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Process Writing

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Process writing is an approach to incorporating writing skills from the very beginning of the English learning process. It was developed by Gail Heald-Taylor in her book Whole Language Strategies for ESL Students. Process writing focuses on allowing students - especially young learners - to write with plenty of room left for error. Standard correction begins slowly, and children are encouraged to communicate through writing, despite limited understanding of structure.

Process writing can also be used in an adult ESL / EFL setting to encourage learners to start working on their writing skills from a beginning level. If you are teaching adults, the first thing learners need to understand is that their writing skills will be well below their native language writing skills. This seems rather obvious, but adults are often hesitant to produce written - or spoken - work that is not up to the same level as their native language skills. By easing your students' fears about producing sub-par written work, you can help encourage them to improve their writing abilities.

Only mistakes made in grammar and vocabulary that has been covered up to the current point in time should be corrected. Process writing is all about the process of writing. Students are striving to come to terms with writing in English by writing in English. Allowing for mistakes and refining based on materials covered in class - instead of "perfect English" - will help students incorporate skills at a natural pace, and improve their understanding of materials discussed in class in a natural progression.

Here is a short overview of how you can incorporate process writing into your students' learning routine:

Aim: Improve writing skills from beginning levels of English

Activity: Process writing - journals

Level: Beginning to advanced

Materials Needed: Notebook for each student

Outline:

  • Encourage learners to write in their journal at least a few times a week. Explain the idea of process writing, and how mistakes aren't important at this stage. If you are teaching higher levels, you can vary this by stating that mistakes in grammar and syntax on material not yet covered aren't important, and that this will be a great way to review material covered in past levels.
  • Students should write on the front side of each page only. Teachers will provide notes on the writing on the back. Remember to focus only on material covered in class when correctly student work.
  • Start this activity by modeling the first journal entry as a class.
  • Ask students to come up with various themes that could be covered in a journal (hobbies, work-related themes, observations of family and friends, etc.). Write these themes on the board.
  • Ask each student to choose a theme and write a short journal entry based on this theme. If students do not know a particular vocabulary item, they should be encouraged to describe this item (for example: the thing which turns on the TV), or draw the item.
  • Collect the journals the first time in class and do a quick, superficial correction of each student's journal. Ask students to rewrite their work based on your comments.
  • After this first session, collect students' workbooks once a week and correct only one piece of their writing. Ask students to rewrite this piece.

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