Учебно-методический комплекс материалов по дисциплине «Методика преподавания иностранных языков»




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4.4 Teaching writing

Writing as a skill is very important in teaching and learning a foreign language; it helps pupils to assimilate letters and sounds of the English language, its vocabulary and grammar, and to develop habits and skills in pronunciation, speaking, and reading.

The practical value of writing is great because it can fix patterns of all kinds (graphemes, words, phrases and sentences) in pupils’ memory, thus producing a powerful effect on their mind. That is why the school syllabus reads: “Writing is a means of teaching a foreign language.” Writing includes penmanship, spelling, and composition. The latter is the aim of learning to write.

Since writing is a complicated skill it should be developed through the formation of habits such as:

(1) the habit of writing letters of the English alphabet;

(2) the habit of converting speech sounds into their symbols — letters and letter combinations;

(3) the habit of correct spelling of words, phrases, and sentences;

(4) the habit of writing various exercises which lead pupils to expressing their thoughts in connection with the task set .

In forming writing habits the following factors are of great importance:

  1. Auditory perception of a sound, a word, a phrase, or a sentence, i.e., proper hearing of a sound, a word, a phrase, or a sentence.

  2. Articulation of a sound and pronunciation of a word, a phrase, and a sentence by the pupil who writes.

  3. Visual perception of letters or letter combinations which stand for sounds.

  4. The movements of the muscles of the hand in writing.

The ear, the eye, the muscles and nerves of the throat and tongue, the movements of the muscles of the hand participate in writing. And the last, but not the least, factor which determines progress in formation and development of lasting writing habits is pupils’ comprehension of some rules which govern writing in the English language.

Since pupils should be taught penmanship, spelling, and composition it is necessary to know the difficulties Russian pupils find in learning to write English.

The writing of the English letters does not present much trouble because there are a lot of similar letters in both languages. They are a, o, e, n, m, p, c, k, g, x, M, T, H. Only a few letters, such as s, r, i, h, 1, f, b, t, j, I, G, Q, N, etc., may be strange to Russian pupils. Training in penmanship is made easier because our school has adopted the script writing suggested by Marion Richardson in which the capital letters in script have the same form as the printed capital letters. The small letters such as h, b, d, i, k, f, are made without a loop.

Pupils find it difficult to make each stroke continuous when the body of the letter occupies one space, the stem one more space above, the tail one more space below.

The most difficult thing for Russian pupils in learning to write is English spelling. The spelling system of a language may be based upon the following principles:

  1. Historical or conservative principle when spelling reflects the pronunciation of earlier periods in the history of the language. For example, Russian: кого, жил; English: busy, brought, daughter.

  2. Morphological principle. In writing a word the morphemic composition of the word is taken into account. For example, in Russian: рыба, рыбка; the root morpheme is рыб; in English: answered, asked; the affixal morpheme is ed.

  3. Phonetic principle. Spelling reflects the pronunciation. For example, in Russian: бесконечный - безграничный; in English: leg, pot.

One or another of these principles may prevail in any given language. In Russian and German the morphological principle prevails. In French and English the historical or conservative principle dominates (as far as the first 1000 words are concerned). The modern English spelling originated as early as the 15th century and has not been changed since then. The pronunciation has changed greatly during that time. Significant difference in pronunciation and spelling is the result. The same letters in different words are read differently. For example, fat, fate, far, fare.

Different letters or letter combinations in different words are read in the same way: I - eye; rode - road; write - right; tale - tail.

Many letters are pronounced in some words and are mute in other words: build [bild] - suit [sju:t]; laugh [la:f] - brought [bro:t]; help [help] - hour [auə].

The discrepancy that exists in the English language between pronunciation and spelling may be explained by the fact that there are more sounds in the language than there are letters to stand for these sounds. Thus, there are 23 vowel sounds in English and 6 letters to convey them.

In teaching English spelling special attention should be given to the words which present much trouble in this respect. The spelling of the words, for example, busy, daughter, language, beautiful, foreign, and others, must be assimilated through manifold repetition in their writing and spelling. In conclusion it should be said that it is impossible to master accurate spelling without understanding some laws governing it. Pupils should know:

(1) how to add:

  1. -s to words ending in y: day - days, stay - he stays, but city - cities, study - he studies;

  2. -ed to verbs: play - played; carry - carried;

  3. -ing to verbs: write - writing; play - playing; stand - standing;

  4. -er, -est to adjectives in the comparative and the superlative degrees: cleancleaner - cleanest; large – larger - largest;

(2) when the consonant should be doubled: sit - sitting; thin - thinner; swim - swimming;

(3) the main word-building suffixes:

-ful: use - useful; -less: use - useless; and others.

