Question of the week

Writing is an area of English teaching which is often neglected. However, it is a vital skill to practise and a fantastic way to observe students’ progress and identify their areas of weakness.

Doing writing exercises in class can feel like a waste of good speaking time. Students can write anywhere, but the classroom is often the only place where they will have a chance to interact in English, 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 practice 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 responses 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 deadline and correct the texts before the next class. 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 the corrections 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.

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