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Лекция 7:

Speaking and Writing

Now consider the following extract:

Approaches to student writing

There are a number of different approaches to the practice of writing skills both in and outside the classroom. We need to choose between them, deciding whether we want students to focus more on the process of writing than its product, whether we want them to study different written genres, and whether we want to encourage creative writing - either individually or cooperatively. We will want to build the 'writing habit'.

Process and product

In the teaching of writing we can either focus on the product of that writing or on the writing process itself. When concentrating on the product, we are only interested in the aim of a task and in the end product. A consideration of written genre has a lot in common with a product approach to writing, i.e. an approach which values the construction of the end-product as the main thing to be focused on (rather than the process of writing itself). Many educators, however, advocate a process approach to writing. This pays attention to the various stages that any piece of writing goes through. By spending time with learners on pre-writing phases, editing, re-drafting and finally producing a finished version of their work, a process approach aims to get to the heart of the various skills that most writers employ - and which are, therefore, worth replicating when writing in a foreign language. Indeed, it might be possible to argue that editing and re-drafting are even more important when we are writing in a foreign language than when we are writing in our first language.

In its simplest form, a process approach asks students to consider the procedure of putting together a good piece of work. We might, for example, discuss the concept of first and final drafts with our students and then ask them to say whether the activities listed here take place at first or final stages, and to put them in the best order.

One of the disadvantages of getting students to concentrate on the process of writing is that it takes time: time to brainstorm ideas or collect them in some other way; time to draft a piece of writing and then, with the teacher's help, perhaps, review it and edit it in various ways before, perhaps, changing the focus, generating more ideas, re-drafting, re-editing, and so on. This cannot be done in 15 minutes. The various stages may well involve discussion, research, language¬ study and a considerable amount of interaction between teacher and students and between the students themselves so that when process writing is handled appropriately, it stretches across the whole curriculum. Not all students see this as a good thing, however. Many will find it difficult to give enough time to the process and would rather finish a piece of writing straight away. And there are times when process writing is simply not appropriate, either because classroom time is limited or because we want students to write quickly as part of a communication game. However, none of these circumstances should prevent us from explaining the process to our students and encouraging them to plan, draft, re-draft, re-plan, etc. In longer pieces of writing the writing process is at least as important as the product, and even in exam writing tasks, the students' ability to plan (quickly) and later read back through what they have written in order to make any necessary corrections is extremely important.


A lot of writing within a discourse community is very genre¬-bound. In other words, writers frequently construct their writing so that people within that discourse community will instantly understand what kind of writing it is. We know what an advertisement is when we see it, we recognise poetry formats and we know what a formal letter should look like. Genre represents the norms of different kinds of writing. When teachers concentrate on genre, students study texts in the genre in which they are going to be writing before they embark on their own work. Thus, if we want them to write business letters of various kinds, we let them look at typical models of such letters before starting to compose their own. If we want them to write newspaper articles, we have them study real examples to discover facts about construction and specific language use which are common to that genre. This forms part of the pre-writing phase.

Chris Tribble (1996: 148-150) suggests the following 'data collection' procedure as a prelude to the writing of letters to newspapers. Students are asked to spend some time every day for a week looking at letters to the newspapers. They are asked to make notes of particular vocabulary and/or grammar constructions used in them. For example, we might tell them to find any language which expresses approval or disapproval or to note down any if sentences they come across. They can use dictionaries or any other resources they need to check understanding. At the end of a week, they bring the results of their research to the class and make a list of commonly occurring lexis or grammar patterns. The teacher now gets the students to read controversial articles in today's paper and plan letters (using language they have come across in the data collection phase) in response to those articles. Where possible, students should actually send their letters in the hope that they will be published.

A genre approach is especially appropriate for students of English for Specific Purposes.

However, it is also highly useful for general English students, even at low levels, if we want them to produce written work they can be proud of.

Students who are writing within a certain genre need to consider a number of different factors. They need to have knowledge of the topic, the conventions and style of the genre, and the context in which their writing will be read, as well as by whom. Many of our students' writing tasks do not have an audience other than the teacher, of course, but that does not stop us and them working as if they did.

Asking students to imitate a given style could be seen as extremely prescriptive, encouraging them to see writing as a form of reproduction rather than as a creative act. One way round this - and something that is absolutely necessary if students are to have real knowledge of a genre - is for them to see many different examples from the same genre. This means that they will be able to choose from a variety of features. However, at lower levels this may well be impractical, and so imitation may, after all, be a useful first stage, designed as much to inform as to enforce adherence to strict genre rules. Later, with exposure to different examples within a genre, it will be up to them to decide what to do with the data they have collected.

Creative writing

The term creative writing suggests imaginative tasks, such as writing poetry, stories and plays. Such activities have a number of features to recommend them. Chief among these is that the end result is often felt to be some kind of achievement and that ' ... most people feel pride in their work and want it to be read' (Ur 1996: 169). This sense of achievement is significantly more marked for creative writing than for other more standard written products.

