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Use of a Process-Writing inspired approach to prepare and motivate students to write a discursive composition, with particular attention to generating, selecting, ordering and organising ideas: effective use of linking devices: and paragraph planning - by Nicola Holmes

Lesson Plan to accompany the article - 1

Level: 4 - Upper Intermediate

Timetable Fit and General Rationale

This class has been attenging Chester School in Madrid twice a week on Monday and Wednesday afternoons for just over two months. There are ten students, eight of whom work at the Spanish Mint and many of whom have been studying at Chester for some time. Most of the students are highly motivated and enthusiastic about learning English, although their general level is perhaps slightly low for an Upper Intermediate group and levels of attendance can vary, especially around Bank Holidays.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been working on Unit 4 of Headway Upper Intermediate and have reviewed countable and uncountable nouns and expressions of quantity and discussed various themes related to money and setting up one's own business. After this class there is one more lesson before the end of term exam, so students will possibility need a little longer than a week to produce their first draft of the discursive composition prepared in this class and may not hand these in until January.

This is the first time I have focused directly on writing in class and I feel that it is important to help the students improve their writing skills in particular and their general ability to express and defend their opinions in English. Several of the students have already produced some interesting written homework but would hopefully benefit from the activities in this class. One student in particular, Jesus, has expressed a desire to do more writing in class, as he needs to write discursive compositions for his end of school/university entrance exam in English.

The students have already had two discursive-type homework assignments, one in the first month, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of tourism, and another, in the last class, looking at the advantages and disadvantages of being self-employed. Perhaps unfairly, I did not give them adequate preparation for these tasks, other than vocabulary input and discussion of their ideas in class. I hope to make up for this in this lesson and to provide them with a greater awareness of how to tackle this type of task in future assignments.

The students have also already undertaken two writing tasks where they were responding to a genuine request and writing for a specific audience and purpose, once at the beginning of the course when they responded to a letter of introduction I had sent them, writing back to me with information about themselves, and another time responding to my request for a reaction to comments I had written about each student's progress in the first month of the course. Although I have usually given students possibly too much feedback on grammar, vocabulary and structure in their written work, I have also always tried to respond to the content of their writing. I am hoping that this will have raised their awareness of writing in English being more than an artificial activity to practise grammar and vocabulary.

I have attempted to follow a process-driven approach in this class, both to help the students to learn to express themselves more effectively in writing and to focus them more on the content and organisation of what they are writing than on the nitty gritty of grammar and sentence structure. I have tried to incorporate a variety of techniques for generating, selecting and ordering ideas, as well as possible procedures for paragraph-planning and drafting. I hope to carry the process a stage further after receiving the students' first drafts, by conducting a peer-conferencing session and writing a second draft before sending all the compositions off to Yvonne's students for them to read and return their comments as to whether they feel that British people are as materialistic as Spanish people.

I have tried to create an authentic readership, motivation and reason for writing by involving my friend Yvonne and her students in the process, and I hope that my students will respond to the opportunity to write for a native-speaker audience that is interested first and foremost in their ideas, not in their grammatical accuracy.

I have tried to keep the theme of the composition as simple as possible. As we are coming up to Christmas, a discussion of materialism would appear to be quite topical, and I am hoping that it is a topic that all of the students will have an opinion on. It is also a subject that can be explored to a varying degree of complexity, allowing for students to express ideas as simple or as complex as they wish. The theme of materialism also links to the topic of making money recently discussed in class, along with other recently discussed issues such as poverty and the problem of begging.

I have also tried to provide some concrete language input in the class in the introduction of some basic linkers of concession, addition, cause/effect and conclusion. I feel that these students have reached a level at which they need to start using linking devices, especially in their writing, but I have deliberately limited the number of linkers introduced to avoid overload, and have tried to present them clearly in the context of written opinions.

To part 2 of the lesson plan

To Nicola's article

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