This is the first in a series of four blog posts I will be putting up here, dealing with the general idea of supplementing and expanding standard writing activities as they appear in coursebooks. While the ideas here were generally drawn from my rich experience teaching and writing coursebook material for EFL learners in the 9-15 age brackets, I’ve also used many of them with older teens and even university students, so I’d like to believe they have some range.
There are many ways the writing activities in a writing strand (or writing section of any given coursebook) can be adapted or added to in order to create a wider range of stimulating writing activities in the classroom or at home. This depends a lot, of course, on teacher and student preferences, and the expectations and/or limitations of the classroom context. However, generally speaking, any or all of the activities I present in this series of blog posts can be drawn on to extend and adapt standard writing tasks in fun and engaging ways.
Today’s post deals with activity ideas clustered around the general idea of sharing and presenting writing.
1. Sharing and Presenting Writing
Writing is a way of communicating thoughts and ideas. It also – at its end stages – represents a finished product, and one students ought to feel proud of. The following activities are suggested for teachers who would like to create a writing classroom where students’ efforts are shared with other people, and/or presented in ways that show what they are achieving with their ongoing writing skills.
1.1. Class Writing Board
Prepare a section of wall in the classroom where students’ writing efforts can be displayed. This could also be a school corridor or other area of the school – though this is only recommended if the space selected can be considered ‘safe’ from random vandals! The Writing Board could be given a more creative name (for example: “The Write Way to English!” or “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword!”) and given decoration of some sort. The students could even be encouraged to prepare this space themselves. Generally speaking, the objective is to make this a space where students want to have their writing displayed.
Which writing is posted on the board, how often, and in what format, will depend on the teacher’s (or students’!) preferences. The best writing efforts of the class could be displayed there on an ongoing basis, but while this is good for regularly posting ‘good examples’ of written production, it can also result in only a few students in the class getting a chance to have their writing displayed. It could be more advantageous to make the display space rotate amongst groups of students, so that everyone gets an opportunity to present their work. This could in fact be extended to create mini projects where students work in groups, collaborating with each other to produce the best possible final drafts with attractive presentation so that they can make a good impression when presented on the class writing board.
Another option (if feasible) is to create smaller, individual writing boards around the class so that there is one for each student. In this case it would definitely be a good idea for students to design and decorate their own boards. In addition to ensuring that every student in the class gets a chance to present their written work on a regular basis, it may help to motivate students to try that little bit extra when preparing written work – knowing that it is due to go up on the classroom wall for all to see.
Note that teachers could photocopy the completed writing pages from students’ textbooks, but this tends to result in smudgy, dirty-looking essays (especially if they wrote in pencil). Instead, consider distributing new blank writing paper to the students and have them create a final draft in pen, with any accompanying illustrations or decorations to make it look more attractive.
A class writing board can work well with other bonus activities, for example interacting with writing skills or facilitating a process approach to writing (I’ll talk about this in more detail in later posts). Depending on schools’ facilities and teachers’ tech skills, a class writing board can also take an electronic format through a forum, blog or notice board on the school’s website or intranet.
1.2. Writing Portfolio
While it is possible to produce attractive writing within textbooks themselves, generally speaking the work done here represents “writing skills in development/action”. In order for students to feel comfortable with the activities and challenges in the books, it is important that they feel like they can make mistakes occasionally but always get a second or final chance to present their final writing efforts.
A writing portfolio can facilitate this by being a notebook or folder where students re-write drafts following teacher or peer feedback and present them as final products. If the portfolio is given some priority from teachers and parents (including for evaluation purposes), students are more likely to take it seriously. In fact, many writing experts point out that a portfolio system is a fairer and more effective means of assessing students’ writing development over a long period of time than spot tests or exams.
Basically, to create a writing portfolio, all that is needed is a place where written efforts can be gathered on an ongoing basis. It doesn’t necessarily only need to be a place where extended written texts (like essays) are kept. Students could be encouraged to submit brainstorm charts, emails, or picture descriptions. Overall, the wider the range of individual portfolio submissions, the wider and richer the view we get overall of the student’s writing development.
Portfolios can also be effective for self and peer assessment at the end of a term or course book. Students could be given their final portfolio and asked to assess each effort contained there. (If contextually appropriate/feasible,) students could then share their portfolios with each other and write comments. The teacher’s final score and comments for the portfolio can then be rather inclusive, and the student concerned is benefiting from a wider variety of feedback sources.
Note that portfolios can be combined with the class writing board ideas mentioned above (1.1). After written work is taken down from the writing board for other/new submissions to take their place, the old work can be placed in each student’s ongoing writing portfolio.
