Writing is the weakest skill because it is the most neglected skill in the classroom. Students know it; instructors know it. Any survey asking ESL students to rank their English skills always places the productive skill of writing at the very bottom of the list. Teachers and learners shirk the quill for a host of reasons.
Writing consumes a lot of classroom time and in the CLT world in which we operate. Somehow we feel that if our students aren’t continually engaged in speaking tasks we are not doing our jobs. Strong speakers, after all, must be strong writers–just write what you’d say, right?
Teachers also don’t like marking loads of written material. Students can generate some mind-numbingly bad stuff and correcting elementary errors can hurt the soul. Learners tend to give only cursory glances to the returned homework assignments, even if (or especially if) they are covered in red ink. Further, teachers delay written feedback. One wonders if it has any real impact on a student’s learning even if it is not chucked aside. So, a teacher’s expenditure of effort has little perceived value.
One approach to solving this complex problem is to consider developing writing skills from a reading point of view. We know that flooding a listener with certain types of input can help with their speaking. We also know that prolonged remedial writing sessions are boring and could have the opposite effect of alienating a learner entirely. Helping students to notice patterns in other people’s written material may be a start. The topic > reason > explanation pattern is prevalent in virtually all writing styles. So stop clicking your pen and start clicking your mouse.
Here is a learner’s example of the topic > reason > explanation pattern:
Fat people can be sexy. Sexy is a state of mind, and rarely has anything to do with your size. If you believe you are sexy and you project sexy, then sexy you are at any size.
If teachers can raise a learner’s awareness of this pattern, they should be able to hunt for it in text, and also model the structure in their output during restrictive writing tasks.
When students are able to write a three-sentence paragraph, they’ll be able to add three more sentences to generate a six-sentence-paragraph. (At the elementary level, the conclusion is just a restatement of the topic sentence.)
topic > reason > explanation > reason > explanation > conclusion
Fat people can be sexy. Sexy is a state of mind, and rarely has anything to do with your size. If you believe you are sexy and you project sexy, then sexy you are at any size. Sexy is not about what others think of you, it is about how you feel about yourself. If you look in the mirror and feel sexy, then you are sexy. Weight has nothing to do with your sex appeal.
If you are interested in learning even more about TOEFL Writing, check out my course Clear Strategies & Tactics.
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