From Reading to Creative Writing

 

When discussing about writing, it is useful to consider some fallacies that have dominated EFL teaching in the last few decades. The first one concerns the widespread idea that if speaking comes naturally, so does writing. It is true that one way or another, learners will develop the skill of oral communication and most of them will eventually manage to get the message across. However, unlike speech, which comes at an unconscious level, writing is carefully constructed through teaching, at a fully conscious level.

Secondly, whereas speech takes place in a given context, often with both, speaker and listener present in the scene, the writer has to create a fully explicit context, as the reader is not present and interaction is achieved only through the text. Finally, it is a fact that in EFL, writing has commonly been viewed as a support skill, used to reinforce the acquisition of grammar (grammar-translation method), or to support the memorization of language structures, as in the audio-lingual method. Until recently, even the communicative approach, which places emphasis on oral proficiency, has tended to play down the importance of writing. Even in cases in which young EFL students finally develop writing skills, these will be at sentence level, usually in the form of a friendly conversation or an email to a friend.

 

When do we start?

The basic skills of paragraph writing are developed from the early stages of tuition, but writing itself begins on the very first day in class, with actual classroom practices which are the basis for what is happening in the class.  Activities should be real-life tasks and up to their pragmatic and linguistic competence to make sure that they have a genuine interest to do them. In other words, unless they can relate to a particular task, because it is fun or personalized, they have no reason to get involved and the task won’t be an effective learning experience. Tasks which seem more suitable for lower/junior levels are reports based on class surveys they have previously conducted, short descriptions of places or people (The Gallery of Teachers and/or peers, family members) etc.

 

Dictation is a rather controversial writing activity, which, however, is useful in lower levels. Dictation can be more versatile than its typical, traditional form based on the students’ active participation, who might provide context for the lexical items they have to practise. For an alternative form of dictation the teacher dictates a short text with gaps and asks students to fill the gaps using the words they had to learn. Checking dictation by interchanging the student’s notebooks and finally writing the correct model on the board as a guide for corrections is another possibility that will motivate young learners.

 

It is assumed that by reaching Intermediate level most students have managed to acquire a basic proficiency in writing and they are able to cope with more challenging tasks in the form of “essays” or “articles”. 

 

Writing at Intermediate Level

It is assumed that by reaching Intermediate level most students have managed to acquire a basic proficiency in writing and they are able to cope with more challenging tasks in the form of “essays” or “articles”. Such tasks are part of many external proficiency examinations and require skills that need to be practised extensively in order for your students to be able to organise their ideas and produce a coherent text that will satisfy their examiners. Essay and article writing, however, can prove extremely difficult to cope with even in our mother tongue, mainly due to lack of pragmatic, rather than linguistic knowledge. Therefore, rather than attempting to solve the problem with “recipes” and unrealistic model compositions, teachers should previously provide sufficient context in the form of newspaper articles, or listening reports, which are first extensively discussed and analysed before their ideas provide a purpose for the writing tasks. Such context is easily found on the internet and/or newspapers and magazines but they will need to be carefully treated and presented to the students to enhance motivation.   

 

Integrating skills to promote creative writing

Krashen’s idea of Free Voluntary Reading can lead to Free Voluntary Writing. The idea is based on a reading course running parallel to the main course during which students are encouraged to read books of their own choice. A more down to earth version of FVR involves the use of simplified class readers organised chapter by chapter by the teacher. The students are allowed to read one or two chapters each time and subsequently carry out a number of while-reading and after -reading activities aiming at checking understanding, analyzing events or characters, predicting the content of the next chapter, etc. Finally, after the completion of the book, students are encouraged to work in groups and cooperate in order to write their own novel, which they present to class.

 

Other activities of creative writing may include a competition of ad hoc written short, sting-in-the tail stories based on four unrelated elements provided by the teacher: a person, an object, a place and a situation (a plumber, a sofa, an art gallery, being trapped in a blaze). As in many other areas of EFL, motivation is the key to active participation. For the computer literate teacher, launching a blog in which class members will have their views on topics discussed in class publicized will sparkle a lot of enthusiasm. For the less advanced in modern technology, a Wall Journal in a corner of the school will do the job. The Blog or the Journal is a great way to get your students to write on a regular basis their ideas or thoughts on current events, personal experiences, etc. In all such activities teachers should be a much lower key and act as facilitators, responsible for creating the best possible conditions for learning and allowing their students some leeway.

 

Correction

Although the focus of Free Writing Activities should be to motivate learners to get involved, it is also reasonable that they should be able to correct their own mistakes. Moreover, a piece of written work which is made public with a number of serious lexical or grammar mistakes, may be more discouraging and counterproductive than correction itself. By underlining their mistakes in the first draft, the teacher helps students to focus their attention and hopefully correct most of them. This procedure will not solve all the problems, however, and the teacher should have to make a list of the most serious mistakes and explain them openly in class. •

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