Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


Writing texts in the Primary classroom

Sarah Phillips, co-author of Incredible English second edition, looks at how you can help your students produce a good piece of writing step by step. She will be hosting a webinar on the same topic on 12th and 13th September. Find out more and register here.

It’s not easy to write a text. You need time, ideas, language, and editing skills.

Writing is a process

This flow diagram charts a set of possible steps from generating an idea to publishing a finished text.

Writing texts flowchart

In order for our pupils to become successful writers we have to work on each of the steps with them, supporting them and showing them different ways of approaching each one.

Focus on the topic and the structure of the text

Reading is an important precursor to writing a text. Exposing the children to different text types and encouraging them to notice their features helps them when they write their own texts.

Generate ideas and choose what to use

Ways of generating ideas include:

  • completing a table with given headings
  • adding headings to groups of words
  • answering generic questions about sample texts and then using them as prompts for further ideas
  • using a concept map as a way of organising words associated with key words

Once the pupils have put their ideas onto paper they can then select the ones they wish to include in their text. It is always better to have more ideas than you can use.

Model texts and first drafts

By giving the pupils model texts to work with, we are scaffolding their own writing. Such activities are an important step on the way to independent writing. The children can transfer information from tables, mind maps, notes and so on into a model text. This mimics the process they should follow when writing their own texts.

Once the children have worked on ways of generating ideas and done some activities with model texts, they can start to write their own texts following a clear set of instructions.

Reading with a critical eye

When they have a first draft it needs to be checked with a critical eye, which can be their own, their classmates’ or their teacher’s.  It is important that they receive feedback on the content as well as the language. After all, the function of a piece of writing is to communicate with the reader.  Give children a clear and simple set of criteria to look for when reading through their own or their peer’s work. When reading the children’s first drafts look for things that they will be able to correct themselves. You may want to correct the second draft more ruthlessly, especially if it is going to be published for a wider audience.


Writing is hard work, and it is a pity to spend a lot of time on writing a text only for it to disappear into a folder. Children’s work can be published in many different ways, for example: on the class noticeboard, on blogs and wikis, stapled together to make a class book for the reading corner or to take home to parents.

If you want more guidance and advice on how to help your students with writing a text in the Primary classroom, register for Sarah’s webinar on 12th or 13th September.


10 attack strategies for teaching the text in Business English

Business woman reading reportAhead of his webinar on the same topic (click on Adult > Teaching the whole text in Business English), Business English expert John Hughes shares his top tips for approaching a piece of text in Business English or ESP.

If you are teaching Business English or ESP students, then analysing a text from their place of work is an invaluable part of determining their needs. You can also turn such texts into classroom materials which will help them to read and possibly write similar texts. It’s a fundamental skill for any teacher of Business English or English for Specific Purposes.

When I first look at an authentic text, I analyse for it ten features and decide which ones are most prominent and lend themselves to classroom exploitation.

1. Visual clues

The first thing we notice about a written text is any kind of accompanying image. For example, it might have a photograph, a chart, a graph, a map or even a table of figures. This will often act as a useful point of focus for students as it helps them predict what the text will be about.

2. Shape and layout

I also look for a shape or layout to the text type. Texts with an overt shape (typically formal texts such as letters and reports) help students to recognise what kind of text it is, which helps build their schema before reading. It also allows for exercises which draw students’ attention to the conventions for layout or to how the writer organises the content.

3. Overt title

A text with an overt title is like a text with a good photograph. You can use it with students to make predictions about the content of the text. In business texts, an overt title might be title to a company report or the title to a set of instructions. In emails, a clear subject line is the equivalent to an overt title.

4. Overt openings

Some texts don’t have overt titles but they do use opening sentences or phrases that indicate what kind of text it is and its purpose. A phrase like ‘I am writing to inform you…’ suggests that we are about to read a semi-formal letter from someone we haven’t met before or don’t know very well.

5. General meaning

Before any further textual analysis, I see if the text lends itself to reading for gist so that I can set some general gist comprehension questions. This is particularly necessary if the text doesn’t contain an overt title or overt opening (see 3 and 4).

6. The writer and reader

With some texts it’s useful to ask students to identify the writer and reader. For example, in the case of a departmental report, students can say who wrote it and who received it. With less obvious texts such as an informal message from a social media site, students might need to speculate who posted the text and why.

7. Detailed information

Having analysed the text for its general purpose and meaning, I start preparing comprehension questions to help students search for and understand more detailed information within the text. This is especially true of long texts.

8. Fixed expressions

Having understood the content of the text, I can start to analyse language which students might be able to use in their own writing. Formulaic texts often make use of fixed expressions. For example, reports might include expressions such as ‘The aim of this reports is to…’, ‘Please refer to figure 8.1…’, ‘It is recommended that…’.

9. Lexical sets

Texts that are related to very specific areas of industry may not fit into a typical pattern or fixed expressions but they will usually have their own specific lexis. For example, within a text related to shipping you might come across terms such as lading, container, pallet, abatement, in bond and ship demurrage. Once you identify a lexical set, you can create vocabulary exercises to help students with them.

10. Grammar

As with lexical sets, certain texts might contain frequently-used grammar. For example, in the recommendations section of an internal company document you might see the it is +passive form structure commonly used; i.e. it is recognised, it is recommended, it is advised… Help students to discover this grammar in the text and identify its form, meaning and use.

So those are my ten strategies for attacking a text in Business English or ESP. Do you have any more to add?


Why don’t they understand what they read?

Woman with notepad looking confusedMichael Swan, co-author of the new three-level Oxford English Grammar Course, introduces his upcoming talk at IATEFL 2011 in Brighton, entitled ‘Where grammar and reading meet’, with this article about why written English can be so hard to understand.

Why do people have difficulty understanding written texts?
There are various possible reasons.

For example, they don’t know the language.

Agresti, kunsti sifnit, votrin khaleddanou kaltrop. Vjux snjor!

Or they do know the language, but it’s gibberish.

Garlic and sapphires in the mud
clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
sings below inveterate scars
appeasing long-forgotten wars.
(Eliot, Four Quartets)

Or it may not be gibberish, but it’s outside their conceptual comfort zone.

The resulting structure will then be merged with a null declarative complementiser,
and BE will ultimately be spelled out as the third-person-plural present-tense form ‘are’.
As required, all uninterpretable features have been deleted, so only the interpretable
features are seen by the semantic component.

None of these problems, however, are really our concern as language teachers. What does concern us is another kind of difficulty. Written English can put quite special grammatical obstacles in the way of a foreign reader, so that sentences which are relatively unproblematic for us may be surprisingly hard for our students to decode.

Continue reading