1 April 2012

Writing Skills, Diaries & Timelines

I stare at the whiteness and wonder, where do I begin? Yes, there are beginnings and middles and endings, but where does one begin? At the beginning. 

But why not go further back? Why not begin before the beginning? 

In the beginning there was the Word. 

How well I was taught to learn about words, but....what shall I now do with them? And how does one begin?

As a language learner, I was fortunate to have always learnt a language with the same script. I needed words and learnt them. I needed to communicate and so I practiced speaking. I was asked to write and I stumbled - for every language has its own peculiar writing culture. 

It is with the thought of own students in mind that I include this post on writing. My students will be taking an international exam which will include writing. Their own native tongue uses a different script and English is not much used in their lives outside the classroom. Many succeed this exam. Some don't at first. Writing is no simple task in any language, let alone in a foreign language such as English. 

Lightning Bug is a charming site for young learners who are taking their first steps into the world of writing essays. There are resources for teachers and students - a rich range, including examples of writing, blogs about writing, names for characters and much more. 

Academic Literacy, also focusing on writing, has a different slant. As the name suggests, it is more focused on academic writing and for learners who will be taking exams in writing skills. However, as the name also suggests, Academic Literacy is not merely writing - there is active reading, note-taking, critical reflexions and making presentations which are all part of academic preparation. In all, Academic Literacy is a great site for students who are ending secondary education or about to being tertiary education in English. 

When students think of writing, they usually think they are writing for the teacher. Today, as more educators include blog work in their practices, this expectation is slowly changing. Writing also means ordering ideas, playing with ideas, recapturing moments and movements in time. 280 and Oh Life  are two places where writing is private, for the writer only. Here and here  you can find other tools for digital diaries. 

Personally I don't believe a teacher has the right to check a learner's diary/writing log; learners need to be given degrees of responsibilities and learning autonomy. The purpose of introducing digital diaries in the classroom serves different purposes: on the one hand, it provides learners with further keyboard practice and on the other hand, as there is no grade, learners tend to write more freely. As they begin writing with less stress, their writing skills improve - if not necessarily in their grammar, at least in de-mystifying their fear and reluctance of writing. Diary writing could be set at the beginning or end of a week as a time for reflection of what a student has learnt and what they still need to improve, of what they enjoyed and what they really found boring in class. As with many  other tasks,  learners need a framework and guidelines to succeed. The teacher could put up a certain set of vocabulary on the board, expressions linking words or whatever topic/s were covered during a period of time. Writing skills take time to accomplish and time for reflection. 

Writing doesn't always have to be only text. Digital stories may take on a variation of formats. Writing stories involves processes of thought, of planning, of motion.

 Stories are to be heard and shared. 

By creating stories with timelines, students are still writing and crafting. However, the process is slightly different as it involves the use of digital media. 

Timeline and WhenInTime  are two more timeline sites which I would suggest along with the ones mentioned below. 

Which is your favourite timeline tool?

Further suggestions:

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