Best Tips from Harmer’s book “How to Teach Writing”

Best Tips from Harmer’s book “How to Teach Writing”

Jeremy Harmer is an acclaimed and esteemed ELT expert, author of many books, practitioner, trainer and singer. He has written a wealth of books on methodology including the book “How to Teach Writing”. Writing is one of the skills which is quite hard both to acquire and to teach, therefore, Harmer’s book is of utmost importance in terms of theoretical and practical guidance to teaching writing. In this article, we will present the best tips of how to teach writing from Harmer’s book. We will focus on those tips which  help teachers to provoke enthusiasm and engagement into writing tasks.

Demonstrating– teachers need to keep the students aware of the writing conventions and genre constraints of the specific writing tasks. Students need to be aware of the layout issues and language used in the assigned writing tasks. If the task requires the knowledge of certain language formulas so the learners need to get the patterns needed for the task. 

Motivating and provoking-student writers often find difficulties while doing creative writing tasks in terms of finding the appropriate words. The teacher’s role is to prepare beforehand suggestions and ways of how to guide students into the writing task. Students can be asked to reassemble a jumbled text as a prelude to writing, they can be asked to exchange “virtual emails” or discuss ideas before the writing activity starts. Sometimes they can be even given words which will help to start the writing. From my experience I can state that when they are given words, or expressions, they are better guided into the writing task.  Find the best stimulus for the students– learners get the information in many ways. Some students are auditory learners, others are visual and the rest are kinesthetic learners. The teacher’s role is to provide the learners with the chance of auditory, visual input, or kinesthetic stimulation.

Using the music-music can be a very effective way to stimulate a writing activity since it often triggers the emotional state of the writer and leads to great ideas. Students can listen to a certain piece of music and write any word or association which comes to their mind and then share their associations to their peers. They can listen to the music and write what the composer is trying to describe. The teacher can make the task more specific “What does the composer want to convey with this piece of music?”, “What kind of person is the composer describing?”. They can listen to a piece of music and then create the opening scenes for a film that the music suggests. They should describe the scenes before the dialogue starts. The teacher dictates the first sentence to the students and asks to listen to a piece of music and continue the story. 

Using pictures– students are given pictures and asked to write down their description with a time limit to write down as much information as possible. For some dramatic pictures (a person deep in thoughts, people in a street protest) students can be asked to write what happened next. Students can be given a number of random pictures and asked to choose 4-5 of them and make up a story which connects them. Students can make up a story with a series of sequenced pictures. Students can be given a picture and a headline and asked to write a story which makes sense of the picture and the words.

First lines, last lines– just as pictures can be used to provoke story writing, so first and last lines of possible stories can also be used to get students’ imagination going. They make up the story and need to include either the first or last line in it. 

To sum up, we have included the most useful tips from Harmer’s book to help the students get engaged into the writing task and make the best out of  them. The book gives detailed guidance to the procedure of the writing task, its stages, orthography, spelling, etc. Here is a link to the book.

Which of the tips would you use for your writing classes?

There is a special online course «Teaching Writing Skills» from Skyteach School that will help you turn the process of learning to write in English from a boring routine into an exciting activity.

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • teach writing online as effectively as offline
  • prepare students for written exams
  • help students actively use writing skill in their work and life

Лиза Мардоян

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