As a student of English, young Bruno was not one bit fond of writing. When I graduated from my English course in Brasília, I was invited to speak at the graduation ceremony and I wrote, rehearsed, and gave a speech in which I mentioned how much I disliked writing compositions in class. At the time, I was under the impression that writing was either used to check my English for grammatical and/or lexical mistakes or as a punishment for those days when the class was unruly. This has led to a very logical, though unfortunate, result: writing became my weakest skill of the four (writing, reading, speaking, listening).
When I realized this weakness, not a long time ago mind you, in 2019, I decided to do something about it and became a part-time blogger. I wrote for a couple of blogs such as this one by DISAL and last year I decided it was time to have my very own blog, somewhere I could write my thoughts and develop my writing skills.
By observing lessons, analyzing course books, and attending teachers’ conferences one can easily notice that writing is not a very trendy topic. I believe this might be because teachers themselves don’t write much and might feel unprepared to properly teach writing. It might also be due to a belief that most students past a certain age can write in their L1 and that all they have to do is change the language they are writing in and just like that they’d be writing in English. I feel that most of the writing I have seen done in classes is writing done to check learners’ control of grammar and/or lexis. This kind of writing task can be severely demotivating to learners since the main goal of their writing is to be assessed by the teacher. No communicative goal or intent whatsoever.
You have probably seen this kind of task. For instance, “write a paragraph about endangered species.”. What is it that the learner will try to communicate in this paragraph? Who’s the target audience? What’s the layout of such a text? How is it organized? What genre is this? Usually, no genre at all besides what we can call a ‘school paragraph’. Think about the infamous five-paragraph essay. Where would you write such a text besides school? If we want students to engage in writing activities and actually develop their writing skills, the writing has to be meaningful – as in ‘full of meaning’, really.
I found out that writing has become much more enjoyable when there is a real reason for this piece of writing to come into existence. For example, the goal of this text is to convince you, dear teacher reader, that writing is worthy of more attention in class and to help you teach better writing classes by sharing a framework to deal with this skill. Also, knowing that someone will read my text for the ideas in it, and not to assess my grammar and vocabulary (are you assessing my grammar and vocabulary?) is also very motivating.
All that to say that writing should be as communicative as the other tasks you do in class. Whenever we write something we write it to someone with a very clear objective in mind. Also, texts don’t exist in a vacuum, they live within a specific genre with specific characteristics.
Writers, when producing their texts, employ certain strategies and techniques that help them produce writing that is clear, cohesive, and meaningful. Writing is also not done in a single sitting. There is a process to writing a certain text within a genre.
To bring this into the classroom, we can employ the process-genre approach as described by Villas Boas (2017). According to this approach, the process of writing should be emphasized while also prizing the final product. In this approach, we take students through the process of writing within a genre using strategies and techniques that proficient writers use when writing their texts. This process might include a moment of genre analysis, a brainstorming phase, a moment to organize ideas, a planning stage, drafting, getting feedback (peer or teacher feedback), redrafting, editing, revising, and publishing. According to the proponents of the process-genre approach, by employing the techniques and strategies that proficient writers employ, learners will develop their writing skills.
Allow me to illustrate these ideas by walking you through a lesson I taught during DELTA M2. Look at the lesson plan below and notice how the stages attempt to imitate the process of writing in real life.
|Stage & Learning Outcomes||Procedures|
|Stage: Lead-in Aim: To set the context of the lesson and engage students||Before the lesson starts: Write on the board Do you like to cook? What can you|
Greet students and ask them to sit down.
Invite a student to ask you the questions on the board. Answer the questions and
ask them back to the student.
Ask students to, in pairs, ask and answer the questions on the board. Allow
students some time to do the activity.
When students are done, ask them to report on what their peers have said.
|Stage: Reading for general comprehension|
Aim: To allow students to understand the general meaning of the text they will beworking with
|Show students the recipe. Ask What is this? (recipe)|
Tell students they are supposed to read the recipe and get ready to summarize it
from memory in pairs. Allow students some time to read the recipe and when
they are done, ask them to summarize the recipe in pairs.
