Thursday, March 20, 2008

Timed Writing

Timed Writing

How prepare English-as-a-Second-Language students for timed writing assessments?

The author of this article talks about how to prepare students whose native language is not English for timed writings. On the use of the native language in preparing for timed writings, one suggestion: to acclimate them to timed writings, let students practice timed writings in the native language first, before attempting them in English. A second step would be to let them brainstorm in the native language and then do the timed writing in English. NE Pappamihiel, et al. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2008), 386-394.

RayS’s Suggestion: Long ago, I learned the power of daily ten-minute essays in preparing students for timed writings, including the SAT’s 25-minute writing sample. First, make sure students choose their most legible handwriting, whether it is cursive or printed text. Second, they should come to class ready to write on any topic they choose. Third, they write for ten minutes as well as they can and stop exactly at the end of ten minutes. They do not have to finish the essay in the ten minutes.

At night, I go over their ten-minute essays, correcting any mistakes in grammar, usage, spelling and punctuation. The amount of writing is short, making it easy to correct in a relatively short period of time. I do not merely label the mistakes. I make the actual corrections: if the student misspells the word, I spell it correctly and suggest methods for remembering how to spell it; if the student forgets commas around “interrupters,” I add the commas and explain why. If the student uses the passive voice unnecessarily, I recast the sentence in the active voice. If the student writes, “I should have went to practice,” I correct it and explain. I collect the problems and review the corrections with the entire class without identifying the students who made the mistakes. After I return the corrected ten-minute essays, I ask the students to rewrite, incorporating the corrections, for extra credit. This step helps students to visualize their writing at its best.

I recognize that five classes of 25 or more students would put an unmanageable burden on the teacher for correcting ten-minute essays every night. What works is that I assign the first class the daily ten-minute essays for three weeks and then do the same for each class in three-week intervals. In the second semester, I begin again with the first class. Three weeks of ten-minute essays seems to be the optimum amount of time for students whose native language is English to improve their writing significantly.

I ask students whose native language is not English to bring a ten-minute essay completed for homework every day throughout the entire year. Ten minutes a day of writing goes a long way to help non-native English speakers learn to write in English effectively. The biggest problem seems to be English idioms.

If students would like a list of topics to use in their daily ten-minute essays, I have included a lengthy list in my book, Teaching English, How To…., pp. 148 – 153. You will also find the list in my blog, “Q & A on Writing,”

The ten-minute essays are an adjunct to the regular writing program. In that program, I do not make corrections for the students. I ask them instead to use the textbook to find the solutions to their problems. Of course I show them how to use the textbook for that purpose.

All the best, RayS.

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