Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Singing away the writing blues


 In terms of skills, producing a coherent, fluent, extended piece of writing is probably the most difficult thing to do in a language, even in the first language. Added to the inherent difficulty of the skill itself is the added ‘bonus’ of age. Most adolescents find it boring or believe they just can’t write anything decent. So, what can we do to sing away this writing blues?

Making writing interactive

 Writing is an interactive process by nature as it evolves out of the symbolic interplay between writer, text and reader. By making conditions more 'authentic' than the ones in traditional classroom tasks, awareness of audience, purpose and intentionality is reinforced. Interactivity can be promoted in class by implementing some of the following suggestions (adapted from L. Hamp-Lyons and B. Heasley 1992)

  • Group-brainstorming on a given topic.
  • Whole class discussion of how a particular text might need adjustment according to the audience it is addressed to.
  • Collaborative writing: students work together to write a previously agreed text.
  • Whole class text construction and composing on the blackboard.
  • Writing workshop or in-class writing: students consult each other and co-construct texts while the teacher moves around listening to their comments, providing feedback or answering questions. The teacher keeps track of their progress and works out a record of most frequent questions, doubts and inaccuracies for a future 'error analysis session'.
  • Group research on a text topic: students divide out the responsibility for different aspects of the information-gathering stage on a certain topic. They then pool their results and work together to plan a text, which may be collective or individual.
  • Peer-editing.
  • Specification of an audience and purpose of a text by making the situation 'real': e.g. exchanging e-mail messages with other English-speaking students, producing a class blog. 

Making writing interactive requires imagination on our part as teachers but is rewarded by the creativity and enthusiasm that most students display in response. To attain this goal, we need to help them build up from the foundations.


 Building vocabulary

Students frequently complain that they lack the necessary vocabulary to write. they feel relatively safe while they follow the step-by-step guidance provided by the teacher or the coursebook, but what happens when they must do a writing task by themselves, particularly of the narrative or descriptive kind?


Students seem to operate on a very limited vocabulary repertoire. While their passive vocabulary may be quite extensive, their active vocabulary is often very limited and they end up using the same words again and again: people always walk or run, girls are pretty or not pretty, sometimes they can even be beautiful! Something they like is nice, if they do not like it, it is not nice, and you do things slowly or quickly. And that is it! 


How can we help? What follows is a sample of activities that can be used to help them build up their active vocabulary.


1. Descriptions of people


 Brainstorm on the board adjectives beginning with each letter of the alphabet. If you feel students are going for the most common, give definitions and ask them to say the adjective: ‘Someone who always says ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ and lets old ladies go first on the bus is ….?


If any letters are missing, ask students to use dictionaries and look up more adjectives and provide a simple definition. Have them keep a written record in their notebooks.


Then play a game. The first student begins by saying, e.g.: ‘I like my friend Albert because he is amiable’, the second follows: ‘I like my friend Betty because she is brilliant’, and so on.


Manners of walking


Ask students how many words they know that describe different manners of walking. They will probably come up with run, walk, jump and very little else.


Write a few verbs on the board and ask the students to mimic them if they know the meaning. If they do not, mimic and encourage them to produce a simple definition in English they can remember easily.


For revision, give students blank cards and ask them to work in groups. One group should work with verbs of movement, another with adjectives that describe character.  Have them write a set of definitions and the set of words on separate cards. Have the groups exchange the cards and ask them to match the pairs.


This activity can be done with other lexical sets, for example sounds made with the nose and the mouth, ways of speaking, etc.


Sample consolidation task


Ask students to look for pictures or photographs of people in magazines, newspapers, the web, etc. and write a vivid description of this person, invent a personality from how they react to the photo, describe how the person moves, feels, their character, etc. This can be done as a writing workshop in class.


In groups, they read each other’s description comparing them to the actual picture and help each other improve the texts. Then they exchange descriptions and pictures with another group, read the texts and try to match them to the corresponding pictures.


You may wish to choose a description from a novel, short story or newspaper, and make copies for the students to read. Encourage them to discuss the good and bad points of the text, the vocabulary used and ask them what they would imitate from it.


Describing places


To excite students’ imaginations when writing a narrative that requires description, you can try modelling the narrative as if you were telling the story and eliciting enriching elements from them.


Suppose they have to write a story about what happened to them one evening when their car broke down in the middle of nowhere. You may begin like this:


‘One day, you were driving along a deserted country road. The sun was beginning to set and the sky was …….


What colour was it? Red, yes red but was it just red? Bright red ... and yellow that’s it. There was no traffic and the nearest village was ….


Where was the village? Nearby? Far away? How far was it?


