Guiding Concepts in EFL/ ESL Writing Teaching

Irrespective of what career you decide to pursue, your ability to communicate clearly and effectively will bear a direct impact on your success. Within a classroom environment, your teacher or assessor often evaluate your command of a subject by the papers and examinations you write. Prospective employers make judgments about your qualifications and resolve whether to ask you for an interview on the grounds of your job application letter and résumé.

In the working environment, you will be required to write clear, correct reports, memorandums, and letters. There is nothing uncanny about successful writing because it does not necessitate a special talent, nor does it rely on inspiration, being simply a skill, and like any other skill, it calls for strategies which are acquirable. Once students understand them and the more they are drilled and carried out, the easier writing becomes. Strategies for Successful Writing will help you become a successful writer, and upon graduation, it can serve as a useful on-the-job reference.

In a second or even a foreign language, writing is one of the most challenging features of language learning. This may not come as a surprise in taking into account the fact that even for those who speak English as a first language, the ability to write effectively is something requiring extensive and specialised instruction, consequently spawning a vast freshman composition industry in American as well as British colleges and universities. Within the domain of second and foreign language teaching, the teaching of writing has come to occupy a much more central position than it assumed twenty or thirty years ago, this being perhaps the result of two factors. On the one hand, command of good writing skills is increasingly viewed as vital to equip learners for success in the twenty-first century. The ability to get across ideas and information effectively by means of the global digital network vitally depends on good writing skills. Writing has been identified as one of the essential process skills in a world that is more than ever ruled by text and numerical data. A further empowering of the status of writing within applied linguistics has come from the comprehensive knowledge base on the nature of written texts and writing processes that has been boosted by scholars in fields such as composition studies, second language writing, genre theory, and contrastive rhetoric. As a result, there is an active interest today in new theoretical approaches to the study of written texts, as well as approaches to the teaching of second and foreign language writing, including current theory and research findings.

Writing ranks as an utterly important skill that second language students need to acquire, and the competence to teach writing is central to the expertise of a well-trained language teacher. But, while interest in second and foreign language writing and approaches to teaching it have sharpened dramatically over the last decade, teachers often have to cope with their own resources in the classroom because much of the relevant theory and research fails to reach them. This article addresses this issue by attempting to provide a feeble synthesis of theory, research, and practice to support teachers of language in becoming teachers of writing with informed choices about the methods, materials, and procedures to make use of in the classroom, based on a clear insight of the current attitudes and practices in his or her profession. A strong teacher is a reflective teacher, and reflection requires the knowledge to relate classroom activities to relevant research and theory.

A real host of theories supporting teachers’ efforts to understand writing and learning have developed since EFL/ESL writing first identified as a clear field of bursaries in the 1980s. In most cases, each has been enthusiastically taken up, translated into appropriate methodologies, and carried out in classrooms. However, each also has typically been regarded as another piece in the puzzle, a further outlook to illuminate what learners have to learn and what teachers need to offer for effective writing instruction. Thus, while usually treated as historically evolving movements, it would be inappropriate to see each theory fading and replacing the last. They should be more accurately seen as complementary and overlapping perspectives, standing for potentially compatible modes of understanding the complex reality of writing. It is advisory therefore to regard such theories as curriculum options, each revolving writing teaching around a different language structures, text functions, themes or topics, creative expression, composing processes, content, and genre and contexts of writing Consequently, teachers are apt to acknowledge and draw on a number of approaches, but usually display a preference for one of them. So, even if they rarely represent distinct classroom approaches, it is necessary to examine each conception separately in order to comprehend more clearly what each gives us in regard of writing and in what ways it can support our teaching.

Focus on Structure of a Text

One mode to consider writing is to see it as marks on a screen or a page, a coherent arrangement of words, clauses, and sentences, structured complying with a set of rules. Conceptualising ESL/ EFL writing in this way draws attention to writing as a product and encourages a focus on formal text units or grammar traits of texts. From this viewpoint, learning to write in a foreign or second language entails mostly knowledge of language and the vocabulary choices, syntactic patterns, and cohesive devices which represent the main building blocks of texts. A stress on language structure as a ground for writing teaching is mainly process made up of four stages:
1.Familiarisation: Learners are taught certain grammar and vocabulary, usually through a text.
2. Controlled writing: Learners manipulate fixed patterns, often from substitution tables.
3. Guided writing: Learners imitate model texts.
4. Free writing: Learners use the patterns they have developed to write an essay, letter, and so forth.

