Writing, unlike speaking, is not an ability we acquire naturally, even in our first language: it has to be taught. In TESOL, Writing is often referred to as the ‘Cinderella’ skill because it’s the one that gets left behind while all the others ‘join the ball’. What this means for us as language teachers is that unless our learners are explicitly taught how to write in their new language, their writing skills are likely to get left behind while their speaking, reading and listening develops. Fortunately, there are ways we can plan effective writing lessons.
This is a natural first stage in planning a writing lesson, and is vital because learners can’t write unless they have ideas to write about. This planning stage will be most effective if you give learners the opportunity to work together and brainstorm lots of ideas. Plan to control this stage by allowing enough time in your planning for learners to generate more ideas than they need. Additionally, have some sample ideas or sub-area categories ready in case the class needs help in finding inspiration.
A natural progression from idea generation is idea organization. Learners may work in groups to put the ideas they generated in the previous stage into a ‘mind map’. This mind map can then be drawn on the board, using ideas from the different groups. Alternatively, you could get learners to put ideas into a table with a series of headings for different boxes. At this stage you may want to add useful vocabulary and/or phrases that the learners will use in their writing but couldn’t produce.
Examine a model text
Once the learners have come up with their own ideas and thought about which are the most relevant or important, the next part of your lesson plan should be to give them what they need to express those ideas in the most appropriate way; an effective method is to provide them with a model of ‘good practice’. Looking at a model text raises learners’ awareness of the conventions of typical text styles of different genres. This text should have a similar style, length and organization to that which you want the learners to produce.
After learners have seen how ideas are organized in an example piece of writing, they can organize their own ideas in a similar way. A good way of planning this stage is to put learners in groups to draft a plan of their work. This group plan might include the number of paragraphs and the main points of each paragraph.
In some situations, you might wish to make stages one to four your whole lesson, with the actual writing done outside of class. The advantages of doing this are that the learners can spend time thinking about their composition and not feel rushed. However, getting your learners to write in class enables you to monitor and suggest ideas, provide extra language input and spot those learners who are off task. Think about how long the first four stages of the plan might take and decide if you want to include the actual writing of the text in your lesson.
Post-writing lesson follow-up
Although it might feel like the culmination of a writing lesson, the writing itself should not be the final stage of your writing lesson plan. It’s important to follow up with some review and revision of what has been written. Two things you should plan for in subsequent writing lessons are peer review and error correction. Getting other class members to comment and give feedback on a piece of writing can be both motivating and a non-threatening correction technique for learners. Nevertheless, follow this up with teacher-led review. You can plan for this by either collecting in the writing and giving individual feedback, or by monitoring, making notes of common errors and going through these as an end-of-lesson review on the board.
Writing remains an under-appreciated skill in language classrooms, so planning effective lessons around the written form of the language will be greatly appreciated by your learners.