Classroom activities for developing students writing skills

The article deals with some efficient ways to improve student writing. It also touches upon issues related to the content of teaching writing at the present stage of education development. The authors offer examples of creative tasks that have a stimulating effect on the process of development writing skills and the creation of conditions to increase the interest and motivation of students to study a foreign language. The authors believe that teaching based on communication should be considered to be the major factor contributing to increase motivation, since it is the natural communication situations in teaching writing skills that leads to higher levels of motivation and the quality of knowledge in teaching writing. 

Writing is one of English skills that should be mastered by the students. It belongs to productive skill in which ones are expected to communicate their ideas with others in a written form. It is suggested to create meaningful activities in order to engage students in the learning process. Writing is one of the most rewarding yet one of the most challenging skills for English Language learners. Why so? Because writing is an accuracy focused activity as well as an act of communication where one can practice their skills of using grammar, vocabulary and also put their ideas together in a coherent fashion. Through writing, students can express themselves. Writing involves processing, editing, and while writing, there is more time available to the students for thinking and accessing familiar language. Writing is a very important activity and set of skills to develop as part of your academic study.

Many teachers connect writing to speaking, suggesting that a written piece consolidates language used in class. And yet, writing which is properly integrated with other classroom activities can become great way of consolidating language acquired in class. Students can be motivated to write when topics are interesting and relevant to them and when teachers allow them some choice: this choice may be a choice of a topic or of how to present their topic or regarding how much they should write. Writing can be a nice way to engage and motivate our shyer and quieter students. That is why many think that it’s better to give the writing task in the classroom rather than giving it for homework, as when writing is done in class, teachers can guide their students through the whole process. The teacher will be able to facilitate and fix so students can actually gain many things aside from the practice of writing itself.

Writing is a process which helps you to learn more deeply. When you are engaged in writing for your assessment tasks, you are engaged in a process of learning. Writing is not just something that happens at the end of learning. Instead, the process of writing starts from the very beginning of tackling an assessment task. During the process, you will need to analyse the task, read material relevant to the task, make notes and clarify your understandings, draw together different views on the topic, critically weighing these up, and so on. All these activities contribute to your learning as you go about solving the problem that the writing task has posed. The kind of learning that you are expected to engage in at university level is deep learning, in which you are expected to understand many dimensions of a topic, and how they are related to each other, to ask critical questions, and to develop your own perspectives and viewpoints. For many people, the deepest learning occurs when they try to put their thoughts into words so that others can understand. A common experience for many people is that they are not really sure what they think about a complex topic until they start writing down their thoughts. Thus the process of writing can be seen as a means for discovering and consolidating meaning and therefore a method for learning more deeply [1].

Writing is a product which demonstrates the quality of your learning. Without being able to ‘see’ your thinking through the words you speak and write, your lecturers would not be able to assess what is in your head. Thus your writing is a crucial product of your thinking which provides the evidence of what you have learned. Your lecturers can use this product to assess the quality of your learning and give you feedback to help you learn more from the experience. This is a very important part of the learning cycle in a university course, and you should aim to learn from your assessment feedback on every task you undertake.

Because writing is such a difficult skill to master, students often experience a lack of motivation, which is a notable characteristic of some second language learners. Motivation is a complex construct, and there are many factors that might inspire students to master a foreign language. For example, students might want to learn English for their careers, to study abroad or some other factors that teachers can use to motivate students. In addition, all students have particular needs and interests, which teachers also can take into advantage of to create motivating writing classes and activities. In fact, research from practicing teachers shows the benefit of focusing on students’ needs and interests when developing language lessons. According to Brooks and Grundy (1990,45), «when feelings are touched learners are totally involved in the writing and appear at times to be writing above their capability» [2].

A classroom project is a good way to motivate students to write because it offers the opportunity to match tasks with interesting topics that are relevant to the students. In this article we offer you some specific ways that project based work can help students become active, involved participants in writing tasks.

Project work contains many features that are inherently motivating for the teaching of writing. Arends describes the following project-work criteria that are essential to create motivation among students:

  1. Tasks are organized around socially important problems that are personally important for students.

As this relates to writing, students should select topics which resonate with what is  important in their lives.

  1. Tasks are characterized by students collaborating with each other in pairs and small groups. While writing is a skill that people often do individually, peer collaboration and group work can be extremely stimulating for students, especially when they have a chance to freely express
  2. Students should investigate many subjects, such as politics, history, and science .As students use different subjects to analyze problems, their motivation and interest will

Another feature of project work is the inclusion of all four skills (reading, speaking and listening).The collaboration that occurs in a project work requires students to discuss issues, analyze different  problems, and provide feedback about other students’  work, which involves much speaking and listening in English.

Taking into account these principles teachers can implement a successful writing project. The first step of project work is describing the problem. The second step identifies the causes of the problem. The third step proposes a solution to the problem. The students should develop a draft of each part and at the end  have a chance to revise and polish the complete essay. The teacher’s task is to explain the procedure and clarify questions if they arise. E.g. The stages of project work on the topic «Poverty is a global problem».

Step 1. Describing the problem. Students brainstorm to commit their initial ideas to paper. The following questions may help them to begin the process.

What is your definition of poverty? What do you think about the way poverty is measured? What countries in the world are poor? What is a life of poverty like?

Students begin writing their ideas at this point. Then students divide into small groups and work together both in and out of class, to research the topic. Information can be collected from popular journals, newspapers and internet. Students can also interview  their friends  and ordinary citizens.

Step 2. Determining the causes of the problem. Students brainstorm individually and in pairs about the causes of poverty. They build their research, think critically what is the main cause of poverty. They exchange their drafts, review questionnaire, compare their notes on the causes of the poverty with each other and join in  collaborative discussions to enhance their knowledge of the issue.

Step 3. Proposing a solution to the problem. Students research possible solutions that could improve living standards and reduce poverty. Teacher can suggest some questions that might help them: What are some obstacles that countries face in getting out of poverty? What is the role of international organizations in reducing poverty? Are there any things that citizens can do to help?

At this point students can use their notes to begin free writing and developing their ideas regarding the solutions to poverty. Students work individually and collaboratively in pairs to discuss the solutions they have thought about and researched. They use the results from the research, the data from the questionnaire and combine all their drafts and revise the complete text. Finally, students will do a final revision and submit their papers.

Having activities that engage students is the best way to practice writing. The more practice students get, the more they will improve upon any skill, including writing. There are four main types of writing: narrative, expository, descriptive and persuasive. Each type of writing can be practiced using different and interesting ideas for activities.

Narrative Writing. Narrative writing is about telling a story and is the type of writing most often involved in creative or literary works. To practice this type of writing, students need to tell a story using a   beginning, middle and end. An amusing idea is to write a story imagining yourself as a pair of shoes. Before writing the actual story, students should create an outline of the plot and setting, and do brief character sketches. This helps to put the story together and can be a means to brainstorm ideas. Another idea is to write a narrative essay about the first day  at the university.

Expository Writing. A daily journal entry is a good way to practice expository writing. This type of writing is informative, so keeping a journal allows students to inform the teacher (or whoever reads the journal) of what is going on in their everyday lives and what is on their minds. This can be a cathartic exercise for students, even if this journal activity is kept personal. Organization is important for this type of writing, so another good activity is to get students to explain how to do a task, step-by-step, such as saving music on an MP3 player or building a bird feeder [3].

Descriptive Writing. These activities should help the reader create a clear picture in his mind. Ask students to recreate a scene from their favourite vacations. Let the students know that not only should they describe what they see, but other sensory details, such as what they hear, smell, taste and touch, create a complete picture. Another writing idea — this one can be done in pairs — is to get a student to describe an object at home so another student can draw it. The better the description, the more accurate the drawing will be.

Persuasive Writing. Pose a yes or no question and have students take a position on one side or the other. For example, should weekends be increased to three days instead of the current two days? Most students undoubtedly will say yes, but they should give good reasons to support their stance so that they can persuade the reader to formulate the same opinion. The best questions are relevant to the students. Another worthwhile activity is getting students to write a letter to their parents trying to get their permission for something Mom and Dad initially opposed.

Engaging students and encouraging them to write has become increasingly difficult in the classroom. Our students are bombarded with interactive and visual images constantly through the media and the internet and, as their teacher, it has become much harder for me to compete. Who wants to read or write an emotional descriptive piece when they can be fully immersed in this feeling through interactive game play? This challenge has led me to look at how I can use these media, and more dynamic approaches, to engage students in wanting to use their literacy skills and to hook them into becoming creative and thoughtful writers.

Using video. One way which is sure to engage students is through the use of video, in particular TV and film. There  is  a  wealth  of  materials  on  YouTube,  and  other  platforms,  which  will  help  students to explore and fully develop ideas. Always begin with the learning objective and ensure that video clips can fulfil the language and structural features of the relevant text type.

For example, with my 2-year international relations students I use video news on the topic cooperation to help them to explore the key features of diplomatic sphere. Using the video news films I am able to cover everything from political news to economic and cultural issues in a much more inspiring manner than simply using a diplomatic text based resource. I then use it as a way to discuss the role of diplomatic representation bodies, the importance of maintaining mutually advantageous cooperation and friendly relationship with foreign countries  for Kazakhstan  to help the students to structure their writing.

By using visual prompts the students feel more confident and ready to write. They have had time to build up and discuss their vocabulary and then adapt this to the writing they want to create. It also allows comprehension, text organisation and sentence structures to be taught in an exciting and meaningful way for the students.

Adding drama. Many drama techniques enable the students to become immersed into the life and world of a character. Encouraging conscience corridors, debates and improvisation engages the students can increase their understanding of a text and their ability to express their opinions in written form.

For example, taking a dramatic approach to understanding how it feels to be a soldier can lead to a far deeper understanding of war and how this might have affected the soldiers. In turn this helps them to write more thoughtfully and creatively [4].

Activities. Teachers and learners may also have specific kinds of writing they want to do or specific skills that need to be developed. The following writing activities can be engaging and challenging and can add variety to writing instruction. They also develop important literacy skills. The writing that emerges from an activity may be an end in itself or may lead to more extensive writing, employing one of the approaches discussed above.

Writing Letters: Letters of complaint (while studying consumerism), cover letters (while preparing for employment), or letters of advice (while studying newspaper features) allow learners to practice some of the types of writing that are useful in their daily lives. At beginning levels, learners can fill in the blanks with content words such as, «The own or be guided by questions.

is broken». At more advanced levels, learners can compose letters on their Analyzing and Synthesizing Information: Adults frequently need to interpret information that appears in graphic form such as charts, drawings, and maps, or interpret and synthesize information from several sources. To prepare for this kind of writing, learners can complete grids based on information they gather from class or community surveys. For example, at the beginning level, a simple grid can ask for the names of the learners in the class and their native countries or languages. Groups of learners can work together to fill in parts of the grid and then share their information with the entire class to complete the grid. They can then use this information to write simple sentences describing their class, such as «There are nine Spanish speakers and four Russian speakers in our class». At higher levels, learners can gather more extensive data and then write a descriptive paragraph or composition. Using maps, learners can write directions for getting from one location to another. After reading articles on a topic such as immigration, learners can write a letter to the editor or a summary of the information presented [5].

Making Lists: Lists can help learners generate vocabulary and provide the basis for larger pieces. For example, when studying banking, learners might enjoy listing how they would spend a million dollars. Other lists might be about favorite foods, places, or activities; wishes; things missed about one's country. For a beginning learner, a few words might suffice. More proficient learners may write several sentences or more.

Effective integration of reading and writing in any class begins with helping students build upon what they have already learned from previous courses or other sources of «old» information. Another foundational principle for making reading and writing central in learning is to remind students of their personal investment in what they are learning, particularly as it connects with their long-term professional goals. A related principle emphasizes the idea that academic knowledge has practical use outside the university. Analogies and examples from everyday knowledge can set up a positive social, emotional, and intellectual climate, which can motivate students.

