Two years ago I was teaching a class of elementary level students (AUA level 8) and I assigned the writing task “Where do you go for your vacation?” Most students didn’t copy this from the board into their notebooks, and of those that did, none were able to answer the question. They wrote about where they would like to go, where they went last year, or where they were going to go. They didn’t understand the question, and if they did, they had no idea how to go about answering it.
At the end of the next lesson, I wrote on the board:
Assignment: “What do you usually do on weekends?”
Grammar: Present simple – affirmative and negatives – e.g. “I go to the beach but I don’t go swimming”
Vocabulary: Adverbs of frequency – always, usually, sometimes, hardly ever, never
Content: Describe people, places and things – use adjectives – exciting, interesting, boring..
Paragraphs: 1 – include a topic sentence (eg. ” I usually hang out with my friends on the weekend” and a closing sentence: eg. “I can’t wait until my next Sunday morning English class!” I then assigned percentage points to these items, and put an example of a mind map on the board. As you can expect, there was some improvement.
Over time I’ve developed the SWASS – the student writing assignment submission sheet. It looks official and students take it more seriously. I mark high. In the example above, if the student uses the present simple once correctly, she gets 5%, if she uses a negative, even if only once, she gets the full 10%. If she uses one adjective (from the TL) she gets 10%, and if she uses one adverb correctly, she gets the full 10%. I mark positively, not negatively. Mistakes are marked and corrected with lower level students – with higher level students I may use codes such as SP or WWO. I also notice that they read my words with great intensity. I always find something good to say, and try to provide some useful advice. If students are motivated by high marks and praises they can have them – they cost me nothing.
The think section on the form helps to focus the students’ attention on the writing task and why they are doing it. They are ‘writing for purpose’; to practice the language they’ve just paid for, and worked hard to acquire. They aren’t writing to ‘impress’, they’re writing to pass.
The planning section is usually for a mind map, but of course there are are other forms of planning. Story boards are good for narratives, venn diagrams are good for comparisons, trees are good for families and organisational structures and work relationships, process flow are good for procedures and recipes, and drawings are good for descriptive writing; such as ‘my favourite room’, or even a city. Students need to be shown how to draw and use mind maps. I usually start off with a basic schematic and add vocabulary, then adjectives and adverbs, and then maybe some grammar. They need examples to take away, and they will take far more notice of anything you write about yourself than anything presented in a text book – or elicited from another student.
- Mark high
- Give praise
- Give personalized positive feedback – use their names
- Never criticize – the real gold is in the writing itself – not the appraisal after ward – motivate
- Present good work to the class – show it around – they need to know that they too can succeed
Example 1 – their first writing assignment
Example 2 – their second writing assignment
You will see that they did much better on the second writing assignment. They had a much better idea of what they had to do, they were much less nervous about it, and they were better motivated.
You can find other examples on my blog.
Please feel free to use these templates, I hope they will be as useful to you and your students as they have been to me and mine.
SWASS – Student Writing Assignment Submission Sheets
SWASS for level 1 – 4
SWASS for level 5 and above
SWASS_3 Writing plan language focus
SWASS for writing a formal letter
SWASS for writing a informal letter