The Internet TESL Journal

Teaching Integrated Writing Skills

Dr. Cecilia B-Ikeguchi
ww4s-ikgc [at]
Tokyo Kasei Gakuin: Tsukuba Women's University (Japan)

This article was published in the International Journal for Teachers of Writing Skills. (January, 1997)

This paper presents a technique in the Advance Writing Class that has been proven successful in teaching the skills of summarizing, outlining, expressing opinion through the medium of writing. In integrating Writing Lessons with reading, speaking and of course listening, students are able to produce dynamic writing output.

A Brief Theoretical Background and the Background of the Students

This paper rests on the assumption that there is a staged development of language acquisition, and that ESL learners go through different stages of development towards the target language. More specifically this implies that students learn different grammatical structures at different levels of development in each of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. At each stage, some grammatical structures build on other structures and can not be acquired before other structure. With focus on Writing skills, this paper reports on a successful and effective teaching and learning technique used with Japanese university students in the Advance Writing Classes.

Japanese students come from a mono-language environment, where Japanese is the predominant language at home and in the community, notwithstanding the school. English education in Japan is spelled out in such a way that students start to learn the language formally in Junior High School where heavy emphasis is placed on translations and grammar studies in preparation for University Entrance Examination. This being the case, university students are placed into three levels: the Beginning, Intermediate and Advance in their Writing classes.

Japanese students in the advance level usually are a good mixture of those who have at least a year of overseas study and those who have not. Based on the Developmental Language Acquisition Theory mentioned above, learners at this stage, with influences from L1 Writing, are now said to be able to write in paragraph forms, with a paragraph being defined as a coherent presentation of a number of utterance tied together by an overall message or intent. What distinguishes a paragraph from a set of sentences is primarily textual cohesion which refers to elements that refer forward and backward among across sentence boundaries that tie sentences together. By this time, Japanese university students are able to narrate, describe, and manipulate sentence structures to a certain extent that they express what they really are eager to communicate. Consequently, they are also able to use correctly discourse connectors, subordination and coordination. After having mastered the structural elements and style of paragraph writing, they can and should tbe allowed to write longer forms of writing.

The Teaching of Writing, Integrated with Other Skills

The most common problem that confronts teachers of a Writing Class does not lie so much on what to ask students to write about; the difficulty is more on how to motivate the students to write interesting and effective materials. Writing for writing sake is a drag, and produces boring output. The lesson plan presented here, by combining the teaching of writing with other skills, allows students freedom to express themselves meaningfully.

The first phase of the lesson begins one week before with the giving of the ASSIGNMENT. I read (or write on the board, or make copies of) a list of as many topics which I think to be of interest to the group. I allow the students to choose any one topic that they are most interested in, and something that they would like to know more about. Then I tell them to look for a short (the shortest is one paragraph, the longest is one page) magazine or newspaper article, read thoroughly until they understood the content, and make a copy to bring to class. No writing is done yet; students are required only to completely comprehend the text they had chosen.

The second phase of the lesson is the INTERACTIVE PHASE which begins on the day of the next class. Students who had chosen the same topic are called to sit together and form a group. The are then told to take turns in reading- or reporting- each of their articles to the group members, while everybody else listens and then ask questions to clarify points that are unclear, or make comments . I allow as much time as the students are willing to talk, or half of the whole class time. At this point, I make sure that students within the same group recognize common or diverse aspects relating to the same topic. For instance, on the topic on Environmental Problems, they would have chosen articles on: Deforestration, Garbage Problems, Noise Pollution, etc.

The third phase of the lesson is the WRITING stage. I ask the students to get back to their seats and write about two things: (1) the topic they had chosen to read and bring to class, and (2) the other related aspects of the same topic that they found out from the group interaction. I usually am surprised to find out that they write endlessly and use up until the last minute of the lesson time.

The length of the written material required will depend on the skills to be tested, the purpose of the lesson, and on the readiness of the class. The shortest can be a one-paragraph writing of either a summary or reaction to the articles they chose. The students are required to hand in the finished material at the close of the period.

For a lesson on teaching skills on summarizing, I usually ask student to find 3-5 sentences indicating the main points in the article, and re-write these in their own 3-5 sentences.

For a lesson and at the same time an exercise on outlining, I ask them to identify 2-3 main ideas in the article- or as many as they can find, re-write these main ideas in their own words. At the same time they are told to include a sentence supporting each of these main ideas.

For a lesson on expressing personal opinions / beliefs, students are told to identify, again, 2-3 main ideas (or as many as they think there are) and give their personal reaction to each of these ideas.

At the end of the term, or the school year, I require them to do a summative writing which tests the application of some or all these skills in a set of paragraphs forming a coherent set of ideas to form an essay or a full composition. The final product would be an essay, for example, which consists of: the 1st paragraph as a summary, the 2nd paragraph as the outline (with main ideas and supporting ideas indicated), the third paragraph containing their personal reaction to the article, and so on.

The only hang-up with this technique is that it entails a lot of work on the teacher. To be able to check students skill in summarizing or outlining, the teacher has to read every student's article, thereby increasing work twice as much.

Teaching the set of skills of summarizing, outlining, reacting to a posted article using writing as a medium helps Japanese college students organized ideas while allowing them to express these ideas in complete sentences. They are trained to put ideas logically and organize thought patterns and makes writing more interesting for both themselves and the teacher. This technique allows the students to write freely, and gives them a feeling that they have an investment on the topic to be able to produce really dynamic writing expected at their level.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. III, No. 3, March 1997