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Teaching writing in high school (in grades 11-12)
by Anat Nijinsky


Background:

I chose to express my views and thoughts about this theme for several reasons:

Firstly, I like to write! I think that I can influence the students by showing them my passion to write.

Secondly, I would like to share my experience with other English teachers and get advice about techniques in teaching writing.

Thirdly, I started writing when I was a child. As a young writer, I found the same difficulties which teenagers find nowadays. I would be glad to give the young students some help in dealing with these difficulties.

Students tend to think that the aim of writing is only for the Bagrut exam. Unfortunately, they are not aware of the fact that we write all the time and everywhere. The goal of this presentation is to make a change and demonstrate the meaning and the importance of such an unique action. Writing is a power which comes to life in our hands. I am dedicated to see pupils use it.

Teaching writing:

Step 1- Attitude is the name of the game

To start with the theme of writing, I asked them to tell me their thoughts about it and accompanying associations. The responses were as I expected. They spoke about writing as a boring, purposeless and unimportant activity. Then, I decided to read them some quotes spoken by famous writers. This provided an opening into the writing world.

"Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, note, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up." - Jane Yolen

"Writing is physical work. It's sweaty work. You just can't will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it." - Will Haygood

"The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn't behave that way you would never do anything." - John Irving

"A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing." - Eugene Ionesco

"At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night." - H. P. Lovecraft

The quotes emphasize three basic points about attitude:

  • English is not only a collection of letters and words regulated by certain grammar rules, but also a language.
  • Writing is a proccess which requires hard work.
  • Writing is a journey into the depths of your soul.
These points should be mentioned by a teacher all of the time. I have never used writing as a punishment. I believe that such punishment will only cause pupils to be disgusted with writing, and that's not the aim!!!

Writing ia a building process. Attitude is the base and the resulting steps are the level. If the base is not strong and steady enough, the whole building will probably collapse. Therefore, attitude is most important.

Step 2- Enriching the vocabulary:

Enriching vocabulary is very meaningful in the writing process. I disccussed this with my class. The students raised the point that the average teenager has a poor vocabulary and is less exposed to written materials. They mentioned television and computer games as causing this situation. Then I asked them what should be done to increase vocabulary. They suggested that teachers and parents, as influental characters, should encourage youth to read. I was inspired by the discussion and decided to give them a list of internet sites which include some interesting articles about various subjects for encouraging reading.

List of websites:

I asked them to choose an article which interested them the most. (Note: one can choose any article from any site he wants.) Then, they had to prepare a lecture about it and in addition, make a list of difficult words. The pupils lectured about the article they chose and then wrote on the blackboard the difficult words and the translation. Each pupil added his words, and together we made a list of difficult words from all the pupils. The benefit of the activity is the shared learning. Each student shared his new words and acquired new ones. I recommend repeating this activity every so often, so that the enrichment of vocabulary will be continuous.

Step 3- Style of writing:

The writing style is individual. As a teacher, I feel that I am not able to define a specific style for my students. In this step I read my students a poem and a short story. Then, we discuss the distinction between the writing styles. On the one hand, we have the poetic style. On the other hand, there is description by using adjectives. Each student expressed his opinion about his favourite style. We finished the discussion with the saying that everybody has a writing style.

While reading a passage, the teacher should pay attention to the writing style, since it reflects the student's voice. I believe that it is more important that a teacher gives advice for improving the composition rather than a numbered mark. The advance and the progress of the pupil are the more important than a grade.

You can find recommended poems and short stories at:

Some optional writing tasks/activities:

  1. Who are you? Choose some characters and describe them.
  2. What is your opinion about the method of teaching English in Israel?
  3. How do you feel about the escalation in the south of Israel? Write a passage which expresses your feelings.
  4. Write about a special relationship you had/have.
  5. Do you believe that parents should be involved in decisions that their children make?

My conclusions:
In conclusion, I found out that writing is helpful for the pupils. They enriched their vocabulary and also acquired some life skills such as self-reliance, diligence, learning to accept constructive criticism, arranging thoughts and creativity. Some of them even began using their writing for coping with their personal problems. Writing helped them in defining the problem, so the solution was clear and simple. The most important benefit for them was increasing the awareness of English as a significant language in modern society.

I believe that the inner need to create exists in each of us. We only need to listen. Every day I grow both as a teacher and as a person after teaching my students. I realize that writing is a great way to strengthen the relationship with them. Reading an essay or a composition gives me the capability to be exposed to the personality of the writer. I have the opportunity to be part of their writing process. This special opportunity enables me to examine my methods of teaching and to improve upon them.

"I have learned much from my teachers,
from my colleagues,
but most from my pupils!"


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