Communicative writing tasks

How often do you avoid doing writing in class because it seems a bit boring and set it for homework instead?

How often do your students not do their writing homework or make a sub-standard effort? Well, writing in class can be fun and you can even sneak it in without students noticing! Best of all, it doesn’t always need to be a solitary activity: it can be collaborative and communicative. Here are some ideas to try out in the classroom.

1. Chain Stories

We’ve all seen chain stories in resource books (the ones where one student writes part of a story, folds it over and passes it to the next student who continues until you have a complete story written by everyone). These are a great way of getting the students to write in class, but you can also follow them up and make them a lot more valuable as writing tasks.

a)  Do the chain story as normal, asking students to make sure their writing is clear.

b) When it is finished, students pass it one more time and then unfold and read their story. Tell them that if there is anything they don’t understand they should find the person who wrote it and get them to explain it.

c)  Tell the students that this is now their story and their responsibility. They have to write it out in prose as a complete story. They can add details, connectors, etc., but they have to keep the main events the same. Set a time limit (15-30 minutes depending on the class).

d) When they have finished, collect the stories in and post them on the classroom walls so everyone can go round and read, and recognise all the stories they wrote.

e)  Ask for feedback on which story was the silliest, funniest, saddest, happiest, etc.

f)  Finally, collect the writing in to mark.


2. Newspaper Picture Stories

To prepare for this task you need to cut out several pictures from newspaper or magazine stories. The more diverse and bizarre the pictures are the better!

a)  Put the students into groups of two or three.

b) Lay the pictures face down on a table and ask one person from each group to come and take four or five pictures without looking at them.

c)  The student from b) takes the pictures back to the group and lets the students look at them and discuss what they can see.

d) Tell students that these pictures all make up one news story from a newspaper. Give them 6-7 minutes to discuss and come up with an idea for a story and to put the pictures in order.

e)  Distribute some paper and ask for a volunteer to write. Tell students they have to write out the story in no less than 200 words. (You can adjust the word limit depending on the class.) Give them 15 minutes to write, discussing as they go.

f)  At the end, get the group members who didn’t write to check through for any mistakes.

g)  Ask the group to think of an appropriate headline.

h) Tell them one person will have to read the story out, but not the person who wrote. Give them some time to read through and practice. Tell the other students in the group they should display the pictures in the correct order.

i)   Write the following questions on the board:

Who? What? Where? When?

Tell the students that as they listen to the other groups’ stories they should answer these questions.

j)  The groups take it in turns to read out their stories. After each story, have a feedback session using the questions on the board.

k) Collect the writing in to mark.

3. Question Writing

This is a great getting to know you task. All you need is a pile of scraps of paper (maybe ⅛ of an A4 sheet).

a)  First write up all the students’ names on the board in the order they are sitting in.

b) Distribute a pile of paper to each student.

c)  Tell the students that they have to write at least one question for each member of the class and that it must be a different question for each person. Make sure they write who the question is to and from on the paper.

d) When everyone has finished, tell them to go and give their questions to the people they wrote them for.

e)  When everyone has their questions, tell them to sit down and write the answer in a full sentence.

f)  Next, tell the students to get up again and read their answer(s) to the person who wrote the question(s). That person can then ask more questions and should ask permission to report the answers to the class.

g)  Get the students to report back on anything interesting they learnt about another student.

4. Penfriend Letter – Writing

For this task you need two classes of the same or a similar level with the same number of students. This can be tricky, but if you can arrange it it’s an excellent task to motivate students into wanting to write. It works equally as well with adults, teenagers or children and with any level from Elementary up.  It’s best done over a term/semester.

a)  Start with one class and tell them they are going to write a letter to their new penfriend. (You will probably need to explain the concept.) Elicit what students might write, i.e. some general information about themselves and then some questions to find out about the other person. Give them time in class to do this and help with any vocabulary or questions.

b) With the second class, explain again about penfriends and distribute the letters, either at random or to students you think would be the most suitable. Tell them to write a reply.

c)  On the same day each week you can distribute the letters and spend time in class on a reply. Try not to dictate too much what students should write and you will find relationships develop quite naturally.

d) At the end of term, organise a party or get-together so the penfriends can meet – you never know, some lifetime friendships might have been formed!  If both classes are up on new technology, they can write by email and copy you in so you can check everyone is writing and give correction.