Writing Lesson Two
Writing tasks in the foreign language classroom typically fall into one of two possible categories: writing as support skill and writing as main skill. Both are appropriate pedagogical tools, as long as both are included in the lesson plan. When designing a writing task, follow these simple steps:
1. Make sure that your assignment is appropriate for the learners’ language level.
2. Select level-appropriate writing purpose.
3. Decide on writing as a support skill or as a main skill.
4. Identify sub-skills students need in order to complete the main task.
5. Design activity set that prepares sub-skills.
6. Guide students through pre-, during-, and post-writing activities.
A discussion of the preliminary decisions for L2 writing tasks.
These points are important to consider in order to design more effective writing tasks that:
a. fulfill the pedagogical purposes of the assignment (e.g., do not say that the task practices narration when all it does is drill the past tense),
b. reflect pedagogically sound practices (e.g., the process approach to writing, effective feedback, etc.),
c. can be successfully completed by the students (i.e., the sub-skills that they need have been reviewed and/or learned), and
d. have a meaningful learning outcome (e.g., help students learn something they can actually use, either to support another skill area or to communicate in plausible/authentic L2 situations).
Think about how answering these questions can impact your teaching. Then click on the pdf for more questions to consider in designing writing tasks.
Activity Sets: A Process Approach to Writing
One of the most important requirements for designing effective writing tasks is to think of coherent, connected activity sets, which include pre-writing, during-writing and post-writing activities. Connected activity sets help students complete the writing task successfully and foster the process of writing.
Working backwards from the final task makes it easier to design such activity sets. Only by viewing writing in the broader context of activity sets can you ensure that writing is taught as a process, with brainstorming, several writing and re-writing tasks, and active revision. While the activity sets are presented here in chronological sequence for clarity, during actual writing, there is much recursivity among the steps.
1. Pre-writing activities prepare learners for a final writing task and activate, review or build sub-skills that prepare the learner for completing the main writing task. They usually focus on the audience, the content, and the vocabulary necessary for the task. These are typically word and phrase level activities.
2. During-writing activities engage learners in recursive writing, self-editing and revisions. As the students are guided through writing and re-writing, the teacher should guide them through other areas such as syntax.
3. Post-writing activities help learners reflect on and revise their writing based on feedback from an audience, such as peers and/or an instructor.
Process-based Activity Set for L2 Writing
Pre-writing tasks During writing Post-writing tasks
Pre-writing tasks build/review sub-skills for the final writing activity. Tasks during the main writing process encourages self-editing or peer-review. Post-writing tasks allow for reflection, sharing, or publishing of the final product.
The process is recursive. Even after the post-writing task(s), new sub-skills can be developed for a next revision on the written assignment or for the next assignment.
Pre-writing tasks review and build students’ knowledge of relevant vocabulary, relevant grammar points and, most importantly, students’ background knowledge, since that is what really generates thoughtful and interesting written work. Pre-writing tasks are a crucial element of successful writing instruction.
Watch the video clip and take notes on areas of language and sub-skills pre-writing activities should build.
A discussion of the sub-skills needed to write a description of one’s winter break.
Pre-writing activities may take many different forms. Here we review a few effective ways to get the writing process started: associograms, prompts, interviews, and reading/listening activities.
An associogram is a collection of lexical items and/or ideas that relate to a topic.
The instructor models the generation of an associogram.
Language learners in a third year German class generate an associogram.
A well chosen picture or song can foster the learner’s creativity. A few questions in addition to the picture can really help ideas flow.
Written prompts can help students hypothesize what is going on in the picture and generate interesting content. These prompts can be provided by the instructor or generated through brainstorming by the students. They can follow the Five Ws and the H from journalism: who, what, when, where, why and how):
The potential uses of prompts for guiding the writing process.
Interviews can serve to generate ideas for writing and move learners beyond their own experiences. It usually works best when some of the questions (using the 5 Ws and 1 H) are unexpected or “hook” students’ interests.
Before you watch the video, make a quick list of a few potential problems associated with using interviews and also several positive outcomes of interview type activities as a pre-writing activity.
A discussion of the use of interview questions for generating ideas for L2 writing.
Responding to Texts
When language learners respond to texts, whether written or oral, they can learn new vocabulary, expressions, grammatical structures, and valuable pragmatic information (e.g., how to structure an e-mail, a movie review, etc.).
Below is an example of a reading-based pre-writing activity that leads to students writing their own greeting cards. The questions accompanying this model birthday card should lead the students to notice relevant expressions, rhetorical structure, grammar, content, greetings, etc.
Translation: Dear Kilian! Greetings from Grandma and Grandpa from Germany. And naturally also from Sandrin. We wish you a lot of fun with reading! Lots (Thousands) of kisses from Germany! We love you! Grandma, Grandpa and Sandrin.
Once students are ready to write, they need clear instructions and resources to complete the next steps in the process: writing drafts, revising, self-editing, expanding. Students should be allowed to use notes they generated from the pre-writing tasks. Decide also whether they may use a dictionary or spell-checker, and what you expect them to do for this activity. Ensure that your pedagogical objectives align with the actual activity you assign your students.
Ways to keep students engaged throughout the writing process.
Example During Writing Task
You will write a short story that tells your reader about your latest winter vacation. It will describe in some detail – the more interesting the better – what you did, where, and how it went. After you are finished composing your short story, make sure to re-read your story and run through the self-editing checklist! In the meantime, follow these steps to begin your masterpiece!
• Write a paragraph that explains a) where the story takes place, b) who was there, and c) what was the funny event that happened.
• Write 2-3 paragraphs a) about what happened before, during and after this event or b) add descriptions of the main characters that explain why this event was funny.
• Provide details that make the story interesting for your reader (make sure they want to read it!).
• Start with a hook, have a clear beginning, middle and end (a complete story arc) in your narrative.
• Add phrases to make the story flow smoothly (cohesion markers, pronouns, conjunctions)
• Eliminate “fluff” (unnecessary or redundant details)
• Review your story for fluidity, vocabulary, grammar, style and mechanics.
These checklists can be adapted for any level and language.
We define post-writing as the step in the writing process where the written text is shared with other audiences, such as a peer-editor or the instructor or even with the general public.
The basic components of post-writing activities:
• Re-read your story, make sure sentences make sense.
• Add phrases to make the story flow smoothly (cohesion markers, pronouns, conjunctions).
• Eliminate “fluff” (unnecessary or redundant details).
• Proofread for spelling, vocabulary, grammar (checklist).
• Edit your paper (peer-editing, post-teacher editing).
• Share with audience (website, print, etc.).
How post-writing tasks can improve learners’ L2 development.
Publishing is optional and should be understood in the broadest sense of the word: sharing the author’s written work with multiple readers or even viewers. Here are a few ideas for making student work public.
Publishing in written format:
• an online blog
• a wiki entry
• a printed or online class newspaper/newsletter
• a collection of poetry, short stor,y or mixed-genre writing
Publishing (Presentation) in oral format:
• filming a news report
• filming or producing a skit
• producing a theater play or variety show, either for just the class or for a larger audience (long-term writing assignments)
• poetry reading
Publishing or presenting written work can help focus learners’ attention and motivation for writing: there is a real, legitimate communicative purpose for their work.
[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.