Writing class: How many drafts should ESL students write? Three!

Writing three drafts

Writing three drafts

An academic ESL writing instructor whom I was mentoring recently asked me how I dealt with the different drafts of essays.  She was sure that students needed to write at least four or fives drafts, but she wasn’t sure how she should respond to each draft.

At some point in the writing process, the amount of time and energy that the students and instructor put into an essay outweighs the benefits.  If our goal is to help students develop writing skills and to develop writing techniques, writing more than three drafts can be overkill.  And “marking” more than one draft, can be a less-than-optimal use of time and energy by the instructor.

Here are the “three-drafts” steps that seem to give students the most skill-development.  It also allows the instructors to have meaningful input in a time-efficient manner.

1) Students choose a topic and write a list of ideas (outline).  The instructor looks over the list and makes suggestions if necessary.

2) DRAFT 1: Students write a first draft.  The instructor looks over the first draft just to make sure the student is going in the right direction.  S/he does not indicate grammar mistakes, nor does s/he make suggestions for improving the content yet.

3) The instructor introduces (and students practice) specific techniques which students can use when they write their second drafts. 1

4) DRAFT 2: Students write a second draft incorporating these new techniques.  They also carefully check their grammar.  The instructor does not read these unless a student has a specific part that they’d like help with.

5) Optional: Students complete a peer-editing activity with a classmate.  They may want to revise their essay after this. 2

6) Students give their draft to the instructor who indicates grammar mistakes, suggests ways to improve the content/organization, and points out what the student has done well. 3 The instructor gives a preliminary grade.

7) DRAFT 3: The students write a third draft using the instructor’s suggestions for improving grammar and content.  They submit this for a final grade. The instructor does not mark grammar mistakes or suggest ways to improve content.

At this point, the essays may not be “perfect,” but the students have had the opportunity to try out techniques, new vocabulary and sentence styles.  And they received extensive feedback from the instructor on their second draft.  Also, most important of all, they had an opportunity to revise the essay making use of the instructor’s comments.

When they have completed this set of steps, they have pretty much got the maximum benefits from that essay; they are ready to move on to a fresh essay topic.

1 For specific techniques for improving second drafts, see Writing Strategies Intermediate and Writing Strategies Advanced by D. & P. Kehe, ProLingua. http://www.prolinguaassociates.com/Pages/wsbook.html

2 In a future posting, I will include a user-friendly peer editing activity.

3  For a system for proving positive feedback, see Writing class: Easy, focused, POSITVE feedback on essays.

David Kehe

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