Writing in Primary – Part III: Extended writing

child writing

In the first part of this series, I looked at how to initiate early primary students in writing in English, and in Part II I focused on how writing activities can be built into the CLIL classroom. In this, the third part of the series, I’m going to look at ways to get students producing longer texts, either on their own or as part of a team. Here, the focus is inevitably on upper primary, although the ages at which the different activities can be used will vary widely depending on the programme of each school, and some of these activities may be more suited to early secondary in some schools.

Scaffolding longer texts

One of the things which less proficient writers find daunting about producing longer texts is the very fact that they are being asked to write something longer than a couple of sentences. Faced with the blank page, they will often simply tell you they don’t know what to write. As teachers, our job is to support them in this stage, helping them to develop strategies which will allow them to develop longer texts. For this reason, it is very important that longer writing tasks be done in class rather than for homework – the students will need individual support as they begin their writing. Once they are writing confidently they can be asked to finish their work for homework if need be. I find the best way to scaffold longer texts is to break down the requirements into smaller, more manageable parts. In Part II we saw an example of this with the water cycle exercise, Imagen water cyclewhere the students were asked to write one or two sentences about each step in the process, rather than simply being asked to write a paragraph describing the water cycle. On the worksheet the different steps are visually separated, so that what they are producing does not have the appearance of a long text. Once the students have produced their texts on the worksheet, you can ask them to copy the corrected version into their notebooks in the form of a paragraph, so that they realise how much they have been able to write, but only after they have successfully completed the worksheet. This enhances the sense of achievement, and success breeds success.

Picture stories are another useful way of breaking down longer more complex texts into more manageable parts. I use the stories from the speaking part of the Movers and Flyers exams, and in this way the students have more practise with the type of story they will face in the exam at the end of the year. You can see an example of one of these stories here, taken from Gray (2000).

Flyers Speaking Story

We can also get our students to make comic strips, producing their own pictures and adding text to each one. This can be done very simply by folding a piece of paper in half, in half again and in half again, which will divide the page into eight sections, for eight pictures. A more sophisticated alternative is to make a mini-book, instructions for which you can find here. This is a great way to check comprehension of something done in class, whether a story, or the steps in a process. I have used it to review extended reading, and to wind up work on biographies of famous people.

Collaborative writing

Another way to scaffold longer texts is to have students work together to create a text. This can be modelled using the ‘Mission Impossible!‘ activity, where each student has to create a correct sentence to form part of a story against the clock, with the teacher writing the story up on the board. Then put the students into groups of four and explain that each person will dictate one sentence of the text to the rest of the group. The other members of the group decide if they think the sentence is correct and appropriate or if it needs editing, and when they are all satisfied with the sentence they all write it down. Then the next person in the group dictates what they feel should be the next sentence in the text, and so on. This can be used to write picture stories, or any kind of text. It is very important that they have a clear idea of what they have to write about before they begin. I have used this to practise writing descriptions of places, projecting a photograph so that they are all describing the same place. This is also useful as practice for the Cambridge Preliminary (PET) speaking exam, where candidates are asked to speak for a minute about a photograph.

A slightly crazy version of collaborative writing can be a lot of fun for the end of term (although don’t expect great quality from the texts produced). Each student starts off with a piece of paper, and the teacher dictates the first sentence of a story, appropriate for the time of year or the topics being covered in class at that time. Each student then writes the next sentence in that story, and passes the paper to the student sitting next to him / her. each student then has to write the next sentence of the story they have in front of them before passing the paper on again. In this way you have as many stories circulating in the classroom as there are students, and each one will be different. As I have said, this is just a fun activity, but the students are still reading each text and writing, as well as revising what has been written before.

Final words

As I said at the beginning of this post, these activities may be suitable for primary students in some schools but more suitable for secondary students in other settings. The important thing is to get our students writing as early as possible, so that producing texts is seen as a normal part of the English (or CLIL) class. There are many other techniques we can use, and I hope that readers will share their own ideas through the comments section. One thing I have not touched on here is the use of technology in the writing class, and I hope to come back to that topic soon.

References

GRAY, E. (2000) Skills Builder for Young Learners: Flyers 1 – Student’s Book Newbury, Express Publishing.

