I find that writing is an area of teaching that I tend to neglect which is a shame because it is a vital skill and also a fantastic way to see student’s progress and identify problems which they may have.
I avoid writing exercises in class because it feels like a waste of good speaking time. Students can write anywhere but the classroom is often the one place where they have a chance to interact, hear other English speakers and have their mistakes corrected. However, simply setting writing exercises as homework can also pose problems, such as:
- Students handwriting is often difficult to read and there is little space to make meaningful corrections
- They don’t get to see what each other have written, (you could pin the corrected texts up on the wall but this isn’t always practical and depends on students writing nicely formatted texts on single sided pieces of paper).
- Reading the texts aloud can be unnatural and boring and often the other students don’t understand everything which is being said.
I now regularly use the following activity for writing practise and it has proved to be both popular and rewarding.
Create a shared document (I use Google docs) and share it with each of the students. Student’s don’t need to have Google accounts, anyone with an email address is able to access it. Set a question and ask students to write their responeses on the shared document. Questions might include:
What are you optimistic about?
Which figure from history do you most admire?
What is your favourite place in the world?
Set a cut off time and then correct the texts. I use strike through for errors and bold for where I have added words. I put alternative suggestions in brackets. For example:
“So I admire social movements more than “important” individuals, because I don’t think that history is
made (forged) by “important men”, but by a lot of “small” people working with other small persons people. As an example, I name Georg Elser, as an important person (figure) in German history.”
After making the corrections, I print the texts, one for each student. Then in class we read (quietly) each text and then discuss that contribution as well as any issues arising from corrections made before moving onto the next text.
After the first week, I assign a student responsibility for setting next week’s question and all I need to do is set up and send out a link to a new blank shared document, the students take responsibility for everything else.