13.1 The Elements of Writing
Writing stimulates thinking, compels students to concentrate and organise their ideas, and cultivates their ability to summarise, analyse, and criticise. This is why writing can be very challenging, especially for EFL/ESL students. Besides that, students can feel lost composing in English since writing requires many cognitive and linguistic approaches that students are unsure about.
One of the main challenges among EFL/ESL students is the loss of proficiency in the English language, to complete the writing task assigned to them and organise ideas to present their writing with functional coherence. Some of the challenges could happen because of regular issues in writing, such as lack of vocabulary knowledge and skills, proper use of grammar, conventions, punctuation, and capitalisation.
Some studies say the lack of teachers’ pedagogical knowledge in writing and failure to choose the right strategy to teach writing contribute to producing incompetent writers among EFL/ESL students.
What is writing?
Before we get into how to teach writing, let us first go over a few basics to understand the elements of writing, these elements can include:
- The purpose (why)
- The audience (for whom)
- The writer (who)
- The medium (signs and symbols)
- The content (what)
In addition to the mentioned components, writing involves many processes, including generating and organizing ideas, revising, drafting, and editing.
Writing as a communicative skill
Written communication is one of the most common forms of business correspondence. It is necessary to enter any modern workplace with excellent writing skills.
Communication through print and digital channels such as emails, texts, and social media, has become a norm in our daily lives, both professionally and personally. Employees with excellent writing skills that can effectively communicate via these channels are seen as “hot commodities”. Written communication is not only crucial in professional activities but also in social lives too.
Writing vs speaking
As discussed in section 3, when a speaker communicates with his or her audience, the immediate audience provides feedback to the conversation by questioning, nodding, interrupting, and commenting to keep the conversation going. Speech is also characterised by gestures, facial expressions, pauses, repetition, hesitations, and fillers.
When comparing the skill of speaking to writing, speaking is usually spontaneous and unplanned, whereas writing is regulated and has more standard forms of syntax, vocabulary, and grammar. It is generally planned and can be changed through editing and review before an audience views it.
What we usually write?
If you list the things you have written the past week, your list will probably end up with:
- Text messages
- Curriculum Vitae
- Phone numbers
- Shopping lists
Why do we write?
The pieces above of writing are all done with different purposes in mind:
- We write lists to remind ourselves of important things. (phone numbers, shopping lists, names)
- Sometimes, the purpose of writing is to receive or communicate information. (text messages, emails, letters)
- Writing as a means of reasoning: Writing can also be a means to proceed by reasoning, making a point, convincing, arguing. (discursive writing)
- Writing for introspection and self-development. (journals, diaries)
- Writing as a learning tool: Sometimes, we write to facilitate and organise learning. Conversational-like writing (note-taking, copying)
- When describing the purpose of writing, we are speaking about the functional role. This may include:
- Expressing an opinion
- Comparing and contrasting
- Talking about cause and effect
Teachers who are effective at teaching students writing skills make them aware of the different modes of writing or the purpose of their written text and the functional role in the communicative act (e.g., describing, persuading, arguing, etc.)
Teaching writing in EFL and ESL classrooms
When teaching writing to EFL and ESL students, there are important requirements to consider. Teachers of English should be conscious of the theoretical foundations of the writing tasks and the practical methods that add to achieving the writing lesson’s goal. These methods and foundations include:
- Writing as a vital syllabus component.
- The different types of writing activities.
- Writing as a tool for learning.
- Teaching writing as a process, as a product, and as a genre.
- The standard knowledge that learners should develop in the writing lesson.
Levels of writing
The knowledge that learners should develop ranges from handwriting skills and mechanics to producing coherent writing. They should be trained to develop different language subskills. Other types of knowledge include paragraph structure, vocabulary, and grammar.