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A process genre approach to teaching writing

Richard Badger and Goodith White

This paper analyses the strengths and weaknesses of product, process, and genre approaches to writing in terms of their view of writing and how they see the development of writing. It argues that the three approaches are complementary, and identifies an approach which is informed by each of them.


In 1982 one commentator on the teaching of writing suggested that 'The whole enterprise is beyond wordsbeyond conception.' (Smith 1982: 27) Given such a daunting forecast, it is perhaps just as well that EFL teachers can now draw on a range of approaches to teaching writing. Over the last 20 years, process and product approaches have dominated much of the teaching of writing that happens in the EFL classroom. In the last ten years, genre approaches have gained adherents (e.g. Swales 1990, Tribble 1996: 37-57, Gee 1997). This paper offers some discussion of these approaches, and argues for a synthesis which draws on all three. It will cover both linguistic factors (how the approaches conceptualize writing) and educational factors (how the approaches conceptualize learning to write).

Product approaches

One of the most explicit descriptions of product approaches is provided by Pincas (1982a). She sees writing as being primarily about linguistic knowledge, with attention focused on the appropriate use of vocabulary, syntax, and cohesive devices. (Pincas 1982b) In this approach, learning to write has four stages: familiarization; controlled writing; guided writing; and free writing. The familiarization stage aims to make learners aware of certain features of a particular text. In the controlled and guided writing sections, the learners practise the skills with increasing freedom until they are ready for the free writing section, when they 'use the writing skill as part of a genuine activity such as a letter, story or essay' (1982a: 22). A typical product class might involve the learners familiarizing themselves with a set of descriptions of houses, possibly written especially for teaching purposes, by identifying, say, the prepositions and the names of rooms used in a description of a house. At the controlled stage, they might produce some simple sentences about houses from a substitution table. The learners might then produce a piece of guided writing based on a picture of a house and, finally, at the stage of free writing, a description of their own home.
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Pincas (1982a: 24) sees learning as 'assisted imitation', and adopts many techniques (e.g. substitution tables ibid.: 94), where learners respond to a stimulus provided by the teacher. However, her comment that, at the stage of free writing, 'students should feel as if they are creating something of their own' (ibid.: 110) suggests a view of learners as being ready to show rather more initiative. In short, product-based approaches see writing as mainly concerned with knowledge about the structure of language, and writing development as mainly the result of the imitation of input, in the form of texts provided by the teacher. Process approaches Although there are many different process approaches to writing (see, for example, Hedge 1988, White and Arndt 1991), they share some core features. Tribble suggests that process approaches stress . . . writing activities which move learners from the generation of ideas and the collection of data through to the 'publication' of a finished text. (1996: 37) Writing in process approaches is seen as predominantly to do with linguistic skills, such as planning and drafting, and there is much less emphasis on linguistic knowledge, such as knowledge about grammar and text structure. There are different views on the stages that writers go through in producing a piece of writing, but a typical model identifies four stages: prewriting; composing/drafting; revising; and editing (Tribble 1996: 39). This is a cyclical process in which writers may return to pre-writing activities, for example, after doing some editing or revising. A typical prewriting activity in the process approach would be for learners to brainstorm on the topic of houses. At the composing/drafting stage they would select and structure the result of the brainstorming session to provide a plan of a description of a house. This would guide the first draft of a description of a particular house. After discussion, learners might revise the first draft working individually or in groups. Finally, the learners would edit or proof-read the text. In process approaches, the teacher primarily facilitates the learners' writing, and providing input or stimulus is considered to be less important. Like babies and young children who develop, rather than learn, their mother tongue, second language learners develop, rather than consciously learn, writing skills. Teachers draw out the learners' potential. Process approaches have a somewhat monolithic view of writing. The process of writing is seen as the same regardless of what is being written and who is writing. So while the amount of pre-writing in producing a postcard to a friend and in writing an academic essay are different (see Tribble 1996: 104), this is not reflected in much process teaching. While a process approach may ignore the context in which writing happens, this is unusual. For example Hedge (1988: 15 and passim) 154 Richard Badger and Goodith White