Creative writing is 'a journey of self-discovery, and self-discovery promotes effective learning' (Gaffield- Vile 1998: 31). When teachers set up imaginative writing tasks so that their students are thoroughly engaged, those students frequently strive harder than usual to produce a greater variety of correct and appropriate language than they might for more routine assignments. While students are writing a simple poem about someone they care about, or while they are trying to construct a narrative or tell stories of their childhood, for example, they are tapping into their own experiences. This, for some, provides powerful motivation to find the right words to express such experience. In order to bolster the 'product pride' that students may feel when they have written creatively, we need to provide an appropriate reader audience. In addition to ourselves as teachers, the audience can be the whole class. We can put students' writing up on a class notice board or copy it and include it in class magazines. We can make anthologies and distribute them to friends, parents and other teachers. We can, if we want, set up websites for our classes on the Internet, or have students write blogs which can be read by others.

There is always a danger that students may find writing imaginatively difficult. Having 'nothing to say', they may find creative writing a painful and demotivating experience, associated in their minds with a sense of frustration and failure. A lot will depend upon how we encourage them. It is also important not to expect whole compositions from the very first. We need, instead, to 'build the writing habit', providing students with motivating, straightforward tasks to persuade them that writing is not only possible but can also be great fun.

Writing as a cooperative activity

Although many people in their personal lives write on their own, whether at home or at work, in language classes teachers and students can take advantage of the presence of others to make writing a cooperative activity, with great benefit to all those involved. In one example of such an approach, group writing allowed the lecturer to give more detailed and constructive feedback since she was dealing with a small number of groups rather than many individual students. Individual students also found themselves saying and writing things they might not have come up with on their own, and the group's research was broader than an individual's normally was.

Cooperative writing works well whether the focus is on the writing process or, alternatively, on genre study. In the first case, reviewing and evaluation are greatly enhanced by having more than one person working on a text, and the generation of ideas is frequently more lively with two or more people involved than it is when writers work on their own. In genre-based writing, it is probably the case that two heads analyse genre-specific texts as well as, if not better, than one head would do, and often create genre-specific texts more successfully as a result.

Cooperative writing is immensely successful if students are writing on a computer. If the screen is big enough, everyone can clearly see what is being created, and everyone can make small changes both during the initial writing process and also later on. Students and teachers can also email each other, of course; and just as with Wikipedia, anyone can modify entries, so with student writing on the Internet (or on an Intranet - that is on a hard disk that everyone in the school, or from a group can access), other students can alter things that are there, and gradually co-construct a final finished product.

Writing in groups, whether as part of a long process or as part of a short game-like communicative activity, can be greatly motivating for students, including as it does, not only writing, but research, discussion, peer evaluation and group pride in a group accomplishment.

Building the writing habit

Some students are extremely unconfident and unenthusiastic writers. There may be many reasons for this: perhaps they have never written much in their first language(s). Perhaps they think that they don't have anything to say and can't come up with ideas. Whatever the reason, we need to help such students build the writing habit so that they recognise writing as being a normal part of classroom practice and they come to writing tasks with as much enthusiasm as they do other activities. One way of doing this, of course, is to give them interesting and enjoyable tasks to do. We must make sure, however, that we give them enough information to do what we have asked. We will want to make sure that they have enough of the right kind of language to do the task. We need to be able to give students ideas to complete the task, too. Sometimes we may dictate half-sentences for them to finish so that they do not have to come up with too much information of their own. Sometimes we will feed in ideas to a student or students as they do the task. Of course, we don't want to crowd the students with too many ideas if this is going to stifle creativity, but we need to be ready with enough suggestions to make sure they can never say I can't think of anything to write. Finally, patterns and schemes help students to write with confidence. This is the first stage of looking at different genres that we mentioned above. If students are given a model for postcard-writing, it is easy to come up with their own slightly different version. Simple poems often provide a framework in which students can say something meaningful while still being supported by a helpful structure. Giving students some kind of simple structure to write in provides the same kind of support that every writer gets when, instead of finding themselves in front of a blank screen, they are given parameters and constraints to write with. However, we are not suggesting that all writing needs to be constrained or supported in this way. The blank screen is the place where a great deal of creativity first starts.

Building the writing habit can be done with a range of activities. We can promote instant writing by dictating half a sentence which the students have to complete (e.g. Before I am thirty I would like to ... ). We can get them to write three Don't sentences for a new school (e.g. Don't run in the corridors). We can get students to respond to music by writing what words or scenes a piece of music suggests, or by describing the film scene a piece of music might accompany. They can write about how a piece of music makes them feel or write stories that the music 'tells them to write'. Pictures can provide stimulation for writing-habit activities. Students can describe pictures or write descriptions of a wanted man or woman so that their colleagues have to identify that person from a group photograph. They can write postcards from a picture we give them, or create an interview with a portrait, say, from 200 years ago.