Suddenly the car began to slow down and eventually it stopped. You tried to switch on the engine again but nothing happened. How did you feel?'


You can build the story together by encouraging them to add interesting details and helping them with new vocabulary. It is a good idea to write the contributions on the board classifying words into categories, e.g., verbs, adjectives and nouns. Afterwards, you can ask the students to write their version of the story in groups.


You can also make copies of a short narrative or description omitting all verbs and adjectives and numbering the blank spaces. In pairs or groups, students fill in the missing details. If you would like to make it easier, you can provide two or three options from which they can choose. Depending on the kind of text and the level of the students, you can supply options with different connotations.


When they have finished, you can give them the original text to compare and discuss the differences and / or similarities between the two.


Beautiful sounds


Provide a list of words and ask the students to say them aloud and choose three or four they like the sound of most.

Ask them to write six words, not from the list above, that they think sound beautiful. Allow them to use dictionaries. As a class ask them to share their words with their classmates.

As a follow up, they can write a short story or a poem using their words. You can do this as a game to explain what the rhythm of a text is and how the choice of words can affect this rhythm.

Text structure and style

In my experience, students find these aspects of writing quite difficult to master; therefore, I think it’s quite important to give them plenty of opportunities to see and discuss text samples that they can then use as reference and suggest ways in which they can improve the way they work.


Linking words


Using linking words correctly is usually very difficult for students in their mother tongue, even more so in another language. In English, they tend to stick to and and but.

Here are a few suggestions.


Provide samples of texts and ask students to circle linking words and cohesive devices. As a class, build a table for reference and display it in the classroom.

  • Ask them questions that help analyse how the writer has built the text and give them tips for each kind of text they have to write.
  • Encourage them to discuss the model texts and draw conclusions.
  • Ask them what they do in their mother tongue when given a writing task. Compare with what they do in the English class and encourage them to transfer strategies from one language to the other.
  • Encourage them to voice their weaknesses or perceived problems when faced with a writing task and elicit possible solutions from the class.
  • Encourage writing in class, in groups or pairs.
  • Encourage peer reading and feedback.




There are many books with activities to make students aware of differences in register but the one I have found most useful is simply providing them with copies of different types of text that they can afterwards stick in their folders and keep as a reminder: letters to friends, to bosses, to newspaper editors, newspaper articles, narratives, etc. and asking them to work out the differences. Then they build a Formal / Informal table on the board and write in the elements they find in each text.




There are some features which are typical of EFL students’ writing: artificial emphasis, quite frequent in students whose language is either Spanish or Portuguese, sloppy wording and confused writing. A useful general rule is that good style does not require artificial emphasis of the following kind: 


I have NEVER  seen such an ugly picture in my life!!!!!!!!


Emphases should be made by being explicit. If we are describing someone or something, we should show what we mean.


Sample task


Give students a sentence where there is an overuse of emphasis and ask them to work together in groups to improve it by being explicit.


I have NEVER seen such an awful dog!!!! It MUST belong to Bernard …


Possible answer:


I had never in my life seen such an awful dog: fat, dirty, bad tempered, with its eyes half shut. I had no doubt, it had to belong to Bernard. It was the sort of dog she would have: ferocious and unlovable.


Sometimes students have a lot to say but they seem to be unable to group the points and deal with them in good order, they keep coming back to different aspects of the same points again and again. This disorder is natural in speaking because you go back to something you have already said or remember something you did not a few minutes ago and you need to say it now. But writing should be organised. 


Confused writing is not acceptable even in an informal letter to a friend. So we may give our students some advice to deal with this problem:

  • Do not start writing right away. Take time to get ideas, examples and illustrations and make notes.
  • It is impossible to plan a composition completely beforehand, Ideas will come up while you are writing. Do not write them down as a next sentence. Write them on another piece of paper and go back to them when you have finished to see where you can include them.
  • After writing, check to see if you have grouped your points correctly and decide if it is worth including those new ideas and where. Edit the text.
  • Write your final draft, re-edit and give it to a classmate to read.

It’s quite difficult to persuade students to plan their writing, mostly because they think that they have to plan everything in detail beforehand and they can’t change anything later. Show them it isn’t so, organise writing workshops in class and encourage peer editing and feedback. Collect samples of confused writing and give copies to the students and have them improve the texts. It will help them become aware of their own mistakes.

Putting it into practice

I would like to suggest a few writing activities that can be fun to do in class as writing workshops.


a. Media stories from the news


Look up some headline stories on the Internet. There are several sites you can visit, for example The Guardian or the BBC. There are also many newspapers especially written for young learners of English that you can find with Google.


