As a general rule, TEFL teachers avoid writing classes as much as possible. The reality is that for many students TEFL lessons are very expensive. It seems a shame to pay a lot of money and spend most of the lesson in silence writing, especially when the students could just as simply do the writing for homework.
This is the general rule, but as with everything, there are some exceptions. If your students are actually full time students (children, teenagers at school), the chances are they have English at school and are expected to pass exams. Their parents may have enrolled their child at your school to support them in passing the school English exams, so you need to include writing because it is in their exam. Likewise with adults, if they are learning English for their career, then they may have to write emails or documents, so you should also be supporting them. In the TEFL world, we also have the exams mentioned in unit 1 (FCE, CAE etc.). These also have written elements to the exam.
To summarize, our instinct should be to limit the amount of classroom writing as much as possible, and to give more written activities for homework (after all, writing is important and we don’t want to ignore it completely). However, as TEFL teachers, we try to adapt to our students and if our students need to practise writing, then we will incorporate it into our lesson planning.
Similarities between Reading and Writing
As mentioned in the reading section, the alphabet is tricky for a lot of students who don’t share the same language roots as English. At the beginning, you should give your students as much practice writing the alphabet as they have speaking and reading the alphabet.
Again, similar to the alphabet, you can’t assume that your students have the same punctuation rules, or understand our punctuation rules. It’s difficult to correct a student if they have never been taught it, so it is always wise to revise punctuation. When reading out loud to lower level students, you may even decide to actually say the punctuation as you read the sentence, for example:
He said, comma, speech mark, Robert is late, full stop, speech mark.
Bear in mind that you should have your own head around it, especially when you are writing on the board. Make sure that your sentences are punctuated correctly and use capital and lower case letters correctly. We don’t want to teach anyone to ‘suck eggs’, but we understand that school qualities are varied, so if we start at the bottom we are not going to lose anyone along the way.
. Full Stop – is a mark to show the end of a sentence and that the sentence is complete.
: Colon – is used just before we start to list something. For example:
He went to the shop and bought: bread, eggs, cheese and ham.
; Semi-colon – comes in handy when we have 2 sentences that are connected, or closely related. We use the semi-colon as the separator.
I love London; I’ve lived here most my life.
“” Speech Marks – are used at the beginning and end of what a person actually said:
She said, “Come back around 4 o’clock.”.
, Comma – is the mark we use to show a pause in the sentence. It is also used to give extra information, instead of brackets; to separate items in a list and generally to replace the words ‘and’ or ‘or’ so we don’t repeat them.
Not only do I like fish, which is my favourite, but I like meat, vegetables and fruit.
– Hyphen – is how we connect words or parts of words together.
She wants to be kept up-to-date.
? Question Mark – is used at the end of a sentence to illustrate a question was asked.
Do you like English grammar?
() Brackets – are used when the writer wants to interrupt the sentence to add extra information. The information is not necessary to give the sentence meaning.
! Exclamation mark – is how we suggest extra emotion or shock in the written form.
You may have to actually explain how we build paragraphs in English. You start by explaining that usually a paragraph is based around a separate idea. This is how we break up the text so it is easier to read than just an endless stream of words.
You can explain that most of the time a paragraph has a topic sentence. This is a sentence that summarises what the paragraph is about. We often start by explaining to our students that it is best to start with the topic sentence. This isn’t an absolute rule and often the topic sentence can be found in the middle or at the end of a paragraph but TEFL teachers believe it is just easier to simplify it and make the students start with it. This gives them something concrete to build their writing skills around. The reality is that it will never be wrong; it just may not be as elegant or poetic.
Once your students have got their heads around the basics of punctuation and paragraphing, we need to give them the tools to be able to link sentences together. These are called linking words. Some examples of linking words our students need to be able to write more than a couple of sentences are:
Lower level students
Intermediate level students
Get the juices flowing!
Writing activities are pretty boring for a lot of students, they would much rather speak and interact. Other students actually find it hard to write because they have no idea what to say. It’s easy to write an email to a friend when you have some news, but if someone tells you that you need to ‘make up’ the news then it requires creativity.
Before the students start writing, you can start by giving them an example piece of writing that illustrates the expected result from the task (for example an email to a friend). You can give them a list of things that they may want to talk about, but the most successful is to hold a mini brainstorming session. As a class you can get them to discuss some of the things you could say: good ideas, funny ideas, key vocabulary etc. This should help the students start to form ideas of what they can write about so they are not left with ‘writer’s block’ for half the exercise.
It’s okay to give them the structure you expect. We all have varying writing ability in our own language, so why would it be different in another language? You can’t assume they know the structure of the writing you are suggesting so show it to them, either on the board or a handout. For example:
Report on …………….
Paragraph 1 Introduction
Paragraph 2 Advantages
Paragraph 3 Disadvantages
Paragraph 4 Summary
Paragraph 5 Conclusion
Get your students into the habit of making a draft. If writers do it, then why not your students who are trying to produce something in a language they are not sure about? By using a draft, they are able to have an idea and then build that idea into a paragraph using topic sentences. Then, at the end, before they write it out they can quickly check if they:
Formal or informal
Your students may not be sure how formal or informal this writing piece should be, so tell them at the start. Give them some examples or, even better, elicit the answers from them.
Teacher: This is a letter to our friend, so how do we start it? “Dear John” or “Hi John”?
Explain to the students that we don’t use contractions in formal language, we use the whole words. So we use I am rather than I’m. On the other hand, with informal writing it is fine to use contractions, slang and phrasal verbs.
Letters / Emails
These days we tend to write less and less letters but, due to speed, we write a lot more emails. Email writing can be about contacting a friend, applying for a job or making a complaint. It can be based on everyday life or business English. Whichever style of email you use, it doesn’t hurt to point out some of the key phrases or structures required for that specific form of email.
Postcards are great because normally the language used in them is simple and the text is short. This makes it an ideal exercise for lower level students who are getting to grips with writing in English.
Stories are great fun if the students find it easy to be creative, but can be a minefield for less creative students. There is also the issue of time. In your own language it takes a long time to plan an idea for a story and then write it. Imagine how it would be doing it in another language. TEFL teachers often help students by:
As any other lesson, a good writing lesson normally requires the subject to be interesting to the students. The great thing about writing reviews is that you are asking your students for opinions. Whether it’s writing film reviews, reviewing a holiday, album or book, people normally have an opinion. Your job as a teacher is to discover what is going to interest each group and base the lesson around that.
Think outside the box
There are many great ideas for writing. Students can write lyrics or scripts. You can have a lesson around agony aunts and problem pages, sports commentary and presentations. You need to keep it interesting. To do that, use the internet, join forums and TEFL sites and ask other teachers.