Elicit from students the name of the dish, the ingredients, quantities, and
instructions to cook the dish.
|Stage: Genre analysis |
Aim: To analyze the key features of a recipe from a genre perspective
|Hold up the recipe for them and ask How do you know this is a recipe? and elicit|
Carry out the genre analysis with students. Ask the following questions:
Who reads recipes? (people who like/want to cook)
What is the objective of a recipe?
Point at the title of the recipe – What is in this part? (the name of the dish)
Point to prep time – What is this information? (time to make the dish)
Point to servings – What is this information? (how many/much food you make)
Point to the ingredients – What is in this part? (ingredients)
Point to quantities – What about this? (quantities)
Point to the ingredients and quantities – Is this a paragraph? (no)
is this a list? (yes)
What words do you think you find here? (words related to food and quantities:
flour, eggs, two, a cup, etc.)
Point to instructions – What is in this part? (instructions)
Is it a paragraph? (no)
Is it a sequence of sentences? (yes)
Is this in the imperative? (yes)
What words do you think you find here? (words related to procedures: chop, cut,
Are recipes super formal? (no)
|Stage: Generating ideas|
Aim: To work collaboratively in brainstorming ideas and chunks of language to use in their texts
|Say Let’s get ready to write our own recipe?|
Ask students to write the name of a dish on the center of the page in their
notebook, similar to what they did some classes ago.
Ask students to write the ingredients around the dish connecting them to the dish as in a mind map.
Ask students to write the quantities of the ingredients connected to them.
Ask students to write the procedures and connect them to the ingredients.
Ask students to share their mind maps with a peer and talk about their recipe.
|Stage: Planning |
Aim: To plan the layout, organization, and pieces of language students will use in their texts
|Say Now, let’s organize our text.|
Draw a page on the board and boxes where the text should go in the recipe.
Elicit from students what should go in each space and some words and chunks they will use in each space. Ask students to draw a similar plan on their notebooks including the words and chunks of language they will use in their
Ask students to share their plans with a peer.
Aim: To allow students to produce their first drafts in class with the support of peers and teacher
|Ask students to get their notebooks and write a draft of their recipes following|
their plans and mindmaps. Allow students some time to write, walk around the
room to monitor, and help students as needed.
|(If time allows)|
Stage: Peer feedback
Aim: To engage learners in peer feedback using a checklist
|If time allows, ask students to look at the checklist on the back of the handout.|
Read the checklist with students and make sure they understand all the criteria
Ask students to read their texts and check if they follow the criteria in the
After they do so, ask students to share their drafts with a peer, read the draft,
and use the checklist to give each other feedback on their production.
Aim: To wrap up the lesson,
gather feedback on it, and give students feedback on their performance
|When students are done, ask them how they felt during this lesson. Ask students|
to share how challenging they thought the lesson was and give them feedback
on their production.
The genre analysis phase follows an acronym I learned and adapted some time ago: CALCOGS which stands for:
- Communicative purpose (Why are you writing this text?)
- Audience (Who’s going to read it?)
- Layout (What does it look like on the page?)
- Content (What information do you find in it?)
- Organization (How is this information organized in the layout?)
- Grammar and lexis (What grammar and vocabulary is commonly seen in this kind of text?)
- Style (Is it usually formal, informal, or neutral?)
By carrying out this analysis of a model text, learners can understand the characteristics of the genre and produce a text that fits these conventions. Also, by using the strategies proposed above (brainstorm, plan, draft, get feedback, redraft, publish), learners are likely to develop their writing skills and feel that they’re writing has a communicative purpose, a reason to be written and read.
I am by no means suggesting that with this approach to teaching writing all your learners will magically enjoy all of your writing classes. However, I believe that the process-genre approach is one which very closely resembles what good writers do in real life when writing their own pieces. Writing should be done for a reason that transcends assessment of grammar and vocabulary. Writing should be practiced as a skill in itself. When learners realize that their ideas are more valuable than their grammatical accuracy, they will probably begin to enjoy writing a bit more and even decide to take it as a hobby as I have. Why not start blogging yourself?