Writing a composition or a letter, which is a kind of a composition where the pupil has to write down his own thoughts, is another problem to be solved. The pupil comes across a lot of difficulties in finding the right words, grammar forms and structures among the limited material stored up in his memory. The pupil often does not know what to write; he wants good and plentiful ideas which will be within his vocabulary and grammar.

How to teach writing

Teaching writing should be based on such methodological principles as a conscious approach to forming and developing this skill, visualization and activity of pupils. Pupils learn to write letters, words, and sentences in the target language more successfully if they understand what they write, have good patterns to follow, and make several attempts in writing a letter (a word, a sentence) until they are satisfied that the work is well done.

Training in penmanship should proceed by steps.

1. The teacher shows the learners a letter or both a capital and a small letter, for example, B b. Special cards may be used for the purpose. On one side of the card the letters are written. On the other side there is a word in which this letter occurs.

2. The teacher shows his pupils how to write the letter. He can use the blackboard. For example, V and W are made with one continuous zigzag movement. Q is made without lifting the pen except for the tail, which is an added stroke. L is also made without lifting the pen. The first stroke in N is a down-stroke; the pen is not lifted in making the rest of the letter. Care should be taken that r is not made to look like a v: the branching should occur about two-thirds (r) from the bottom of the letter. The same applies to the letters d and b; g and q; q and p which are often confused by pupils. Then the teacher writes a word in which the new letter occurs. For example, B b, bed.

Whenever the teacher writes on the blackboard he gives some explanations as to how the letter is made, and then how the word is written. His pupils follow the movements of his hand trying to imitate them; they make similar movements with their pens in the air, looking at the blackboard.

Much care should be given to the words whose spelling does not follow the rules, for example, daughter, busy, sure, usual, colonel, clerk, soldier, etc. Pupils master the spelling of such words by means of repetitions in writing them.

The teacher shows his pupils how to rely on grammar in spelling the words. The more the pupils get acquainted with grammar, the more will they rely on it in their spelling.

For example, the pupils have learned the plural of nouns in the English language. Now they know that the ending s is added, though it sounds either [s] as in maps or [z] as in pens; in both cases they must write s.

In the words famous, continuous it is necessary to write ous, as it is an adjective-forming suffix. In the words dislike, disadvantage it is necessary to write i and not e as the negative prefix is dis.

Copying applies equally well to the phrase pattern and the sentence pattern with the same purpose to help the memory, for pupils should not be asked to write, at least in the first two years, anything that they do not already know thoroughly through speech and reading. Every new word, phrase or sentence pattern, after it has been thoroughly learnt, should be practised by copying.

Copying may be carried out both in class and at home.

In copying at home the pupils must be given some additional task preventing them from performing the work mechanically. The following tasks may be suggested:

(a) underline a given letter or letter combination for a certain sound;

(b) underline a certain grammar item;

(c) underline certain words depicting, for example, the names of school things.

The additional work the pupil must perform in copying a text or an exercise makes him pay attention to the sound and meaning of the words. This kind of copying is a good way of ensuring the retention of the material. It must be extensively applied in the junior and in the intermediate stages.

Writing exercises

Dictation. This kind of writing exercise is much more difficult than copying. Some methodologists think that it should never be given as a test to young beginners. “It is a means of fixing of what is already known, not a puzzle in which the teacher tries to defeat the pupil” (F. French). Dictation is a valuable exercise because it trains the ear and the hand as well as the eye: it fixes in the pupil’s mind the division of each sentence pattern, because the teacher dictates division by division. For example, Tom and I / go to school / together.

Dictations can vary in forms and in the way they are conducted:

(a) Visual dictation as a type of written work is intermediate between copying and dictation. The teacher writes a word, or a word combination, or a sentence on the blackboard. The pupils are told to read it and memorize its spelling. Then it is rubbed out and the pupils write it from memory.

(b) Dictation drill aims at consolidating linguistic material and preparing pupils for spelling tests. The teacher dictates a sentence. A word with a difficult spelling either is written on the blackboard, or is spelt by one of the pupils. Then the pupils are told to write the sentence. The teacher walks about the class and watches them writing. He asks one of the pupils who has written correctly to go to the blackboard and write the sentence for the other pupils to correct their mistakes if they have any. The dictation drill may be given for 10—12 minutes depending on the grade and the language material.