identifies four elements of the context that pre-writing activities should focus on: the audience, the generation of ideas, the organization of the text, and its purpose. Summarizing, we can say that process approaches see writing primarily as the exercise of linguistic skills, and writing development as an unconscious process which happens when teachers facilitate the exercise of writing skills. Genre approaches Genre approaches are relative newcomers to ELT. However, there are strong similarities with product approaches and, in some ways, genre approaches can be regarded as an extension of product approaches. Like product approaches, genre approaches regard writing as predominantly linguistic but, unlike product approaches, they emphasize that writing varies with the social context in which it is produced. So, we have a range of kinds of writingsuch as sales letters, research articles, and reportslinked with different situations (Flowerdew 1993: 307). As not all learners need to operate in all social contexts, this view of texts has implications for the writing syllabus. For genre analysts, the central aspect of the situation is purpose. Different kinds of writing, or genres, such as letters of apology, recipes, or law reports, are used to carry out different purposes. Indeed, Swales defines a genre . . . as a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes. (1990: 58) Genres are also influenced by other features of the situation, such as the subject matter, the relationships between the writer and the audience, and the pattern of organization. This parallels Hedge's (1988) approach, described above. Martin (1993: 120) offers a diagrammatic explanation of genre. In terms of writing development, genre approaches have many similarities with product approaches. Cope and Kalantzis (1993: 11) talk of a wheel model of genre literacy. This wheel has three phases:
Figure 1: Martin's models of genre Purpose [Genre)

Channel [Mode]

Subject matter

Interlocutor Relationship [Field] [Tenor]


A process genre approach to teaching writing


modelling the target genre, where learners are exposed to examples of the genre they have to produce; the construction of a text by learners and teacher; and, finally, the independent construction of texts by learners. In theory, the cycle can be repeated as and when necessary, but it would seem that often each phase appears only once. In the ELT field, Dudley-Evans (1997:154) also identifies three stages in genre approaches to writing. First, a model of a particular genre is introduced and analysed. Learners then carry out exercises which manipulate relevant language forms and, finally, produce a short text. This parallels product approaches very closely. In a genre class, learners might examine authentic descriptions of houses produced by estate agents or realtors in order to sell the property. As with product approaches, the learners would carry out an analysis of the text, perhaps looking at some elements of the grammar or patterns of vocabulary using a concordancer. They would also consider the social context, including the fact that the text is, hopefully, based on a visit to the house, that its purpose is selling a house, that the audience is made up of potential buyers, and that the words are supported by pictures and diagrams. With varying degrees of help, learners would then produce partial texts. Finally, working on their own, they would produce complete texts reflecting the social context and the language of the original description of a house. Proponents of genre approaches are not often explicit about their theory of learning. However, the use of model texts and the idea of analysis suggest that learning is partly a question of imitation and partly a matter of understanding and consciously applying rules. In short, genre-based approaches see writing as essentially concerned with knowledge of language, and as being tied closely to a social purpose, while the development of writing is largely viewed as the analysis and imitation of input in the form of texts provided by the teacher.

