There are several ways to approach writing in the classroom. It should be said at the beginning that there is not necessarily any 'right' or 'best' way to teach writing skills. The best practice in any situation will depend on the type of student, the text type being studied, the school system and many other factors. Thus, this article cannot prescribe a system for the teaching of writing that is optimal for all teaching situations. Rather, I hope to describe and contrast two popular, yet very different, approaches and examine how both can be used in the classroom.
- A product approach
- A process approach
- A summary of the differences
- Which approach to use
- One or the other
- Further reading
A product approach
This is a traditional approach, in which students are encouraged to mimic a model text, which is usually presented and analysed at an early stage. A model for such an approach is outlined below:
Model texts are read, and then features of the genre are highlighted. For example, if studying a formal letter, students' attention may be drawn to the importance of paragraphing and the language used to make formal requests. If studying a story, the focus may be on the techniques used to make the story interesting, and students focus on where and how the writer employs these techniques.
This consists of controlled practice of the highlighted features, usually in isolation. So if students are studying a formal letter, they may be asked to practise the language used to make formal requests, practising the 'I would be grateful if you would…' structure.
Organisation of ideas. This stage is very important. Those who favour this approach believe that the organisation of ideas is more important than the ideas themselves and as important as the control of language.
The end result of the learning process. Students choose from a choice of comparable writing tasks. Individually, they use the skills, structures and vocabulary they have been taught to produce the product; to show what they can do as fluent and competent users of the language.
A process approach
Process approaches to writing tend to focus more on the varied classroom activities which promote the development of language use: brainstorming, group discussion, re-writing. Such an approach can have any number of stages, though a typical sequence of activities could proceed as follows;
Generating ideas by brainstorming and discussion. Students could be discussing qualities needed to do a certain job, or giving reasons as to why people take drugs or gamble. The teacher remains in the background during this phase, only providing language support if required, so as not to inhibit students in the production of ideas.
Students extend ideas into note form, and judge quality and usefulness of ideas.
Students organise ideas into a mind map, spidergram, or linear form. This stage helps to make the (hierarchical) relationship of ideas more immediately obvious, which helps students with the structure of their texts.
Students write the first draft. This is done in class and frequently in pairs or groups.
Drafts are exchanged, so that students become the readers of each other's work. By responding as readers, students develop an awareness of the fact that a writer is producing something to be read by someone else, and thus can improve their own drafts.
Drafts are returned and improvements are made based upon peer feedback.
A final draft is written.
Students once again exchange and read each other's work and perhaps even write a response or reply.
A summary of the differences
Process-driven approaches show some similarities with task-based learning, in that students are given considerable freedom within the task. They are not curbed by pre-emptive teaching of lexical or grammatical items. However, process approaches do not repudiate all interest in the product, (i.e. the final draft). The aim is to achieve the best product possible. What differentiates a process-focussed approach from a product-centred one is that the outcome of the writing, the product, is not preconceived.
|Process writing ||Product writing |
Which approach to use
The approach that you decide to use will depend on you, the teacher, and on the students, and the genre of the text. Certain genres lend themselves more favourably to one approach than the other. Formal letters, for example, or postcards, in which the features are very fixed, would be perhaps more suited to a product-driven approach, in which focus on the layout, style, organisation and grammar could greatly help students in dealing with this type of writing task.
Other genres, such as discursive essays and narrative, may lend themselves to process-driven approaches, which focus on students' ideas. Discursive activities are suited to brainstorming and discussing ideas in groups, and the collaborative writing and exchanging of texts help the students to direct their writing to their reader, therefore making a more successful text.
One or the other
The two approaches are not necessarily incompatible. I believe that process writing, i.e. re-drafting, collaboration, can be integrated with the practice of studying written models in the classroom.
What I take from the process approach is the collaborative work, the discussion which is so important in generating and organising ideas. Once students have written their first drafts, model texts can be introduced as texts for comparison. Lightbown found that learning appeared to be optimal in 'those situations in which the students knew what they wanted to say and the teacher's intervention made clear to them there was a particular way to say it.' Teacher intervention through model texts could thus aid the learning process.
I also like to incorporate the exchanging of drafts, so that the students become the readers of each others work. This is an important part of the writing experience as it is by responding as readers, both during the collaborative stage of writing in groups, as well as when reading another group's work, that students develop an awareness of the fact that a writer is producing something to be read by someone else.
As Lewis Carroll makes clear in Alice's adventures in Wonderland.
"I haven't opened it yet," said the White Rabbit, "but it seems to be a letter, written by the prisoner to somebody."
"It must have been that," said the King, "unless it was written to nobody, which isn't usual, you know."
Process Writing by Ron White and Valerie Ardnt
Language Teaching Methodology by David Nunan
Progressive Writing Skills by Will Fowler
Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers by Michael McCarthy
Written by Vanessa Steele
- Teaching resources
- Teacher development
- Teacher training