Number one for English language teachers

Writing skills: Thinking about writing

Level: Intermediate, Upper intermediate Type: Teaching notes

This lesson looks at a few techniques for ‘thinking’ about writing. There are 3 tasks: brainstorming, loop writing and speed writing.

There are 3 tasks but you do not need to do all 3.

Time: Approx. 40 minutes (but this depends on how many of the tasks you want to do in one lesson).

Materials

None – the materials will be dependent on your class/students. However, you may wish to use the examples below the first time you try these techniques.

If possible it would be useful to bring in examples of different types of ‘long’ writing (i.e. letters, articles, reports, essays etc). These do not necessarily have to be ‘real’ examples (although those can be useful) but could be from coursebooks, the Internet, or even from other students (clearly these would need to be ‘good’ models).

Explanation

We often spend time on the nuts and bolts of writing such as sentence or paragraph structure, cohesion, appropriate language and style etc, but often neglect the pieces we want to bolt together. This lesson aims to address this ‘problem’.


Instructions

Task 1 – Brainstorming

  • Usually brainstorming is done in two ways: either students are put into small groups, given the topic and a time limit and told to write their ideas down – then all the groups ideas are collated; or the brainstorming is done as a whole class activity with students shouting out their ideas and the teacher writing these ideas on the board.
  • For this task we would like you to try a different technique for brainstorming. Start by writing the topic (or question) on the board. Sit your students in a circle (if possible) and tell them you will give each student 4 seconds to give you an answer. Start at the left of the circle and if the student gives you a response write it on the board and move on to the next student. If a student doesn’t say something within 4 seconds ask the student to move their chair slightly back and move on. Go round the whole class and then start again and repeat the process. On the third round any student who didn’t say anything (in any round) is ‘out’.
  • This brainstorming technique ensures that a) most students participate, and b) that the pace remains high.
  • Although the first time you use this brainstorming technique you may get little response once the students are used to it (and its rules) you will find that it is quite productive.

Task 2 – Speed writing

Note: For this activity students do the actual writing individually.

  • Make certain that all the students can see the ‘brainstorming’ board.
  • Tell the students you are going to give them only 15 minutes (you could give as little as 10 minutes but don’t give more than 20) to write.
  • They should concentrate on ideas, not on language, grammar or punctuation.
  • They write as quickly as possible and should not stop.
  • They cannot cross anything out or correct mistakes during this time.
  • If they cannot think of a word or a phrase they should leave a blank space or write it in their own language.
  • Once the time is up, shout ‘stop’.
  • Students should now work in pairs or small groups and read out what they have written.
  • At this stage all the students should just listen.
  • Next, as a group (or pair) the students should work through the text correcting mistakes, changing punctuation, translating words or phrases into English, or fill in the blanks.

Task 3 – Loop writing 

  • Loop writing is a way of ensuring paragraphs link together forming a coherent text.
  • In another writing lesson in this section Writing an essay on cause and effect the aim of the lesson was developing coherence and cohesion. This task is a continuation of that theme but builds upon the brainstorming and speed writing tasks (stages) in this lesson.
  • During the speed writing you will find that students have generated lots of ideas, but that most of these will be at a sentence level or possibly paragraph level. This means that these ideas now need to be structured into a complete text.
  • The task can be done either individually or in small groups (3 or 4)
  • In groups ask the students to choose 1 piece of writing.
  • Now ask them to read through it and link ideas together that have a similar sub-topic.
  • Now they should decide which idea (or sentence) will start the piece of writing.
  • Using this idea (and the ones that go with it in the same paragraph) they should write the first paragraph.
  • Next, they should summarise the first paragraph in one sentence. This sentence is then used to start the second paragraph. Follow the steps used to create the first paragraph and then summarise the second paragraph.
  • Use the sentence that summarises the second paragraph as the start of the third paragraph. Continue with these steps until you have completed the writing.
  • Read through again and check as a ‘whole’ text.
  • If the task is done individually the same steps are followed but there is no discussion between students about what should go where.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Hi there,
    Many thanks for leaving such lovely feedback. We're really happy to hear that your students enjoyed the lesson.
    Best wishes,
    The onestopenglish team

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  • Thank you so much for this step by step guide, especially for students who abhor writing.

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  • A very interesting lesson ; my sutdents loved it and found it very useful.

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