Process Writing with High Level 8-10 Year Olds

I have been teaching this class for a year or so. They are now in J7 (technically B2 but there is plenty of discrepency in level. And I am not sure if the CEFR applies that accurately to 9 year olds.

I decided on a mainly project approach to teaching this class, with the use of a graded reader which we read in class. We have a course book, but I avoid it as I think this class does not need discrete language items delivered and practiced. I wanted to create projects that they can be proud of, and encourage skill building that will be useful to them in the future. This as well as plenty of opportunities for fluency practice and some presentation work to build confidence in public speaking in English. The graded reader was there to try to build the reading habit, provide engaging input and to provide a focus for extensive reading.

The class is a noisy, boisterous bunch of 2 smart, sweet girls and 12 rowdy boys. It’s… boisterous!

So we had read information texts about endangered polar bears and sea otters the previous week. At the end of class I asked them to pick an endangered animal of their own and we had 30 minutes for them to research their animal online, in pairs. They used the sub-headings from the information text to guide them in their research. Importantly, and based on things I’d read recently about ‘grammaring’ I told them to only write a maximum of 7 words under each sub-heading

(I had experimented with grammaring with two other classes recently, using TPRS and / or cuisineaire rods to tell the story of Red Riding Hood. After an ordering the stages of the story, I gradually ‘ungrammared’ these stages on the projector. After each stage the students had to try to retell the story using the ever decreasing information on the board and cuisineaire rods as the stage. The final slide on Power Point contained just the numbers of each step in the story, but no words. I was impressed with the amount of speaking, even quiet students managed to. And I think the quality of grammaring is something that deserves mine and my students attention)

But ANYWAY…

After research, the students returned to class and I asked everyone individually to write up their notes. We ran out of time, I asked them to bring pictures of their animals to the next class.

So in the following lesson. Most students had at least half their notes written up. I gave them all time to finish their ‘first draft’. The accompanying Power Point gave them a rationale (and fair warning) that today we would be doing a lot of writing. I told them it would be a new way of approaching writing and promised to reward them if they were serious and tried their best throughout. I had no problems with complaining or yawning or “Teacheeeeer!” That was an encouraging aspect of the lesson.

I brought their first drafts to a stop – some hadn’t finished but I thought it would be important to not let each writing stage go on for too long. Better to cut a good activity short than risk it losing its power. Students exchanged their drafts with their partner and I asked them to find any content that was different between theirs and their partners text (RE-READING 1). They shared their results with their partner.

Then, each student took 5 different colour crayons. I elicited some of the common mistakes they make in writing: verb / subject agreement, tense agreement, articles, spelling. I instructed them to choose a different colour for each type of mistake and to check the work in front of them for those errors (RE-READING 2). If they found one, they were to highlight it in crayon, but not correct.

First students need to learn to notice their mistakes, which is often possible as they are nearly always mistakes rather than errors. I didn’t get them to correct them, just to highlight and then pass the work back to the writer, who had to try to correct the mistakes (RE-READING 3 & EDITING 1).

This stage had nice aspects. Having students highlight their errors seemed to motivate them to find more. I made sure to reinforce the fact that at least a few mistakes were found in all texts therefore this step is worth doing for any important piece of writing. My guess was that checking their partners work would motivate them more than checking their own work. I find YLs prefer to read someone else’s writing. However, in reality, they will always need to re-read and edit their own work, so next time I will have them do it that way round. A further point of improvement – and this speaks generally, not just specifically to this writing lesson – is to find a way of showing learners HOW to spot their mistakes and then HOW to correct them, especially the more difficult word order / structure ones. I don’t have an answer to this but would love find out.

Next, I asked each pair to bring the best of both their texts into one collaborative piece (RE-READING 4 & EDITING 2). I needed them to work together so I had some funny pictures about teamwork and short discussion here about how to collaborate. As this was a process writing lesson, they needed to not only edit and re-read but actually produce new drafts. Being excitable YLs I decided that as often as I could alternate between solo and pair work would help to maintain interest and motivation. In the future I would like to be able to have all learners use their own text throughout as I am not sure if the benefits of joint-writing would be as great as solo process writing. Just mindful of the delicate nature of YL concentration levels, in this class particularly.

After this I gave them a short text about “Endangered English Teachers”. It was funny and on-topic. Its purpose was to highlight the need for referant words and substitution: this, that, these, those; one, ones; it, he, him, she, her, they, them.

The text contained no such features and was, as a result, clunky. It didn’t take them long to see what the problem was and to suggest ways to improve it. I didn’t need to nudge them in the right direction in this respect. I asked them to delete and replace anything they thought would improve the naturalness of the text. They did this in pairs and I showed them my corrected version. Time was an issue here, so I didn’t have much of a chance to find out exactly how well everyone had done here, but I was aware of all pairs having some success, particularly with one / ones substitution.

I asked them to return to their collaborative texts and to search for anywhere they could use the substitution or referencing words just dealt with (RE-READING 5 & EDITING 3). This stage was rushed and I am not sure if they did have any genuine need for it. I wanted to get on to producing the final draft before the end of class! I guess I will find out next week.

I now told them, finally, it was time to make their endangered animal information poster. They were to transfer their writing to coloured paper (EDITING 4), setting it out with paragraph titles as seen in the text in the book, and sticking or drawing pictures as they wanted.

This is where we left it, time ran out midway through the posters being made. I collected them in and we will continue next week. I’ll be sure to take some photos once we have published them on the class notice board.

What I think about this lesson:

It was great to do actual process writing with this excitable, high level YL class.

I liked how I managed to create different reasons for re-reading and drafting. In this way, the kids did not seem bored at the with what is a repetitive task, especially for YLs. By the end of class they had re-read their / their collaborative writing a whopping 5 times. This kind of attention to their own writing is unprecdented for me with YLs. It was a great feeling.

The collaboration vs solo writing debate is inside me. I don’t know what’s best. It was certainly beneficial in terms of motivation to have a mixture of the two.

I am not sure about how to train kids (or older learners for that matter) how to find their mistakes. And then furthermore training them to fix their mistakes. This will be an area for me to read up on for the future.

I love teaching YLs. This class has a special place: so ridiculously noisy and exceptionally high level for their age. 6:1 boy to girl ratio. It’s tough going sometimes, but they are my most fun class and I look forward to them, even at the end of a long Sunday. The lesson was largely successful. I felt like I introduced and gave opportunities to practice process writing whilst being firmly engaged with their texts and the topic. Project based learning may well have affected the success of this process writing lesson.

Here is the link to the slides for the lesson:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1wkvMRIGboICvnA2LJ0-s3Ugk3X7EdiVX3ttBziHqeJ4/edit?usp=sharing

And the first text about endangered teachers:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzK8QxVxEL9TVFF6Q1lkWEJkclU/view?usp=sharing

And the more cohesive version of that text:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzK8QxVxEL9TeUIteXdNckdKVXc/view?usp=sharing

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