Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Why Do I Have To Write This, Teacher?

Probably one of the most obvious difficulties when we ask our students to write something in English is to give them a valid reason for doing so. As a teacher who decided to promote a communicative classroom, I would say that the best way of overcoming such a problem is by means of encouraging our students to write for real audiences. If languages exit so as to help us communicate with others, it is only logical that whenever our students use the target language it should be for the sake of sending and receiving messages. In the particular case of writing, it is sometimes more difficult to find authentic readers than to find authentic listeners (we can carry out lots of speaking activities in the classroom). Depending both on the aims of the course we are teaching and our students' needs it is certainly difficult to find instances of actual communication through writing. Since writing is the only skill that cannot be acquired but must be taught (we all need some kind of help to learn how to write) it is essential for us to find the time and the means to teach our students writing skills. We cannot expect them to magically acquire writing skills by means of just exposing them to model texts and directly asking them to write independently.
There are lots of aspects to take into account if we are to teach writing as a skill to communicate effectively with others.
First, we should bear in mind that writing and, therefore, learning how to write are both a process. We cannot ask our students to become proficient communicative writers overnight. It necessary for us to show them that there are several skills that need to be developed so as to enhance their writing. Students should be given opportunities to plan (i.e. to brainstorm, to create mindmaps, to make summaries of main points to be included in the text or to simply jot down words or ideas that they think are connected with the text's main idea). To develop planning, students can be simply asked to carry out "planning" activities without actually thinking of writing anything but just to practise the skill. Students should also be given opportunities to develop and improve their editing skills. Either as a step of a writing process or as an activity in itself, editing should be devoted enough time for students to become aware of how important drafting is when writing (it is true, however, that editing may not be an essential skill nowadays because most of the writing students do in real life is informal and needs no focus on accuracy: chatting, blog, photoblog, facebook and twitter posting and so on). Once students have planned, outlined and edited their text it is time for them to "make it public." It is essential for us to make it clear from the very beginning that what they are writing is for someone in particular, as Tricia Hedge very well wrote in her book 'Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom', "helping student writers to develop a sense of audience is another important task." Our students need to know that writing in English holds no difference with writing in their mother tongue: when we write we always have in mind the target reader because we always write to someone (even to ourselves but there is always a reader). Consequently, it become essential for teachers to be able to provide students with authentic audiences for them to be able to actually send a message while writing. There are several ways and places in which we can find authentic audiences: with the Internet so accessible nowadays we can help our students find lots of readers and writers with whom they can exchange realistic messages (e.g.: blogs, photoblogs, wikis, forums, social networks...). If access to the Internet were not possible, we could still find audiences within school (students from the same or other classrooms) or outside school (parents, students or teachers from other schools).

Since developing a sense of audience is so important, I would like to share with you a presentation created by Gladys Baya, who is an English teacher and teacher trainer. In this presentation, she provides us with several examples of authentic audiences to enhance both speaking and writing skills.

So when your students come and ask you "teacher, why do I have to write this?" you can very well answer: "the why can only be answered once you have decided who you are writing to..."

Post based on "Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom," Chapter IX, Tricia Hedge, Oxford University Press.


  1. Nice ideas! Sure you'll be a great teacher!

    Best regards,


  2. hi ALe.... a pleasure to read u again....

    I totally agree with you and Gladys about the importance of finding the right audience for a piece of writing, however if my students asked why they are writing, I would certainly go for emphasizing the value of writing as part of communication... and therefore, the importance of having a message to communicate as part of the PROCESS, something meaningful and relevant to say... that will easily take them to brainstorm ideas!!

    Just seeing another side of the same communication ;)

    Love your ideas as usual and you make me learn a loT!!!!

    read u soon!


  3. That's the point Yohi! If I'm going to tell my students that the aim of writing is communication I will certainly need them to think of an audience since without one authentic communication can never take place!
    What to say is as important as how to say it and to whom I am going to say it! (:
    Thanks a lot for comment!
    See u tomorrow!

  4. Hi Alez!
    Great entry, as usual! Remember I'll be looking forward to hearing from you in future, to learn what impact these ideas actually make in your classrooms!

    Yoha and you are both right in emphasizing the communicative nature of writing. We, EFL teachers, frequently turn writing tasks into pseudo-communicative at the best, which is a real pity, don't you think?

    In general, I second all your words. One point I'd like to make, though, is that it's not easy for us to carry out speaking tasks with our students, since we both teach monolingual classes! I'd say in this case the only hope lies again in online communication, or the eventual foreigner visiting to our class!

    I'd like to finish by going back to a phrase of yours I couldn't agree more with: it is essential for us to find the time and the means to teach our students writing skills. And there's one thing Juan doesn't know: you already ARE a great teacher.
    Way to go!

    PS: I do not share the idea that editing might be "avoidable" today at all, but let's leave that discussion for another entry, shall we? ;-)

  5. I really enjoyed your ideas and do believe that students should write for real audiences. That is why I really enjoy getting my students to publish their work online through tools like Voicethread, blogs, wikis, etc. It motivates them when they receive comments from an audience worldwide.

  6. Thanks Shelly!
    I hope one day I can say I handle all those sites naturally and without any effort. The main problem, I guess, when it comes to online sharing is that not all of my students (depending, of course, on where I work) have regular access to the Net. What I have already started doing with my students is sharing info and their work via e-mail and Yahoo Groups. There's still a long way to go but I'm pretty sure I'll figure out the best way of improving my students' learning experience.
    Thanks a lot for sharing! :)

  7. Hi Alez!

    I agree with you that for the students to have real motivation when working on a task it is essential they have a reason for doing so - other than having the teacher read, correct and grade it. And having students practice their writing skills through authentic tasks, something that's going to actually be read by someone else and will accomplish something is the best way.

    However, I have two difficulties in proposing only these kind of writing activities to my students: the first is finding as many authentic tasks (although I do have to admit that after joining twitter and reading the work and ideas of many wonderful educators, such as yourself, my range of activities has greatly broadened). the second, and probably mode restraining, is what is demanded from me by the school I teach at. The school requires a certain number of writing assignments, as well as the types of writing we have to teach students - not to mention having to cover the (much talkes about and despised) coursebooks, which have writing tasks of their own. Of course I try my hardest at being creative and turning many of the activities I HAVE to do into more meaningful and fun ones. But sadly I admit it's not enough to make them all authentic.

    Great post! Lots of ideas and food for thought :-) Thanks for sharing!