Teaching EFL and ESL Students: Strategies to Improve Writing Skills
EFL Classroom Instruction
For two years, I taught writing to 6th grade EFL students in Thailand. During my first year, misconceptions derailed my best lesson plans. The biggest misconception was that I expected my sixth-grade students to be able to write as well as native English speaking students. Nothing could be farther from the truth. EFL students are at a distinct disadvantage because their command of the English language is much lower than that of native speakers. The average EFL student doesn't have a good command of the spoken language, hence he or she will make many mistakes when speaking English. These mistakes are carried over in writing in the form of grammatical mistakes using verb tenses, incomplete sentences, bad sentence structure, and misuse of pronouns and singulars and plurals.
Another misconception was that the student had sufficient vocabulary to write about a common daily topic like shopping and eating at a restaurant. Although a lot of vocabulary has been introduced to EFL students, most students haven't internalized the vocabulary and can't use it like native speakers.
The Ministry of Education in Thailand has decreed that in the learning area of EFL writing, sixth-grade students are expected to:
1. give requests and instructions;
2. ask and give data about themselves, family, and friends;
3. express feelings; and
4. communicate about the environment, food, health, buying and selling, and free-time recreation.
These are worthwhile goals; however, to reach them strategies must be devised to get rid of the deficiencies many students have.
Strategies to Get Rid of Reading Deficiencies
With a realization that EFL and ESL students aren't as well-prepared as native speakers for writing, the following strategies would help eliminate deficiencies:
1. Remedial Instruction:
It is unrealistic to expect a sixth-grade EFL or ESL student to immediately write a coherent paragraph with a topic sentence, supporting facts, and a summary sentence. If a sixth-grade student could do this, our lives would be so much easier. Bearing this in mind, we must take a step back and give remedial instruction. This remedial instruction would include: reviewing and introducing new vocabulary; reviewing grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization; making simple sentences; and combining, reorganizing, subtracting, and adding sentences.
Most students can not write well because they have not listened, spoken, and read extensively where they can acquire facts, opinions, ideas, and much new vocabulary. In remedial instruction, the student would do a lot of listening, speaking, and reading in addition to writing. The presentation of model paragraphs and dialogs is an excellent way to introduce and review key vocabulary used in writing.
Review of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization is also needed. Sixth-grade students haven't mastered all of these skills. In addition, interference from the student's native language which many times employs simpler grammar and no punctuation or capitalization will hinder students in developing good writing skills.
Many EFL students can't put together a simple subject-verb sentence due to interference from their native language which has sentence structure different from English. In remedial training, the students should be taught the basic sentence structures as well as techniques for combining, reorganizing, subtracting, and adding simple sentences. For example, a teacher could write four sentences like these on the board: There is a girl. The girl is little. There is a lake. The girl fell. The teacher would next ask the students to make one sentence out of the four. Some student would probably say: The little girl fell into the lake.
2. Generating Compound and Complex Sentences From Simple Sentences:
A variety of simple, compound, and complex sentences will make writing much more lively and interesting to read. After the student is good at making simple sentences, the teacher should demonstrate and then give students practice in making compound sentences from simple sentences using the coordinators and, nor, but, or, yet, for, and so. Finally, the teacher can move into introducing dependent and independent clauses, and then the construction of complex sentences employing the subordinators because, since, after, although, when, and relative pronouns.
3. Pre-Writing Activities:
After a student has a foundation in the mechanics of writing, he or she can move into putting ideas on paper. In doing this, activities like brain-storming and organizing ideas into topics are necessary. Brain-storming is simply thinking of any ideas which might be related to the topic you are writing. After you have your ideas, it is necessary to organize them into topics. Let's say that a student is writing about important cities in Thailand. In the brainstorming phase, the student will think of all the cities he or she knows, and then probably come up with a list like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Korat, Hat Yai, Khon Kaen, Lopburi, Chiang Rai, and Suratthani. In the organizational phase, the teacher could suggest that the cities be grouped into the geographical regions of northern, central, northeastern, and southern Thailand. Therefore, the students would put Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai into the northern region, Bangkok, and Lopburi in the central region, etc.
4. Construction of a Paragraph:
After pre-writing activities are finished, the teacher can move into the actual construction of a paragraph. The first step in doing this is pointing out to the students that every paragraph has a topic sentence, a body with supporting facts or ideas, and a summary sentence. The topic sentence could be compared to a headline of a news article which tells the reader the main idea of the paragraph. The body might be compared to the supporting facts and ideas to back up the topic sentence. Finally, the summary sentence would be the concluding thoughts of the paragraph.
5. Construction and Arrangement of Paragraphs Into an Article:
The final step in the writing process is constructing and arranging all of your paragraphs into a coherent article. To be successful in doing this, you must make sure that different ideas appear in different paragraphs, and that there are good transition words between the paragraphs. For example, the sequencing technique can be used in some articles. One paragraph might have the first step of a process, and the next paragraph would have the second step, etc., to explain the whole process.
In making writing interesting and appealing to readers, the students should be taught the value of using adjectives and adverbs which stir emotions in people. Students should know how to use a thesaurus to find good synonyms and antonyms. Finally, in eliminating deficiencies in writing, students should be reminded to use a variety of simple, compound, and complex sentences.
Strategies for Improving Writing Skills
Which is the best strategy for improving writing skills?
Other Hubs Related to Writing
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It is necessary to evaluate the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills of ESL/EFL students to measure progress. In this hub I suggest ways to evaluate reading, writing, and thinking skills.
- EFL and ESL Teaching: Strategies to Create Enthusiasm for Writing
If we want our EFL and ESL students to be enthusiastic about writing, it must be made interesting and appealing. One way to do this to identify student interests and channel them into fun activities.
© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn