Module 1| Describing language and language skills| Language Skills: Writing
Why do we write?
Nowadays, unlike in the old days, people do not write as much. However, we do tend to write small things once in while, e.g. a to-do list, a letter to someone, a page in your diary…etc. If you are a student, you might have written answers to questions or an essay. All these examples are various types of writing. There are dissimilar features of writing which we must learn about if we want to learn to write.
There are two common reasons why people write any text. They are:
- To communicate a specific message
- To communicate to someone
These two reasons influence what and how we write. As an example, if one writes a note to oneself as a reminder, it could be written in very illegible or in short form that no one would understand except for the one who wrote it. If someone is writing a note to someone else, it would probably be written in clearer and more respectful, polite language.
The focus on accuracy and communication in writing
Writing is a task that uses more than one subskill and some are connected to accuracy. Accuracy is the proper use of the right forms of language. Words must be spelled correctly, letters must be formed properly, the writing should be clear and legible, punctuation should be used correct, the proper layouts should be used, the right type of vocabulary must be chosen, grammar must be correct, sentences must be connected to one another properly and in the right way and paragraphs must be using correctly. This is all writing accuracy. However, writing is not only about accuracy but also about having a message and conveying this message properly and with success to others. To be able to do this properly, we must have ideas to convey and be able to organise them properly and describe them in the right way.
Given below is a table taken from a primary-school writing syllabus. The points in the left column are all focussing on accuracy, whereas the column on the right side is focussing on communication. Have a look at the contents of this table closely.
§ Showing an understanding that letters can be combined to form words, and producing letter shapes, including capital letters, correctly
§ Using initial capital letters and full stops to indicate sentences
§ Employing a range of connectives to express sequence (e.g. next, then)
§ Completing simple poems and rhymes with some language support and based on models
§ Expressing your own experience by supplying labels for your own drawings
§ Making simple greetings cards and invitations based on models
§ Responding to greetings and invitations in short notes based on models
(adapted from Syllabuses for Primary Schools, English Language, Primary 1-6, the Education Department, Hong Kong 1997)
Stages in writing
When writing, there are a number of stages to go through. Here are the stages we go through when we write out of the classroom.
- Brainstorming (thinking very carefully of every possible thing we can think about the topic of what we are writing.
- Making notes
- Planning (thinking our ideas through and organising them carefully)
- Writing a draft (an incomplete piece of writing which is left to be altered later, or to have more added to it)
- Editing (reading through, making corrections and improvements to the text)
- Producing another draft
- Proof-reading (reading through carefully and looking for mistakes in accuracy) or editing it once more
The nerd baby says ...
- When we teach our students the writing subskills, they will be varied quite a lot. This depends on the age of the students and their needs. If the student is a primary level student, the teacher would need to spend extra time teaching them how to form words and write short texts like short paragraphs. These might consist of only a few words or sentences and is done usually by copying models. If the student is a secondary level student, the teachers would need to teach the students the appropriate skills on how to write longer pieces of text, e.g. letters, essays, emails.
- Accuracy, building up and conveying a message are things which need to be focused on. Teachers must pay special attention to these when teaching writing to students no matter the age or the type of writing.
- In some situations, students in the classroom do writing by completing various activities, e.g. filling in gaps between sentences, writing answers of only one word for reading comprehension questions, taking notes for listening comprehension, etc… while these activities are essential for teaching grammar, as well as listening and reading, they do not teach necessary writing skills. For that, teachers need to focus closely on accuracy, communication of messages and the process of writing.
- A good way for teachers to aid students develop their messages is by encouraging the students to make use of the writing process in the classroom as well as out of the classroom.
Test your knowledge
Given below are a few ideas for writing activities. Have a look at them and try to find out whether they focus on accuracy or communicating ideas.
- Reading a chart and then writing sentences or paragraphs about the chart. Here is an example:
Listening to the radio
E.g. Janes like dancing, but Bill doesn’t.
- Writing letters, e.g. a letter to a relative in a foreign country, asking about how they are doing.
- Labelling things, e.g. clothes, animals etc…
- Finishing a story, e.g. the students are given a part of the story, either the beginning, middle or the end and are asked to complete the missing pieces of it.
- Copying words or text from a reading or textbook into the students notebook.
- Writing emails to others
Think about yourself. Think about the way you learned to write in English. Was it a good way? Was it fun? Did you enjoy it?
When you learned to write English, what were the writing sub-skills that your teacher/s focused on mainly?
For you, what were the easiest and hardest parts about writing English?
Refer to the list of text types that you have made during the week and make a note next to each of them about the reason why you wrote and who you wrote to. Write your answers down.
Write a letter, note or email to a friend of yours. Notice what subskills you are using while you write. Which of these are you using: thinking of ideas, ordering ideas, forming letters correctly, writing sentences with proper grammar, linking sentences and checking your writing accuracy.
In the box below are given the writing subskills listed from A-G. Read the questions below and match them with the correct answer from the box. There is one extra subskill in the box which is not necessary.
A punctuating correctly
D forming letters
F using the appropriate layout
- Raise your hand into the air and use your finger to write the words a-p-p-l-e.
- Put a tick in the right place in this letter for the address of the person who will receive it and cross the correct for the date.
- This text does not have any commas, full stops or exclamation points. Read the letter and add them in the right places.
- Select the best conjunction from these: because, while, after. Connect the sentence pairs using the conjunction that you selected.
- Take a look at this list of suggestions for compositions. Put them in the proper order that you would write about them in your composition.
- Once you have finished all your writing, go back and check it for language errors you may have made.