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!