You are on page 1of 6

One of the most important things to remember when teaching writing is that writing is a process.

Very few native speakers will ever start writing at the top of the first page and continue straight through until they finish at bottom of the last one. The entire process has five steps, but the first step in the writing process is coming up with your thoughts and ideas, also known as prewriting. Prewriting helps students gather ideas and give them a bank of possibilities for their writing. This way, as students write they do not have to make decisions simultaneously about content and language. Help your students get a head start before they write with any of these six methods for prewriting. The bank of ideas they will generate will be an invaluable resource as they write.

How To Generate Writing Ideas

Brainstorming Brainstorming is an activity with which most people are familiar. The object in brainstorming is to compile as large a list as possible of potential examples for a given topic. This is a great activity to do in small groups or with the entire class. Brainstorming a list of ice cream flavors is an easy one to start with when introducing the concept. Naturally, one idea will spark another, so it is helpful to have students working together when brainstorming. Give your students permission to be as creative as they like. Anything goes with brainstorming. Challenge your students to come up with as many examples as they possibly can for whatever topic you give them.

Free writing Free writing is an individual activity for getting thoughts from your head on to paper. Explain the concept of stream of consciousness to your students and tell them that free writing is simply putting on paper every thought that is going through their heads. Like with brainstorming, anything goes. The goal of this activity is to never let your pen or pencil stop writing. Help students understand that though they will begin with a particular topic in mind, it is okay to veer off on tangents as they write. Spelling and grammar are not important for this activity; it is ideas that we are trying to grasp. Give your students a set length of time for this activity. If they are young you may want to limit it to two or three minutes; older students can probably write for five to ten minutes. Then when students have completed the activity, have them go back and read what they have written digging through the mire for the gems hidden within.

they may ask. then connect bubbles to that subtopic with different types of insects on which spiders feed. if the topic is spiders. For example. etc. so students will know exactly how to group their ideas once they are ready to write. Then. have students answer the questions connecting still smaller bubbles to the bubbles containing the questions. what. they scare nursery rhyme characters. if your topic was study habits.. you might ask. When finished prewriting. Then you can move in one of two directions.  4 Cluster Mapping Cluster mapping. A student may start with spiders as the central theme. Have students write answers to each question. where. This activity can be done either individually or in groups with success. have them think of questions about the topic. is a great way to show relationships between ideas. “What do spiders eat? Where to spiders live? What do spiders look like?” Each question should be written in a bubble connected to the central topic. “Who has good study habits? Who benefits from good study habits? What are the good habits? Where do people with good study habits study? Where to they keep their books? Where do they organize notes and homework? When do they study? When do they complete assignments? .” There are an infinite number of questions you can ask about any given subject. Generally speaking. make a connecting bubble with the subtopic of diet. 3 Journalistic Questions Journalistic questions approach a topic in a more structured manner. Tell students to spread these bubbles out over the page as they will be adding to each. for your given topic. why and how. each of the subtopics would be one paragraph in a composed piece of writing with examples and support for the idea surrounding it.. With students who have more knowledge about their central topic. If their question was “What do spiders do?” then they might make connecting bubbles saying they capture flies. With younger children. they spin webs. also called idea webbing.Cluster mapping is also part idea generation and part organization. Start by reviewing the question words: who. ask questions starting with each of these words. For example.  5 Flow Charting . their bubbles connected to the central idea should include subtopics and/or details about the subtopics. when. Then. have them go back and read what they have written and organize their thoughts in preparation for writing. To begin. write your topic in the center of the page and put a circle around it.

Each column should have a topic which focuses the idea generation. Depending on the topic. loss of jobs. you could have them label one column with each culture. failure in school. When finished. For example. When writing. Why not try it with your students before assigning your next writing topic? . flow charting is most effective when examining cause and effect relationships. If your students are writing about their ethnic heritage in comparison to another. Prewriting alleviates students’ anxiety freeing their minds to focus on words after generating ideas instead of completing both steps simultaneously. isolation. With the central theme drug abuse in the center of your page. if you were going to compare love and hate. students should have a good idea of the points on which they can compare or contrast their topics. students may create a chain of cause and effect relationships and choose to write about the series. Prewriting will give your students confidence and direction as they write not to mention improve the quality of their ideas and organization in their writing. With this prewriting method. parental example and boredom are all potential causes of drug abuse. have students make two (or three) columns on their paper. further abuse and addiction may all be results of drug abuse.However.Flow charting is similar to cluster mapping in that it shows relationships between ideas.  6 Double/Triple Entry Double or Triple Entry is another focused brainstorming activity. Homelessness. students can then focus on either half of the diagram (causes of drug abuse or effects of drug abuse) or follow the cause and effect pathway from cause to effect and cause to effect. prewriting gives your students the tools and foundation for successful writing. to the left students would make list of causes for drug abuse with arrows pointing at the central idea. Each would therefore be in its own box in the diagram with an arrow pointing from it to the central idea of drug abuse. Then examine the effects of drug abuse and place those in separate boxes to the right of the central idea each with an arrow going from the central idea to it. you might label your columns similarities and differences and list your ideas in the appropriate sections. This is especially useful whencomparing and contrasting two or three topics or when exploring two or three areas of one topic. medical need. What causes drug abuse? Peer pressure. Whether you choose to use all these methods with your students or only one or two.