There are many writing games, too, such as story reconstruction activities where students have to build up a story from a set of pictures, each of which only one of them has seen. We can get students into story circles where, in groups, they create a story together.

The whole point of all these activities is just to get students to write for the fun and practice of it, rather than have them write as a skill. Building the writing habit falls halfway between writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing.

Writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing

We need to make a distinction between writing-for-learning and writing-for-writing if we are to promote writing as a skill.

Writing-for-learning is the kind of writing we do to help students learn language or to test them on that language. Thus, if we say Write three sentences using the 'going to' future, our aim is not to train students to write, but rather to help them remember the going to future. The same is true when we get them to write (say for a test) four sentences about what they wish about the present and the past.

When we ask students to design a good magazine advertisement, however, we are doing this so that they may become good at writing advertisements. When we get them to write a narrative, it is their ability to write a story that counts, not just their use of the past tense.

If we are to build the students' writing skills (as opposed to building their writing habits or getting them to write for language practice), we will have to use such writing-for-writing tasks as often as is appropriate.

The roles of the teacher

Although the teacher needs to deploy some or all of the usual roles when students are asked to write, the ones that are especially important are as follows:

  • Motivator: one of our principal roles in writing tasks will be to motivate the students, creating the right conditions for the generation of ideas, persuading them of the usefulness of the activity, and encouraging them to make as much effort as possible for maximum benefit. This may require special and prolonged effort on our part for longer process-writing sequences. Where students are involved in a creative writing activity, it is usually the case that some find it easier to generate ideas than others. During a poetry activity, for example, we may need to suggest lines to those who cannot think of anything, or at least prompt them with our own ideas.
  • Resource: especially during more extended writing tasks, we should be ready to supply information and language where necessary. We need to tell students that we are available and be prepared to look at their work as it progresses, offering advice and suggestions in a constructive and tactful way. Because writing takes longer than conversation, for example, there is usually time for discussion with individual students or students working in pairs or groups to complete a writing task.
  • Feedback provider: giving feedback on writing tasks demands special care. Teachers should respond positively and encouragingly to the content of what the students have written. When offering correction, teachers will choose what and how much to focus on, based on what students need at this particular stage of their studies and on the tasks they have undertaken.
Writing lesson sequences

This sequence aims to make students aware of coherence - and especially cohesive devices - in writing. The students are told that they are going to reconstruct a text about Kitty Redcape, whose grandmother lives in the woods. Kitty frequently goes there to have tea. They are given a series of cards and told to re-order them to make a story (the first one is done for them). They need to look out for clues, such as the use of pronouns, repetition of lexical items and a coherent order of events. These are the cards they are given:

If students are having trouble with the sequence, we can point out, for example, that the first three cards all have the prince in them, and that this lexical repetition helps to tie the story together with a 'chain of reference'. We can show them how he is used in the same way in this two-sentence sequence:

At that moment the prince rode by and charged into the garden. ‘I have come to save you, young maiden’, he cried, knocking the grandmother down in his haste to be by her side.

After the pairs and groups have completed the task, they check to see if they have all got the same order (A, J, L, C, D, E, B, K, I, F, G, H) and discuss why and how it is arrived at. We can now get them to develop more sentences about Kitty and her grandmother, perhaps going as far as making their own stories. For example, we might give them the following exercise:

Alternatively, they can be asked to re-write the following paragraphs, replacing Kitty Redcape, the prince and the bear by she, her, he, him or it where necessary.

Kitty Redcape often goes to visit Kitty Redcape's grandmother in the woods. One day, on Kitty Redcape's way to Kitty Redcape's grandmother's house, Kitty Redcape sees the prince and Kitty Redcape thinks the prince is very attractive. The prince does not notice Kitty Redcape.

When Kitty Redcape arrives at the cottage, Kitty Redcape sees Kitty Redcape's grandmother being attacked by a bear. Just then the prince rides into the garden to save Kitty Redcape and the prince is rude to Kitty Redcape's grandmother.

The prince asks Kitty Redcape back to his castle for lunch but Kitty Redcape says no because Kitty Redcape doesn't like the prince's treatment of Kitty Redcape's grandmother and Kitty Redcape doesn't fancy the prince after all. Kitty Redcape suggests that the prince should go back to the prince's hunt and leave them alone. And that's what the prince does. The bear follows the prince into the forest and the bear eats the prince.

Finally we can have them write their own texts starting with a sentence we give them such as:

Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who lived in a castle by the river.

Adapted from The Practice of English Language Teaching, Jeremy Harmer 2007, Longman.

Лилия Громова
Лилия Громова
1 октября отправила на проверку первое задание, до сих пор не проверено, по этой причине не могу пройти последующие тесты.
Светлана Носкова
Светлана Носкова