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A Process Genre Approach to Writing
Transactional Letters
By James Frith
- 6

Lesson Rationale: As the coursebook we are required to use is heavily focused on exam preparation, I am left with a familiar dilemma. I need to provide classes where there was a balance of activities to cater for the needs of students who do want to take the FCE exam and for those who do not, and where possible activities which are relevant to all. In terms of writing this meant asking the students what they are expected to write in English in their daily lives. The majority said, typically, that producing emails and letters in a professional context were their major requirements. As the FCE exam also requires candidates to write transactional letters I chose to focus this session on transactional letters. I decided to focus specifically on transactional letters of request as the other types of transactional letters included in the FCE exam (letters of application and letters of complaint) were found not to be relevant to many, if any, of this particular group.

Having decided on my focus, the next logical step was to analyse the students’ strengths and weaknesses in this area. I chose a writing question from an FCE past paper (see Appendix A) and without offering any guidance, asked the students to write their answers while I observed the approaches used. I then analysed each letter using the following criteria; accuracy of lexis and structures, range of lexis and structures, appropriacy, task achievement, organisation (including paragraphing and coherence), presentation (i.e. format) and cohesion.

The most significant problem was that the work was inappropriate in style. In addition: there also seemed to be some confusion as to the accepted norms of presentation in this genre, particularly in terms of openings and closings; the group had problems with logical connectives; there were several non-impeding errors in terms of lexico-grammatical accuracy; and not one student engaged in an organised prewriting stage. On the other hand, the necessary content was covered, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the work was generally well organised and many students redrafted their work. The importance of the prewriting and rewriting stages has been stressed by many including Nunan (1991), Hedge (1988) and White and Arndt (1991).

The aims for this lesson therefore involve looking at layout, appropriacy and the prewriting stage. In Part 1, I discuss why I would like to experiment with the process genre approach to writing to tackle these problems using a deductive (or at least guided deductive) approach with model texts and a relatively strong focus on language systems. This marriage of approaches is particularly suitable for this class for two reasons. Firstly, the students seem to respond better to a deductive learning style. Secondly, this approach still allows for the learner-centred, collaborative, communicative atmosphere of the process model and these aspects are particularly important in order that the lesson is appropriate to the learning styles of this close-knit group of young professionals.

Assumed Knowledge: The studentsshouldbe able to list some basic differences between speech and formal writing. They should not have many problems matching lexical items between the text and the tapescript. We have done similar activities to the above before. The gap filling and transformation activities should not pose too many problems to these students working in groups.

Anticipated Problems and Solutions: The students mayfind the exercise dealing with layout and discourse in stage 1 difficult, but stage 2 is present for this reason. They may find ordering the paragraphs difficult, but working in groups with assistance from myself should ease the strain. I predict problems when adjusting the titles, but these can be dealt with as a class. The students are unlikely to know what noun phrases are, but as I do not foresee problems with the other activities which will be taking place, I will hopefully be free to assist the stronger students who I provide with this task. The group dynamic should help to simplify the sentence ordering exercise. I will provide ample support at the ranking and ordering stage, if necessary.

Materials:
Copiesof model text paragraphs (connectives deleted)
Principal model text
Other model texts (3)
Recording of telephone conversation
Tapescript of above
Tapescript with ‘high frequency’ words highlighted
Model text with selected nouns highlighted
Model text with noun phrases highlighted
Practice questions

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