Comparing' The three approaches are sometimes presented as opposed to each product, process, other. Thus Gee says that and genre The process approach generally represented a reaction against the approaches product-based approach whereas the genre approach represented a
reaction to the so-called progressivist curriculum (1997: 25). Amongst mother tongue teachers, we find heated comments such as The process writing teacher, waiting while the child struggles for control and ownership... actually favours white, middle-class students. (Cope and Kalantzis 1993: 57). Similarly, Kamler (1995: 9) criticizes the genre approach because of . . . its narrow focus on language and text and its lack of attention to the instructional and disciplinary contexts in which texts are constructed.
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EFL commentators generally work in a less politically sensitive area, but writing still generates 'many, often conflicting, views' (Tribble 1996: 37). Teachers of ESOL might understandably decide that the debate is generating more heat than light, and pass on to more obviously useful research. However, we would argue that the conflict between the various approaches is misguided, and damaging to classroom practice. The three approaches are largely complementary, as becomes more apparent if we examine their weaknesses and strengths. The weaknesses of product approaches are that process skills, such as planning a text, are given a relatively small role, and that the knowledge and skills that learners bring to the classroom are undervalued. Their strengths are that they recognize the need for learners to be given linguistic knowledge about texts, and they understand that imitation is one way in which people learn. The disadvantages of process approaches are that they often regard all writing as being produced by the same set of processes; that they give insufficient importance to the kind of texts writers produce and why such texts are produced; and that they offer learners insufficient input, particularly in terms of linguistic knowledge, to write successfully. The main advantages are that they understand the importance of the skills involved in writing, and recognize that what learners bring to the writing classroom contributes to the development of writing ability. The negative side of genre approaches is that they undervalue the skills needed to produce a text and see learners as largely passive. More positively, they acknowledge that writing takes place in a social situation, and is a reflection of a particular purpose, and understand that learning can happen consciously through imitation and analysis. An effective methodology for writing needs to incorporate the insights of product, process, and genre approaches. One way of doing this is to start with one approach and adapt it. For example, one problem in the process approach is the lack of input. White and Arndt (1991) suggest techniques such as group work, where input is provided by other learners, and conferencing, where input is provided on a one-to-one basis by the teacher. Also, some process writing material makes use of sample texts, usually after the learners have produced afirstdraft (see for example White 1987). Adapting an approach has led to important developments in the writing classroom. However, we feel that it is also possible to identify an approach which is a synthesis of the three approaches, which we term the process genre approach. An outline of this is presented in the next section. Towards a synthesis: writing in the process genre approach We will describe our model of the process genre approach in terms of a view of writing and a view of the development of writing. The essential idea here is that the writing class recognizes that writing involves knowledge about language (as in product and genre approaches), knowledge of the context in which writing happens and
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especially the purpose for the writing (as in genre approaches), and skills in using language (as in process approaches) writing development happens by drawing out the learners' potential (as in process approaches) and by providing input to which the learners respond (as in product and genre approaches). Writing in the One of the central insights of genre analysis is that writing is embedded process genre in a social situation, so that a piece of writing is meant to achieve a approach particular purpose which comes out of a particular situation. An example might be an estate agent writing a description of a house in order to sell it. This purpose has implications for the subject matter, the writer/audience relationship and organization, channel, or mode (see Hedge 1988: 15, and Martin 1993: 23). While genre analysis focuses on the language used in a particular text, we would want to include processes by which writers produce a text reflecting these elements under the term 'process genre'. This would cover the process by which writers decide what aspects of the house should be highlighted, as well as the knowledge of the appropriate language. In the writing classroom, teachers need to replicate the situation as closely as possible and then provide sufficient support for learners to identify the purpose and other aspects of the social context. So learners who wanted to be estate agents would need to consider that their description is meant to sell the house (purpose), that it must appeal to a certain group of people (tenor), that it must include certain information (field), and that there are ways in which house descriptions are presented (mode). Then, drawing on their knowledge of things such as vocabulary, grammar, and organization, our writers would use the skills appropriate to the genre, such as redrafting and proof-reading, to produce a description of a house which reflects the situation from which it arises. We have attempted to illustrate this in the left-hand column of Figure 2 (on the next page). Different genres require different kinds of knowledge and different sets of skills, and our knowledge of both the knowledge and skill involved in different genres is limited. However, teachers are expert writers of many genres, and a key feature of this approach is that they should draw on their own knowledge of, and skills in, particular process genres. The development of The development of writing will vary between different groups of writing in a process learners because they are at different stages of their writing developgenre approach ment. Learners who know a lot about the production of a particular genre, and are skilled in it, may need little or no input. Some groups of learners will have a good awareness of how the potential audience may constrain what is written. Other groups may lack knowledge of what language is appropriate to a particular audience. In this case, the learners need some kind of input in terms of, say, the language appropriate to a particular audience, or the skills in deciding whom the potential audience may be. What input is needed will depend on their particular group of learners.

