Most schools have a clear policy on writing. Many require learners to submit a certain number of writing tasks before the end of the semester. Some plan within the syllabus for a writing task to be completed every month.Others let the teacher decide what and when learners should do writing.
Whatever policy a school or teacher might follow, the task at hand remains the same: the learners have to produce cohesive written texts. In English Language Teaching there are two main schools of thought on this topic: the Product Approach and the Process Approach.
This post is going to look at these two approaches and also at a third one which I am suggesting to get our learners writing not only more but more effectively. Keep reading to kind out more…
Most writing tasks fulfill a specific communicative purpose and as such, they usually follow a predictable format or structure, like an e-mail to a friend, a letter of complaint or a film review.
This usually results in schools and teachers following a Product Approach to writing. This approach is one in which learners are “encouraged to mimic a model text” which is usually “presented and analysed” at an earlier stage (Steele 2003).
Given that these types of writing have such predictable structures, it comes as no surprise that the language used in them is somewhat formulaic. This lends itself neatly to a teaching context, which is why there are so many Process Writing resources out there, containing language such as I am writing to complain about… and The plot is absolutely fantastic and the special effects will blow you away.
Others might take a more daring step and encourage a Process Approach to teaching writing. This approach treats all writing as a “creative act” (Stanley 2003). That means no matter how formulaic the structure might be, learners are encouraged to go through the stages of writing that all writers go through. There are 5 stages in total:
You can read more about each stage following this link.
Whereas Stanley (2003) argues that this approach requires the teacher to be absent from the writing process, and only to get involved when the final product is ready, there are those teachers who play a supportive role at each stage, helping learners with generating ideas and supporting them in expressing themselves. I not only encourage teachers to follow a Process Approach but also encourage them to do writing in class. You can hear me explain my views on this here.
Alongside the two main approaches outlined above, I would like to suggest a third approach: the Learner Approach.
This approach was born out of a recent lesson in Buenos Aires, where my Argentine learners were discussing the recent Presidential elections. It quickly became apparent that most of them were politically engaged and had strong views on the topic. Those who had no interest in the elections also had strong views on why they weren’t interested in politics. This turned into a large class discussion, with each person presenting their arguments and counter-arguing the opinions of their fellow classmates.
As the lesson drew to a close, I wanted to see if their passion and enthusiasm could be channelled into some written work. I set them a task:
Go home and put into writing your thoughts on this topic. What you write, how you structure it and what style you take is completely up to you.
One week later, not only did I get writing assignments from all of the students who had been present, but they were also the best pieces of writing I have ever received from them.
But why were they so good? What made these pieces of writing different to previous ones? Let me explain…
The learners were clearly interested in producing this piece of writing, and as such they took the time to work on it. What I received was not a single draft but the end product of several drafts.
Given that they were intrinsically interested in this task, they made the effort to write, edit and rewrite their work until they were satisfied with it.
Given that there were no criteria or limitations on my part, what and how they wrote was completely up to them. If they wanted to express themselves through a letter, a creative piece of writing or a journalistic style article, it was completely their choice. This also helped them to get their message across, as they were doing it using a genre they felt comfortable with.
(1) To use this approach, you could simply ask your learners to produce a piece of writing on any topic they find interesting. Make sure you encourage them to write about what truly interests them and not what they think will interest the teacher.
(2) Take a topic that has been mentioned in class and run a discussion lesson on it. The writing task is then a follow-up to that discussion: it could be done at home or in the next lesson. Make sure you encourage the learners to find a style and a genre which will help them get their message across. The more creative writers might want to write an article, while the more reserved might opt for a letter.
(3) Take a topic from current affairs which you think might interest your learners. Run a receptive skills style lesson with a listening or reading text, go through the vocabulary and the use the writing assignment as the follow-up.
Whereas the Product Approach encourages writing for a specific communicative purpose and the Process Approach encourages creativity, the Learner Approach encourages both. The main goal is for the learners to produce a piece of writing on a topic which truly interests them. The genre of the text will be completely up to them
(Online) The 5-Step Writing Process: from brainstorming to publishing. Available at: http://www.liferichpublishing.com/AuthorResources/General/5-Step-Writing-Process.aspx
Stanley, G. (2003) Approaches to Process Writing. Available at: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/approaches-process-writing
Steele, V. (2003) Product and Process Writing: A comparison. Available at: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/product-process-writing-a-comparison