• LINCS Topic 1: What are your thoughts about implementing a process approach to teaching writing? 

Cover Day 1 REV Process

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

This posting is a more detailed response to my interview question on Day 1.LINCS Discussion: Student-Centered Approach to Teaching Writing Skills. .

Below in blue, you’ll find the details that I’ve added to the Day 1 LINCS’ posting.

The key to a productive process approach is to have a clear purpose for each of the drafts. Here is the process that I’ve found to be the most effective, time-efficient, and user-friendly for the students and teacher. And it involves only three drafts.

Before starting the writing process, the teacher briefly introduces the type of writing that the students will be working on, for example a mode like Narration or Exposition.

Step 1. Preparation for 1st draft. The teacher gives students a list of 5-15 topics to choose from. It works well to include topics that they’ll be able to think of details to write about and also ones that would be enjoyable for others to read. If a student has a topic not on the list that they’d like to write about, they first have to have it approved by the teacher. Each student chooses one of the topics.

I knew a teacher who was under the assumption that process approach meant students needed to find their own topics. I found out that many of those students spent a lot of time trying to come up with a topic or would write about topics that they had written about in the past. Also, some would decide on a topic only to discover that it wasn’t appropriate for that assignment.

After they have chosen a topic, they write a list of ideas. It’s important to be flexible about how many details to expect in this step. I know some native-speakers who are great writers but actually hate to write an outline in advance. They discover what they want to write as they are writing. However, I think that without us requiring a list, student will just start writing and miss the opportunity to see how helpful a list can be, especially considering that they may be working with a pattern of organization that is different from the ones in their own culture.

After they write their lists, the teacher briefly looks them over and, if necessary, makes some suggestions. This usually takes less than two minutes per student.

Step 2) Write 1st draft. After students write their first draft, the teacher looks them over   just to make sure the students are going in the right direction.  They do not indicate grammar mistakes, nor do they make suggestions for improving the content yet, unless the student is off track. Again, this usually only takes a couple of minutes per student.

Step 3) Preparation for 2nd draft. Before students write a second draft, we want to make sure that they have specific ways that they can improve their first draft. It doesn’t help students to just say, “Now write a second draft and try to improve your grammar and content.”

Depending on the level and mode, it’s a good idea to have them practice around three to five new techniques with each mode that they can use to improve their second draft. Here are some examples. Notice that these techniques are generic and could be practices and used with almost any mode.

Example 1
One technique is to improve their second draft by writing interesting first sentences. For example: Topic: Families
Boring first sentence: Everyone has a family, and I do too.
Interesting first sentence: Most people have some positive and negative emotions about their families.

(If you’d like to see this complete exercise and to try it out with your students, see  Writing Outstanding First Sentences on Essays (Applying Critical Think Techniques)

Example 2
Another technique is to make ideas clearer by adding examples.
(See  Powerful Tool for ESL Writers: Giving Examples in Essays.)

Example 3
A technique that they can use to make the support for their ideas especially interesting to the reader is to include information from their country or/culture.
(See The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates )

Example 4
Brief narratives to illustrate a point within a paragraph of an essay can be stimulating for the reader (and fun for the students to write). (See  ESL Students Can Increase Positive Emotions in Readers/Teachers with This Writing Technique

Example 5
They can work with a variety of introductions, for example, use a quote, tell a brief personal experience, use a dramatic introduction, tell other’s experience, statistics, tell common knowledge, include a surprising idea. Then for their second draft, they’ll choose one of these. (Interestingly, I have found that once they learn about dramatic introductions, it becomes the favorite for many of them. (See Teaching the Most Interesting Type of Essay Introduction–an Inductive Approach)

Some other examples of techniques that we can show them and that they can use in second drafts:

  • Include information in the news
  • Use a hypothetical
  • Include a personal experience
  • Tell other people’s experience.
  • Use a variety of conclusions, for example, use a quote, complete the story in the introduction, tell why the information in the essay is importanta hypothetical

The teacher can also show them how they can improve their sentence style when they write their second drafts. For example:

Step 4) Write 2nd draft. Students write a second draft incorporating these new techniques.  They also carefully check their grammar.  They can ask the teacher if they want help with a specific part. Option: Students complete a peer-editing activity with a classmate. (See   Give the Writer not the Editor Control during Peer Editing in Writing Class ) They may want to revise their essay after that.

Students give these 2nd drafts to the teacher. After class, the teacher mark the papers indicating grammar mistakes and suggests ways to improve the content/organization. S/he also points out what the students have done well.  S/he returns the marked papers, and the students try to correct their grammar mistake on the paper. They can also conference with the teacher about their revisions.

In Day 3’s discussion, I’ll explain with more details about how we can provide feedback on the grammar and content in the students’ papers.

Step 5) Write 3rd draft. The students write a third draft using the instructor’s suggestions for improving grammar and content.  The instructor does not mark grammar mistakes or suggest ways to improve content on this 3rd draft, unless a student asks for specific help.

At this point, the essays may not be “perfect,” but the students have had the opportunity to try out techniques and sentence styles.  And they have received extensive feedback from the instructor on their second draft.  Also, most important of all, they have 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 / mode.

David Kehe

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