Writing Lesson One
The Nature of L2 Writing
Writing is a visual form of communication, either printed in hard-copy or in electronic form. It follows conventions that are mutually understandable by the writer and the reader, even if these conventions change over time or are used with specific meanings in smaller speech communities (e.g., special texting rules used by a group of teenagers). Writing is considered a productive skill because the writer creates new language and does not only interpret existing information.
Here are some common terms used in the discussion of writing.
medium different media in which we write (letters, computers, cellphone texting, etc.) that require different styles of writing and different communicative conventions
content ideas (“the story”) that the author intends to convey to the audience
genre type of expressive style a piece of writing has (e.g., poetry, short story, lecture notes, etc.)
lexicon vocabulary that is needed to convey the author’s intended meaning
grammar formal aspect of language (e.g., subject-verb-agreement, tense, aspect markers, references, etc.)
pragmatics implicit messages a text conveys to the reader; shared expectations for communication by a social group (e.g., ways to greet in a letter, appropriate ways of phrasing ideas, etc.)
orthography the way to write letters or symbols of written language; handwriting
mechanics punctuation, spelling (accuracy), capitalization, etc.
Writing is a Process
Writing is a complex process that requires the author to be aware of and combine various components of language successfully.
While the physical act of writing is fairly automatic for adult writers, in the L2 it becomes a conscious process once more, especially if the L2 orthography is different from the learners’ L1. The same is true if the rhetorical style of the L2 is vastly different from that of the L1 (this is particularly relevant for longer writing assignments).
L2 writers spend less time planning and organizing ideas and have more difficulties with these steps (Silva, 1993). To counter this, L2 instruction should include time for planning both content and form, for generating ideas as well as for improving accuracy.
We use writing for a variety of everyday communicative purposes, from making a shopping list to writing essays for school or creating reports for a presentation at work. In this computer-mediated age, being able to write is an essential skill in any language.
Before you watch this video clip, jot down a few ways you use writing in your everyday life.
A brainstorm of ways in which we use writing in everyday communication.
Common Uses of Writing
Shopping Lists Essays & Term Papers Poetry & Song Lyrics Prose, Short Stories, Novels
Notes E-mail & Text Messages Letters & Postcards Personal Journals & Blogs
These uses of writing should guide the development of writing tasks in the L2, both when setting up the curriculum and when designing individual tasks.
Specifically, there are several design principles to consider when planning for L2 writing:
• Language activities should reflect plausible, real-life communication.
• L2 writing can have the same wide range of purposes as L1 writing.
• L2 writing should be taught systematically, not as a random thing used here and there only as a support task.
Explores notions of what L2 writing is often used for in the foreign language classroom.
After watching this clip, compare the real-life uses of writing to the way you and the language teachers may use L2 writing in the classroom. What are the discrepancies and why do we have this practice? How could you change the tasks you offer in the classroom to make them more aligned with everyday uses of writing (i.e., to help learners use writing for realistic/authentic tasks)?
Teaching with Different Orthographies
Teachers of languages with orthographies different from English, such as Russian, Japanese, or Hebrew, face unique challenges. Should they postpone writing instruction until students have some mastery of the spoken language? Do they teach the symbols gradually or all at once?
Watch the following video clips with Professor Thomas Garza (Russian) and Professor Esther Raizen (Hebrew) and take note of the way they teach writing. Note how Dr. Garza divides up the Russian alphabet and how much time he takes to teach it in the classroom. Note the time frame in which Dr. Raizen teaches the Hebrew alphabet. Consider what points from Dr. Garza’s and Dr. Raizen’s approaches you can adapt for your own teaching of languages with different orthographies.
Professor Thomas Garza on teaching the Russian alphabet.
Professor Esther Raizen on teaching the Hebrew alphabet.
Student-to-student learning can be greatly enhanced by collaborative writing projects. Different students bring different skills to the table and after a 10-minute writing activity, but all come away with having learned something new from their peers. Some students may be more creative, others may have a richer lexicon, some may know more about how different grammatical constructs can be used for different narrative purposes, and so on. Such collaborative tasks have the potential for truly enriching students’ learning experience and should be used in language teaching frequently.
