Most teachers cringe at the thought of teaching a grammar lesson, but that feeling is intensified when it comes to teaching writing. This is especially true when working with EFL students or teaching a lesson that incorporates writing in the final activity. The reason for this is that these lessons are more often than not a failure. Why, you may ask? Teachers can easily over complicate teaching writing to students, not give them enough scaffolding to get started, or run out of time before the activity is completed.
It is key to remember that a writing lesson is not always like teaching lexis or grammar, where you can present the language, do a small controlled practice to make sure everyone understands, and then do a free practice activity in specified time frames. A longer period is needed for the actual writing activity. Even set up is time consuming, depending on what the aim of the lesson is and the level of the students. You would naturally expect much more from advanced-intermediate students that elementary ones.
Furthermore, your students may not even be interested in writing; they are usually much more interested in learning to speak English, and think that this is the only skill they need. However, mastering the skills of writing in English is key to academic success and very advantageous in the job market.
Let’s look at some writing strategies when teaching EFL students.
Match the Writing Task to the Students’ Proficiency Level
This is very important and would be closely related to the overall aim of the lesson. Do you want the students to practice using specific vocabulary words in context? Should they practice the past simple and past continuous tense specifically? You need to ensure that the aim of the lesson matches the writing task and that the writing task matches the proficiency level of the students.
Look at the table below for some examples of writing tasks for the different English levels.
|Level||Appropriate Writing Tasks||Notes|
|Beginner||Use writing activities that make use of visuals, matching words or sentences to pictures, cloze passages, and dictation.||For these two levels, a lot of scaffolding would be used. For beginners, you might even have writing tasks where they need to fill in the words from a word bank list, and for elementary levels, you would scaffold less. For example, they can fill in part of a sentence or complete the thought. The use of templates is also really helpful.|
|Elementary||Similar activities to those above, but with an increased level of difficulty to make it level appropriate. Students should also practice the grammar they have been learning and be able to put sentences together to form a (short) story or idea.|
|Intermediate||Write descriptions of pictures, maybe with cloze passages but changing the word or tense form to match the sentence or story. Write passages with a narrative of sequential events, predictions, and summaries. Also use mind maps and other brainstorming activities as writing aids.||Here, basically no scaffolding is needed, but if necessary, you may want to leave some notes on the board as a reference.|
|Advanced||Debate topics, an opinion piece, and write more than one paragraph on a topic||You may have to remind the students of a few language-based rules that you want them to focus on.|
As with most activities, it is always a good idea to model what you want the students to do first rather than just giving instructions and expecting the best. For a writing lesson, modelling can mean reading a story or sample sentences out loud (maybe even with printouts so the students can follow more clearly), write something together as a class with input from the students, or do a small group activity first.
Also of note here is to guide the students step by step. Looking at writing a letter or email as an example, you would tell them that they need a greeting, an opening sentence or two (with regard to the purpose of the letter or email), the body (if more information is needed), and the closing. You can prepare handouts before the lesson that shows an example or two of a written email, with the greeting, opening, body, and closing clearly identified.
Trying and Assisting
The next step after you have modelled what you want them to do would be to let the students try it on their own or in pairs of two. While they are busy with this, you should walk around the classroom and monitor. See who needs some guidance and assistance, and this also provides you with a chance to sit down for a few moments with the less advanced students to give them more help.
By now, you have given instructions, modelled the activity, allowed the students to try the task, and assisted. Following that, the students need to practice individually; they can either start with the activity in the class and finish it here or at home. If there is no time for them to begin their writing activity, set this for homework. It also needs to be submitted for grading.
Marking Written Assignments
Marked written assignments are usually fraught with a lot of red ink. This can be very discouraging to students. Marking of the written activity should relate back to the aim of the task. Was it using the targeted language in context? Was it a focus on spelling and grammar or punctuation? I am not saying that you shouldn’t correct misspelt words or let the wrong form of a past participle verb go, but focus your grading on the important stuff. You can always make a note at the end about misspelt words and punctuation. It is also important to give feedback to students to encourage them to keep on writing and practising.
Teaching a writing lesson does not have to be boring or frightening. Try to make the lesson fun for the students and choose interesting topics for them. Give them choices, too, about what they want to write about. Provide feedback and encourage them to proofread their work in order to error-correct. Possible give extra points for this when starting out. And most of all, try to do writing activities as often as possible; practice, after all, does lead to perfection (eventually).
About the Author
Denine Walters is currently a freelance writer, editor/proofreader, and ESL teacher. Previously, she taught online English lessons to students from all around the world and, before that, she lived and taught English to young learners in Taiwan. In her free time, she likes to read, do scrapbooking and grammar quizzes, and travel. For her educational background, she has an MA in Politics, with a dissertation written on post-conflict peacebuilding, a BA Journalism degree, TEFL and CELTA certificates, and also a few certificates in various other short courses.
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