 Focus on Text Functions

While ESL/ EFL students clearly need an acquisition of appropriate grammar and vocabulary when learning to write in English, writing is obviously not only such things. If language structures are to be part of a writing course, then we need principles for selecting which patterns to teach and how they can be used effectively. An underlining principle here is to connect structures to meanings, making language usage a criterion for teaching materials. This engenders the idea that certain language forms perform particular communicative functions and that students can be taught the functions most relevant to them under certain circumstances. Functions are the means for attaining the purposes of writing. This stream is sometimes labelled “current-traditional rhetoric” or simply a “functional approach”, being affluential where ESL/ EFL students are being trained for academic writing at college or university. One end of this focus is to assist students so as to develop effective paragraphs through the creation of topic sentences, supporting sentences, and transitions, and to produce different kinds of paragraphs. Students are guided to put out connected sentences by following prescribed formulas and tasks, tending to concentrate on form to positively reinforce model writing patterns. As with the activities at the sentence level, composition rubrics typically include so-called free writing methods, which mainly involve learners reordering sentences in scrambled paragraphs, selecting appropriate sentences to complete gapped paragraphs and write paragraphs from provided items.

Obviously, this orientation is under the heavy influence of the structural model mentioned above, since paragraphs are viewed almost as syntactic units like sentences, in which writers can fill particular functional units into particular slots. From this onwards, it is a short way to apply similar principles to whole essays. Texts can then be seen as consisting of structural entities such as Introduction-Body-Conclusion, and particular organisational patterns such as narration, description, and exposition are described and reinforced. Usually, courses are constructed according to common functions of written English. Each unit commonly contains comprehension checks on a model text which are followed by exercises drawing attention to the language used to express the target function and that develop students’ abilities to use them in their writing. Such tasks include expanding an outline into an essay or imitating the mold of a parallel text in their own essay. Indeed, these offer good ground for writing by supporting learners’ development. While meaning is involved in these tasks and instructional strategies, they essentially deal with disembodied patterns rather than writing activities with any meaning or purpose for students. An exclusive focus on form or function means that writing is cut off from the practical aims or personal experiences of the writer.

Methods such as guided compositions are dependent on the assumption that texts are objects which can be taught being taken out of particular contexts, writers, or readers, and that by pursuing certain rules, writers can represent their intended meanings to the full. Nevertheless, writing amounts to more than an issue of arranging elements in the best order, and writing instruction are more than assisting learners to remember and drill these patterns. An awareness of this has led teachers to take great pains in order to introduce the writer into their models of writing and writing teaching.

  Focus on Creative Expression

The third teaching mainstream considers the writer, rather than form, as the point of departure. Following L1 composition theorists such as Elbow (1998) and Murray (1985), many writing teachers from liberal arts backgrounds deem their classroom goals as developing L2 students’ expressive abilities, encouraging them to create their own voices to produce fresh and spontaneous writing. Such classrooms are organised around students’ personal experiences and viewpoints, and writing is considered a creative act of self-discovery. This can help generate self-awareness of the writer’s social position and literate possibilities as well as facilitate clear thinking, effective relating, and satisfying self-expression.  From this orientation, writing is learned, not taught, so writing instruction is nondirective and personal. Writing is a way of sharing personal meanings and writing courses lay emphasis on the power of the individual to construct his or her own views on a subject.

Teachers’ role is simply to provide students with the space to make their own meaningful insights within the framework of a positive and cooperative environment. Due to the fact that writing is a developmental process, these teachers more often than not avoid imposing their views by supplying models or suggesting responses to topics. Thus, they try to spark off the writer’s ideas through prewriting tasks, such as journal writing and parallel texts. Since writing is also an act of discovering meaning, an eagerness to engage with students’ assertions is of crucial importance, and the response is an essential way to initiate and guide ideas. This orientation further urges teachers to be responsive to the ideas that learners put forward, rather than dwell on formal errors. Students are supplied with extensive opportunities for writing and exercises may attend to characteristics such as style, wordiness, clichés, active versus passive voice, and so on. In sharp contrast to the rigid practice of a more form-oriented approach, writers are encouraged to be creative and take chances through free writing.

Expressivism is a vital approach since it urges writers to explore their beliefs, establish rapport with the ideas of others, and connect with readers. Despite this, it leans largely on an asocial view of the writer, and its ideology of individualism may set back second language students from cultural environments placing a dissimilar value on self-expression. Besides, it is difficult to extract from the approach any distinct principles from which to teach and assess “good writing”. It simply presumes that all writers have a similar inborn creative potential and can learn to voice themselves through writing on condition that their originality and spontaneity are permitted to flourish.