(c) Self-dictation. Pupils are given a text (a rhyme) to learn by heart. After they have learned the text at home the teacher asks them to recite it. Then they are told to write it in their exercise-books from memory. So they dictate it to themselves. This type of written work may be given at junior and intermediate stages.

Writing sentences on a given pattern. This kind of writing exercise is more difficult because pupils choose words they are to use themselves. The following exercises may be suggested:

(a) Substitution: Nick has a sister. The pupils should use other words instead of a sister.

(b) Completion: How many … are there in the room? He came late because ... .

(c) Extension: Ann brought some flowers. (The pupils are expected to use an adjective before flowers.)

Practice of this kind can lead pupils to long sentences.

Writing answers to given questions. The question helps the pupil both with the words and with the pattern required for the answer.

The object of every kind of written exercise mentioned above is to develop pupils’ spelling in the target language and to fix the linguistic material in their memory and in this way to provide favourable conditions for developing their skills in writing compositions. By composition in this case we mean pupils’ expression of their own thoughts in a foreign language in connection with a suggested situation or a topic within the linguistic material previously assimilated in speech and reading. Progress in writing a foreign language is possible on condition that pupils have adequate preparation for writing. This preparation should nearly always be carried out orally, except late at the senior stage when it can be done from books independently as at this stage oral questioning need not precede writing. Writing compositions will not help much in the learning of a new language without careful preparation. If pupils have to rack their brains for something to say, or if they try to express something beyond their powers, the writing may be more harmful than helpful. Preparation may include:

(a) oral questioning with the aim of giving the pupils practice in presenting facts and ideas in the target language;

(b) the use of pictures and other visual aids to provide information for written work;

(c) auding an extract or a story which can stimulate pupils’ thought; after auding there should always be some questions on the content;

(d) silent reading which can be used as a source of information for pupils, first, to speak about, and then for writing.

In teaching compositions the following exercises may be suggested:

  1. A written reproduction of a story either heard or read. With backward classes most of the words that are habitually misspelt must be written on the blackboard.

  2. A description of a picture, an object or a situation. For example:

— Write not less than three sentences about (the object).

— Write five sentences about what you usually do after classes.

— Write four sentences about what you can see in the picture of the room.

  1. A descriptive paragraph about a text, or a number of texts on a certain subject. Pupils may be given concrete assignments. For instance:

— Describe the place where the action takes place.

- Write what you have learned about ...

-Write what new and useful information you have found for yourself in this text (these texts).

— Write what the author says about ... using the sentences from the text to prove it.

  1. An annotation on the text read. The following assignments may help pupils in this.

— Pick out sentences which express the main idea (ideas) in the text and then cross out those words which are only explanatory in relation to the main idea.

— Abridge text by writing out only topical sentences.

— Write the contents of the text in 3—5 sentences.

  1. A composition on a suggested topic. For example, “My family” or “Our town” or “The sports I like best”. Pupils should be taught to write a plan first and then to write the story to following the plan.

  2. Letter writing. Pupils are usually given a pattern letter in English, which shows the way the English start their letters and end them.

The following assignments may be suggested:

— Write a letter to your friend who lives in another town.

— Write a letter to your parents when you are away from home.

— Write a letter to a boy (a girl) you do not know but you want to be your pen-friend.

In testing pupils’ skills in writing the teacher should use those kinds of work pupils get used to and which they can do because they must be well prepared before they are given a test. Every pupil should feel some pride in completing a test and be satisfied with the work done. Tests which result in mistakes are very dangerous. They do no good at all. They do a very great deal of harm because pupils lose interest in the subject and stop working at their English. Indeed, if the results of the test are poor, for example, 50% of the pupils have received low marks, they testify not only to the poor assimilation of the material by the pupils, but to the poor work of the teacher as well. He has given an untimely test. He has not prepared the pupils for the test yet. This is true of all kinds of tests in teaching a foreign language.

In teaching writing the following tests may be recommended to measure pupils’ achievements in penmanship, spelling, and composition.

1. The teacher measures his pupils’ achievement in making English letters in the right way by asking individuals to write some letters on the blackboard. Or else he may ask the pupils to write some letters which he names in their exercise-books. Then he takes the exercise-books for correction.