In fact. Finally. Many adults who do not need to write will enjoy it for the purpose of sharing their thoughts and personal stories. or other English mechanics. your student has succeeded in communicating on paper and should be praised for that. You can try a dialog journal where students write a journal entry and then give the journal to a partner or the teacher. Free writing directs students to simply get their ideas onto paper without worrying much about grammar. but the message is more important than correct presentation. which relieves students of the pressure to perform and allows them to express themselves more freely. also called extended or process writing. The main characteristic of free writing is that few (if any) errors are corrected by the teacher. Begin with a pre-writing task such as free writing. discussion of a topic. Then give the students clear instructions and ample time to write the assignment. but you should consider their needs and balance your class time appropriately. Make sure ideas and content are addressed first. writing skills will not be used much outside your class. The journals may be exchanged during class. then revise and edit it to a final polished version. you can circulate from person to person asking. listing. spelling. Pairs or small groups often work well for prewriting tasks. making a timeline. all for the purpose of receiving constructive feedback. They should use the feedback they received to revise and edit it into a piece they feel good about. correcting the English should be secondary. brainstorming. or share them with a partner. is a more formal activity in which students must write a first draft. and often the finished product is shared publicly.Teaching Writing Good writing conveys a meaningful message and uses English well. In a class. discuss them with you face to face. give students 5 minutes in class to write about a certain topic. ask students to rewrite the piece. but journal writing usually is done at home. or making an outline. "Do you have any questions?" Many students will ask a question when approached but otherwise would not have raised a hand to call your attention. This doesn't mean that they shouldn't be challenged to write. If you can understand the message or even part of it. who writes another entry in response. the students can hand in their papers for written comment. Two writing strategies you may want to use in your lessons are free writing and revised writing. Once a rough draft is completed. and . don't sit at a desk working on your next lesson plan. the teacher can choose not to even look at free writing pieces. Such finished pieces are often shared with the class or posted publicly. To practice free writing. or ask them to write weekly in a journal. Make yourself available during the writing activity. You may need several class sessions to accomplish this. For many adult ESL learners. and they appreciate a format where they can revise their work into better English than if they shared the same information orally. Revised writing.

main ideas. video. not just the language. Spelling should be a low priority as long as words are recognizable. etc. and any unnecessary information. support.can be a word or whole written piece Format Clarify the format. story. (words or sentences depending on level) o Writing what your students want to learn in English and why o Writing letters (complaint. don't correct all errors or rewrite sentences for the student.depending on the assignment. in addition to any written feedback you provide.give blank post cards or note cards or stationery to add interest. choose selectively what to correct and what to ignore. but make sure your students know what you expect. organization. Always make positive comments and respond to the content. try to respond orally to your student's writing. you may even choose to 'publish' everyone's writing into a class booklet. advice) . object.   Types of Tasks Here are some ideas for the types of writing you can ask your students to do. ideas. reasons. For a poem. for example making a grid of survey results or writing directions to a location using a map o Reacting to a text. friend. Make a mark where the error is and let the student figure out what's wrong and how to fix it. punctuation. for example changing all verbs and time references to past tense o Summarizing a story text. picture. and a conclusion.. spelling. you can also use this to teach how to address an envelope o Organizing information. etc. Focus on helping the student clarify the meaning of the writing. list. o Copying text word for word o Writing what you dictate o Imitating a model o Filling in blanks in sentences or paragraphs o Taking a paragraph and transforming certain language. Consider the following ideas for your writing lessons. To reduce ink on the page. . word choice) you will correct and ignore other errors. overall clarity. or listening clip (you can guide with questions or keywords) o Making lists of items. For an essay. etc. At higher levels you can tell students ahead of time exactly what kinds of errors (verbs. making comments on the introduction. Written correction is potentially damaging to confidence because it's very visible and permanent on the page. If possible. . Especially at lower levels. Tactful correction of student writing is essential. the format will vary accordingly. you may specify that you want an introduction.

Include such things as clear topic sentences. spelling.   Model Provide a model of the type of writing you want your students to do. star. Correction Minimize the threatening appearance of correction. X. Explain to the students that you will use certain symbols such as VT for verb tense or WO for word order. capitalization. and be very clear whether a mark (check mark. circle) means correct or incorrect as this varies among cultures. verb tenses. introduction and conclusion. . especially for beginners. as long as it's different from what the student used. Instead of a red pen. etc. use green or blue or even pencil. Editing Consider giving students a checklist of points to look for when editing their own work.