(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
It can seem like our students have about a 20-second attention span. So we try to squeeze in introductions to new Writing units during that period of time before they start thinking about text messages, their lunch, tonight’s date, last night’s date …
There is an effective and stimulating method for getting students to immediately interact with a new Writing unit through a listening activity. We want them to feel engaged as they focus on the format and techniques that they will use when they eventually write an essay in this mode. This approach does it in a user-friendly, enjoyable way. Also, a side benefit is that students internalize some new sentence styles and new vocabulary.
First example of this approach
Imagine that you want your students to learn how to write a narrative paragraph “essay” with a clear topic sentence and supporting ideas. Steps:
1) Students listen to the teacher read the paragraph at the top of this post “Best Friend’s Surprise.” They do not see this paragraph; they only hear it.
2) After they hear it, they are given the paragraph in a cloze form (i.e., blank line replace some phrases). At the top of the cloze paragraph is a list of the phrases (in random order) that they will chose from to fill in the blanks. They try to complete the cloze. The teacher can re-read the paragraph script several times if necessary.
3) To help them further internalize the features, style and vocabulary, they write the paragraph without looking at the cloze. To help them remember the details, they look at “Key Words to Help You Write.” For example, these are the key words for ““Best Friend’s Surprise,” the paragraph at the top of this posting.
The students’ style and grammar may not be exactly the same as the script, but the basic ideas will be.
After writing this, they have a clear model, that they themselves have written, from which to build on when doing exercises about organization (e.g. topic sentences) and grammar/style (e.g. identify subjects, verbs and conjunctions etc.) They will also have activated some vocabulary that had previously been passive for them (e.g. workout partner, amazing story).
Complete example for “A Four-Paragraph Essay that Includes a Description of a Person.”
Exercise 1: They just listen without looking at the cloze. Then they fill in the cloze by using the phrases given.
Exercise 2: They underline the thesis statement and topic sentences on the cloze that they just completed.
Exercise 3: Without looking at the cloze, they write the essay using the “Key Words.”
An option for the teacher: These essay provide a great opportunity for the teacher to help students with their grammar and editing-skill in a writing context and point out what they did well in their writing.
For an effective technique for leading students to discover their mistakes, see Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills .
Also, see Writing class: Easy, focused, POSITVE feedback on essays. for a user-friendly (for the teacher) technique for giving positive feedback to the student-writer.)
To show you how this lead to them to writing their own essays, I’ve included Exercise 4 in which students choose one of the topics and write a brief first draft.
For more activities like these see Write After Input