How do you teach effective writing?

Fellow teachers of English Language will agree with me that many students experience challenges with the writing skill yet it is one of the most important skills of Language. We need to come up with various strategies to help them to develop effective writing skills.

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Paul Swaga

Fellow teachers of English Language will agree with me that many students experience challenges with the writing skill yet it is one of the most important skills of Language. We need to come up with various strategies to help them to develop effective writing skills. I have a few tips that I would like to share with you. You may try out some of them and see whether they can work for your students.

We should first equip learners with the basic aspects of grammar which include nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, articles, conjunctions and prepositions. They should know how to use these words to form meaningful sentences. It is advisable that you use the communicative competence approach which enables learners to communicate using the various grammar aspects but if you concentrate on teaching the rules, many of your students may end up just cramming the concepts without being able to use them to construct their own sentences.

You should handle one aspect at time in detail by involving learners in group work which requires them to write sentences that are grammatically correct. It is also important to teach other aspects of grammar like direct and indirect speech, infinitives and gerunds, and comparatives and superlatives.

When you realise that they have acquired some basic knowledge of grammar, you may guide them on how to use the various verb tenses. It is better to teach the tenses by asking students to base on real life situations when giving examples of sentences using the various tenses. For instance, if you are teaching the present simple tense, you may ask each student to write down the activities that he or she gets involved in every day or on a regular basis.  This approach helps them to know the functions of English Language and they learn it with enthusiasm.

It is not good to rely so much on the text book examples because some of them may not be connected with the reality of your students. I have also found out that the present perfect and past perfect tenses tease many of our students. Therefore, you need to give these two tenses more time than the others so that the learners are able to use them correctly in their written pieces of work.

As they progress, guide them on how to write good sentences in English. You should focus on the subject-verb-object arrangement in the active voice and the object-verb-subject order in the passive voice. Let them realise that a sentence is considered as being incomplete if it does not have a subject and a verb. You should also guide them on the subject-verb agreement most especially in the present simple tense.

After learning how to write sentences, you should focus on writing paragraphs by showing them that a paragraph contains several sentences about a single idea. Let them know that a paragraph should have a topic sentence and support sentences. The topic sentence should state the point and the support sentences should give explanations and an example if necessary to enable the reader to understand the intended message of the writer.

Students can do a lot of practice on this aspect by working in groups to develop paragraphs basing on set topic sentences. Each group should present their work using either a flip chart or the chalkboard. The rest of the students should check whether the paragraph of a given group has been written effectively. You can also jumble the sentences that make up a paragraph and ask each group to write them according to their right order in the paragraph. This helps them to know how to create coherence in paragraphs. Such group activities are very exciting to the students as each group will try its best to present correct work to minimize criticisms from the rest of the members of the class.

When you realise that learners have attained a clear understanding of writing paragraphs, you should introduce them to essay writing by showing them the connection between paragraph writing and essay writing. They should be able to know that an essay contains various points about the same topic. At this stage, you may begin giving them topics to write about in groups and you should guide them on the steps to follow such as generating the points, formulating the title, writing the introduction, presenting the points in various paragraphs and writing the conclusion. Let them know how to write the different types of essays.

Guide them on how to punctuate their essays so that the readers can read with ease and clearly understand the intended message.

You should encourage learners to read other people’s work so as to get some ideas that they may apply in their own work. They should be able to get exposed to grammar in application and see how different writers are able to sustain the readers’ interests.

All in all, teaching effective writing requires you to move step by step so that the learners can easily follow.

The writer is an English Language Instructor.

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