Collaborative writing

Writing can be something that teachers tend to avoid in the classroom as it’s seen as boring and uncommunicative. But give students the right audience and a partner to write with, and it becomes a much more engaging experience.

Audience is key. Why are the students writing and who’s going to see it? I often get students to write to my friends (see my ‘Keep in touch’ post). Alternatively, they could write to students in another class at the school, or even students in a different school if you can organise it! Maybe their work will be displayed around the classroom, or you could have the other teachers vote on whose is the best. However you do it, establish an audience.

This is how the collaborative part works…

1. Let’s say that students are writing a letter to a friend of yours who is coming visit. Show the students some pictures of you and your friend together and elicit some questions…

  • How did you meet?
  • Why do you get on well?
  • Have you ever had an argument? What was it about?

Once you’ve generated some interest, show a message from your friend explaining that they’re coming to stay. Explain to the students that they’re going to write a reply and that you’re going to send them to your friend.

2. Next, in pairs, get the students to brainstorm some ideas of things they should include in the letter. Board these and then have pairs choose which points they want to include in their letter.

3. Briefly, elicit what conventions the students need to follow when writing this type of letter – consider paragraphing, formality, etc…

4. Now it’s time for students to write their first draft as a pair (one writes, the other checks, adds ideas, dictates). Be strict on time here – 10-12 minutes should be enough time for an intermediate class who are familiar with writing letters.

Tip: Writing on every other line makes it much easier to edit letters later on!

When the time’s up, the students stick their letters round the room and everyone circulates to read what other groups have written. This is a really good opportunity for the teacher to highlight or note down any errors  to discuss later.

5. Students sit back down and edit with their partner, adding any finishing touches to their work or discussing any words or phrases you have highlighted. When they’re finished, collect them in and send them off to your friend (I usually just take a picture on Whatsapp). It’s really nice for students to get a response in tasks like this – a photo, a written note, a video message, etc…

Caroline and Yoko.png
A still from my friend’s video. She lives in Japan and was replying to my Italian students.

Follow the steps above for any number of writing tasks: reviews, emails, text messages, recipes, postcards, poems, essays…


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