Developing writing skills in English as a foreign language. Some Practical Teaching Ideas
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The developing of the language skills has always been a very hard and an interesting task. The process of writing suggests that we can actually teach students how to write with coherence, an appropiate grammar structure and an acceptable spelling. One of the effective ways to do this is to motivate the students and make them aware of the steps involved in effective writing. Four reasons why students dislike writing are:
1. It leaves as more permanent record of profiency than speaking; so it seems a threat for them.
2. Students feel that they lack sufficient knowledge of the language.
3. Students believe that writing must be grammatically correct.
4. They think that formal correctness must be achieved at their very first attempt.
The seven effective writing strategies are: 1) Pre-writing 2) early composing 3) planning and organizing 4) later composing 5) final composing 6) revising 7) editing (Writing: The creative process-116)
When we talk about writing is necessary to remember that there are three inseparable aspects when teaching it; Writing as a channel of a Foreign Language (FL) is the use of it alongside listening, speaking and reading in the process of learning important elements of the language; Writing as a goal of a FL learning , is the development of writing skills to fulfil such purposes as: note-taking, summarizing, narrating, reporting for various real-life situations and Writing with cohesion , is the employment of various linguistic means by which the parts of a written text are related to one another, with continuity and organization ( The teaching of English as an International Language/Peter Wingard-143).
In our times, there is an increasing tendency of showing communication rather than the mere practice of linguistic forms. But we have to be careful because texts are made of sentences putting together for communicative purposes. That is, you can not make bricks without straw and you can not build houses without bricks. So, to begin writing it is important to know the function of it, for instance, Advising, Reporting, etc.
But how can a teacher motivate the students for the writing activity?
The writing activities should be geared to their needs and interests. They should be linked to the real life whenever possible.
In our present work we pretend to give useful information about the developing of writing skills and give some practical teaching ideas for this purpose contributing to improve teacher’s knowledge about this topic.
Then, we would like to state what the word PRACTICAL means. According to Webster’s Dictionary it means 1) capable of being put to use, 2) useful thing, 3) disposed to action, 4) opposed to speculation or abstraction, 5) qualified by practice or practical training by experience and also concerned with ethical decisions. (Webster’s Dictionary)
From our point of view, a practical teaching idea has something to do with a good idea, characterized by being attractive, exciting, aplicable to real life and taking into account the enviroment, context and most of all, the learners ‘needs and interests. Thus, teachers should know how to teach writing to be effective.
As it is known, writing is considered a very complex task for teachers and mainly for students. The heart of the language lessons is the communicative activity itself, so modern courses of English as a FL contain suggestions for many practical teaching ideas such as:
• Language games
• Relevant writing activities like: short notes, commercials, stories, letters, postcards and others.
When trying to choose the right methodological approach for teaching writing, questions like those below, always arise:
A) How and when do you think grammar explanations are necessary?
B) Do you think there is no communication when grammar is not well used in writing a foreign language?
C) How can the teaching learning process be activated?
On the other hand, students should learn grammar rules, hear and read authentic English as much as they can, look at the vocabulary notes everyday and other necessary activities to develop the writing skills.
In the present work, it is obvious we should mention dictation as one of the writing activities to practice writing, although it also develops listening-understanding skills. It has usually been considered a boring teaching activity by many persons, but we should see it as an encouraging exercise. We need to brainstorm a new methodology for dictation. Pictures about dictation can change if we ask some questions and answer them putting into practice creative and practical teaching ideas, questions like:
A) Who gives the dictation and who to?
B) Who controls the pace of the dictation?
C) Who chooses or creates the text?
D) Who corrects it?
(Paul Davis and Mario Kinvoluc. Cambridge handbooks for language Teachers. University Press, 1997)
Of course, if all the power remains in the hands of the teacher, we have a traditional approach of dictation, but dictation could be otherwise. Dictation taking as a potential practical teaching activity for writing has some advantages, among them:
• Improve spelling
• Students are active during and after the exercise.
• Foster unconsciousness thinking when they hear important things.
• Copes with mixed-ability groups.
• Gives access to interesting texts
Teachers should be facilitators and are responsible of creating the best possible conditions for learning. So, we will list some useful and practical teaching ideas for the developing of the writing skills:
• It is very important to teach pronunciation in English of the different signs of punctuations (E.g. coma, period, brackets, quotations, semi colon, etc) in order to identify them when taking dictation.
• Writing of sentences, paragraphs, compositions.
• Provide Problem solving tasks. For instance: Give a suitable end to this story/ If you were in this situation what would you do, write it. Summarize the patient’s medical history from their charts, etc.
• Writing of authentic texts linked to real life situations such as: notes, telegrams, postcards, letters, commercials, summaries for research works, etc.
• Linguistic games such as: Crosswords, Word Association, Guessing the word, etc.
• Checking dictation by means of interchanging the student’s notebooks, giving a correct model on board as a guide for corrections.
• Exercises of different types using connectors, the use of them are indispensable for a right coherence.
• Reading a given text 2 or 3 times and then students have to remember as much as they can to write it (it could be developed in teams) Give the winner.
• Developing writing competitions on board: words, sentences, etc.
• Making Posters.
• Brainstorming Writing E.g.: Write about a happy memory, Domestic animals, etc
• Free writing. Students will write about free topics. Such as culture, history, sports,etc.
• Filling cards or charts like this:
A practical teaching idea may be the solution to avoid “boring lessons” in the English learning process. Theory and Practice must always be together to get good results in learning any foreign language, as well as, making a right use of a variety of methodological approaches.
Richard, J. and Rodgers, T., (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press.
Teaching English in English. Handbook. Chapter Writing: The creative process. A compendium of modules from Canada University, 1989
Teacher’s Manual: Great Ideas. Cambridge University Press. Leo Jones and Victoria Kimbrough, 1989
Dictation: New methods. New Possibilities. Paul Davis and Mario Kinvoluc. Cambridge handbooks for language Teachers. University Press, 1997
The teaching of English as an international Language. A practical Guide. Gerry Abbot. Edición Revolucionaria, 1989.