Writing skill is sometimes quite underestimated and considered to be secondary. However, practicing writing is essential for every student and can be used for different learning goals: practicing narrative tenses, teaching the structure, etc. It is most effective when only one skill at a time is dealt with, to give the students the necessary amount of time to assimilate the material so from time to time plan to have a whole writing lesson.
There are several stages of teaching writing skills and we will focus on each in this article, offering some activities that can be applied to make the class more interactive and fun.
Step 1 – Introducing the topic / Generating and Brainstorming ideas
If you want students to be more engaged in the lesson and get creative, one of the best ways is to get them talking about their own experience. Hence, personalizing the writing task will help you get the most of your students’ creativity and input.
Let’s say, you want your students to write a short story titled “Holiday adventures”. Start the lesson with the following warm-up:
- Board the question “What’s the most adventurous journey/holiday you have ever had?”
- Set students in groups of 3/4 and ask them to share their stories if they have one. If not, ask the students to share stories of their friends/family. At this stage, students mostly have a nice group discussion.
Note: for weaker students, you can always demonstrate the activity yourself, by telling about an adventurous holiday you had and encourage them to ask you questions.
Step 2 – Focusing ideas and pre-teaching key vocabulary (if necessary)
At this stage, the students narrow the loop down and get more precise of what the story is going to be about.
Having set the context of the lesson, board the story title “Holiday Adventures”.
- Tell the students that they need to take a guess of what adventures the characters might have had on their last holiday. At this point, students will need to work in pairs and brainstorm on the things that the characters could experience.
- Encourage the students to come up with as many ideas as they can. Remind them that this is just the outline of the story and they do not need to write a text, just keywords and phrases.
- As soon as the students are done, ask them to choose the best 3 ideas they have had and put them on the board.
Note: For weaker classes, you can always provide more hints on the brainstorming stage; holiday destination, names of characters, the season of the year, etc.
One of the best ways that always works for my classes is to distribute a set of picture cards to pairs of students. The cards show people on holiday in different situations. Pictures may be like “a person who has missed the train and looks hopeless, a person at the airport who has lost the luggage and looks desperate” etc.
In a word, the pictures should initiate discussion and get students talking. You can also ask the students to write down a sentence on the picture card that best describes it. This will focus their ideas on the story they will later produce.
Step 3 – Working with a model text
To make sure the students follow the structure of story writing, it is best to provide them with a model text rather than lecture the rules. Depending on the duration of the class, you can choose model texts of different length.Check the link to the source that can be used in your classes.
Now, let’s look at the stages.
- Share the model texts. What I usually do, is to find similar texts to the story I want them to write, cut them into logical pieces and distribute them to pairs of students. Having different texts in the classroom will help the students have more practice with the structure and the genre in general.
- Set the students in pairs, ask them to read the texts and put the paragraphs in order. Share the key to check.
- Focus on the layout of the story. Ask the students to come up with the stages the stories are composed of by looking at the sample texts this time.
- Focus on the language. Pull out expressions / useful phrases / common tenses / vocabulary etc. from the model text that students will need for their piece of writing.
Step 4 (optional) – Controlled practice
If required give students a bad model of a similar text and ask to correct it, give them a dehydrated model and ask to expand it etc.
Step 5 – Writing (Freer practice)
At this stage the students have already had enough exposure to the type of story you want them to produce, so you can set them to write. Set a time limit to complete the task. Remind them to use the structure of story writing. For visual learners, you can ask them to colour code each paragraph or write the name of the paragraph at the top of it.
As soon as the students are finished writing, ask them to post their stories on the walls. You can use a tape to stick them. And here comes the next stage.
Step 5 – Peer evaluation/feedback
At this phase, all students have a chance to read each other’s stories and give feedback. The feedback type depends on the task you set. If your initial task was the structure of story writing, then the students will need to pay attention to it and choose the stories which according to them have the best structure and are the most interesting ones.
If your initial aim was to practice tenses, then the students will need to find language errors if any and underline them for further correction.
While students are walking around, reading the stories and voting for the best one, we as teachers can look through the stories and jot down some errors we want to focus the students’ attention on in the delayed error correction slot.
Eventually, the story that receives the most ticks wins and can be read out loud. Feel free to decide on the prize if any :).
Talking about the teacher’s feedback, don’t forget to provide feedback on both the content and the language of the writing. Mark not only errors but also highlight strong/interesting points.
Step 6 – Reviewing/Conclusion
Finally, students get a chance to look back at their work and try to fix the errors or act on their peers’ recommendations/comments by trying to improve the story. This is best set as homework.
As for error correction, you can board the things you want to focus on and brainstorm on how to fix the mistakes without specifying whose mistake it is. It will be more encouraging if you choose some nice word/phrase or whatever you focus on and share it as well. This ends the session on a positive note and is very motivating.
To sum up, we can definitely proclaim that writing is one of the most interesting and important skills to teach and we can explore each piece in a very creative and enjoyable way both for us – teachers, and the students.