Teaching Writing

All too often as teachers, with the pressures of teaching a full course and never enough time to do it, we send the writing tasks home as homework. But is that really the vest for our students? Here’s why you should be spending much more time teaching writing in class…

Why every teacher needs to spend more time doing writing in class

When I started teaching, I didn’t teach my students well enough, because I was scared. There was something I didn’t really understand, and I thought it was a waste of time to spend whole classes practising it (in fact my CELTA course, where I first learned how to be a teacher told me as much).

Students: I’m sorry for always making you do writing as homework, and then giving you back your work with lots of red pen and comments like “good try” or “please work harder”.

Teachers: we need to stop sending writing home. At least at first. We need to teach our students how to write, from the most basic sentence through to paragraphs and whole texts. Only when we know that students can do this should we start getting them to write longer texts at home, and never without a model to refer to.

The writing guides on this site are designed to help our students prepare more effectively for their writing test. From my experience, I’ve found that the writing paper is the one part of the test that we can control the most, and it’s something that we can give students real confidence with. To explain this, let’s first think about all the skills tested in a language exam, and what teachers can do to prepare students for success in that part of the test.

The five skills that are typically tested in a language examR

First, in the middle, there’s knowledge of grammar and lexis and the ability to use and manipulate it. This informs all of the papers in an exam, and is explicitly tested in the Use of English paper in Cambridge tests. As teachers we spend a large chunk of our time teaching this – it’s the core of the language, after all. Some teachers are better language teachers than others, and their students will have more grasp of the grammar or lexis than those from other classes; fundamentally, though, student’s success in the Use of English paper comes down to their grit determination and dedication to private study. To put this another way, a teacher’s control over their success in the exam with this skill is very limited.

Then we have receptive skills on the right, tested through the reading and listening papers. A diligent teacher will give students lots of skills and strategies for successfully dealing with unknown words and alien texts, as well as how to navigate through each task type. I dare say posts will pop up here dealing with just that. However our control over these papers is limited, in that we cannot really guarantee a student’s success in these parts. From my context here in Spain I can say that over time students typically become very skilled with the reading tasks, whilst success in the listening paper is out of reach for many students. It’s simply something they’re not good at, and something that as teachers we need to keep working on.

Then on the right we have the productive skills, tested through the speaking and writing papers. Again, my experience tells me that the average student, if prepared and ready for the test, will pass the speaking. Their mark in this paper won’t affect their mark elsewhere, however, and very rarely will students pass their exam based on the quality of their speaking test.

Experience has taught me that this is possible with the writing paper. With dedicated and effective teaching, this is one part of the test that as a teacher I have almost full control over. Whilst I can’t determine exactly what task types will appear in the test or the topic they will focus on, I can prepare my students to write in the best possible way. That means that I can send my students into their exam with a lot of confidence about one part of the test. I’ve seen many students pass their exams based on the quality of their writing, and for some it can offer them the lifeline they need.

That’s why writing is a thing we should be focusing on in class time, rather than sending home because we’re scared. The resources on this site are designed to take away that fear and offer you and your students the best preparation possible for success in the writing paper.

Follow the links below to find the writing resources for these levels.

1 Comment

  1. I loved your text and I totally agree with you. As teachers we’ll help our students a great deal better if we focus more time on writing.


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