“What should I teach my students about writing? How can I help write what they want to write, in a way that their readers can understand?”
Diary submitted by Oliver H, Valencia.
Conciseness and clarity – the key to teaching writing?
Writing is a crucial facet to English language that students need to master in order to help them progress. It is all very well being able to speak, but if you cannot write clearly and concisely, with adequate vocabulary and a good grasp of syntax, then the simple process of writing an email becomes contorted and difficult.
Many problems associated with writing, even to the native speaker, concern clarity. People find themselves using elongated sentences leaving their work bereft of clearness. I always encourage students to convey their point with minimal fuss and confusion, but instead see if they can reduce their words in a way that still contains the vital points. This not only creates a more fluid writing style, but stretches the student into evaluating their knowledge of the English language. In this sense, things such as phrasal verbs offer students the opportunity to use natural and concise language to convey their message.
This approach, however, does not mean neglecting flair and advanced vocabulary, in fact, quite the opposite. When teaching I constantly strive to impart new and relevant vocabulary on students in order to allow them not only to increase their knowledge of the English language, but to be able to write more concisely and effectively. It is incredibly simple, but rather than allowing students to use the same adjectives constantly, for example, I seek to offer them synonyms which they may otherwise neglect. At the end of the class, or in your summary of a writing exercise, all it takes is a few bullet-pointed alternatives to allow their writing skills to progress.
It is also all too easy to simply cross out and replace errors in writing exercises. To the teacher, the mistake seems abundantly clear, yet for the student, this is about as unhelpful as possible. When correcting mistakes, it is essential to point out the grammatical errors for what they are. If they are use ‘to’ instead of ‘at’, or ‘there is’ instead of ‘there are’, it is essential to explain the over-arching issues. In these instances, it relates to prepositions and plurals. Yet if you simply correct them without providing this information, a student may be none the wiser as to what they actually did wrong.
Thus, by aiming to instil the desire to write concisely yet effectively, with a developed vocabulary, the ability to improve a student’s writing skills increases dramatically. As with all facets of teaching English, clarity in explanation and correction remains at the forefront. If there is not total transparency when it comes to correcting a student’s work, small errors will manifest themselves as consistent errors.