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Willy Cardoso: Writing tasks, point of need and coursebooks
Learners’ writings are one of the best raw materials any teacher can have. With half a page from each learner you’ll find material to work for quite a while on grammatical accuracy, vocabulary range, word choice, clarity and tone, coherence and cohesion, and what have you.
The problem is if you’re strictly following a coursebook, the chances are there won’t be many opportunities to develop writing skills, or there won’t be time to do it.
My one tip:
Start a new unit from the last page! It’s likely that the last task/activity will be Writing, if not it will be the meatiest speaking task of the unit, one that is a project if you’re lucky, just as good.
For some reasons, it’s still believed that if you do all the grammar and vocabulary by using the reading, listening and speaking activities, in the end of the unit by following a simple prompt students will write a text using the grammar and vocabulary seen in the unit, naturally. Well, at least this is the impression coursebooks give. Yeh, right… — So turn it on its head, and start from the writing. See what learners can produce and there you’ll find the real gaps they need to fill.
Worth pointing perhaps that here I’m talking about writing tasks – TASKS. Such as, write a letter, report, summary, review, dialogue, etc. Not activities which look at grammar/vocab and are done in written form. Or writing the answers to questions about a text.
Then, after you diagnose what students lack, if anything, to successfully and accurately accomplish the task, you give the input. This will also help to individualize; so while some students go back to the first pages of the unit to study some vocabulary, some others will benefit from focusing on grammar. Knowing the material well you can even direct them to the grammar they need which ‘happens’ to be in a different unit.
After that it’s time to review the writing task in order to improve it.
The whole point of doing this is to teach at the point of need via tasks that are cognitively demanding – and hopefully interesting.
Willy Cardoso is a freelance teacher trainer and course writer based in Europe. His interests include critical methodologies, artistry in teaching and philosophy of education. He has an MA in Education from the University of Bath. He is also the editor of the IATEFL Teacher Development Newsletter.