Print the headlines and the stories or articles separately. You may have the students read the stories directly from the Internet site so you don’t need to print them.


Ask students to choose one that attracts their attention. In groups, they brainstorm ideas suggested by their headline and try to build up a story around it. Encourage them to plan and edit their writing. Ask groups to exchange their texts and react to the writing making comments at the bottom of the page. This feedback should help the group do the final editing of their story.


When they have finished, you either give them the original texts or they look them up on the Web and compare them with the stories they have written. Encourage them to discuss aspects such as choice of words, style, organisation, etc.


b. Interviews


Ask students to work in pairs or small groups and choose a fictional character they would like to interview. As a class, have them say who they are going to interview and why and ask them to outline the plot of the film or book or computer game where this character can be found.


With their partner, they write the questions they would like to ask. Encourage them to be imaginative, funny, deep, for example, asking a character about his or her motivation for doing something. Then, they should provide the answers.


When they have finished, ask them to write a semi-formal newspaper report of the interview. Again, if you have access to the Internet, they may look for information or interviews to compare with what they have written.


These reports could then be ‘published’ as a display in the school notice board or in the school newspaper.


c. Historical events


Present a small number of historical events for students to choose from. Form groups with those students who have chosen the same event. You should be able to make some groups of three or pairs. Ask them to look up information about the event they have chosen either in the school library or on the Web and report back to the class.


Ask the groups or pairs to imagine what the protagonist of the event was really thinking about when this event happened and write a short monologue, e.g. What was Columbus thinking when he discovered America in 1492?

Ask the groups or pairs to edit their writing, exchange it with other groups or pairs and provide feedback on their classmates’ texts.


After they have done this, tell them that at the same time, the most unusual things were happening on Earth. Have them write about one of them. This can be a crazy everyday situation. Again, ask them to share their writing with the rest of the class. Have them make a final version using the feedback provided by their classmates.


Depending on the preferences of the groups, you may encourage your students to decorate their texts with drawings, cut outs or collages to illustrate what they have written.


In all cases, I strongly recommend to spend time on these writing workshops. They are indeed time-consuming but they can be scheduled in advance and we can devote, for example, one class a month to this kind of work and set similar tasks for homework for extra practice.


In addition, it is a very good idea to display the students’ texts either in the classroom or in common school areas. This gives the writers a sense of audience and of ‘being published’. Their work is no longer just a piece of homework that has to be done to please the teacher. There is a sense of purpose to it. And, who knows? You may discover a potential professional writer in your class.


L. Hamp-Lyons and B. Heasley 1992. Study Writing. Cambridge, CUP


Sunday, 18 July 2021

Writing narrative

 The process for teaching narrative writing can be the same for writing personal narratives or short stories. You can let your students choose to write a personal narrative or fiction for a narrative writing assignment, or simply tell them that whether the story is true doesn’t matter, as long as they are telling a good story and they are not trying to pass off a fictional story as fact.

 Please note that there is no one right way to teach narrative writing, and many teachers do it differently and get good results. What follows is what has worked for me with different groups of students, both in terms of age and level.

 The first step in getting students write a narrative text is to help them see that they are already telling stories every day. They begin sentences with “This one time…” without even thinking about it and launch into all sorts of stories. Students are natural storytellers; learning how to do it well on paper is a matter of examining good models then imitating what good writers do.

 So, start off the unit by getting students to tell their stories. They can do this in pairs, small groups or as a class. When they have shared a few stories, focus to a more formal study of what a story looks like. You can use graphic organisers or a story arc like the one below. Choose one of the stories and ill out the story arc with the components from that story. Once students have seen this story mapped out, have them try it with another one, for example a story you have read in class, a novel they have read or even a video. They can then use the story arc or other gaphic organisers to plan their story.

Schedule regular writing assignments

Teachers often also prioritize the other skills above writing. It is harder to teach and more time-consuming to correct. Make sure you schedule regular writing assignments or the materials you use include them. Students will soon learn to expect them and will be less reluctant to complete them.

 Guide them

Simply saying, “Write a story of 100 words” won’t suffice. The extent of your guidance should be proportional to your students’ level. The lower the level, the greater the guidance. As they advance in their English studies they will need less and less guidance, till one day they become more independent writers.

 Model writing

A very useful technique is to start your own draft at the same time as they do, modelling on the board and doing a lot of thinking aoud so they can see all the decisions you have to make. On of the most helpful parts for them to observe may be the early drafting stage and the revision stage. Scratch out whatever ideas come to you in messy, run-on sentences. At the revision stage, cross things out, rearrangesentences and make notes on your writing. Witnessing the process can help to unlock a student’s understanding of how writing gets made.

