Today (18 March 2017) I presented a webinar during the Skyteach Conference for English language teachers titled Making Writing Real: How to make writing lessons more enjoyable for teachers and learners alike. Many of us have experienced the less-than-enthusiastic groans when we announce a writing lesson to our students. And many times it’s not just students that aren’t excited about it — how many times have you used writing as a way to fill time or simply because you haven’t done it in awhile?
I spoke to the webinar attendees about these common negative attitudes towards writing, the key to motivating learners to take writing more seriously and some practical tips for how they could give writing lessons purpose and make them more enjoyable for everyone. If you attended my webinar, thanks for joining — hope you found it useful and please contact me with any questions or feedback. If you couldn’t, the recording and the notes follow.
Here’s what actually played out on the recording (interesting to compare it to my own notes which are below):
…and below you’ll find my webinar slides and presentation notes if you prefer to go through the ideas in writing:
Disconnect between teaching and writing.
Students use what THEY feel they know to produce their OWN work — Teacher may feel redundant.
Very little T-S interaction. Teachers often thrive off this dynamic.
Reaction to the teacher saying: “Today we’ll be doing some writing”. 131 responses from students at IH Riga (ages 8-58)
Disconnect between learning and writing.
Students only produce what they feel comfortable with exposing — not learning anything new.
Students often can’t see the use. No S-S or S-T interaction. They generally enjoy this.
Many useless coursebook writing tasks like this one: ‘Write a letter to a neighbour saying that you kicked your football over their fence and you’d like it back’. … Realistic? Engaging?
A – Who writes letters these days? This is the age of Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.
B – What if I don’t have any neighbours? Anyway, I know only the teacher will read it.
C – What if I hate football?
D – What if I live in a block of flats?
… and very little T-S or S-S interaction. Students often thrive off this dynamic.
Students and teachers often lack motivation for writing — missing ingredient.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Are Ss disinterested because of T attitudes, or are Ts disinterested because of S actions? I’d say that BOTH contribute to each other.
Motivation is the key ingredient to putting time and effort into ANYTHING.
How can we increase student motivation towards writing?
Consider this experiment analysed in the TED Radio Hour: the Meaning of Work (available for free download from NPR).
See how effort and output decreases when work produced clearly has no lasting purpose.
Like the participants in the study, Ss will not write for the sake of it.
Students do not write with the same effort if the work produced has no lasting purpose. Most of the writing tasks we set as teachers has no purpose or life span at all.
Motivation problem 1: No real reader, just the teacher.
Motivation problem 2: Lack of S-S and/or T-S interaction.
Motivation problem 3: There’s no point.
Motivation problem 4: It’s 2017. Writing is so outdated (pen and paper extinct in next 50 years?)
Motivation problem 5: Writing takes too long! Age of instant – snapchat 10 seconds, vine 6 seconds, meme 5 seconds to understand, etc.
Motivation problem 1: No real reader, just the teacher. Solution: Student-created blog post. A wider audience (initially just for followers of my blog, but this post was then re-posted by IH Riga, IH World Organisation and numerous individuals) gives the work gravitas.
Motivation problem 2: Lack of S-S and/or T-S interaction. Solution: Collaborative writing task. Students work together to make sure they don’t repeat each other, interact with the teacher for editing.
What exactly? Following a few weeks of working on various aspects of culture, each student chose one aspect of Latvian culture to focus on. Each wrote a paragraph on this, and I collated them and posted them on my blog.
- Other topics – current affairs, daily routine, haikus. Actually any type of writing can be posted. Obviously, Ss must know its destination before they start writing for motivation and effort benefits to occur.
Motivation problem 1: No real reader, just the teacher. Solution: make the reader a person of their age and level.
Motivation problem 3: there’s no point. Solution: the chance to make a friend and find out about another culture while using English.
What exactly? Set up a penfriend project with a partner school, either through the Cambridge penfriend platform (as I did in Spain) or through contacts (this year at IH Riga – run by the ADOS). Communication > accuracy.
- Teachers on both ends can collaborate to decide the topic for the next round of correspondence e.g. Christmas traditions where they live.
- Teachers connect with fellow professionals around the world, and students connect with fellow learners around the world. Teacher motivation → students catch on to this. Everyone’s motivation sky rockets!
Motivation problem 4: It’s 2017. Writing is so outdated. Solution: Use typing and the Internet instead. Specifically, Google docs. How much will today’s teenagers use pen and paper during their working lives?
Motivation problem 1: No real reader, just the teacher. Solution: Get a wider readership – put it on the blog again!
What exactly? My C2 17-18-year-olds are very interested in Donald Trump, and several have enquired about taking the IELTS exam to study abroad. So combining these, I had them write edits and comments, specific to IELTS writing criteria, on Trump’s speech for Black History Month by sending them a transcript on Google docs.
Motivation problem 4: It’s 2017. Writing is so outdated. Solution: Writing Tweets on Twitter isn’t (yet). As of the end of 2016, there were 319 million active monthly users.
Motivation problem 1: No real reader, just the teacher. Attracting only a few of the 319 million will solve that problem. Friends, family, celebrities.
Motivation problem 5: Writing takes too long! Solution: 140 characters = succint, direct message. Students can also learn about abbreviations and other ‘text language’ e.g. Btw fyi 2moro ima…This isn’t in too many coursebooks I’ve seen.
What exactly? A Tweet exercise can be added very easily to any activity to summarise or check for specific understanding.
- Future action – I should set up class Twitter accounts that all students have access to. This would make tweeting a more regular activity in class. I’m new to Twitter, but once I get a hang of it, I’d like to utilise it more in class.
Motivation problem 3: There’s no point. Solution: Find a real purpose for writing for late teens and adults. This can be gleaned from an effective Needs Analysis and just asking them about life plans. Do they have plans to apply to uni abroad or apply for a job?
What exactly? Help students structure, draft, edit and polish a uni application letter (e-mail) or job application cover letter (e-mail). This could be a big part of opening these doors in the future: a big motivator for any student, and consequently any teacher worth their salt.
What writing activities have you used that solved some of these motivation problems? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet @jamesegerton89