24 February 2012

Writing Skills and Patterns

Whispers of thoughts, random musings, deliberate connections. Flickers of thought, fireflies of thought.  Scattered, loose, evolving. 

 All make part of one's waking hours, contributing to that elusive process known as learning.  As a teacher, I have often felt challenged by teaching writing - most often I am teaching writing skills to learners who have another first language and cultural framework for writing. This implies crossing boundaries of language as well as cultural points of references for the learner (for example, writing style and academic norms in writing). Nevertheless, it is a challenge I enjoy, or rather, enjoy seeing the result of the learning process when students produce good pieces of writing. 

Living in the digital age does not mean that good writing skills are no longer important  - on the contrary, good writing is relevant to digital literacy skills. Good writing skills are practically embedded in many forms of practicing digital literacy. More than correct spelling, more than grammar, writing is connecting ideas, thoughts, voicing the self through  written language. 

So how does one teach this skill of bringing loose strands of thought together? One way that I have come to regard teaching writing is by teaching learners how to learn patterns, or in other words, how to be good at recognising patterns used in writing (after all, a lot of learning is through pattern recognition). 

Essay Map is a simple place to begin guiding learners with essay writing.  As you begin on the start page, the learner is guided with questions and a diagram as you can see here on the right.  One feature that I especially like is how you can go back to a point in the essay by clicking on the diagram map on the upper right hand side. When you have completed the essay, you can print, save on the hard drive or share the essay via email. 

The AmbleWeb Crazy Story Machine is another option, especially fun for KG12 or second language learning. 

The learner fills in the spaces with the prompts, then when the grid is complete clicks on "create story". The paragraph will be generated and appear in a pop-box. 

This can be used to revise vocabulary, set examples for writing with a particular theme and then shared among the class. There could even be a prize for the craziest but most credible story!

AmbleWeb has other resources well worth looking into, including interactive literacy tasks, quizzes and jigsaws. 

What if a teacher distrusted a dark cave? What if a grandson talked like a pet? These are questions which the genie may ask you to set you off on a creative writing task. The What If Question Genie  can be used as it's presented - or better still, have half the class write their own "what if questions" for the other half. Nothing makes writing as fun and engaging as personalizing it as much as possible - especially if the challenge comes from one's peers. 

The Story Kitchen is yet another approach to writing by asking the learner to think about the connections between the hero of the story, the place and of course, the villain. 

Both these activities can be found on Bruce Van Pater's site,  Let's Get Creative!

Writing doesn't need to be a dreary, painful experience nor one relegated to homework assignments. Learning good patterns of writing, encouraging learners to be more involved in their writing tasks and having them share each other's work, is definitely a positive way to foster confidence and autonomy in their learning skills. 

And yes. Practice, practice and more practice.

How do you encourage writing?

Further references:

Advice to Writers  - interesting suggestions and advice

Boom Writer - write and get published (for KG12)

The Story Starter - prompts for writing and a link for The Story Starter Junior

Story Starters

NetSpeak  - search for words

CreativeWriting Prompts 

The Writing Site 


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    1. Hello Bella,

      That would depend very much on context. For learners who need to write academic essays, writing style differs.

      Thank you for passing by!