Work with Writing Strategies

Writing Freely--Brainstorming

Students, especially in a second/other language, often have difficulty “getting out of their own heads” and focus so much on a perfect written product that they often have trouble writing anything at all. As a brainstorming activity, ask students to get together in pairs and discuss their family, what they did on vacation, or another familiar topic writing down appropriate vocabulary words that they can later use when they are writing. Then, ask the students to sit down in front of the computer, open the appropriate word processing program, turn off the monitor and free write. Ask the students to focus only on their thoughts and ideas and to forget about grammar and spelling (at this stage). Once 10-15 minutes have passed, ask the students to turn on the monitor and make appropriate changes/additions and discuss their ideas with a partner. 

Sample Activity

Exercises of Style

This is based on French surrealist writer Raymond Queneau’s essays “Exercices de Style”, in which he rewrites the same short story 99 times in a different style each time. Teacher provides models, either from Queneau’s book (see handout) or makes own models. Students read the models then write their own. They can write variations of a given story, or write their own story and then make variations. Variations are the most fun when they are truly surrealistic. For example: Base sentence - “In the morning I wake up, drink my coffee, and go to school.” Adverb variation - “Quietly in the morning, I quickly wake up, drink my coffee slowly, and happily go to school.” Geometric variation - “In the round morning, I wake up a square, drink my oval coffee, and go to school walking straight.”

More and Less

The following activity focuses on two different strategies:

Strategy for writing concisely: Avoid saying the same thing twice so remove repetitive wording.
Strategy for descriptive writing: Visualize, with your eyes closes, a picture with as much detail as possible.

Give pairs of students a few descriptive sentences. Ask them to remove non-essential words to maintain grammatically correct sentences and content (more concise writing). Take the same original story and add more detail (more descriptive writing). Conclude by asking students to write their favorite elaboration on the board. 

Writing Round-Up

This activity will help students to free write and focus their topic. Remind students that they will be free writing and should not be considered with grammar, spelling, or other language concerns; the idea is to let the ideas emerge. Give students about five minutes to begin writing then ask them to stop and circle any key ideas or points that they’d like to develop more (they may consult with a partner if they choose). Give them another five minutes to elaborate on the topics they circled and repeat the process several times. To conclude, ask them to create an outline and/or writing plan for the next time they work on writing.

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