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A Process Genre Approach to Writing
Transactional Letters
By James Frith
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Let us now look at the stages in a little more detail, relating them to the issues we raised in the previous section and suggesting some practical ideas for the classroom. First we need to select, or ideally involve the students in selecting, a situation which provides motivation and a clear purpose. Perhaps this could be a letter requesting information from an English-speaking company or institution or a letter that a student needs to write for work. Alternatively, students tend to become highly involved if asked to write to each other, although this does require an amount of characterisation in order to create the social distance inherent in professional transactional letters.

Ideas could then be generated by looking at a sample letter from the genre and producing a question related to each piece of information included. They could then ask each other these questions. Another means of brainstorming, which I have found works with some learner types, is through quickwriting.

The students can now be encouraged to consider the (real) audience and make stylistic choices together, before later being given the opportunity to compare their choices with those made by a skilled writer in the sample letter(s). At this stage, students can be lead to notice how these stylistic choices are implemented through tasks which may involve highlighting noun phrases (to raise awareness of nominalised style), or comparing with a spoken equivalent to the text (a wonderfully clear way of raising awareness of low-frequency vocabulary or sentence complexity). A production stage could follow in the form of solid, traditional transformation, word ordering or gap filling exercises. Translation into L1 is another technique that could possibly be used with monolingual classes.

Before looking at the sample texts the students could also be given the opportunity to consider the discourse structure and layout of the genre. Then later, with the samples, they could be asked to produce reusable templates for a standard letter in the genre. Together they could be asked to order a jumbled text, or match or give titles to each paragraph, depending on its function. (Again, these ideas are commonplace, due to their effectiveness.) With more than one sample within or across genres (perhaps inferring sources), students are more likely to appreciate the conventions. Analysis could then take place of a particular type of cohesion present in the texts which the group have previously found problematic. Some good ideas may be to ask students to find lexical sets or, with the logical connectives deleted, ‘sketch the progression of the stages in the arguments’ (Crewe 1990:324) before attempting to replace the connectives and comparing their version with the original.

Based on this research the groups will then work together to prioritise (through ranking) and organise their ideas into a plan, with the teacher explaining the value of this exercise or giving a demonstration with a commentary of his/her thought processes, although this could be difficult to administer. The students should aim for clarity and logical progression at this stage and could be encouraged to use logical connectives neither at this stage nor the drafting stage in order that due care is taken to achieve this. Crewe (1990) sensibly advises that connectives should be present to ‘express cohesive relationships that already exist in the writer's thinking’ (ibid.:320) and not to create relationships.

Drafting could involve the interesting idea of groups of students quickwriting individual sections of the letter, or the learner-centred peer counselling, where students write individually, but have an assigned partner to discuss problems with during the drafting process.

The revising stage could involve students reading each other’s work and offering (positive and negative) feedback on the clarity of the message, which if prepared carefully, can reap great rewards. The students could decide on key criteria to assess the work. They could also discuss the biggest problems they had with the draft and say what they would add/remove if they had to. In rewriting, suitable logical connectives could be inserted where the message requires a greater degree of clarity.

Conclusions

We have looked at a variety of solutions, within the process genre approach, to the issues raised at the outset and throughout the discussion. Many of these solutions are commonplace in our classrooms. In fact, the approach itself smacks of common sense. Perhaps all that is new is an ordered structure to the approach and recognition that model texts have their place in a process writing approach.

Although the lexico-grammatical problems will not disappear overnight, we have highlighted the greater importance of respecting the conventions of genre through a process which mirrors the way I have written this assignment.

I am sure that this new awareness will have an important influence on my future teaching. It has helped me to gain insight into how to use model texts in an organised way, and how to use them to raise awareness of and practise key language areas in the relevant genres. What is more, I have learned some useful techniques to create motivating, collaborative, communicative, learner-centred writing activities which involve raising the learner’s awareness of what is involved in successful writing.

Bibliography

Badger, R. and White, G. 2000. ‘A Process Genre Approach to Teaching Writing.’ ELT Journal, 54/2: 153-160.
Crewe, W. J. 1990. ‘The Illogic of Logical Connectives.’ ELT Journal, 44/4: 316-325.
Flowerdew, J. 1993. ‘An Educational, or Process Approach to the Teaching of Professional Genres.’ ELT Journal, 47/4: 305-316.
Hedge, T. 1988. Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press
McCarthy, M. 1991. Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Nunan, D. 1991. Language Teaching Methodology. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall International
Richards, J. C. 1990. The Language Teaching Matrix. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Thornbury, S. 1997. About Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Tribble,C. 1996. Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press
White, R. and V. Arndt. 1991. Process Writing. Harlow: Longman

Biodata

James is currently working at Bell Cambridge, having spent several years at IH Madrid as a teacher, teacher trainer and manager. His professional interests include motivation, the learner, learner autonomy and new technologies.
James

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