Text Teach Text: an approach to teaching writing

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I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the test teach test paradigm.

I like it because:

  • You don’t waste time teaching learners what they already know
  • Progress is easily measurable (at the end of the lesson, learners can compare their pre and post intervention test scores and should perceive some progress).

For some time now, test teach test has been my one of my favourite ways to teach grammar and lexis. Imagine my delight when I found out that it can also be used to great effect in the writing classroom too!

So what might a test teach test writing look like and why does it work?

An example of a test teach test writing lesson

  • Decide on a short, real life writing task which your learners might conceivably need or want to perform in real life. Examples might include: writing a comment on a blog or newspaper article, writing an apologetic email to a friend, contributing to an online discussion forum, writing a recipe for a friend etc. You can find good examples of real life writing tasks from Rachael Robert’s excellent blog here.
  • Complete the writing task yourself before class. Keep it: you will need to refer to it later.
  • Using your knowledge of your learners and your own experience as a teacher, consider the problems your learners might have completing the task. Think in particular about how the learners will need to structure the text and what kind of language they will need to use to convey their meaning.
  • Give your learners time to write their text. With less confident, lower ability learners allow them to complete the task in pairs or even small groups.
  • The next bit depends on you! If you are confident and quick thinking under pressure read the instructions under Plan A. If, like me, you are a bit dithery and a slow reader, choose Plan B. Also choose Plan B if you have a large class.

Plan A

  • Send your learners for a five minute coffee break or give them a short task to complete in silence.
  • Read your learners’ texts and identify common errors. What is preventing them from communicating as successfully as they should? These errors might include: lexical errors (depending on the topic of the text), structural errors, grammatical errors (using the wrong tense or mixing tenses), using an overly formal/informal register etc.
  • Discuss the two or three most serious issues with your learners. You don’t need to identify anyone personally though. Ease the pressure by saying “some of you did this/ didn’t do this”. Write (anonymised) examples of errors on the board and ask learners to identify the problem.
  • Display your own example text on the board, drawing learners’ attention to lexis, generic structure, register etc. Try not to overload them though: sometimes less is more.
  • Ask learners to rewrite their initial text. Collect the texts in, and identify areas which are still problematic.

Plan B

  • Do exactly the same as Plan A, but do it in the comfort of your own home/empty classroom
  • Using the extra time at your disposal, source/invent a few activities which address the common needs you have identified in your learners’/ texts. Get learners to work through the activities. Circulate, offering support where necessary.
  • Ask learners to rewrite their initial text. Collect the texts in, and identify areas which are still problematic.

Why this works

This works for learners because they can compare their original text with their rewritten version and see their progress. They do not have to wait ages to get feedback on their work (especially if you pick “Plan A “).

Learners often view writing lessons as rather staid, solitary affairs. Approached in this way, writing becomes more communal and communicative, while working with short “real-life” texts is manageable and more motivating for learners.

This writing lesson works for you, the teacher, because you don’t have to spend hours annotating, colour coding or otherwise correcting learners’ texts which will be stuffed into learners’ folders and never looked at again.

I hope I’ve convinced you that a text teach text writing lesson is well worth a try.  Let me know how you get on with it!

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3 Responses to Text Teach Text: an approach to teaching writing

  1. BerLingo says:

    Hi Genevieve, it’s just dawned on me that this blog belongs to the same person who just followed me on Twitter 🙂 (I was looking on your blog for your name to address this comment to someone but couldn’t find it!)
    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I love the sound of this idea, and will certainly try it with my current intensive class because I got them to do some feedback for me at the end of our first week together and almost all of them wanted more writing practice. They’re a total mixture of levels, but I think this approach could work well as a consequence!
    Thanks for the inspiration 🙂
    Rachel

    • joco75 says:

      Hi Rachel,

      Aha – yes, @ShetlandESOL and I are one and the same! 🙂

      I’m really pleased you like the sound of this idea – do let me know how it works for you! Maybe you could blog about it? 😉 I would be really interested to hear how it works out with a mixed group, as I think the groups I’ve tried it with in the past have been of similar ability.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting!

      Genny

      • BerLingo says:

        Nice to ‘meet’ you, Genny 🙂
        I will indeed! Just need to think where to weave it in to my classes; I only have this random group of students for another 8 days or so.
        I’m getting a bit obsessed with this blogging malarkey at the moment, though, I fear it’s addictive!

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