Richard Badger and Goodith White

Figure 2: A genre process model of teaching writing

A process genre model of writing Situation ' Purpose Consideration of mode field tenor

Possible input

^ Teacher


_ 2 Learners


Planning ^ T Drafting Drafting

, i ' _


2i ,"



' - '

In many cases, the teacher is not able to find out what the learners know or can do before the class. In this case, a deep-end approach modelled on Willis (1996: 100) may be appropriate. Learners try to carry out one element in a process genre, and then compare their texts or skills in text production with some expert's (possibly the teacher's) version of this. On the basis of this comparison, they or the teacher can then decide if they need further input of knowledge or skills. Where learners lack knowledge, we can draw on three potential sources: the teacher, other learners, and examples of the target genre. Teachers may provide input in terms of instruction (mention the number of rooms), other learners may do the same in the less threatening context of group work, but perhaps the most distinctive source of input about contextual and linguistic knowledge in a genre process approach is language awareness activities. Genre analysis attempts to reveal the similarities between texts written for the same reason, and so it is likely that these language awareness activities will be based on a corpus of the relevant genre. Key materials for genre process teachers are sets of corpora of the kinds of texts their learners want to write. In our house description exercise, learners might investigate the kind of sentence structure used in estate agents' descriptions of a house, the kind of vocabulary used to make the position sound attractive and where the price appears. Flowerdew (1993) and Dudley-Evans (1997) also suggest activities such as using flow charts to illustrate the organization of particular genres and translation. Learners may also require input about the skills needed for writing. A rich source here comes from observing other students and the teacher. Teachers may find direct instruction on skills effectivethink about why you are writing the descriptionbut an alternative is a demonstration by the teacher or other skilled writer, possibly accompanied by a commentary
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attempting to explain the mental processes that underlie the exercise of the skill. For example, teachers might explain why they chose to include certain information about a house and leave out other information. Figure 2 illustrates the possible input in the process genre. The use of dashes is intended to indicate that input is not always required. Summary In this paper, we have outlined an approach to writing informed by a product, process, and genre view of writing and writing development. The model sees writing as a series of stages leading from a particular situation to a text, with the teachers facilitating learners' progress by enabling appropriate input of knowledge and skills. Received May 1999 References Cope, B. and M. Kalantzis. 1993. 'Background to genre teaching' in B. Cope and M. Kalantzis (eds.). The Powers of Literacy: A Genre Approach to Teaching Writing. London: Falmer Press. Dudley-Evans, T. 1997. 'Genre models for the teaching of academic writing to second language speakers: advantages and disadvantages' in T. Miller (ed.). Functional Approaches to Written Text: Classroom Applications. Washington DC: United States Information Agency. Flowerdew, J. 1993. 'An educational or process Approach to the teaching of professional genres'. ELT Journal 4714: 305-16. Hedge, T. 1993. Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gee, S. 1997. 'Teaching writing: a genre-based approach'. Review of English Language Teaching 62: 24-40. Kamler, B. 1995. 'The grammar wars or what do teachers need to know about grammar?. English in Australia 114: 3-15. Martin. J. R. 1993. 'A contextual theory of language' in B. Cope and M. Kalantzis (eds.). The Powers of Literacy: A Genre Approach to Teaching Writing. London: Falmer Press. Pincas, A. 1982a. Teaching English Writing. London: Macmillan. Pincas, A. 1982b. Writing in English 1. London: Macmillan. Smith, F. 1982. Writing and the Writer. London: Heinemann. Swales, J. 1990. Genre Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Tribble, C. 1996. Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. White, R. 1987. Writing Advanced. Oxford: Oxford University Press. White, R. and V. Arndt 1991. Process Writing. Harlow: Longman. Willis, J. 1996. A Framework for Task-Based Learning. Harlow: Longman. The authors Richard Badger (LLB, PGCE, MA, PhD) has taught in Nigeria, Malaysia, and Algeria, and currently teaches at the Centre of English Language Teaching at the University of Stirling, UK. His research interests include the methodology of teaching writing, legal language, genre analysis, and teacher training. Email: <> Goodith White (BA, Dip TEFL, M.Litt) has taught in Italy, Finland, Singapore, Portugal, Eire, and the UK. She is currently lecturing at CELT, University of Stirling, UK, and is pursuing doctoral research in sotiolinguistics with Trinity College, Dublin. She has recently published a book on listening for Oxford University Press. Email: <>


Richard Badger and Goodith White