achieve their peace of mind for what comes next.

Although some students may have already sat for previous international exams, some others may have not so they might not be familiar with the experience. The best way of dealing with the unknown is making it familiar. Some points I would recommend covering to address this issue are the following:

Answer sheerts1. Go over each of the sections of the exam paper and spend time on the strategies for dealing with each of the exercises. There are usually tip boxes in the course books that are about exam preparation with useful pieces of advice on ways of approaching each of the tasks. In order to reduce anxiety, students need to know the exact format of the exam, the number of parts/sections and what it is expected from them in each part. Regardless of the level, if the students are not acquainted with the exam structure and the techniques about how to do each task, then they are at a disadvantage.

2. Timing: good time management in international language exams is a must. After having received precise information about the structure and sections of the exams, students have to be trained to perform the tasks within the estimated time. And this includes not only writing their answers on their exam papers – as they are doing the exam, but also copying the answers onto their answer sheets. Most mock exams also come with the answer sheets so we can provide our students with both, exam papers and answer sheets so they can time themselves on how long it takes them to do the whole thing, just as they will do on the exam date.

3. Many of the examinations institutions have lots of videos online showing, for instance, the speaking part of the exams. It’s not enough to explain the exam situation to the students; I mean, you can explain that they are going to work in pairs/individually, the number of examiners that they are going to find in the examination room, the time it takes to perform the task, among others. Nevertheless, a video can give them a clear picture of what to expect. Tips: a. you can recreate the exam situation as such with your students and some other colleagues, depending on the number of examiners that the exam may involve; b. you can video the whole situation so that then you can reflect with your students on their strengths and weaknesses.

4. Working on feedback together: give feedback but, most importantly, practice feedforward based on your students’ performance. Provide them with the tools and any language they may need to sort out their difficulties with the different tasks. If they have the “weapons” and a clear guidance of how to anticipate problems based on their frequent mistakes, they will probably feel more confident. Teach them to be “their own teacher” by resorting to self-correction the moment of submitting a final answer to their tasks.

Earlier this year on a teachers’ course on international English exams I was shown a very nice video about standardized tests in general but that can work well with our language learners. It’s called “This test does not define you”, by Kumar Sathy. I think it could be an excellent way to round off the exam preparation. I would play the video the very last week before our students actually sit for their exams.

So, are you ready to help your students get the motivation they need to take up the exam challenge?

(Image credits: The White Rabbit from ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Downloaded from the British Library)

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Filed under Exam strategies, Language Exams, Motivation