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Teaching Tips - Teaching Writing Communicatively

As busy teachers it is easy to get stuck in a rut. Our Teaching Tips are aimed at those of you who are teaching and are looking for some new ideas or activities to use in your classes. Our teaching tips will feature in the Language Teacher Education (LTE) newsletter and will be posted on the Teacher’s Resources page on the Wits Language School website.

If you have any teaching tips or ideas that you would like to share with us, or questions please send them to Bill at bill.farquharson@wits.ac.za

Teaching Writing Communicatively

Anne-Louise de Wit
January 2014

Language teachers often fall in the trap of assigning writing tasks to either keep their students busy, quiet or to free up classroom time for themselves.  This way of approaching writing lessons does not cultivate a love for writing and students don’t necessarily learn how to write effectively. In order to make writing lessons more communicative and memorable, teachers can use the process approach to engage their students, elicit what is expected by using model texts, guide them through the planning and crafting of their ideas and then support them in drafting, editing and writing a final draft.

Engaging the students

In order to engage the students in a writing task or activity, it is important to begin the lesson with something that will be of interest to the students and already introduce them to the topic or theme. A warmer activity should be used before starting on the main teaching point of a writing lesson and personalised activities, in which students talk about themselves, their lives, their interests or their opinions, are good to use in these situations.

During this stage, the teacher should aim to arouse the students' interest and engage their emotions. This might be through a game, the use of a picture, audio recording or video sequence, a dramatic story, an amusing anecdote, etc. For example, when students have to write a letter of complaint, the teacher could ask students to discuss in pairs if they / their parents have ever bought something that was either faulty or of a poor quality. Allow students to discuss it for a few minutes. Conduct feedback and write some of the items on the board. Then discuss what you as the paying customer could do and try and elicit from the class that they might want to write a letter of complaint to the shop or company that sold them that item.

Studying a model text

Now that the students are engaged in the lesson it is important for students to become familiar with all aspects related to the final product. Teachers should use model texts to expose students to a good example of what is required.  By studying a model text the teacher can elicit from the students what they notice about the text. Teachers should ensure that the students are confident in the organisation (layout and structure), register / style (formal, informal or neutral) as well as the content / typical phrases of the required format. To make this stage more interactive the teacher could ask students to look at good and bad examples of a model text and ask them to generate a do’s and don’ts list of things to keep in mind when writing that particular type of text format.  Alternatively the model text can be cut into different paragraphs and students can be asked to sequence the paragraphs in the correct order before studying it with the teacher.

Generating ideas and planning

Often, even the most fluent writers in their own language need time to generate ideas and to plan what they are going to write. Second language students are no different. If students are asked to write anything more substantial than instant writing, teachers have to give them opportunities to think. There are a number of activities that can be used to generate ideas namely: discussing visual and written prompts, buzz groups, individuals, pairs and then groups / pyramid planning, whole group discussion, note making, for and against, brainstorming, free writing, journalistic questions, cluster mapping, flow charting, double / triple entry, story board and cubing.  Most of these collaborative activities will result in more communication amongst the students; allowing them to generate more ideas. The writing task itself also needs to be relevant and interesting to their lives in order to generate more interaction.

Planning involves generating lots of ideas and then thinking about which of the ideas are the most important or relevant, and perhaps taking a particular point of view. Brainstorming tools can be used to plan ideas and teachers should assign which brainstorming tool they would like the students to practice or use. Some brainstorming tools include: discussions (based on visuals, questions or statements), diagrams (mind maps, spider diagrams, flow charts, vertical charts, timelines), lists (bulleted list, sticky notes), writing frames (guided, prompted) and free writing.

Crafting ideas

Once ideas have been generated, they need to be organised. Steps that can be followed during the crafting stage include: reading through all of the ideas on your brainstorm, deciding which ideas are relevant and how to group them, deciding on the order in which you want to write your ideas by numbering them, thinking of ways that you can link your ideas together, so that they flow logically and then adding additional points that support your ideas.

During the crafting stage it is also very important that the teacher guides and teaches the students on how to take their ideas, organise them and then use them to write a text. Students often struggle with this stage because they have never been taught how to do it. If your students are not used to crafting their ideas, it could be a good idea to model aloud exactly what you would do if you had to write the task yourself. By doing modelled writing with the class, your students will be able to hear and see exactly how to craft their ideas, which will result in them applying the same strategies more effectively.

Writing a draft and editing it

Students need to realise that the drafting stage is a time when they can write freely and know that whatever is put down on paper can be adjusted and changed. Drafting should be a safe time for writing, where students take ideas from their planning and crafting stage and write them in sentences in an organized way. The first draft will never be perfect and students should get the opportunity to edit their work and correct their mistakes before writing a final.

Editing is the stage of the writing process that gives a piece of writing its polish and correctness. Editing can be done by the individual, peers or the teacher to achieve correctness. While editing you can use checklists, rubrics or do’s and don’ts list as guidance. The things to look out for when editing include: content, ideas, meaning, fluency, language use, correctness or accuracy.

Presenting a final draft

The last stage of the writing process is finalising the final draft and then presenting it. The presentation of the final draft is often referred to as the publishing stage. While writing the final draft students should reflect back on the feedback they’ve received during the editing stage and incorporate any subsequent suggestions. Students should see this final stage as the most exciting stage where they can now share their final product with an audience. Students can present their final draft by: reading a piece aloud, making a book, typing the paper or using digital tools. This stage can take a variety of forms: a handwritten or printed piece submitted to the teacher or read to the class; a piece uploaded on a web page; a piece submitted to and printed in a newspaper or other publication; a piece printed in a collection or anthology; a poster or wall hanging; or any piece presented to an audience.

If you would like more ideas on teaching writing skills to second language speakers, consider joining one of our Teaching Writing short courses at Wits Language School. For more information visit: