Recently there has been a focus on dealing with ‘emergent language’, rather than following a syllabus. But does this mean that coursebooks are irrelevant? Surely coursebooks are ultimately a collection of topics,texts and tasks – the bedrock of any course. In this article, recently published in English Australia Journal (29/1) I give some ideas for using coursebooks, while still allowing the teacher to facilitate and deal with emergent language. The article is based on my 2013 IATEFL talk.
Tag Archives: ELT coursebook
Brainshark presentation of my IATEFL13 talk: Of course! Using a coursebook AND dealing with emergent language
Recently there has been a focus on dealing with ‘emergent language’, rather than following a syllabus. But does this mean that coursebooks are irrelevant? Surely coursebooks are ultimately a collection of topics, texts and tasks- the bedrock of any course.
In this 20 minute presentation, I look at some ideas for using coursebooks (or any other off the shelf material) while still allowing the teacher to facilitate and engage with emergent language.
When students fail to understand something they read or hear, this often isn’t because they don’t understand the words being used. In fact, it may be because of the words that aren’t being used.
In both speaking and writing there is a tendency to either leave out words we think are unnecessary (ellipsis) or to use another single word in place of a longer phrase (substitution). This can cause considerable confusion for learners, especially when listening, as there is no chance to go back and try and work out the meaning.
It’s also something that teachers, as proficient speakers of English, often overlook. Not least because we find it complicated to explain, even though we may easily understand what the speaker or writer is trying to say.
There are generally considered to be two different kinds of ellipsis, situational and textual.
Situational ellipsis is, unsurprisingly, where the situation or context makes the missing element clear. It’s informal and mostly used in conversation.
For example, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ can easily become ‘Tea?’ if you are waving a mug at someone, or even just sitting in the kitchen.
Textual ellipsis has more grammatical ‘rules’, and can be found in both speech and writing. It could be defined as when we omit something that has already been mentioned (so doesn’t need to be repeated), or when what is missing is clearly recoverable from the text.
E.g. I went to the bakers to get some wholemeal rolls and (I went) to the butchers for lamb chops.
Textual ellipsis is probably most commonly found in the second clause after ‘and’ or ‘but’
Reduced relative clauses and reduced adverbial clauses are also often considered to be examples of ellipsis. With these, the missing words haven’t necessarily been mentioned, but they are clearly recoverable.
E.g. The dark-haired girl (who is) standing over there just smiled at you.
When (you are) teaching ellipsis, you need to find good examples.
The easiest way to think about substitution is to consider it as a form of ellipsis. Something is missing, but instead of just leaving it out, we substitute it with another word, usually ‘so’, ‘one(s)’, ‘do(es)’, ‘did’. [Some people have a wider definition of substitution and include things I’d put under the heading of reference]
E.g. Replacing a noun (phrase):
What kind of cupcake would you like? A chocolate one, please.
E.g. Replacing a verb phrase:
I didn’t like the film, but everyone else did (liked the film)
Note that we use substitution for verbs in the simple present or simple past. For other tenses or modals, we use ellipsis.
I don’t want to go running but I really should (go running).
Have you ever been to Paris? Yes, I have (been to Paris)
How to teach ellipsis and substitution
As with a lot of things, the first step is to raise awareness of its existence. This is something which is often dealt with in ‘advanced’ level materials. This is fair enough in terms of getting students to produce natural sounding language but this shouldn’t be the first time students have ever thought about the concept. It needs to be something that students are aware of right from the beginning.
First of all, don’t routinely ask students to produce ‘full answers’.
‘Where do you live?’ ‘I live in Brixton.’
This may neatly practice present simple, but it sounds distinctly odd. Encourage ‘short answers’ and show students how much can be achieved with the right intonation. (See ‘Tea?’ above).
At low levels, it’s worth doing some activities to focus on short answers. (E.g. Yes, I do, No, I can’t.)
For example, you could use mini whiteboards and ask students questions which require short answers. They have to write the answer which is true for them and hold it up. The advantages of mini whiteboards include the fact that that they have more processing time, they have to think individually about the correct short answer, and you can see exactly who is producing an appropriate short answer.
Alternatively, you could do this in a circle with a beanbag- the person catching the bean bag has to answer, using a short answer.
A lot of fun can be had with really pared down dialogues. Perhaps the most famous example is ‘The train to Oxford.’ As you can probably tell by the reference to smoking and the slightly cheesy storyline, this is a golden oldie. Originally written by Scott Thornbury as a piece of teacher training material:
A: Um cigarette
B: Yes you
A: Um that’s right student
B: Nurse you
A: A year er married
A: Really me too
A: One you
A: Erm dinner
B: Ah busy tomorrow
B: OK where
A: Um Browns
A: Fine Oh Oxford
This, and texts like this, are usually used to work on intonation, and they’re great for that. But ‘The Train to Oxford’ is also stuffed with examples of situational ellipsis and we can focus on this by getting students to first build up the dialogue into fuller expressions. This will, of course, also help with meaning, and thus intonation, when they go back to the pared down version.
Any authentic or even semi authentic recording is also likely to be a good source of examples of ellipsis. Take a look at this extract from my latest downloadable lesson plan, Q & A, (which also has a focus on ellipsis by the way)
J: Have you ever lied to me?
S: I probably have , but I try not to  even if sometimes the questions you ask me make me uncomfortable.
In any listening based lesson, after some work on comprehension, you can pull out an extract like this and get students to complete what’s missing. Slightly harder is to ask students to find places in a text where something has been ‘taken out’ or substituted.
Alternatively, why not reverse it, and ask students to try to cut down texts? You could add an element of competition by asking students to reduce the text to as few words as possible, while still retaining the same meaning.
Ellipsis and substitution also tend to come up as testable items in Use of English type exam papers. We often see multiple choice questions such as:
Susie doesn’t like coffee but I _____.
I can’t play the piano but Jim _____.
Show students some examples of these (and give them some straightforward practice). Then ask them to write their own versions. These can be personalised, about themselves or classmates, or simply as silly as possible.
Once you start using some of these activities, you, and hopefully your students, will notice ellipsis and substitution everywhere!
In a previous post I took a look at some ideas for using a genre approach to help students with IELTS writing, Task 1. In this post, I’d like to look at some ideas for Task 2, the essay. This is obviously equally applicable to anyone with students who need to write semi-academic opinion essays.
Taking a genre approach means looking at the key features of a particular genre, and helping to raise students’ awareness of these features, and thus their ability to reproduce them.
Useful headings to consider are:
Content or communicative purpose- Layout- Organisation- Grammatical structures- Lexis/formulae
Broadly speaking, all the tasks in IELTS Part 2 have the same communicative purpose- to express your opinions on a topic of general interest. The layout will also be the same, with an introduction, paragraphs for each key idea and a conclusion.
However, the organisation will vary depending on the specific type of question. It’s really worth familiarising your students with the different types of question and how to approach them.
There are essentially three different types of questions in IELTS
1 Presenting your argument: Often phrased ‘To what extent do you agree or disagree.’
2 Balanced argument: Often phrased ‘Some people think…Others think…Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.’ Or ‘Discuss the advantages and disadvantages….and give your own opinion’
3 Problem/cause and solution: Phrasing varies, but could be ‘What do you think are the causes of these problems and what measure could be taken to solve them?’
Each of these should probably be organised slightly differently. In the first type, I’d suggest a good way of organising it could be:
- State your opinion
- A paragraph for each main point you want to make.
For the second type, you need to be less upfront about your opinion, so:
- Arguments in favour
- Arguments against (or vice versa)
- Your opinion
And for problem/solution:
- Conclusion: summary of the situation and your opinion.
Students need to be very confident about these different types and how to organise them so, rather than writing lots of essays, at least to start with, I’d suggest looking at lots of questions (and model answers).
Some possible activities once students are familiar with the three main types:
1. Look at IELTS questions (there are lots of past questions, or close facsimiles, online) and decide if they are type 1,2 or 3.
2. Take an IELTS question that is a particular type and ask students to rewrite it to make it another type.
3. Give students a model answer, and ask them to guess what the original question was.
4. Give out a model answer and get students to identify the different sections.
5. Cut up a model answer and get students to put the paragraphs in the right order (obviously this works on discourse skills as well)
6. Rewrite a model answer so that there is no paragraphing and ask them to divide it into paragraphs.
7. Rewrite a model answer so that the organisation doesn’t flow anymore, and ask students to identify the problem with it.
8. Ask students to pick out the key idea in each paragraph of a model answer.
In some of these activities we started to look at the internal organisation of the paragraphs by getting students to pick out the key idea. One way of helping students to organise a paragraph is by looking at topic sentences. These are a bit of a blunt tool, because in reality, it isn’t always as simple as any rules we can give them. However, while it may be oversimplified, the recipe of topic sentence, supporting ideas and examples isn’t a bad start for many students.
You can practice this by:
- Getting students to identify the topic sentence, sporting ideas and examples in a model answer.
- Giving them the topic sentences for each paragraph and asking them to add supporting ideas and examples.
- Removing the topic sentences from a model answer, and asking them to write what they think they were from looking at the further ideas and examples.
As with the post on IELTS Task 1, it’s worth putting in some specific practice on writing a good introduction. Careful analysis of the question will help, as we’ve seen, with organising the essay, but it should also help students to know how to start their essay.
Let’s take an example from IELTS Foundation. A good place to start is always by getting students to underline the key words:
‘People will never be willing to make the dramatic lifestyle changes needed to control climate change. For this reason, governments must force people to do so.’
To what extent do you agree or disagree?
A good introduction should explain what they understand by the question, and might give a little background information. So identifying the key words will help with pulling out what the main idea is.
Then you could ask students to choose the best introduction from a selection. Here are the choices from IELTS Foundation:
1 I think that it is very important that we should all look after our planet. After all, it is the only one we have. There are lots of small actions that we can all take such as switching off computers and televisions, rather than leaving them on standby or walking short distances rather than going in the car.
2 Nowadays, most people are aware of the threat of climate change and are willing to make small changes to the way they live. However, for the majority of people this does not include such things as giving up their car or giving up flying abroad.
3 Governments must force people to make changes or the problem of climate change will never be solved. If necessary, people who continue to pollute the planet should be sent to prison.
[The answer is 2, because it simply summarises the background situation, and students could then go on to discuss if and whether people should be forced to do these things]
Variations on this activity could include:
1 Giving a question and asking students to just write an introduction as a warmer or change of pace activity.
2 Asking students to compare these introductions in small groups and choose the best one, or make changes together to improve what they have written.
Most students seem to feel that the best way to prepare for IELTS writing is to write lots and lots of essays. However, very often there is no significant improvement from one essay to the next. Students also get very caught up in the accuracy of the language being used, when there are still some serious structural defects. Language is very important as well, and I think there’s another post in that, but getting the structure right can also make a huge difference.
In a previous post, I looked at how a genre approach could help students who need to produce a specific type of writing. IELTS is a perfect example of this, and in this post, and the next one, I want to look in more detail at ideas for helping students to become familiar with the genres required for the IELTS Writing Test.
At first, the IELTS Writing Test (whether as a teacher or student) can seem rather intimidating. Many people are not particularly familiar with the kinds of texts required, and students are penalised for not producing exactly the right kind of text.
However, as a teacher of General English we ask our students to produce many different genres. For example:
- Thank you letter
- Letter of complaint
- Form filling
- Short message
- Email to a friend
- Letter of application
- Magazine article
In contrast, IELTS requires much less:
Part 1: Describing data
- Graphs and charts
Part 2: Essay
- Balanced opinion
In addition, although I have separated out the different kinds of tasks in each part of the Writing Test, they do in fact have a lot in common. Learning what the features are of these different genres is quite manageable and, while it won’t solve problems like not having an opinion on the topic in Part 2, it will go a long way towards helping students produce a decent answer.
The features of a particular genre can be grouped under the following headings:
Content or communicative purpose
So, looking at the most typical IELTS Task, describing a graph, chart or table, we could say:
- Summarise information (not to give your opinion about it)
- Should use paragraphs
- About 150 words
- Introduction which rewords the rubric to summarise what is shown.
- Clear overview
- Identifying key features- not every little detail
- Logical grouping of information
- Comparing and contrasting
- Describing changes over time
- Rise, fall, plummet etc.
Once you’ve identified the key features, you can start to devise activities to work on each of them.
Rewording the rubric
This comes under organisation, so we aren’t starting at the top, but it is the first thing the student needs to be able to do. Students who ‘lift’ phrases from the rubric will be penalised, so it needs to become second nature to paraphrase.
You can start by doing this together on the board, eliciting different words and phrases for the underlined sections. For example:
‘The table below gives information about changes in modes of travel in England between 1985 and 2000’
Don’t forget that you can change the sentence structure too, so ‘changes’ could become ‘how…have changed’. This is particularly useful if students can’t think of a synonym. Once students have got the idea, and a few useful phrases up their sleeves, this can become a regular warmer, with a competition to see how many appropriate paraphrases they can produce in a time limit. E.g.
The table illustrates how methods of transport in England changed between 1985 and 2000.
In this table we can see the changes in how people in England travelled between the years 1985 and 2000.
This table shows changes in modes of transport in England over a 15 year period, from 1985- 2000.
Summarising information/identifying key features
This is probably the biggest challenge of Part 1, and it takes lots of practice. Depending on their educational background, students may not be very used to interpreting graphs and charts, so you need to try and familiarise them with how they work. A good way to do this is to start off by getting students to make their own, based on information about themselves or the class. In this way they will really understand the data, making it easier for them to identify the most important features.
Next, you could try giving students model answers without the graph or table, and ask them to draw it based on the answer. They can then compare it with the original.
There is usually some kind of contrast in these types of questions-e.g. some sales fell while others grew, so train your students to look for similarities and differences, and any particularly striking contrasts.
One way to practise this is to take a kind of jigsaw approach. Divide students into pairs and ask A to look for similarities between the pieces of data and B to look for differences. They can then share information and decide together on the most relevant pieces of information to include.
Giving a clear overview
This is related to identifying key information, but requires students to summarise the main point(s). It is really important that they are able to do this, though it doesn’t really matter if they give the overview at the beginning, as part of the introduction, or at the end, as a conclusion.
Show students a chart of graph with three possible overviews and ask them to decide which one is best, and why. As they become more familiar with this task, they can write their own choice of three and swap with other students to decide on the best overviews.
Using paragraphs/logical grouping
Once students have identified the key features, they need to decide how to group them. There are different ways of doing this, depending on the information. For example, they might choose to organise it from smallest to biggest (though still not describing every little detail), or first look at similarities and then differences.
Again, model answers can be very helpful. Try asking students to decide how they would organise their answer to a question, and then compare their ideas with the model answer.
Students are very often asked to compare and contrast in these tasks, so a good grasp of the kind of language they need to do this is really helpful. ( Incidentally, it’s also really useful for the other IELTS tests, especially Speaking) This can be achieved through work on formulae (e.g. In contrast, we can see that..) , comparative and superlative structures and linkers such as whereas, while, however.
They might also be used to describe changes over time, which also involves comparing and contrasting, but will need more complex use of tenses (not just present simple).
An excellent resource for typical language can be found on Alex Case’s website
Try using model answers for students to find examples of comparing and contrasting (or any other suitable language focus). Then ask them to look back at a Part 1 task they have written and ask them to improve it by adding similar language.
Essentially, this approach involves breaking down the component parts of the IELTS genres and practising them separately, rather than simply writing practice paper after practice paper. Of course, you can then put it all together and do some practice papers as well.
In my next post, I’ll look at some more ideas for developing familiarity with the features of Part 2 type writing tasks.
A free downloadable lesson based around a video of British chef, Jamie Oliver, demonstrating exactly what does go into cheap chicken nuggets to a group of American children. It’s pretty revolting, but the children reckon it’s ‘awesome’..and there’s a surprise at the end.
The lesson is at two levels, Lower Intermediate (A2+) and Upper Intermediate (B2+). Both versions introduce a set of vocabulary for talking about junk food, and both have a variety of discussion tasks and questions. The lower level version also introduces some functional language for giving opinions and agreeing and disagreeing, while the higher level version looks at how to use contrast markers, although, even though, despite etc.
A new free downloadable lesson about the concept of ‘pay it forward’, incorporating reading, speaking, video, grammar and writing.
This lesson starts with a short reading text about a recent event at a coffee shop in Canada, where some-one’s kindness in paying for the person behind them led to 288 people passing on the favour to the next in line. The lesson then uses the video above (no words, just music) to extend the idea, before focusing on defining relative clauses. There are three different versions, so that you can either choose the most appropriate for your students, or use all three with mixed level classes. The lesson rounds off by asking students to complete a story, imagining their own chain of events.
As a new addition to the ELT-Resourceful site, I am now adding free downloadable materials, on PDFs. Just click on the link below each picture. All comments very welcome.
With a reading text about a real-life Secret Millionaire, who wanted to give something back, this lesson introduces a range of idioms to talk about wealth and poverty and gets students thinking about the gap between rich and poor, the responsibilities of those who are better off, and what it means to have someone who believes in you. There is a focus on strategies for skim reading and the lesson finishes with a writing activity where students write to someone who made a difference in their lives.
For the New Year I wanted to collect together some of the blog posts which have either inspired my posts over the last year, or that would be great follow up reading. In a few weeks, I will celebrate my first blog birthday, so this post is both a bouquet in the sense of a collection of different blooms, and a big THANK YOU bouquet to all my fellow bloggers and tweeters who have made this such a fun and inspiring year!
I have used the same categories as my blog posts to organise these links, so that the connections are as clear as possible.
Two blogs with great lesson ideas that can be used to supplement a coursebook or replace it.
George Chilton’s and Neil McMillan’s Designer Lessons
Steve Muir’s Allatc (activities for advanced learners)
I love this post by Fiona Mauchline on Maccappella on the frequent problems with ‘personalised’ activities in coursebooks, and better ways to personalise.
Kevin Stein’s blog is full of different ways of doing everything. Period (or full stop as we Brits say). I particularly liked this post, You can’t learn if you’re not awake.
In this post, Kyle Smith shares a great idea for adding a tech twist to the coursebook grammar presentation.
I love Ava Fruin’s thoughtful blog, Love is a better Teacher. For example, this post on Teaching a Multi-level Class.
A great example of authentic reading materials as created by @JosetteLeBlanc’s student teachers. And there’s plenty of food for thought on the rest of the blog too.
Great post on planning IELTS Part 1 graph questions from Sharon Turner’s EAP based blog.
There are a lot of great resources HancockMcDonald, but one thread I’m particularly interested in is the relationship between listening and pronunciation.
A thoughtful and well-informed blog, Luiz Otavio’s ELT Page has a subtitle of ‘thinking beyond the doing’; in other words he’s interested in why we do things, not just in what we do. This post is great at unpicking the process in planning a lesson with a grammar focus.
Taking a slightly different tack, this is a blog post about one teacher’s (Mike Griffin) development in terms of planning, looking with great insight at the balance between ‘fun’ and learning and the impact of finding out about the dogme approach. In his blog, ELT Rants, REviews and Reflections, Mike always gives us plenty to think about.
Also love Carol Goodey’s post on What I had planned, but not as I planned it.
This post by Hugh Dellar on the Curse of Creativity, caused a lot of controversy (no doubt entirely intentional), but I really liked the way Hugh focused on the need to consider more than whether something is a fun or creative activity, and how creativity, while an important element, should not be the tail that wags the planning dog.
I’m not a big fan of FE jargon- when I first started at an FE College in the late 90s, I managed to sit through a management meeting and understand virtually nothing because of the sheer number of impenetrable acronyms. So SMART targets isn’t something I personally find vvery helpful, and neither does Tony Gurr: Why SMART Goals are just plain dumb.
Although Adrian Underhill is of course synonymous with pronunciation, I only came across his blog quite recently. Thoroughly recommended for both theory and practical ideas.
Alex Grevett, aka @breathyvowel, doesn’t just write about pronunciation, but his blog features a number of interesting posts writing about the pronunciation based courses he runs. This is the most recent.
Hard (impossible) to pick just one post from the wonderful A-Z of ELT, by Scott Thornbury, but this one is very relevant to speaking.
Joanne Gakonga has a whole series of free webinars, mostly aimed at less experienced teachers. This is one on Encouraging your Students to Speak
I love all the DemandHigh posts, but this one on breaking the rules by not holding back on feedback until the end of a fluency activity is a particular recommendation.
David Petrie’s TEFLgeek is a favourite blog of mine, with lots of solid methodology and practical ideas. I particularly recommend ‘Is reading aloud, allowed?’
One of the things I really like about @pterolaur’s (Laura Phelps) blog, The Daily Ptefldactyl, is the descriptions of what is happening in her classroom. This post describes a lesson in which one of her teacher mentees in Borneo experimented with kind of ‘silent way’ approach.
I’m not sure that Philip Kerr’s stuff gets mentioned enough. I thoroughly recommend his blog on wordlists (though he says it isn’t a blog!). At least a dozen great posts on vocabulary teaching.
Can’t have a vocabulary heading without mentioning Leo Selivan’s blog, Leoxicon
@muranava knows a lot about using corpora, and this post, How to explain a word using corpora, is a great, clear guide.
ELT Experiences is a very varied blog, with all kinds of content. This post on Using Dictionaries is my vocab related choice.
Another must-read, Chia Suan Chong’s Death by Idioms
Marisa Constantinides and her blog TEFLMatters probably need no introduction, but you may have missed this insightful post on group dynamics.
I love pretty much everything on the IDTI website, but this post from Chuck Sandy, on Motivating our Students, struck a particular chord.
Close up from @cerirhiannon. From a blog chockful with ideas, this is a great creative writing lesson plan.
Chris Wilson is a prolific blogger and there is a lot of good stuff to explore on his blog, ELTSquared. This post on using wikis for process writing added a new dimension to the topic for me.
I’m sure I will keep thinking of other people and posts I should have mentioned- so, if I do, I’ll just come back and add them! Thanks again, and Happy New Year.
As the name suggests, process writing is an approach to writing which focuses on the process rather than the end product. The argument goes that, just as writers in the ‘real’ world go through a process of editing and revising what they write, so should our students.
The typical structure for a process writing lesson might be:
1 Brainstorming ideas.
2 Plan the structure of the writing
3 Write first draft
4 Get feedback on first draft from teacher or peers (or self-evaluation)
5 Write second draft (and third if appropriate after feedback)
I think there is a lot to be said for taking a process approach to writing:
Generally speaking, whatever colour ink we use and whatever correction code we use, we often might as well have not bothered marking written work. No-one reads what we’ve written on their essays. At best, they look to see how much we’ve written, and they might glance at any final comment.
For most students, once something has been written and handed in, it’s over: out of sight, out of mind. One of the great things about taking a process approach is that feedback doesn’t come at the end. It’s an intrinsic part of the writing process, and as such, there is a much better chance of some of it actually being taken on board.
Peer feedback is often used in a process approach, and that can be great both for developing students’ ability to criticise constructively and for giving a genuine sense that the learner is writing for an audience.
Students also develop their ability to self-evaluate, which is something they can go on to use independently. It chimes with that crucial part of being a good teacher- making yourself redundant.
Just as in speaking, repeating a task gives more opportunities to notice and appropriate new language. Through a process of drafting and redrafting, it is that much more likely that language will be acquired.
However, there are also some issues with process writing (at least if done in the traditional way outlined above):
Not all students (indeed not many at all in my experience) are very keen on brainstorming, planning, drafting and redrafting their work. An awful lot seem to want to chuck something down on paper and hand it over for you to sort out. Now, of course, part of our job is to encourage them to take more responsibility for learning, but it is nonetheless a downside that it’s such an uphill struggle (is that a mixed metaphor?)
Even if your students are enthusiastic, going through the process cycle is necessarily very time-consuming. There is also the question of how you manage to give detailed feedback on several drafts and actually get anything else done. It may work well in a pre-sessional context, with small groups and 5 hours of tuition a day, but maybe not so well in 2 x 90m a week or less.
Peer feedback can help with the time issue, but research shows that students tend to concentrate almost exclusively on lower order feedback, or focusing on surface errors like spelling and grammar. It’s hard to get students to be able to give feedback on content or organisation or discourse level stuff.
And last, but not least, traditional process writing doesn’t take account of the fact that the actual process of writing has changed dramatically since the advent of technology. People simply don’t write drafts in the same way anymore. See this interesting article from the Guardian, ‘Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?’
Equally, tools such as spell check and grammar check have completely changed how writers deal with surface errors.
So, given the positives and the drawbacks of the process approach, what can we take from it, and how might we mix it up?
Keep it small scale
Process writing doesn’t have to be carried out on 250 word plus essays. You could focus on just a paragraph. This will make the stages move along more quickly, allows you to really drill down into the details, such as using a an effective topic sentence and giving reasons and examples, and the perfect paragraph produced can then be used as a model for further writing.
Change the staging
You don’t have to start with brainstorming ideas and planning. You could incorporate a feedback and redrafting stage into a lesson which takes a genre approach, or you could just get students writing straightaway (more ideas on this next post), and then get them to look again at what they’ve written and make changes.
More imaginative brainstorming and planning
Getting ideas and planning is a key part of successful writing, but how can we make it seem less of a chore?
Brainstorming an essay using a mindmap on the board is not a new idea, but try blu-tacking a Cuisenaire rod of a different colour to each bubble of the map. Then give groups a set of rods in the same colours and ask them to use the rods to make a visual plan of the essay. Somehow adding a visual and physical element to structuring the essay seems to engage many students more.
Or try moving from speaking to writing to get ideas. For example, if you want students to write a letter of complaint, try roleplaying a complaint first, or if it’s an informal letter, try it as a phonecall first. This should help learners to anticipate what their audience will want to know or how they might react, which should help with making the writing as effective as possible.
Change who gives feedback and how they give it
As well as the teacher or a partner, experiment with some different models. For example, a recent twitter discussion with @cerirhiannon started me thinking about using ‘carousels’. Put the students into small groups and pass round a piece of written work done by someone in the group (anonymous if preferred). Each group has to give a comment on an aspect which has not been covered by a previous group before passing the work onto the next group. This could be a good way of encouraging students to look beyond surface errors as discussed earlier.
Emphasize the audience
Learners are more likely to want to plan and draft if there is a real reason for writing the best possible text that they can. So using a real life context, such as those discussed in this recent post , can provide some genuine motivation.
Use technology more
Students may not have access to computers in class, but they probably will at home, so you can ask them to consciously use the correction features to make changes, and underline spelling or syntax that the computer has highlighted that they aren’t sure how to correct. You can then focus on these areas in class or individually.
Online corpora, or even google, can also be useful tools for students to check their intuitions about collocations. See this article for more indepth discussion of this.
Add a sense of humour
The notion of process writing can be terribly earnest. You could work on the skills of correcting and redrafting by giving learners, for example, the worst job application letter in the world and asking them to rewrite it so that the person has at least SOME chance of being invited for interview.
Or give learners some real examples of writing from young native speakers. For example http://www.esher.surrey.sch.uk/Default.asp?page=172 and ask them to correct, revise and redraft.
While the traditional staging of a process writing lesson may be something you don’t want to do all the time, the principles behind it are something which could be used effectively in any lesson with a writing focus. You just need to mix it up a little.