Models and samples as a resource for writing
by Greg Gobel
Models not only help the writer feel comfortable, but also the reader, who is an extremely important influence on how the piece should be written. Hedge says, For every piece of writing undertaken, a student needs to answer these questions: Who is my reader? What do I need to say? How can I make it unambiguous and accessible to my reader? It is a clear sense of audience which enables a writer to select appropriate content and express it in an appropriate form and style...’ (Hedge, 1988: 63). If writing is meant to be communicative, we must communicate in an appropriate way. This can be difficult for learners who are unfamiliar with a type of writing because readers often have ‘sjiecific expectations of what a text should be like if it is to achieve its effect’ (Tribble, 1996:57). Models address this because when learners read models they can gain an empathetic perspective toward their fixture readers. With guided tasks such as discussing one’s personal reaction, analyzing style or register, and analyzing effectiveness, the learner gets first-hand experience being the reader, and can exploit this experience and empathy when writing.
Models often contain useful language for a particular genre. Learners can do noticing tasks, i.e., find useful language and record it for later use. ‘A primary purpose of teaching is to help learners make better use, for acquisitional purposes, of all the language which they meet Accurate noticing of lexical chunks, grammatical or phonological patterns all help convert input into intake’ (Lewis, 1997:53). Guiding and training learners to notice language in texts thus helps both the iimnediate need of having useful language to include in the writing that they are preparing for, and also for their longternx expansion of language tools and refinement of their interlanguage. Three noticing tasks are:
• simply noticing,
• noticing and comparing,
• noticing and changing.
Models also inform learners about cohesive devises in a text (I-ledge, 1988: 91). For example, clear usage of reference markers and their referents can give learners a deeper understanding of texts and how to manipulate words for better cohesion when they write.
Similarly, we can analyze a partieular genre’s layout through models because layout is the most immediately noticeable feature’ of a piece of writing (Hedge, 1988: 90). Again, the reader has expectations, so it is useful to help learners flAlflll them. These models can be pre-made, or involve the learners reconstructing the text. I personally like the efficient and tidy ‘X-ed out’ mode], which, by eliminating content focuses learners only on layout.
Teachers favoring a learner-centered classroom may fear that mbdels are only creations or discoveries of teachers. However, the creation of a ‘model need not be a totally teacher-centered activity, and can involve contributions from all the class’ (Vince, 2004: 5).
What sort of contributions can be made? Vince suggests ‘an all-purpose email outline’, in which some of the text already exists, but the learners fill in the rest. I have experimented with asking learners to gather models and samples themselves from Internet research, documents at work, and authentic published material (magazines, newspapers). They can have assignments, for example, to find a letter to the editor or a book review in a magazine and bring it to class. What they find tends to be as valuable as coitrsebook models or models I have. This has helped motivate learners to want to write. Another way that I have recently experimented with for this assignment is to ask a higher-level learner to write a sample answer to a task that lower level learners are assigned. Writing film reviews is a task in both the CAE and WE examinations, so I asked a CAL learner if I could use his highly effective review with an FCE class. He felt highly praised. His review has benefited the FCE learners in turn, as they saw the source of The model as encouragement and empathy, realizing that the writer, although at a higher level, is still developing his Et,glish skills, too. Similarly, teachers can get permission from learners to keep some writing samples and ~se them for analysis in future courses. Also, Willis suggests having learners analyze models to find target language and then make homemade concordance charts for comparing that language (Tribble, 1996: 59-60). To me, though, this seems quite time consuming.
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