How to teach teens to write

‘Writing? Oh, great! Can we do it every lesson?’ – said, probably, no teenager ever. Meanwhile, writing is one of the productive skills which should, if not say must, be taught properly. It deeply requires students to be motivated and prepared. How to prepare teenagers for writing? Let’s try to figure it out.

Make sure they have ideas

Not only teenagers but adults as well can struggle with a writing task just because they have not so much to say. It is particularly noticeable when we work with high-level groups or exam classes. Essay topics are getting more and more complicated and exam tasks have never stopped being challenging. How to help your students?

  • Background reading helps a lot. If you are planning a writing lesson, ask students to read something at home in advance. It might be some particular article you’ve chosen for them or something they’ll find on their own.   
  • Native language, or L1, is of great use here as well. If your teenagers are not of Upper-Intermediate level, before setting off to writing, put them in pairs or groups and let them discuss the topic in their mother tongue. It is extremely beneficial for structuring their ideas and spotting different points of view. We use it a lot while dealing with essays, and it never fails. Brainstorming in English is also great, for sure.
  • Roleplays should be exploited to the full. Are you writing a proposal to the city council? That’s time for a round table on this issue. Let the city representatives and dwellers meet in your classroom! This way, students will practise target vocabulary and, again, get some fresh ideas.
  • Collaborative writing is one more useful tool to facilitate writing activities for teens. Being really enriching, it is a gold mine for writing stories. But not only – why don’t you let your students write the next text in pairs? They can plan it together and then write and edit, using a piece of paper or Google Docs.

Make it real

Sometimes we do writing tasks just for the sake of writing. Letters to unknown ‘pen friends’, blog entries which are buried in copybooks, film reviews that no one except the teacher will ever read. It’s time to stop it!

  • Let your teens write letters to each other or the guys from another group. They will be much more motivated knowing that a real person is interested in their letter. Also, they can find real penpals or write letters to fan clubs of their favourite music or sports stars.
  • Studying a review? Direct students to Amazon or any website for writing reviews that you find suitable. Writing for real audience and receiving some rating stars and comments – isn’t it why we actually teach them this skill?
  • Start a group blog or Instagram account. Most texts which exploit popular exam genres can be posted online. They are highly likely to get a response, too, which is really encouraging.

Examine the layout

We work with a range of various texts, from a postcard to an essay, from a menu to a newspaper article. Texts of the same genre share some features in terms of layout, level of formality, and language. The more examples your students analyse, the better. They will learn to spot these much better if you expose them to something more than just a coursebook page.

  • Let students examine several examples of a genre they are going to write with. Ask them to brainstorm what these texts have in common. I often use a genre analysis form created by BBC Teaching English which you can find here. It focuses students on such things as the audience of the text, level of formality, communicative purpose, features of layout, and so on.
  • Discuss the purpose of each paragraph. Teens often struggle because they are mainly used to short forms, such as messages or notes. Every time they encounter a longer piece, they hesitate for a while (or much longer) about how to structure it properly. Such discussing will help them a great deal. Also, you can take out some sentences for students to put them back, or invite them to put the jumbled paragraphs in order.

Boost the vocabulary

As we want our teens to progress, we always encourage them to use more complicated structures or freshly-learnt vocabulary. One of the best ways for students to boost their writing is to use a wider range of lexis. To facilitate this, we can do a number of things.

  • Revision and extension are everything. Do not get stuck with just the unit vocabulary. Revise it as much as possible: play vocabulary games, such as hot seat, taboo or Alias; or make split crosswords where students work in pairs and explain words from their half of the crossword to each other. Exploit lexical approach and – let’s get to the beginning of this article – encourage extensive reading. The more they read, the more they spot, the more they remember.
  • Pay your teens’ attention to synonyms and antonyms. They are instrumental in almost all genres. Students can keep a synonyms/antonyms page in their copybooks. Also, ask them to brainstorm synonyms for ‘good’ and ‘interesting’ every time you start a review or ‘advantages’ and ‘useful’ before getting to an essay. Or hand out the model text for individual work where some words are repeated and ask students to find a better way of saying that.

Digitalize it

As most teens start their essays, ‘We live in a rapidly changing world’. So, let’s exploit its countless digital opportunities to improve writing skills. The almighty Internet is any teacher’s true friend now.

  • Use tools for collaborative writing. Google docs, Primary pad, Padlet, even emails will make writing activities both meaningful and easy to perform. Also, it’s fast and in most cases easier to check.
  • Create a collection of websites which contain quality model texts of various genres. Next time when you need to assist your teens with a real example, just direct them to one of the pages which contain some top-notch reviews or deep argumentative essays.
  • Spread layouts as QR codes. This way, your teens are more likely to save them. We know what happens with a pile of paper copies at the end of the school year, right?

Writing is a skill that most of us need in our daily life. We write quite a lot in our native language, sometimes without even realising it. If you find a way to make writing lessons fun and meaningful, you’ll not only contribute to your teens’ exam results but also teach them a precious life skill of communicating thoughts and ideas clearly. Maybe, there is a future scientist in your class who’ll publish his findings? Or a journalist? A blogger? A food critic? Who knows.

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