Teaching writing is an important part of any curriculum, but it’s rarely the most popular part of the class. Here are a few ways one experienced teacher makes writing lessons more fun and more effective.
I’m sure you remember this from your school days – students sitting scribbling in silence, an air of boredom so thick you can slice it with a knife. As a teacher, it’s a double-edged sword – you want your students to practice their handwriting and do written activities, but you don’t want them sitting there getting bored to death. So how to incorporate writing activities into your TEFL classes without your students rolling their eyes? Check out this list of top tips for getting them to write without facing a mutiny.
Pick Your Moment
Picture the scene – you’ve just had a fifteen minute break between classes, sitting out in the sun with your friends, shooting the breeze, snapping some selfies… and then back into class where the teacher says Sit down, open your exercise books, answer the questions on page five, no talking, shhh! No wonder students can get despondent at the first hint of a boring old writing activity.
One of the first ways to get around this instant negativity is to pick your moment – i.e. try not to start your lesson with the students sitting in silence, scribbling away. At the beginning of the class is when the students usually have the most energy and motivation – harness that with an inspiring game or an active speaking activity. I find that writing tasks are great for consolidation – start the lesson on a high, encourage lively participation, and save the writing activity for the end of the class when students are winding down, and also when they’ve acquired the language point they actually need to do the task. Doing it this way can also help the students commit to memory what they’ve learnt, and if they don’t finish, it’s a great opportunity to assign a ‘finish this off’ homework task.
This may seem pretty simple, but there are a lot of basic teaching practices that are easy to forget: Simple Teaching Tips (That Are Easy to Forget)
Set Realistic Goals
With young learners, tracing or copying lists of words is an often-used tactic for helping them remember new vocabulary chunks. However, all too often teachers try to cram as much on the page as possible, making this writing activity seem like a line-writing punishment more suited to Bart Simpson. For new vocabulary, the magic number is 7 – seven new words is a great goal to set your students, and it’s realistic. Also, make sure the words are in a clear lexical set – a list of words that relate to each other. For example, students will find it much easier to remember eye, ear, nose and mouth than it will be for them to remember eye, toaster, accountant and beaver. Giving students about 7 new words (rather than 10 or more) makes it more likely that they’ll remember most, if not all of them. It also means that this activity of copying the words (which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly fascinating) will take much less time to complete.
Get Them Moving
Think that writing activities have to take place at a desk? Think again! One way to break the image of ‘boring writing activities’ in your student’s minds is to shake things up a bit and get them moving. Rather than having a reading dictation where students sit quietly at their desks, print out large copies of the worksheet and blue-tack them to opposite sides of the room for a run-and-write activity (students read a sentence where a word is missing, run to the ‘complete text’ to read what word should be there, and then run back to fill it in). This can be done in teams or as a rally, with points for who completes it fastest (and correctly). Or how about a word scatter? Rather than asking students to sit around and copy out sentences from the whiteboard, type up the sentence, print it out and cut the sentence up into single-word strips. Scatter the pieces into the air like confetti for students to pick up, and then they put the sentence back together, jigsaw style. Finally, they can copy the sentence they’ve made into their workbook. A boring activity transformed into a fun game which the students will love.
Need some activity ideas? Here you go: 5 English Practice Games for Reading and Writing
When There Are No Two Ways About It
Ok, so sometimes it’s just not possible to turn your writing activity into a game – sometimes the truth of it is that you just have to ask your students to sit there and get the work done. But even when there are no two ways about it, writing activities don’t have to be a dry task. For example, if your students need to write a book review, make it more interesting by turning it into a sort of contest. Once they’ve finished, sort students into groups who read each other’s book reviews. Each group picks their favourite and then presents to the class why it makes a good essay, and vote on the winner. Or you could spice up the lesson by scheduling ‘recharging breaks’ – if students need to sit and concentration on a writing task for long stretches of time, set a timer every ten minutes or so which indicates that it’s time to take a break – have a quick-fire round of ‘hot potato’ or play a 10 second clip of a crazy dance tune. Teens might roll their eyes at such gimmicks, but even if you’re the only one dancing, giving your students that opportunity for a giggle will help to break them out of the monotony of their writing task and come back to the page feeling fresh.
Writing tasks, whether they are tracing lexical sets, copying sentences or writing essays, don’t have to be the most dreaded part of your lesson. Think outside of the box, shake things up where you can, and encourage your students to really get the most out of every activity.
Want to know more about teaching writing? Click here.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is an experienced EFL teacher and freelance writer based in Japan.
With schools around the world, Shane English School always has exciting new opportunities to offer.