What are some strategies for helping students with academic writing? Alice Savage, Effective Academic Writing co-author, will look at this topic in her upcoming webinar on December 10th. In this article, she presents a task to help build students’ confidence in their writing.
When hikers plan an adventure, they agree to take on a challenge. They understand that it might be hard sometimes, but they also know that if they stick together and have faith in the process, they will make it to their destination. The same is true for writers, particularly writers learning to operate in an academic English context. In my webinar, we will examine the writing process and look at specific strategies and activities that can support English learners along the way.
The following group task is one of several strategies in the webinar. Its aims of community-building and orienting students to process writing techniques can ensure that a class gets started on the right foot.
Objective: To help students build community, confidence and an understanding of the writing process.
Start by putting the students in groups of four and creating roles such as manager, note-taker, writer, dictionary-person, or editor. Tell them that they are going to do a writing task together that shows their combined experience and talent. Then set the following questions:
- How many languages does your group speak in total?
- How many years has your group been studying English in total?
- How many countries has your group traveled to in total?
- What kinds of writing has your group done in the past?
- What is a name that fits your group?
Once they have shared information, instruct the writer to turn the answers and notes into a paragraph. Have them start by introducing their group’s name in a topic sentence. Then have them explain why they chose it. They can include answers to the questions or other ideas that come up while they were talking. The teacher can circulate and provide assistance as needed.
When the writing section of the task is finished, the group can work together to edit. The editor, with help from peers, can check for complete sentences, grammar and spelling. As they work, they have an opportunity to see how their knowledge and skills fit with their classmates and to see how they can benefit from or help others later.
To mirror the stages of writing, the task ends with publishing. The groups can post or circulate their finished texts and compare results. The class can identify which group speaks the most languages, has studied English the longest, or seen the most countries. This final stage, in addition to serving as an icebreaker, allows the class to experience one another’s writing as readers. This publishing stage can instill a habit of responding to content that will pay off later during peer feedback throughout the term.
Finally, the teacher can build confidence in the process by leading a reflection on the stages that the groups went through. They can look at generating ideas and developing content, planning, revising, editing, and publishing.
The teacher might then use the opportunity to highlight the activities and aims of each stage. For example, many teachers do not address grammar errors in the early revision stages because students are still shaping content and often cutting or changing sentences. Many students do not automatically anticipate these major revision tasks, so working through revision techniques in an explicit way in a practice activity can foster trust in the process.
The discussion can end with the question, “What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started this assignment?” as a way to finish with a focus on writing as knowledge making. If all goes well, students see the advantages of the writing process and its ability to provide a sequence that allows them to focus at distinct stages. They know their classmates and the writing process better, and perhaps they feel better equipped for the adventure of a new task.
To find out more about improving students’ writing skills, register for the webinar at either 12:00 or 15:00 GMT on December 10th.