Three techniques of teaching writing to college students: my experience
Perhaps, it was the month of December 2018. One of our classes in B.Ed. first year grouped into another section as the students were high in number in the former section. Then, I was asked to take class in the new section. The next day, I went to the classroom taking my laptop and few materials. I had few short videos and slides related to the subject matter that I was going to introduce in the classroom. In the very beginning, I asked few things to the students regarding their previous classes and the topics that they studied in earlier section. At the same time one of the students said, “Sir, we need notes”. Then I asked, “What notes?” Then again another student said that I need to write note of each and every topic on the board. Then I said, “If I have to give you notes, then what do you do from your side?” There was silence for few seconds. Then the students admitted that they cannot write themselves as they are very weak in writing. I leaned on the lecture desk, spoke nothing and thought for a while.
It was my first lesson for them. A question came into my mind continuously, why the students demanded written note in my first class before I started the lesson. Again I began to wonder how they were taught in their previous lessons. How did they practice writing in the past? Then I asked them to attend my classes at least for a month and assured them that if they were not satisfied with my strategies for teaching writing, the campus would address their problem immediately. After that, I started my lesson through PowerPoint presentation where I played few videos related to the topic to be introduced that day. I could notice that few of my students were enjoying the videos and my delivery but few of them were not happy as they were not given written note on the board. I asked my students to have patience and assured them that they would become independent writers if they followed my instructions well.
As I came out from the classroom, their words ‘we need written notes…’ were buzzing in my mind. It was obvious that they got the habit of copying notes from the board which must be the reason why the students had no interest in trying to write themselves. Although copying and memorizing notes for examination must be easy for them but that would certainly not help students develop their creativity and become independent writers. I always learned from my teaching experience that the learners require ample opportunities to explore by exercising to write themselves and it is teacher’s responsibility to give an appropriate environment. I always remember one Nepali proverb “Machha khana matrai hoina, machha marna pani sikaunu parchha.” which means we should teach a man how to fish instead of just teaching him to eat fish. Keeping this proverb in my mind, I started dealing with these students differently. That evening, I planned something different for that classroom.
My techniques of teaching writing
First technique: come near to me
It was my second day in that class; however, it was the first day of my intervention of a new technique. That day, I used brainstorming technique to encourage my students to come up with some ideas and write a short story. As I asked them some questions to stimulate ideas for writing many of them were too shy to respond. Then, I wrote few sentences on the board which was the starting of a story. Meantime some of them were ready to copy out from the board but I requested them not to copy but write similar expression changing the major words i.e. content words of my writing. I had also given few content words in a box and asked them to replace content words of my writing. Most of them did but again few of them were still confused. I told the students who already completed their task to help other students too. On that very day, I asked the students come near to me but did not let them stand on my foot i.e. copying my exact sentences. My students practiced writing in this way for five days and I also gave them few tasks as their home assignment to be done regularly. I was not very strict about their assignment; rather I encouraged them to write whatever came in their mind related to the topic. In this way in the beginning, I brought them near to me/my writing.
Second technique: hold my hand
During the third week of my intervention, I tried out another technique to deal with the writing of my students. I asked them to recall the story they all had read in my previous lesson. I then wrote some points that represented important events of the story that but did not write the whole story or the summary. Then I asked my students to write just two paragraphs including the given points in them and adding few ideas from the text. Few of them hesitated to start writing and few of them said that it was difficult to write two paragraphs themselves. I asked them to write what they know and how much they can without worrying about the correctness of the sentences. As I went through their writing, I found that some of my students did not write anything at all while some of them created good pieces adding very good points and joining the given sentences in the sequences. Thus, I did similar activities for a week and I could notice changes in their writing. Many of my students improved and developed confidence in writing. I felt that, I was somehow able to make them walk holding my hand in the journey of writing.
Third technique: walk now
‘Walk Now’ is another technique that I used in my writing lesson. It was the last week of my intervention period. Now, I wanted to make my students walk themselves or in other words I wanted to make my students to write freely and independently. To make this happen, I read aloud an interesting piece of writing, e.g. a story and asked my students to jot down striking and important ideas or points they find in the text. I read the text twice or even thrice giving emphasis on the important points with specific sentence structure or events and guided them to elaborate those points and write at least one page. The one page writing could be a summary of the text or they were free to modify the text and rewrite it or if the text was a story, they could give it a different ending.
The next day almost all the students who were present in the previous day wrote one page and even those students who struggled a lot in writing were improving rapidly. They began to talk about their assignments and write summary of the previous lesson. It was encouraging to see my students making progress in writing.
After a month of intervention, I gathered students’ response about my writing lessons. Most of them admitted that copying notes and memorizing could probably help them pass the examination but that did not help them build confidence in writing. One of my students said, “Sir, now at least we started writing ourselves and if we go on following these writing strategies, we can write easily on any topic. You made us to write rather than expect and wait for your notes”. I realized that my students at least started to walk themselves, although they were not ready to run in their journey of writing.
From that very day I continued teaching same class and the students were happy with me. However, I used to give note if I felt that the concept were somehow new and challenging. In other cases, my students of that very class started writing and exploring their ideas themselves rather than depending on the teachers even for the simple topic, issue or concept.
Writing is one of the most desirable skills of language. We need to make our students write something themselves rather than letting them to copy our note. If we give ready-made notes, they just copy out and read. But if the situation became slightly different than our note, students explore nothing because they have just ready-made answers for particular questions. My experience of one month teaching writing with my own techniques i.e. ‘Come Near to Me’, ‘Hold my Hand’ and ‘Now Walk’ became somehow successful in my writing lessons. So, to make our students walk themselves and make them able for fishing, i.e. to make them write themselves, I think we teachers need to create the environment to writ. We should avoid giving ready-made notes which, in my opinion, kills the learners’ creativity.
The author: Sagar Poudel is an MPhil in English language education from Kathmandu University. His areas of interest are Second Language Acquisition, Socio-linguistics, Academic Writing and ELT pedagogy and materials. He is currently working as lecturer and the head of English department at Aadikavi Bhanubhakta Campus, Damauli Tanahun.