  1. The teacher measures his pupils’ achievement in penmanship and spelling by administering dictation tests or spelling test. The teacher dictates a word, a phrase, or a sentence standing in front of the class for the pupils to hear him well. If the teacher dictates a sentence, it is not recommended to repeat it more than twice. Constant repetition of the sentence prevents pupils from keeping it in memory. If the dictation is based on a text whose sentences are logically connected it is necessary to read the whole text first and then dictate it sentence by sentence. When the pupils are ready with writing, the teacher reads the text once more for them to check it.

The amount of material that might be included in a dictation depends on the form, the stage of teaching, and the character of the material itself.

A spelling test may be given either at the beginning of the lesson, or in the second half of it. Thus, if the teacher handles the class well, it makes no difference when he gives it. If he does not handle the class well enough to hold his pupils’ attention, it is better to administer a test in the second half of the class-period, the first half of the class-period being devoted to some other work. Otherwise he will not succeed in making his pupils work well. They will be excited because of the test.

  1. The teacher measures his pupils’ achievement in composition by:

— asking them to write a few questions on the text;

— answering questions (the questions are given);

— making a few statements on the object-picture or a set of pictures given;

— describing a picture illustrating a situation or topic in written form;

— writing a few sentences on a suggested topic;

— giving a written annotation on the text read;

— writing a descriptive paragraph;

— writing a letter.

In conclusion, it should be said that everything a pupil writes as a test must be easy for him because he is asked to write only those things which he already knows thoroughly.

It cannot be stressed strongly enough that none of the above types of tasks can be used as tests if the pupils were not taught to do them in the process of learning the target language.

There is one more problem which deals with writing that is the correction of mistakes in pupils’ exercise-books.

Modern methodologists believe that the essence of correction lies in the fact that a pupil must realize what mistake he had made and how he must correct it. That is why many teachers and methodologists, both in this country and abroad, consider that the teacher should just mark (underline) a wrong letter, or a form, or a word, etc.

In this way he will make the pupil find the mistake and correct it. Learners must acquire the habit of noticing mistakes in their own writing. This habit can be acquired if pupils are properly trained, if teachers will develop these habits in their pupils. The training that will help pupils to become aware of their mistakes has to be gradual and continuous. When a pupil is made to find his mistakes and correct them he has to apply his knowledge in spelling, vocabulary, and grammar of the target language and this is far more useful for him than the corrections made by the teacher. The effect of the teacher's corrections on the pupils is usually very small. Therefore pupils should be trained to correct mistakes that have been made. The better the teacher trains his pupils, the less work he will have to do in the marking.

In carrying out the training the following techniques may be recommended.

1. Pupils should read through their own written work before handing it in, and correct any mistakes they can find. The habit of revising written work is a useful one, and every pupil has to acquire it.

2. Pupils can correct the sentences themselves looking at the blackboard where the correct answers to exercises are written.

3. Whenever pupils are writing, the teacher can walk round looking through the work they have done and putting a dot at the end of those lines which contain a mistake. The pupil has to find the mistake and correct it. When the teacher comes round again, he crosses out the dot if the mistake has been corrected, if not, he leaves the dot. This takes very little time, because teachers are usually quick in finding mistakes. With small classes (he teacher can get an exercise almost completely corrected.

4. When written work has to be handed in, the teacher asks his pupils to read through their work and count up the mistakes. They should put down the number at the bottom of the page. Then they correct the mistakes. The teacher might give the class three to five minutes for this work. The exercise-books are then collected and the teacher corrects the mistakes. He puts the number of mistakes he finds at the bottom of the page.

5. The teacher can ask his pupils to change exercise-books with their neighbors. The latter look through the work and try to find the mistakes which have been missed by their friends. They put the new number at the bottom of the page.

Thus the teacher varies the procedure keeping the class guessing about what he will want them to do. With the techniques described above the teacher stimulates his pupils to keep a sharp eye for mistakes and, in this way, develops their ability to notice their mistakes and correct them.

Since writing is a mighty means in learning a foreign language pupils should write both in class and at home. For this they need (1) two exercise-books for class and homework (the teacher collects the exercise-books regularly for correcting mistakes and assigns marks for pupils' work in the exercise-books); (2) a notebook for tests (the teacher keeps the notebooks in class and gives them to the pupils for a test and corrections).

The exercise-books must meet the general school requirements established by unified spelling standards.

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