Two main issues sometimes arise in group work. First, if a group is too large or too uneven in their proficiency, some students may end up doing all the work while others are locked out of the learning process. Second, group work may lead to off-task chatter. Both of these issues are easily pre-empted:
Potential Problem Solution(s)
uneven proficiency • If a more proficient group gets done with the assignment faster, give them other tasks (expand the paragraph, revise the text with more sophisticated vocabulary, etc.).
• In groups with mixed-level proficiency, give each participant in the group a specific role (scribe, grammarian, content reviewer, etc.) to make sure nobody is left out.
large group sizes • Keep groups to 3-4 for most writing tasks.
off-task behavior • If somebody simply does not want to work, you may implement peer-review sheets where each group member grades every other group member and him-/herself based on their contribution. Make sure this grading sheet is handed out before the project so students know you are holding them accountable to equal work for equal “grade.”
• Hold students accountable for the assignment by collecting it at the end of the activity for a class-participation or in-class quiz grade.
• Walk from group to group during the composition process. They may have questions for you anyway, and you can keep your antennae tuned to off-task chatter.
Our assumption is that students will not cheat. On the rare occasion a student may cheat by doing any of the following:
a. copying somebody else’s homework,
b. copying from a piece of literature (not kidding!),
c. using an on-line translator, or
d. submitting a text written by a native speaker.
While cheating is not acceptable, sometimes students are unaware of the differences between plagiarism, citation and paraphrasing. An isolated incident may become a learning moment. If consistent or intentional cheating takes place, however, the instructor — within the bounds of the institution — may ask the student to re-write the paper under supervision, give the assignment a grade of zero, or report the student to the institution’s Dean of Students.
Signs that a student is not turning in his/her own work:
• A beginning or intermediate learner’s writing uses language characteristic of an educated native speaker (register, grammatical accuracy, pragmatic sophistication, etc.)
• Two students submit identical (word for word) writing assignments.
• Text which searched online comes up as part of a piece of literature.
• “Funny” phrases interspersed with correct grammar may indicate an online translator.
Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has gained popularity over the last decade. Students can work simultaneously in a chat-room context (synchronous computer-mediated communication) or write to each other with delay between turns (asynchronous computer-mediated communication). The computer, and specifically the Internet, has made it possible for students to interact not just with their classmates but also with a wide range of native speakers or other non-native speakers of the language.
Research has shown that CMC:
• can help increase students’ motivation to learn the foreign language,
• lower their anxiety,
• increase their fluency in the target language,
• lead to improved intercultural competence and democratize classroom communication.
In order to reap these potential benefits, instructors need to design CMC tasks that are appropriate for their students, well integrated into the overall syllabus and which are evaluated meaningfully.
Take a moment to think of the considerations to keep in mind for setting up successful CMC tasks? Then click on the pdf for some suggestions.
Considerations for Successful CMC Tasks
Any evaluation of CMC needs to reflect its hybrid communicative style: CMC is neither like oral communication nor like other formal writing, as the following table shows:
Oral language CMC language Written language
Shorter segments Short, partial utterances Longer discourse
Incomplete syntax Incomplete syntax, but more complex than speech (More) formal syntax
“Online” processing (planning, speaking, and listening happen all at once), “text” is transient Planning time and text available for review; some lag-time between turns, some overlap between contributions made by different participants Planning, “text” remains available for review
Clarification is possible through interaction Clarification is possible but not guaranteed; clarification of meaning is possible, but may take several turns No (immediate) clarification of meaning possible
Nota bene: Not all oral or written language is created equal (some oral language is very formal while some writing is very informal).
Keep in mind that students who study languages with different orthographies may encounter specific difficulties during CMC sessions. Be prepared with creative solutions, such as suggesting computers and keyboards that accommodate the characters your students need.
Watch the following video with Professor Thomas Garza (Russian) and note the points he makes about keyboards, spelling, and computer literacy for his students.
Professor Garza on computer-mediated communication.
The assessment of CMC performance should take into consideration that students may have different computer equipment. In contrast, award points for content and interactivity, such as:
• posting at least three contributions, each in response to a comment made by a peer, and
• citing/referring to content posted by another.
[Module Instructor Zsuzsanna Abrams . ] 2010. [Writing]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.