 Activate background knowledge

Getting started is one of the hardest things so you can help students activate their background knowledge and get their ideas together. Generating ideas by brainstorming and discussion helps students think about a topic, discover a purpose and decide on a perspective in the early stages of writing. 

 Organize ideas

Then you can ask students to extend ideas into note form and judge the quality and usefulness of those ideas. They can organise their ideas into a mind map, or a spidergram. Using graphic organisers helps to make the relationship of ideas more immediately obvious. Here are some examples:

Use peer correction/editing

In some levels you may choose to have students correct each other’s writing assignments. This way, they will learn from each other’s mistakes. Go around the classroom, supervise and answer questions.

Students exchange their first drafts of a text and point out changes which are needed to help the reader (e.g. better organization, paragraph divisions, sentence variety, vocabulary choice). They can also act as each other's editors spotting vocabulary repetitions, grammatical infelicities, spelling mistakes and so on.

 Make it a positive experience

Try to offer two pieces of praise for every negative point. By mentioning what they did right, no matter how small they may seem, you’ll be letting them know they’re on the right path. Pure criticism and a paper full of red marks will not encourage them to continue practicing!

  As a class, discuss the structure and language they need to write the narrative.

 Introduction: The characters, setting and time of the story are established. Usually answers who? when? where?

 Complication or problem: The complication usually involves the main character(s), often mirroring the complications in real life.

 Resolution: There needs to be a resolution of the complication. The complication may be resolved for better or worse/happily or unhappily. Sometimes there are a number of complications that have to be resolved. These add and sustain interest and suspense for the reader.

 To help students plan for writing of narratives, model, focus on:


  • Plot: What is going to happen?
  • Setting: Where will the story take place? When will the story take place?
  • Characterisation: Who are the main characters? What do they look like?
  • Structure: How will the story begin? What will be the problem? How is the problem going to be resolved?
  • Theme: What is the theme / message the writer is attempting to communicate?

 Below are some ways students can start a narrative essay:

  • Assess and evaluate a starter that makes a person very interested in your narrative.
  • Begin with dialogue or action.
  • Ask a set of questions or one question, to begin with.
  • Describe the plot or setting for the readers to put their imagination into it.
  • Reveal some background information to interest your readers.
  • Give a small intro of yourself uniquely and surprisingly to your readers.


Give students some language tips and give opportunities to use them

 Action verbs provide interest to the writing. Encourage students to use descriptive vocabulary, e.g. instead of The old woman was in his way they could write The old woman barred his path. Instead of She laughed be more specific, maybe write She cackled.

 Tell students to write the story in the first person (I, we) or the third person (he, she, they) and use narrative tenses: past simple, past continuous, past perfect.

 Tell students to use strong nouns with more specific meanings, eg. oak as opposed to tree, and make nouns actually do something, eg. It was raining could become Rain splashed down or There was a large cabinet in the lounge could become A large cabinet seemed to fill the lounge.

Writing needs judicious use of adjectives and adverbs to bring it alive, qualify the action and provide description and information for the reader. Ask students to think:

What does it smell like?

What can be heard?

What can be seen - details?

What does it taste like?

What does it feel like?

Encourage students to think of suitable metaphors, an indirect or hidden comparison, eg. She has a heart of stone. The man barked out the instructions.

Explain the use of onomatopoeia, i.e. a suggestion of sound through words, eg. crackle, splat, ooze, squish, boom.

 They can also give nonliving things living characteristics, eg. Clouds limped across the sky.

Often the writer can ask the audience questions, knowing there will be no direct answer. These rhetorical questions are a great way of involving the reader in the story at the outset, eg. Have you ever got lost in a forest?

Friday, 9 July 2021

A process approach to writing

In terms of skills, producing a coherent, fluent, extended piece of writing is probably the most difficult thing to do in a language, even in the first language. It is something most native speakers never master, otherwise the world would be overpopulated by famous writers, and for second and foreign language learners it can be a daunting task.

Writing is a highly complex process, made up of various subprocesses that do not occur in linear sequence, but cyclically and in varying patterns. If we take a look at what writers do in real life, we will find that writers seem to do a number of things before they end up with the finished product, e.g.:

a. Planning, which is a thinking activity to which writers return again and again during composing

b. Writers have individual strategies for getting into writing

 c. Writers re-read their work, assessing it, reacting to it and moving on

 d. Revising takes place throughout the process and generally involves considerable changes

e. All the writers pay attention to surface-level features (words and phrases) but the better writers deal with these at the end of the process

f. Linguistic problems seem to concern the writers least

g. Once ideas have been written and developed, writers begin to edit for surface level features: grammar, spelling, word-choice, punctuation. 

