Questions, Questions...Write!

Writer(s): 
Ian Wash, Rikkyo University

Quick Guide 

  • Keywords: Collaborative writing 
  • Learner English level: Intermediate 
  • Learner maturity: High school to university 
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes 
  • Activity time: 30 minutes
  • Materials: Worksheet, blank paper

Creative writing can often be a daunting and solitary task for intermediate students who are staring into the abyss of a blank sheet of paper and trying to compose something original. More often than not, starting to write can devour large amounts of class time because learners do not have a clear structure and are bereft of content ideas. On top of that, when students do finally come up with ideas independently, they may have doubts about their suitability, be uncertain of the vocabulary and grammatical structures with which to express them, and subsequently lose confidence in their ability to successfully complete the task. An effective way to overcome these boundaries is to implement a pre-writing task that separates the creative element from the actual writing so students can focus solely on language use and, at the same time, develop their interpersonal and team-working skills. Using this approach, students can collaborate with a partner of a similar level to bounce creative ideas off one another. Once the story is taking shape, pairs can collaborate to share their lexis and grammatical knowledge so that the process of constructing accurate sentences and connecting them cohesively can begin.

Preparation

Create a worksheet with around eight What/Why questions that introduce some key information, e.g., character names or places (see Appendix). What/Why forms work best to elicit sentences that build up events and background information, although Who/When/Where questions could be added to bring out more details. Print out enough for students to share in pairs. 

Procedure

Step 1: Assign partners and give each pair a handout. Explain that they were going to read a text and answer the questions on the handout. However, you have ‘forgotten’ the text so, in pairs, they have to use their imagination to answer the questions.

Step 2: Monitor students as they answer the questions and provide prompts or light assistance where necessary.

Step 3: Once all pairs have answered the questions, tell them that they now have to rewrite the text from their answers. Hand out the blank paper and set a time limit for writing. Remind pairs that it is a team effort and to try to share the workload as evenly as possible.

Step 4: Once pairs have finished writing, have them swap their written work with another pair and check the text for grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. Tell them they can also write comments about how funny or interesting they found the story. 

Step 5: Once the pairs have completed all of their corrections, have them share their stories with the whole class.

Conclusion

This structured collaborative writing activity is a simple and fun way to build student confidence in creative writing. It increases in-class student interaction time as they share their ideas, and it adds to the enjoyment of developing an imaginative plot. Once the storyline is decided on, pairs can then start putting words on paper with more assurance of the content. The activity then allows students to share, review, and consolidate their combined stock of language to construct accurate sentences that tell a coherent story. The types of questions and key information provided in the pre-writing task questions can be flexibly adapted to control task complexity and to practice other grammatical structures recently covered in class. More or fewer questions could also be used to alter the length of the final piece of writing. The bonus is that the activity develops cooperation and evaluation skills as pairs divide tasks and work together to produce the final text. It also provides an ongoing system of checks on each other’s management of the writing process. For an entertaining finale, which amuses most classes, the teacher can surprise students by revealing that there never actually was a text to start off with!

Appendix 

The appendix is available below.

 
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