1.3. Class Magazine
Producing a class magazine can be a really excellent way to bring writing to life and make the writing process not only more relevant and realistic-feeling, but also more fun and creative. However, it also requires an appropriate level of preparation, organization and patience. Promising the students a class magazine and then it not eventuating can be a major setback for students’ motivation and trust, so if you are considering organizing one make sure you have the patience and resources to deliver! Another thing to avoid is a magazine or newsletter where basically the teacher is doing most of the work – this sort of defeats the purpose of a collaborative, class-based ‘publication’.
A class magazine can be applied in an ongoing fashion (as units are completed, students are encouraged to ‘submit’ their efforts to the magazine article bank) or at the end of the course book (with students looking back and selecting 1-3 pieces of writing to submit). The teacher can also come up with categories or sections for students to target (for example – “Great Descriptions”, “My opinion on…”, “All about…” or “Roll out your Riddles”) – depending on what has been covered in a given level or textbook, and/or what the teacher would like to add in the way of genres.
Generally speaking, any “text level” writing exercise in a coursebook (i.e., those emphasizing a full text – like a letter or email, an advertisement, a report, or a topical essay) will be the best sources of writing for a class magazine. However, fun new categories can also be added to encourage submission of extra writing efforts, for example:
National news stories International news stories Sports stories Horoscopes Best English study tips Ask… (agony aunt style section where students write in with real or fictional problems, and a student or the teacher him/herself replies with advice) Book and movie reviews Game reviews Jokes Writing skills tips Words of the week (dictionary style)
National news stories
International news stories
Best English study tips
Ask… (agony aunt style section where students write in with real or fictional problems, and a student or the teacher him/herself replies with advice)
Book and movie reviews
Writing skills tips
Words of the week (dictionary style)
These are just a few of the extra categories that can be added to make a class magazine more dynamic and fun!
Teachers could make the class magazine hand-written and illustrated, but it is probably preferable to use computers to type up and present writing efforts for a magazine. These can then all be gathered together and printed easily to make one physical magazine – or even presented on the Internet (depending on resources and teachers’ tech skills).
Note also that a class magazine creates new opportunities for drafting, peer feedback and even the chance for certain students to be made “editors” or “section editors”. This provides an even richer experience with writing and judging writing, and creating a collaborative and interactive writing classroom.
1.4. Oral Presentations
The writing activities presented in most coursebooks can easily facilitate transfer over to formal speaking presentations. A very handy characteristic of the many ELT writing books is that they often deal with any or all of writing at the sentence, paragraph, real-world text and academic essay text levels – so the written work produced can be drawn on for speaking presentations with a variety of foci and also variety in terms of how much information is going to be presented and how much preparation time is required. For example, a sentence-level writing unit can be drawn on to facilitate quick classroom speeches that are easy to prepare for, quick to memorize and non-draining in terms of overall classroom presentation time required. Other oral presentations can focus on delivering writing at the paragraph level, which will be a little more challenging to prepare for and present, but have the benefit of presenting ideas with more rounding out with supporting details and examples. The real-world and academic texts, however, can become the basis of major speaking presentations, requiring extensive preparation and appropriate classroom time and layout to apply in a non-stressful way.
Before asking the students to present their writing in an oral format, the teacher needs to decide on whether this will occur before or after formal feedback from the teacher. Students may find it stressful to present ideas that may not have been well-formulated or feature a lot of grammatical mistakes. Generally speaking, following correction and feedback is the best time to ask students to prepare oral presentations based on their written work.
The inclusion of spoken presentations will add significant time to the overall time required to finish a given writing/course book, but it does have major advantages. It promotes the integration of skills (from writing to speaking and listening), makes written work feel more relevant for a broader audience, encourages students to take more care with their work (knowing they will have to present it to the class), and generally adds a dynamic that sees students put down pens and get out of their chairs for once! However, if/when students are asked to memorize the contents of their written pieces, this is a fantastic way to encourage deeper internalization of the ideas and structures they have produced. Learners with a preference for auditory and/or kinesthetic learning styles will also benefit from the inclusion of this sort of activity in the general writing class.
1.5. Interactive Dictation
This is another way for students to share their written work, and has the added bonus of facilitating closer attention to listening and speaking skills.
Basically, through interactive dictation, the learners are asked to team up with another student and dictate their writing to each other. They can take turns doing this and include any requests for repetition, clarification or spelling to make the task even more interactive and integrated. Once the dictations have been completed, the students can show the original written pieces to each other and either self-correct their work or correct each other’s work.
Again, this is probably best applied after a teacher has seen and given feedback on the original writing effort, as students may not be comfortable with reporting or writing production that is off topic or error-laden. This really depends on how open and collaborative your writing class and its learners are. Even before checking from a teacher, interactive dictation can be applied with students then giving feedback and suggestions to each other on how the composition can be improved. In fact, this is a far more effective way to encourage language experimentation and analysis than simply applying samples edited and corrected by the teacher.
If you liked these activity ideas for sharing and presenting writing efforts, check back here tomorrow for the next post in this series, which explores activities to encourage and enhance written language development!