To get it started, I am going to talk about a writing activity I taught a month ago. First, I am going to give you an idea about the class I teach.
Number of students: 33.
Age: from 11 to 14.
English sessions per week: 5.
Session: 50 minutes.
Years learning English: 4.
English taught as: second language
Book: The World through English II
Topic: Write a letter to a local newspaper about pollution in your city.
This activity feeds sensibly on a previous reading activity. In a previous session, students read a letter to a local newspaper about the changes that may take place in Takuana Island. The writer of the letter informs the newspaper's readers that the claims about the changes (building new factories, airports, cutting down the rainforests, etc...) being harmful to the island are rather unfounded.
The fact that the writing activity comes after a reading activity is central. The reading activity serves as a model for the students to follow. Besides, it provides them with the active vocabulary that will be used afterwards.
First, I referred my students to the layout of the letter in the reading activity. We discussed the difference between a formal and informal letter. I quickly remarked that they do not only differ in terms of content but also in terms of layout. I asked my students where the various parts of the letter are:
Where is the address of the sender?
Where do we place the date?
How do we open a letter?
How do we close it?
Next, I presented a few conjunctions to my students (while, when, because, whereas, although, though). I presented their use and asked my students to work in pairs to put some sentences I wrote on the board together.
Later, I asked my students to sit in mixed-ability groups of four and fives. (The dynamics of group work will be discussed in another post).
I gave my students envelopes. In every envelope, I enclosed a letter that was cut into pieces (address on a small piece/ date on another /Dear Sir/Madam /Yours Truly/etc...). I asked them to put the pieces together.
Then, we proceeded to talk about the content. I used a few visuals about the manifestations of pollution: factories/ sea pollution /dead animals / cars and traffic jams, etc...
I asked my students to comment on those visuals: I wrote their words on the board. This served as a brainstorming session. Then, I draw a circle in the middle of the board. I asked my students about the topic. I wrote "pollution in my city" inside the circle. I drew three rectangles: causes – consequences – suggestions. I asked the students to write ideas under each rectangle. When they came up with a list of words under each heading, I asked them to work individually to try to write their first draft of the letter. I remarked that they do not have to care too much about grammatical mistakes at this stage.
Next, the students were asked to consider the content, organize their ideas, use the appropriate conjunctions, change words, etc... I asked them to use the Proofreading Checklist. (I will also come back to this in a coming post).
After that, students handled their papers to their partners to check for grammar, punctuation mistakes, if any.
As a last step before writing the final draft, I checked and explained some common mistakes.
After finishing the activity, I made sure we listened to some of the letters. Some of letters were also published later in the classroom's magazine of English.