How To Teach Writing: A Framework For Developing Great Writers

product approach

Efficient Ways to Improve Student Writing

  • Ask a composition instructor to give a presentation to your students.
    Invite a guest speaker from the composition department or student learning center to talk to your students about effective writing and common writing problems. Faculty who have invited these experts report that such presentations reinforce the values of the importance of writing.
  • Let students know about available tutoring services.
    Individual or group tutoring in writing is available on most campuses. Ask someone from the tutoring center to give a demonstration in your class.
  • Use computers to help students write better.
    Locally developed and commercially available software are now being used by faculty to help students plan, write, and revise their written work. Some software available allows instructors to monitor students’ work in progress and lets students collaborate with their classmates.
  • Ask students to write what they know about a topic before you discuss it.
    Ask your students to write a brief summary of what they already know or what opinions they hold regarding the subject you are about to discuss. The purpose of this is to focus the students’ attention, there is no need to collect the summaries.
  • Ask students to respond in writing to questions you pose during class.
    Prior to class starting, list two or three short-answer questions on the board and ask your students to write down their responses. Your questions might call for a review of material you have already discussed or recalling information from assigned readings.
  • Ask students to write from a pro or con position.
    When presenting an argument, stop and ask your students to write down all the reasons and evidence they can think of that supports one side or the other. These statements can be used as the basis for discussion.
  • During class, pause for a three-minute write.
    Periodically ask students to write freely for three minutes on a specific question or topic. They should write whatever pops into their mind without worrying about grammar, spelling, phrasing, or organization. This kind of free writing, according to writing experts, helps students synthesize diverse ideas and identify points they may not understand. There is no need to collect these exercises.
  • Have students write a brief summary at the end of class.
    At the end of the class period, give your students index cards to jot down the key themes, major points, or general principles of the day’s discussion. You can easily collect the index cards and review them to see whether the class understood the discussion.
  • Have one student keep minutes to be read at the next class meeting.
    By taking minutes, students get a chance to develop their listening, synthesizing, and writing skills. Boris (1983) suggests the following:
    • Prepare your students by having everyone take careful notes for the class period, go home and rework them into minutes, and hand them in for comments. It can be the students’ discretion whether the minutes are in outline or narrative form.
    • Decide on one to two good models to read or distribute to the class.
    • At the beginning of each of the following classes, assign one student to take minutes for the period.
    • Give a piece of carbon paper to the student who is taking minutes so that you can have a rough copy. The student then takes the original home and revises it in time to read it aloud at the next class meeting.
    • After the student has read their minutes, ask other students to comment on their accuracy and quality. If necessary, the student will revise the minutes and turn in two copies, one for grading and one for your files.
    • Structure small group discussion around a writing task.
      For example, have your students pick three words that are of major importance to the day’s session. Ask your class to write freely for two to three minutes on just one of the words. Next, give the students five to ten minutes to meet in groups to share what they have written and generate questions to ask in class.
    • Use peer response groups.
      Divide your class into groups of three or four, no larger. Ask your students to bring to class enough copies of a rough draft of a paper for each person in their group. Give your students guidelines for critiquing the drafts. In any response task, the most important step is for the reader to note the part of the paper that is the strongest and describe to the writer why it worked so well. The following instructions can also be given to the reader:
      • State the main point of the paper in a single sentence
      • List the major subtopics
      • Identify confusing sections of the paper
      • Decide whether each section of the paper has enough detail, evidence, and information
      • Indicate whether the paper’s points follow one another in sequence
      • Judge the appropriateness of the opening and concluding paragraphs
      • Identify the strengths of the paper

      Explicitly Teach Writing.

      Simply writing more does not help students become great writers. It’s too easy to think that if students practice lots of writing, they will get better at it. That is not to say that practice isn’t important, practice is an essential ingredient in the learning process, but practice of any type won’t do. Research by Anders Ericsson into how people become experts has shown that deliberate practice, a specific type of practice,is what helps people get better at a skill. Ericcson’s work is often misunderstood in the simplified “10,000 hour rule” popularised inaccurately by people like Malcolm Gladwell and the rapper Macklemore. This simplification is tempting. It’s easy to think that if you assign students a lot of writing activities, that through this practice they will become better writers. It takes more than this though, building great writers requires more intentionality in the exercises you assign students.

      Deliberate practice… is quite different from having students practice writing by giving them, say, half an hour to write and simply turning them loose. Merely doing something over and over is unlikely to improve performance. To make their writing better, they need a series of exercises that specifically target the skills they haven’t yet mastered while building on the skills they already have, in a gradual, step-by-step process. They also need clear, direct feedback that helps them identify their mistakes and monitor their progress.

      Combining approaches

      It can readily be seen that these approaches are not mutually exclusive. Elements of the product approach, such as the focus on structural aspects of language can form part of the process approach when students evaluate what they have written as a first draft and such a focus is legitimately part of a genre approach when the language is being analysed.
      A genre approach can also be usefully combined with a process approach or a product approach.
      There is also a lesson for B1/B2-level learners about how to write a paragraph, linked below.

      Related guides
      writing the first part of this guide
      writing for and against discussions for a guide in the in-service area to one form of writing frequently needed in academic, business and other contexts
      writing a narrative for a guide to one form of writing frequently needed in general English contexts
      a lesson plan a writing lesson plan for teachers which, more or less, follows a genre approach to writing a report
      writing a paragraph a lesson for B1/B2-level learners
      cohesion: essential guide the basic guide
      genre for the in-service guide to what genre is with some examples of how we identify different ones
      assessing writing for the in-service guide to assessing our learners’ writing abilities



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