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The writing process

April 06, 2009

Hello again,

I argued recently that writing is a neglected skill in ELT. Perhaps more accurately I should say that we tend to neglect teaching the writing process. The result of such neglect...

... is that when learners need to produce more complex writing, they don’t know how to go about it.

My feeling is that we should pay much more attention from the very beginning to the writing skill, how it differs from spoken English and how the various components of writing are built up and work to produce a coherent text.

How would this change a typical low-level lesson? It is fairly standard for early lessons to include practical writing tasks such as form-filling. But I would say that this process is more the transfer of information than writing. In other words, I believe we need to consider writing as the ability to produce effective text just as speaking requires us to be able to produce effective speech.

I do not advocate throwing out the simple writing tasks but using them as part of an integrated approach to teach students how to write. Thus, if we take a typical identification form, we might ask students to transfer information from a reading text to a form to provide details such as the name, address, date of birth, marital occupation, hobbies etc. of the person involved.

To then help students learn how to write we could give them a template for a piece of prose. It could be a gap/choice exercise and would involve students producing , typically:
‘Jenny White is/was thirty-six years old. She lives in Station Road but/and works as a hotel receptionist. She isn’t/is not married. She enjoys tennis but/and her favourite sport is swimming.

The focus in this exercise is what is appropriate to formal writing (no contracted forms), how simple clauses can be linked (when to use ‘and/but) and correct verb tenses.

As students build awareness of sentence and paragraph structure they can develop their ability to tackle different types of writing: description, narrative, argument etc. An added benefit is the extra focus of grammar.

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Comments

  1. Ralitsa Ivanova Says:

    I absolutely agree with Ms Hall. I believe that if one should have the pretence of "knowing" or "speaking" a certain language, it should definitely include writing in this language.
    I am Bulgarian. I speak fluent English, which helped me obtain QTS in UK, and Italian but not to the same level. I know from personal experience that knowing the grammar (which auxiliary verb helps to form a question or expresses degree of certainty for example) and the spelling of words of a particular language may seem useless at times but the three processes writing, speaking and understanding should be taught simultaneously. Writing (grammar included)is of course the most difficult of the three but at the same time it brings logic to the whole process of learning and even makes it more appealing, not to mention that knowing how to write then one can also read (though I have come upon cases where people cannot write a single word correctly but read almost fluently).
    Some would object to me that they do not need to write in a language, just to speak and understand it, and maybe, possibly read in it, I would reply to them, "Then you will never be able to write an e-mail to a friend or send a love letter in that language."
    I used to study in US when I was younger, not long ago I was in England and I remain shocked with the illiteracy of native American as well as that of British people. It greatly reveals the level of educaton of majority of the population.
    Let just repeat the widely known truth, "Ain't no language on earth easier than English!!!"

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