Writing in Primary – Part I: Early Years

Imagen1

The growing importance of writing

In any primary classroom, the spoken word is paramount. Young children have the capacity to acquire a foreign language in a natural way, almost without realising it, if they are exposed to the language early enough and extensively enough, and this is exploited. Our main objective in the primary classroom is to enable our students to communicate effectively in the foreign language. Literacy in L2 is something that takes second place in many schools, indeed it is sometimes even supposed that literacy in the mother tongue will be enough to enable students to read effectively in English. Writing, at least writing more than the odd sentence, is hardly touched upon until the students are much older, and again there is a supposition that what they have learnt in their mother tongue means that they should be capable of writing in English.

However, things are changing. Over the last ten years, what is required of students in Primary has increased dramatically, with various bilingual programmes being developed and with CLIL becoming more prevalent in the teaching of a foreign language. Added to this, the Cambridge YLE exams have become increasingly popular, and in some countries it is increasingly normal for KET and even PET to be done while the students are still in Primary, helped by the development of the ‘for Schools’ version of these exams. If these objectives are to be achieved, it is important that attention should be paid to writing and text construction from a much earlier age, in parallel with the development in oracy which has been foregrounded for so long. In this series of posts, I will examine how we  can implement a structured approach to writing from a very early age in order to cover the requirements of CLIL and the different external exams which our students now face. Much of what I will say comes from my own experience working in schools with students between five and twelve years old.

Part I: Getting started – Writing in the early years

Perhaps I should make it clear form the outset that I take quite a wide perspective on what constitutes ‘writing’ with very young children, as I explained in this video interview I gave a few months ago.

My main focus at this age is to get the students engaging with the language, creating their own texts, and sometimes the mechanics of writing get in the way of this creation, so we have to cheat a bit at first.

child writing

I begin to engage my students with writing really before they can read English properly. My first step is through their pictures. Quite often I get them to draw in class, perhaps what they did at the weekend, or a visit we made to the zoo, or the theatre.  Once they finish their picture, I get them to tell me a little about it (not quite ‘That’s lovely dear – what is it?’, but fairly close sometimes), and in that way I can engage their oral skills and help with vocabulary. Once we have talked about the picture, I get them to suggest a title for it – this usually comes out initially in Spanish, but again I help them with the language until they can say it in English – and then I write it on the picture for them. Although they are using me as a scribe, the words are ultimately theirs, so from a broad perspective, they are creating their own written texts. As they are learning to write in their mother tongue, their curiosity in the written word is acute, and quite often they try to copy the title which I have written for them. Whether they do it well or not at this stage is not important, what is important is that they develop a feeling of ownership of a written text. To this end, it is important to display their work, so that they can show it to their other teachers and to their parents.

Imagen3

Once the students have begun to learn to read in English, the creation of texts can also become more complex. At this stage, the main problem we come across is that the students are still mastering the mechanics of writing and so any writing the students do will be painfully slow. for this reason, I sometimes prefer to give them the words written on individual cards, so that they can create their texts without worrying about the mechanics. One activity I have done is to give the students the words from one of the reading books they have been working on (we use the Oxford Reading Tree series). In groups, the students work to recreate the text of the story they have worked on. Once they have done this, they are encouraged to create different sentences using the same words, trying to make a new story.

In the next post in this series, I will examine how we can incorprate writing into our CLIL classes, particularly science.

Can English native speakers adapt to a lingua franca world?

Here is an article which discusses the position of the native speaker in an ELF world. A very interesting perspective.

ELFA project

Academia is a world of its own. Linguistic controversies are fought among scholars with little interest from the outside world. There was outrage in response to early propositions that English used as a lingua franca (ELF) should be studied as a legitimate form of English in its own right, and not as perpetually deficient “learner language”. Yet, the ELF world outside kept communicating, and 15-or-so years since the pioneers of ELF research fought their early battles, academics are gradually recognising the uncontroversial and obvious linguistic reality around them.

While academia moves at the speed of, well, academia, I’ve always had more hope for business. English as a lingua franca of business (BELF) is nothing new, and as with academic ELF, there are English native speakers in the mix. How do they adjust to their ELF surroundings? People in business are motivated by money, which motivates efficiency, which motivates doing things…

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Identity in foreign language learning and teaching: why listening to our students’ and teachers’ voices really matters | TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC

See on Scoop.itDavid Bradshaw ESOL

RT @TESOLatMQ: Identity in foreign lang learning and teaching: why listening to our s’s and t’s voices really matters #TESOL #AusELT http://t.co/mezjqq8R7P

David Bradshaw‘s insight:

This addresses a very serious issue in ELT.

See on www.teachingenglish.org.uk