Because both reading and writing are cognitive processes that help students make sense of their worlds, they work best when they are closely connected. Effective reading-writing connections help students synthesize course content and assess new information. To foster effective reading and writing, you should:

  • Make sure that students understand how to read efficiently and why they are
  • Identify and teach critical and discipline-specific reading and writing
  • Allow time and opportunities for
  • Provide feedback that fosters further integration of reading and

Integrating Reading and Writing to Improve Students’ Critical Literacy

Reading is a way of understanding writing that comes from a different point of view, and it is most beneficial when it allows students to synthesize and evaluate rhetorical strategies and purposes. Writing, likewise, is a way of reproducing processes of synthesis and evaluation for rhetorical purposes. In order to improve students’ critical literacy, you can:

  • Provide an Appropriate Level of Challenge: Students learn best when you set up reasonable yet challenging goals that build on the literacy skills students already possess. One way to begin is to offer models of good discipline-specific writing, explaining what makes the writing Analyzing models and antimodels of effective writing can motivate students to read sources with a critical eye and to perform writing tasks with more confidence.
  • Allow Sufficient Time to Practice: This means devoting class time to reading/writing activities, not just expecting students to do them outside of the classroom. Some instructors resist using class time for these activities because it can reduce the total amount of material covered, but the emphasis on student reflection that is fostered by integrating reading and writing often yields deeper
  • Evaluate Students’ Reading and Writing Practices: Many low-stakes writing assignments do not need to be graded formally, but student learning will be enhanced when you provide feedback. One way to do this is to model responses for the whole class, explaining how you would read a particular text or passage, and how you would write about it—making sure to explain why such strategies are effective and how they achieve the desired
  • Engage in Peer-Review Exercises: When encouraged to share their work, students can acquire a sense of community linked to reading and writing. You can provide specific guidelines for peer review so that students can reinforce discipline-specific approaches to reading and

Strategy 1: «Read-to-Learn» and «Write-to-Learn» Exercises

You can engage students in exercises that use writing to improve reading and exercises that use writing to help students shape their ideas.

  • Ask students to write in their texts: Students are too often passive If they are instructed to write notes in the margins of their books — where they can challenge new notions or ask questions — the reading process becomes far more active. Furthermore, when writing in the margins, students find that there is «room» on the page for their conversations—a visual reminder that all texts are part of an ongoing discussion and are not the last word on a given subject [6].
  • Require students to write short response papers: You might allow these brief writing exercises to be connected to one particular passage in the text (of the students’ choosing). Short response papers not only encourage students to write their way towards a more complete understanding of the texts, they can also serve as the basis for more productive class

So, in conclusion we can say, that learning to write in a foreign language is a demanding task that can easily leave students unmotivated. To combat this problem, teachers can apply their knowledge of current theories and methods to make writing instruction more successful. For example, familiarity with the process approach to writing allows a teacher to help students recognize the steps they go through to create a written text, which should lead to less stressful and more motivated writing. Additionally, an understanding of how to apply the principles of project work to a writing task lets the teacher incorporate elements that are sure to stimulate students to express themselves on paper: a relevant topic and an authentic purpose for writing; collaboration with their peers; use of all four skills; and a variety of activities to gather information. The end result is motivated students who are pleased that they have created something that is useful and has meaning.

The ability to express in written their thoughts in a foreign language must be developed consistently and constantly. With regular work on the texts, samples during the academic year we can achieve literacy of students and improve the logic of their statements. 

 

References 

  1. Arends R.I. Learning to teach. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw
  2. Bunn M. (2011). How to read like a writer. In C. Lowe & P. Zemliansky (Eds.), Writing spaces: readings on writing, Volume 2 (p. 71–86). Anderson, SC: Parlor
  3. Brooks A., Grundy P. Writing for study purposes: A Teacher guide to developing individual writing skills. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Syverson M.A. (2006). A reference guide for the learning record. The Learning Record. Using Peer Review to Improve Student Writing. (n.d.).
  5. Zimnyaya I.A. Questions of psychology. — 1986. — №
  6. Ambrose S.A., Bridges M.W., DiPietro M., Lovett, M.C., Mayer R.E., Norman M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA:
Name of author: B.A.Zhetpisbayeva, B.A.Beiуsenbayeva
Year: 2014
City: Karaganda
Category: Pedagogy
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