Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English second edition, takes a look at writing exercises in the classroom.
The four skills are listening, reading, writing, and speaking. These are often divided into the Productive skills and Receptive skills. The Productive skills are Speaking and Writing. The Receptive skills are Listening and Reading. First of all let’s think about what makes writing different to speaking.
Well, for a start, the spoken word is not concrete: if you get it wrong it doesn’t hang around your neck like a millstone! The written word is concrete. When you write, what you produce is permanent and so if you make mistakes, they are there for all to see. This can be a source of worry for some pupils. Clearly, we need to ensure that when they are writing children receive lots of support. The aim is not just producing a piece of writing but to build their confidence in their ability to produce it.
Writing is sometimes called the “forgotten skill”. It is certainly the last acquired. For most language learners it would seem to be the least important. After all, isn’t language mainly listened to and spoken? And this would seem to be what most learners want to do with the language. However, I think we need to be careful here. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Writing may come last as an acquired skill and least in importance to many of the learners when they are older, but for the younger learner there are a number of positive aspects. What are they?
To begin with it is allowing language production and consolidation through a different medium to the spoken word. It demands an effort which aids learning. It provides time for reflection and gives the children time to think about, and get a feel for, how the language hangs together. It creates quiet time in the classroom; the children are working at their own pace and the teacher is free to give individual attention to them.
How can writing be approached?
There are two broad approaches to how we can teach writing to our learners: product writing and process writing. Both these approaches have their adherents. I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of each in this blog post. My feeling is that a blend of the two approaches to writing probably makes the most sense with the balance leaning towards product writing in the early years. Other teachers may disagree and I would like to hear from them.
How does product writing work?
First of all we introduce the children to written texts. As they read they are being exposed to the vocabulary and structures that they will need later on. At the same time they are also being exposed to the conventions of the written form: punctuation, paragraphing, and text organisation.
If we take it step by step it goes something like this:
- model text
- controlled practice
- organisation of ideas
It might help if I put some flesh on those bare bones. For example, the children read a short text from a Fan magazine It is an interview with a boy band. They work on comprehension through reading tasks. Then, they practise particular features of the text – the controlled practice. This could be how to use and, but and too. Once the children have completed the controlled practice they are given the opportunity to create an interview for themselves. They choose a sports star or a musician or even a member of their family. First they plan their work and then they write their interview mirroring the original text they read. This is Product writing.
It seems to me that starting with Product writing provides children with a structured, safe environment in which to produce their work. Many of you will probably argue that it is restrictive. At which point we touch on the old accuracy/fluency debate. Do you remember it? We could loosely sum it up by saying that Product writing goes from accuracy to fluency. Process writing, in contrast, goes from fluency to accuracy. (More or less!) Do you have an opinion on how we should approach writing for younger learners?