I teach writing courses to my middle school students, and let me tell you, it’s difficult! The students aren’t all that interested in learning how to write; the materials I am given are inadequate, and I usually don’t have enough time to properly teach the grammar, vocabulary and other aspects of writing such as flow and formatting. It’s hard to teach everything you need to in a 50 minute class; I teach five middle school classes and I have each class only one night per week. Even with the limitations of time, inadequate materials, and low attention spans, it’s still important to teach students how to write properly.
So, how do you teach writing?
- Start by introducing the writing process! The writing process is a great way to get the students to start writing, even if they don’t like it. What is the writing process? Basically, it’s the step-by-step process we use organize our ideas and then put them down on paper. It consists of brainstorming, drafting, editing and revising, peer review, and finally publishing. The middle stages of drafting, editing and revising, and peer review often are repeated a few times before the publishing stage. Give the students enough time to brainstorm and come up with ideas. Once they’ve found their idea, help them flesh it out with details, and show them how to write their ideas out in a sentence.
- Explain the grammar rules in a slow, and easy-to-understand manner. Nothing confuses the students more than big words and overly complex explanations. Speaking too quickly, or not giving the students enough time to process what you’ve just said also makes learning difficult. Introduce each grammatical rule in a simple fashion, using plenty of examples to illustrate your point. After you explain the rule, always ask the students if they understand the material. If they don’t, then re-explain it in a different manner (if possible) to help them understand it.
- Use vocabulary that’s relevant to the student, and slowly introduce new words and meanings. Building a comprehensive understanding and collection of vocabulary words is vital to any type of writing. You want to first use words and phrases that the students are familiar with, and can relate to. The best way to help build and improve the students’ vocabulary skills, is to have them read various kinds of literature. Books, magazines, newspaper articles, these things help the students see different writing styles, and introduce new words. Have the students read a short section of text, and then ask if there are any words or phrases they don’t understand or know. Make a list of the words they don’t know and write them up on the board (have the students copy them down on to paper); then find a dictionary and write the definitions down (again, have the students copy them down, too).
- Remember time is important. Learning how to write well is no easy task for students, and often you will need to review previously learned rules, concepts and vocabulary words. Teaching students how to write well is a long-term process, and it’s frustrating at times. It’s good to start the class with a quick review session about grammar and sentence structure. Have one or two students write one of their sentences up on the board, and then critique it during the class, pointing out the mistakes and showing how to correct them. Move on to a new idea in class after the review session, and come back to it again a short while later. Repetition is key to helping the students remember what’s been taught.
Teaching students how to write, read, basically do anything in language, puts a lot of pressure on the instructor; it also puts pressure on the students. Encourage your students to work hard, and praise them when they do well! When they make mistakes, tell them it’s alright and that it’s a perfect learning opportunity for them to fix their mistakes. There has to be effort put forth by the students for both you and them to succeed.
Here’s a nice little commentary made by Calvin; hopefully it puts things into perspective.