Approaches to process
Graham Stanley, British Council, Barcelona
It is a myth that all it takes to write is to sit down in front of a blank
page, to begin at the beginning and write through to the end, with no planning,
break, editing, or changes in between. And yet, this is sometimes what we ask
our students to do. Good writers plan and revise, rearrange and delete text,
re-reading and producing multiple drafts before they produce their finished
document. This is what a process writing approach is about.
What is process writing?
The process approach treats all writing as a creative act which requires
time and positive feedback to be done well. In process writing, the teacher
moves away from being someone who sets students a writing topic and receives the
finished product for correction without any intervention in the writing process
Why should teachers be interested in a process approach to writing?
White and Arntd say that focusing on language errors 'improves neither
grammatical accuracy nor writing fluency' and they suggest instead that paying
attention to what the students say will show an improvement in writing.
Research also shows that feedback is more useful between drafts, not when it
is done at the end of the task after the students hand in their composition to
be marked. Corrections written on compositions returned to the student after the
process has finished seem to do little to improve student writing.
The changing roles of teacher and students
The teacher needs to move away from being a marker to a reader, responding
to the content of student writing more than the form. Students should be
encouraged to think about audience: Who is the writing for? What does this
reader need to know?
Students also need to realise that what they put down on paper can be
changed: Things can be deleted, added, restructured, reorganised, etc.
What stages are there in a process approach to writing?
Although there are many ways of approaching process writing, it can be broken
down into three stages:
The teacher needs to be stimulate students' creativity, to get them thinking
how to approach a writing topic. In this stage, the most important thing is
the flow of ideas, and it is not always necessary that students actually
produce much (if any) written work. If they do, then the teacher can
contribute with advice on how to improve their initial ideas.
During this stage, students write without much attention to the accuracy of
their work or the organisation. The most important feature is meaning. Here,
the teacher (or other students) should concentrate on the content of the
writing. Is it coherent? Is there anything missing? Anything extra?
|Evaluating, structuring and editing|
Now the writing is adapted to a readership. Students should focus more on
form and on producing a finished piece of work. The teacher can help with
error correction and give organisational advice.
Here are some ideas for classroom activities related to the stages above:
The importance of feedback
Getting started can be difficult, so students divided into groups
quickly produce words and ideas about the writing.
Students make a plan of the writing before they start. These plans
can be compared and discussed in groups before writing takes place.
Discovery tasks such as cubing (students write quickly about the
subject in six different ways - they: 1. describe it 2. compare it
3. associate it 4. analyze it 5. apply it 6. argue for or against
In groups, The idea is to generate lots of questions about the
topic. This helps students focus upon audience as they consider what
the reader needs to know. The answers to these questions will form
the basis to the composition.
|Discussion and debate|
The teacher helps students with topics, helping them develop ideas
in a positive and encouraging way.
The students write quickly on a topic for five to ten minutes
without worrying about correct language or punctuation. Writing as
quickly as possible, if they cannot think of a word they leave a
space or write it in their own language. The important thing is to
keep writing. Later this text is revised.
Working together in groups, sharing ideas. This collaborative
writing is especially valuable as it involves other skills (speaking
A good writing activity to follow a role-play or storytelling
activity. Different students choose different points of view and
think about /discuss what this character would write in a diary,
witness statement, etc.
Similar to the activity above, but instead of different viewpoints,
different text types are selected. How would the text be different
if it were written as a letter, or a newspaper article, etc.
|Evaluating, Structuring and Editing
Students take the notes written in one of the pre-writing activities
above and organise them. What would come first? Why? Here it is good
to tell them to start with information known to the reader before
moving onto what the reader does not know.
A good writer must learn how to evaluate their own language - to
improve through checking their own text, looking for errors,
structure. This way students will become better writers.
|Peer Editing and proof-reading|
Here, the texts are interchanged and the evaluation is done by other
students. In the real world, it is common for writers to ask friends
and colleagues to check texts for spelling, etc. You could also ask
the students to reduce the texts, to edit them, concentrating on the
most important information.
it takes a lot of time and effort to write, and so it is only fair that student
writing is responded to suitably. Positive comments can help build student
confidence and create good feeling for the next writing class. It also helps if
the reader is more than just the teacher. Class magazines, swapping letters with
other classes, etc. can provide an easy solution to providing a real audience.
Writing as communication
Process writing is a move away from students writing to test their language
towards the communication of ideas, feelings and experiences. It requires that
more classroom time is spent on writing, but as the previously outlined
activities show, there is more than just writing happening during a session
dedicated to process writing.
Writing is a complex process and can lead to learner frustration. As with
speaking, it is necessary to provide a supportive environment for the students
and be patient. This approach needs that more time be spent on writing in class,
but as you have seen, not all classroom time is spent actually writing. Students
may also react negatively to reworking the same material, but as long as the
activities are varied and the objectives clear, then they will usually accept
doing so. In the long term, you and your students will start to recognise the
value of a process writing approach as their written work improves.
Hedge T 1988 Writing Oxford University Press
Krashen SD Writing : Research, theory and applications Pergamon Press
Kroll B 1990 Second Language Writing : Research insights for the classroom
Cambridge University Press
Raimes A 1983 Techniques in teaching writing Oxford University Press
White R & V Arndt 1991 Process Writing Longman