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Friday, March 12, 2010

Teaching writing

This year I've finally encountered Writing in ELT. I used to think that this skill depends only on personal talents - you either can do that or cannot, of course you might try but what's the reason for?

What for do we need to improve our writing skill? - This is the concept question.

For teachers the answer is obvious - to be able to teach writing - the skill which is essential for those students who are planning to take international exams.

Actually teaching writing doesn't mean that we just check students' papers, we are supposed to give feedback on register, style, structure, vocabulary, plenty of things which make any writing reader-friendly and successful in the long run.

Last yearI tutored a few students preparing for EGE (Russian State Exam )

Writing section in EGE includes 2 parts:

1. Informal letter to a friend. 100-140 words (maximum 6 points)

2. Essay of two kinds - either an opinion essay or "for and against" essay. 200-250 words (maximum 14 points) (In 2010 it'll be only an opinion essay - Hurrah!)

Compared to IELTS it's quite easy to teach. By "easy" I mean you have to focus only on two structures and drill them. Practice makes perfect, you know.

Let's get back to informal letters.

Grammar and spelling are not assessed here, and what is evaluated is task achievement, register and structure.

What is task achievement?

Let's have a look at a sample task from Macmillan's Practice tests.


You have 20 min to do this task. This is a part of a letter from Susie, your English pen friend.

...Guess what? My parents say I can have a pet for my birthday. Isn't that fantastic? I'm not sure what kind of pet to get, though. Have you got a pet? What do you think I should get? Do you think dogs are too much trouble to look after? Maybe I should get a cat? Let me know what you think!

The first thing I ask my student to do is to underline all the questions in the friend's letter.

How many questions? -5

What answer do they require?

1. Isn't that fantastic? - opinion

2. Have you got a pet? - some information

3. What do you think I should get?- advice

4. Do yo think dogs are too much trouble to look after?

- opinion about dogs

5. Maybe I should get a cat? -opinion + advice

Then I ask the students to think of ways of expressing opinion and giving advice and remind them of informal style necessary for this type of writing and write their answers on the whiteboard.


I think...

I guess..

As for me...

I reckon...


If I was you..

You should...

It'd be a good idea if...

How about...

And then I ask the students to answer the questions from the letter orally using functional phrases I mentioned above.

Are they ready to write the letter? Not yet:)

You need to ask them a few more questions just to make sure that they know about the structure of an informal letter, opening and concluding phrases, 'cos all these things affect scoring.

Finally, I remind my student to allot a couple of minutes for proofreading, which appears to be an effective writing technique.

P.S. If you use Macmillan Practice Test, remember that in Informal Letter they don't have the task : Write 3 questions asking about ..... Which is obligatory in real EGE:)


    first thank u for your valuable blog
    i found it interesting cos i work as a teacher of english in junior high school,MOROCCO.(only 7 years :)
    second, your way of teaching writing , testing writing is good,i ll try it and tell you the outcome