Writing Activities

As language teachers, we want for our students to write in the target language, but so often, either we go about it in the wrong way or we have very unrealistic expectations of what novice/intermediate learners should be able to produce in the language. Writing, however, is an important skill in language learning, because:

  • it is a form of communication.
  • it is a natural way for "input" to overflow as "output".
  • it is a demonstration of current language proficiency and language acquisition.
In order for students to write in the target language, they need lots of comprehensible input first in order to output! As a result, most of my writing activities serve as post-reading activities. I have them divided into the following simplified (maybe even too simplified) categories based on Bloom's Taxonomy and the level of creation of new meaning in the target language: 

  1. Lowest level writing activities are those which are basically students copying down the text in the target language for the activity. Since students are copying down the text verbatim, absolutely no new meaning is being created in the target language by students. However, the idea is that as students are copying down the text as part of a post-reading activity, the messages which they are writing down are already comprehensible to them, hence they are receiving double input: from what they are reading and from what they are writing down. 
  2. Mid-level writing activities are those where students are creating new meaning in the target language but have specific guidance along the way, i.e., to a degree, they are writing what they want but with help or very specific parameters.
  3. High-level writing activities where students are creating new meaning of their own. This may be students retelling a story without any vocabulary help, writing on a specific topic, or a free write where students can write whatever they want, such as a sequel to a story or finishing a prompt. 

Lowest Level (Copying - no new meaning created)

Mid-Level (Guided creation of new meaning)

Highest Level (Creation on new meaning)

  1. Emoji Sentences (directions)

  2. Find the Sentence (example)

  3. Find the Sentence w/ pictures (example)

  4. Read, Draw, Write, Pass (directions)

  5. Dictation (directions) (example)

  6. Write and Discuss (directions)

  7. Read and Draw (directions)

  8. Treasure Hunt (directions)

  1. 4-Word Story (directions)

  2. OWAT (directions)

  3. OWAT Pass and Tell (directions)

  4. Embedded Writing (directions)

  5. Story Retell with help (example)

  6. BINGO Free Write (directions)

  7. Translate English to Target Language sentences

  1. Story Retell with no help (example)

  2. Free Write (example)

Formative Check-in (done every few weeks)

Writing Reflection

  1. Writing Proficiency Choice (based on Martina Bex examples)

  1. Student Writing Reflection and Analysis (coming soon)

It is important not to rush students into writing immediately without proper scaffolding, i.e., do not jump into high-level writing activities if students do not have enough input to output or have not had enough exposure to writing. 

Keep in mind that student writing at the novice and intermediate levels (levels 1-4) is going to be very messy and full of errors. Although learners may have had much explicit exposure to grammatical structures, accuracy and user control of these structures take time. Therefore, the questions which we as teachers must ask ourselves when looking at student writing are:
  1. What was the student attempting to communicate?
  2. As a sympathetic (an ACTFL term) reader, did I find that the message was communicated successfully even with errors?
  3. How did the student communicate this message (list of words, simple sentences, compound sentences, memorized phrases, amount of language control implemented)?

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