Okay, I confess I don’t know the one and only “right” way to teach writing skills, but I do believe certain practices lead to good results. Perhaps you can add to my list:
1. Explain the purpose of what you’re teaching. Students may readily see the value in sentence connectors but may question why they must learn so many that express the same relationship. For example, although, even though, and though all introduce a contrasting idea. They are even similar in form. What’s the value in learning all three when one can do the job? What will you tell your students? Hopefully, they’ll agree that variety is better than repetition.
2. Make writing meaningful. It’s not enough to understand the purpose of a certain structure or skill. A student will learn better if he or she can make a personal connection to the lesson. How can you tap into the students’ knowledge, experience, and beliefs? Often this can be done through an appropriate warm-up. For example, a brief discussion of a topic permits personal expression. Sharing opinions will focus students’ attention on the topic, expose them to alternative viewpoints, and generate content for the writing task that will follow, which may be expressing contrasts or developing an argument essay.
3. Don’t overcorrect. I’ve talked about this before in my entry The Dangers of Correcting Language Learners. The process of correcting writing requires the teacher to respect the ideas of the student and provide the kind of guidance that neither hinders self-expression nor threatens self-confidence. It helps for the teacher to focus on corrections that concern any targeted structures and that improve clarity. This was already discussed at length in my entry Choosing the Right Focus in the Writing Classroom.
4. Provide models that inspire without discouraging. Just as overcorrecting can destroy a language learner’s self-esteem, a too-perfect model can threaten a student’s willingness to try. I’m guilty of this. There was at least one time when a student looked at the model I provided in a writing lesson and stated in frustration, “I can’t write like that!” Just as we fine-tune our speech for the level we are teaching, writing models must be chosen or composed carefully so as to offer an attainable goal.
5. Teach expository writing, but make time for creative and practical writing, too. Students need to prepare for the academic and professional challenges they’ll face in the English-speaking world, but that doesn’t mean we should limit writing lessons and activities to ones that are academic or professional in nature. Writing a poem or short story also has value. In fact, I’d argue that a person who is able to do creative writing possesses the critical thinking skills to find innovative approaches and solutions in everyday situations. Creative writing can positively influence expository writing. As for practical writing, I mean everything from handwriting to greeting cards. How will a job applicant get hired if the information on the application is illegible? Also, students may be able to produce a solid three-paragraph essay, but can they write appropriate expressions on a birthday, wedding, or sympathy card?