Introduction to teaching writing


Most students who come for help with literacy will have difficulties with writing. It may be something they have avoided for years, after negative experiences at school. They feel they cannot express clearly what they wish to write. Many are embarrassed about their handwriting or spelling and don’t want to appear foolish in front of family and friends. Others may be reluctant to seek employment, promotion or embark on further education and training for fear it will involve writing.

Writing is a complex process that requires a different range of skills from reading. As well as the skill of visual recognition, so important in reading, it requires recall and reproduction. The process ranges from writing with traditional pen and paper to writing an email, writing details when booking a flight on the internet or sending text messages on a mobile phone. Many students find it a daunting task precisely because it demands the co-ordination of so many elements: from clarifying their purpose, planning and sequencing their thoughts, to the technical aspects, such as handwriting or word processing, spelling, structure, layout and understanding information technology. In addition, they may find it takes longer to see progress in writing than in reading.

Writing should always arise from the student’s needs and interests. In the early stages these are often functional, for example letters, application forms, notes to school. However, as tuition progresses, it is worth giving time to encouraging expressive or imaginative writing.  This is often the area that students have most difficulty with, but expressive writing has the potential to radically change the student’s relationship with the written word. By seeing their own words in print, students can develop a sense of mastery and ownership of the resulting piece. In addition, many adult learning centres regularly celebrate student achievements through publishing collections of student writings.  These provide a rich source of ideas, as well as encouragement and inspiration for other learners.