Teaching the Writing Process

Teaching the writing process in a clear and explicit way is a key factor in leading EAL children to success in writing. Pauline Gibbons, in her book 'Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning' describes teaching the writing process in four stages (originally described as the Curriculum Cycle by Derewianka, 1990). Here is a brief outline of the four stages Gibbon's describes.

Stage 1: Building knowledge of the topic

Gibbons describes this first stage as a time for increasing the children's knowledge of the topic. This can be done in a number of ways and some examples given are through the use of experiences such as trips, viewing a video, hands-on experiences or jigsaw group activities (sometimes called expert or home group activities).

In jigsaw activities each group investigates something or gathers some information that is unique to their group; they then have to feed back to the other children. By creating a 'gap' in the knowledge of the different groups a real need for communication is generated which makes the activity meaningful and purposeful for the children, which increases motivation and precision in communication.

Gibbons also talks about the need for explicit teaching and activities such as creating a semantic web, a word bank or list of things to find out can help pupils focus on the new learning in a clear way. Introducing new vocabulary and grammar relevant to the topic and practicing the use of these can support the uinderstanding of new concepts early on in the process.

Other aspects in this stage of the process can include reading about the topic which is helpful for children to view good models of the genre and also interviewing an expert, which again provides a good model.

In addition, Gibbons stresses the value of practical activities to reinforce key concepts of vocabulary, and sequential understanding. Speaking and listening activities such as picture and sentence matching or barrier games can be very effective for this.

Stage 2: Modeling the topic

Modeling is a key aspect in teaching the writing process as it is where children's understanding of the genre deepens. Gibbon's explains a number of ways this modeling can be effective:

  • Show example text and discuss its purpose
  • Discuss the organisational structure grammatical structures and vocabulary of the text. Make explicit or pupils can explore themselves.
  • Text reconstruction - unjumble sentences.
  • Dictogloss to provide another model of the text.
  • Cloze activities

Stage 3: Joint construction

During this stage of the teaching the writing process Gibbons describes how children give suggestions and ideas whilst the teacher or teachign assistant scribes. The benefit of this is that the children can focus on their thinking without being overburdened with the actual writing at this stage.

Writing jointly is important. Deciding together how the writing can be improved can create dialogue which reinforces the key concetps needed to understand how to create effective writing. Modeling making changes is an important part of the process.

Sharing children's draft writing, discussing changes and giving feedback provides solid examples for children to base their understanding on.Providing talk frames or talk prompts to support children in giving feedback can be useful in focusing their thinking.

Some ICT programmes that support joint construction are Kar2ouche which enables children to work together to create a multimedia animated presentation. Writng is included in either the drafting of ideas or in the presentation as cartoon-like images.

For younger children or children who are in the very early stages of learning English, Clicker 5 can provide teacher-made scaffolded grids to support sentence formation. In addition children can publish on the computer, using photos or animated images to support their writing.

Stage 4: Independent writing

In this final stage of the writing process, Gibbons describes how children write their own text individually or in pairs or groups. By having visual prompts to refer back to children are able to progress independently whilst still drawing on sources of support as needed. Differentiating this support or allowing children to choose the prompts they need can effectively support children's differing needs.

Gibbon's highlights the improtance of publsihing and displaying children's finished work so that they see the value of writing for a real audience.
In this stage peer feedback can be very effective in providing suppot and challenge, and helping children to articulate their newly discovered knowledge of writing.

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