Getting your students to write

The excellent teachingenglish.org.uk site has a new article on Making writing communicative (which it often isn't in a language classroom, particularly when writing is something the learner does, hands in to the teacher… and that's that).

The article mentions blogging, which is one way writing can be made more communicative, particularly if all your learners are writing on a single class blog, and writing comments on each others' work, too. Doing so, and creating something that is shared will also create "tasks that are intellectually satisfying", I would suggest.

Among the books listed in the bibliography at the end of the article is Process Writing (Arndt and White, Longman 1991), one which I can highly recommend. Getting people to write in pairs, or at least to comment on each other's work (whether or not it is via a blog) is one aspect of process writing and — because you talk about what you are writing — another way in which it can be made communicative.

Getting learners to write — and read — stories is another. Some of your learners will no doubt say that they don't like writing, but there's also fun in the process that I think even they will come to share.

Here's a fun story from Ananova.com about fish making a bolt for it from a trout farm that might make the start of a piece of (shared) creative writing. Process writing would require you to brainstorm first, before you start to write: who will the narrator be? One of the characters named in the story? Or one of the trout, perhaps?

And that's where the fun begins…

>> More on Process Writing

Mini-sagas and 100-word stories

Mini-sagas
The idea for mini-sagas came from an excellent book by Puchta and Schratz, Teaching Teenagers, one that I highly recommend if you ever have to teach teens.

Their rules for this creative writing exercise are:

  • Each saga must have exactly fifty words
  • The title can contain up to a maximum of five other words
  • The saga can only be a story (not a joke, description of someone, etc)

100-word stories
This idea came from Michael Lewis's The Lexical Approach, another book that all language teachers should read, and is similar.

  • Each story must have exactly 100 words
  • The title can contain up to a maximum of five other words
  • None of the words can be repeated

Yes, that is what is meant: if your title was 5 words, your story would contain a total of 105 words, none of which would be repeated.

You'd obviously require a fairly decent level of English to do this second one — around Upper Intermediate at least, I would suggest.

What's this got to do with technology?
Of course, both of the above creative writing exercises you could do without ever going near a computer.

Whether or not you used technology for them, I would recommend a collaborative, process writing approach, with students reading each other's work, and commenting on it, before they ever hand it in to you, "finished" (another recommendation: Process Writing, by White and Arndt).

Personally, I would get my learners to write on computers — apart from anything else as it makes it so much easier for them to edit and correct. Ask students to make amendments to something they've hand written, and they'll understandably be a bit put out. Ask them to amend a Word document, and it's just so easy!

Computers were just made for process writing…

Blogging projects
Both of the above would make great blogging projects. Have all your students as authors on the same "team blog", and get them to write their stories as posts, which they can save as drafts until they are ready for others to comment on them.

They could write new posts for second versions, and perhaps a separate one for final versions.

Important that they do use the comments feature… Blogging was just made for collaborative writing.