Writing is a recursive activity where we move around among the different stages and carry out each stage several times. Ron White and Valerie Arndt (1991) have drawn the following model of writing in which the writer is going back and forth from one process to another in real time and he has to make decisions at all levels. Moreover, he has to organise his ideas which, in the best of cases, are an amorphous mass, into a coherent and linear text without any actual contact with his potential audience.

As writers, therefore, we have to imagine our intended readers, anticipate their reactions and evaluate how much knowledge is shared and put this down in such language as will convey our meaning in the most effective way.

Now, how can we transfer this approach to writing to our teaching context?

Process writing helps us break down the writing task into smaller component parts.

a. Pre-writing

b. Writing

By completing each step sequentially, writing becomes less threatening. Students learn that writing doesn’t just happen; it is planned and it evolves, taking shape as it develops. The steps in process writing can be divided into two major phases: the prewriting phase and the writing phase. Both are essential to the writing process and are interdependent.


Prewriting is needed to organize, sequence, and elaborate on ideas prior to writing. At the prewriting stage, students need to consider (a) function and (b) audience.

  •         What is the purpose of this writing?
  •         Who is this piece of writing for?

These two questions will influence the choice of organization, language and style.

Students also need to generate ideas around the topic. To do this they brainstorm by jotting down all ideas on the topic as they come to mind. once they are happy with the number of ideas they have collected, they can organize them by putting them into categories of main ideas and corresponding details. This organization can take various forms, depending on your student’s style or preference (outline, notes, graphic organizer, semantic map).



Once the pre-writing phase is complete, students will need to follow the structure they have created to write their text. This stage involves:

Writing the rough draft. During this stage, students should write without worrying about accuracy or organisation. The most important feature is meaning. Here, students should concentrate on the content of the writing. Is it coherent? Is there anything missing? Anything extra?

Proofreading and editing the rough draft. Now students can turn to spelling, grammar and punctuation. They can follow the organization created in the prewriting phase and add transitional words or phrases to connect ideas, etc. You can give students paragraph templates as visual reminders to implement all components of a paragraph. They can also have a list of transitional words and phrases to choose from.

You can encourage your students to read their compositions out loud to someone or have someone read their writing to them. This often makes it easier to identify errors. Proofreading checklists are often helpful to guide students in the proofreading process. These checklists could include specific skills which your students are currently studying.

Finally, writing a second draft, and possibly more than one, including all corrections and changes made. At this stage it’s a good idea to exchange texts with a partner and respond to each other’s writing. Checklists are also good for this!


Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Cambridge Global English 2nd edition Teacher Resource, Stage 7


And look what has just arrived! The second baby of Cambridge Global English 2nd edition Teacher Resource is home, too! Stage 7 for Lower Secondary is out now!

#cambridgeuniversitypress #GlobalEnglish #ESL #education #English

Monday, 21 June 2021

Cambridge Global English 1, 2nd ed.

 Look what the post brought! The fist baby of Cambridge Global English 2nd edition Teacher Resource is home!

Sunday, 20 June 2021

We are all refugees - Benjamin Zephaniah

I come from a musical place

Where they shoot me for my song

And my brother has been tortured

By my brother in my land.


I come from a beautiful place

Where they hate my shade of skin

They don't like the way I pray

And they ban free poetry.

I come from a beautiful place

Where girls cannot go to school

There you are told what to believe

And even young boys must grow beards.


I come from a great old forest

I think it is now a field

And the people I once knew

Are not there now.

We can all be refugees

Nobody is safe,

All it takes is a mad leader

Or no rain to bring forth food,

We can all be refugees

We can all be told to go,

We can be hated by someone

For being someone.


I come from a beautiful place

Where the valley floods each year

And each year the hurricane tells us

That we must keep moving on.


I come from an ancient place

All my family were born there

And I would like to go there

But I really want to live.


I come from a sunny, sandy place

Where tourists go to darken skin

And dealers like to sell guns there

I just can't tell you what's the price.


I am told I have no country now

I am told I am a lie

I am told that modern history books

May forget my name.


We can all be refugees

Sometimes it only takes a day,

Sometimes it only takes a handshake

Or a paper that is signed.

We all came from refugees

Nobody simply just appeared,

Nobody's here without a struggle,

And why should we live in fear

Of the weather or the troubles?

We all came here from somewhere.


Singing away the writing blues

  Introduction   In terms of skills, producing a coherent, fluent, extended piece of writing is probably the most difficult thing to do in...