Writing is seen as deriving from self-discovery guided by writing on topics of potential interest to writers and, in consequence, the approach is bound to be most successfully carried out by the teachers who themselves write creatively. Murray’s (1985) A writer teaches writing, for example, offers a good account of expressivist methods, but also suggests the importance of the teacher’s own personal insights in the process. As a result, despite proving highly influential in L1 writing classrooms, expressivism has been treated with caution in L2 contexts. Even if numerous L2 students have learned successfully through this approach, others may encounter difficulties, as it tends to be negligible of the cultural backgrounds of learners, the social outcomes of writing, and the aims of communication in the real world, where the writing really matters.

 Focus on the Writing Process

Similar to the expressive orientation, the process approach to writing teaching lays stress on the writer as an independent text producer, but it goes even further to tackle the issue of what teachers should do to assist learners to perform a writing task. The numerous occurrences of this perspective are consistent in recognising basic cognitive processes as central to writing activity and in emphasising the necessity to develop students’ abilities to plan, define a rhetorical problem, and propose and evaluate solutions. In all likelihood, the pattern of writing processes most widely accepted by L2 writing teachers is the original planning-writing-reviewing framework established by Flower and Hayes. This perspective regards writing as a “non-linear, exploratory, and generative process whereby writers discover and reformulate their ideas as they attempt to approximate meaning” (Zamel, 1983: 165). Planning, drafting, revising, and editing do not occur in neatly, linearly sequencing, but are overlapping, interactive, and virtually simultaneous, and all work can be reviewed, assessed, and revised, even before any text being produced at all. At any point, the writer can move backward or forward to any of these activities: turning back to the library searching more data, revising the outline to adjust to new ideas, or rewriting with a view to the quality of being readable upon getting peer feedback. A process model of writing instruction can comprise:
 Selection of topic: by teacher and/or students
 Prewriting: brainstorming, collecting data, note taking, outlining, etc.
 Composing: jotting ideas down on paper
 Response to draft: teacher/peers respond to ideas, organisation, and style
Revising: reorganising, style, adjusting to readers, refining ideas
Response to revisions: teacher/peers respond to ideas, organisation, and style
Proofreading and editing: checking and correcting form, layout, evidence, etc.
 Evaluation: teacher evaluates progress over the process
 Publishing: by class circulation or presentation, noticeboards, Website, etc.
 Follow-up tasks: to address weaknesses

 Summary of the Principal Orientations to ESL/ EFL Writing Teaching

  Orientation Emphasis. Goals. Main Pedagogic Techniques Structure Language: Grammar accuracy, controlled composition, fill-in-the-gaps, substitution, form, vocabulary boosting, mistake avoidance, indirect assessment, proficiency drilling of rhetorical patterns.
Function Language: Paragraph and text free producing, unscrambling, gap-fill, imitation of use, organisational patterns, parallel texts, developing texts from graphs and tables.
Expressivist Writer: Individual creativity, reading, pre-writing activities, diary writing entries, self-discovery, multiple drafting, and peer reviews.
Process Writer: Technique controlling, brainstorming, outlining, multiple drafting, peer critiques and cooperation, postponement of editing, portfolio evaluation, content matter writing by means of pertinent extensive and intensive reading, group issue content and research projects, process or focusing on structures, genre characteristics and control of the cycle of rhetorical modelling-negotiation-construction, context structure of specific, rhetorical in order to raise awareness of text typology.

Barker, Alan. (2013). How to Write an Essay,
Cochran, Stacey. Miller-Cochran, Susan. Stamper, Roy. (2016). An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing. New York. North Carolina
Hogue, Ann. (2008). First Steps in Academic Writing, Second Edition. Pearsons Education, Inc.
Hyland, Ken. (2003). Second Language Writing. City University of Hong Kong. Cambridge University Press.
Leki, Ilona. (1998). Academic Writing, Exploring Processes and Strategies. Second Edition.
Lee, Icy. (2007). Assessment for learning: Integrating assessment, teaching, and learning in the ESL/ EFL writing classroom. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 64(1), 199–213.
Zamel, V. (1985). Responding to Students’ Writing. TESOL Quarterly.
Wilcox- Peterson, Patricia (2003). Developing Writing Skills Practice Book for EFL. United States Department of State, Washington. Office of English Language Programs.
Adapted from

prof. Carmen-Mirela Butaciu

Liceul Atanasie Marienescu, Lipova (Arad) , România
Profil iTeach:

Articole asemănătoare