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Building language skills. Part 4: Writing

by Elaine Gallagher,  PhD WRITING: BACKGROUND AND BASIC THEORY Let’s look at the basic skills that will be expected by students as they begin to learn how to write English assignments. Kindergarten: K-3:                                                                                                                         Identification of letters; saying the alphabet; counting orally 1-10, writing their first name; listening to stories read aloud, or on […]

Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 23 de noviembre de 2015

by Elaine Gallagher,  PhD


Let’s look at the basic skills that will be expected by students as they begin to learn how to write English assignments.



Identification of letters; saying the alphabet; counting orally 1-10, writing their first name; listening to stories read aloud, or on a video, and giving a brief oral summary of the story, or completing a drawing about the story; developing oral vocabulary in response to picture flash cards and  basic, spontaneous oral vocabulary, as shown in the “Part 2: Speaking” article in UNONEWS.

1st and 2nd Grades:    

The sentence: Students demonstrate that sentences begin with capital letter; ends with correct punctuation: . ? ! Guided by teacher, they can write complete sentences and basic, short stories beginning in 2nd grade.

3rd and 4th Grades:      

The paragraph: Students demonstrate how to create main idea; indent for each new paragraph; use supporting details (adjectives/adverbs as descriptors) to enhance their writing.

5th and 6th Grades:

Students create fiction and non-fiction, writing 3 – 5 paragraphs in a composition,  using an outline ir a mind-map.

7th, 8th, 9th Grades:                                                                                                

Students are able to compose a 5-paragraph essay/composition in fiction or non-fiction. They can prepare an outline with an introduction, including information, references, a cohesive conclusion, and a bibliography.

Now, let’s look at writing skills that we will explore in this article. Learning writing skills can be a life-long, arduous, but rewarding, practice.There are some basics (A – H) that you need to know in order to teach writing skills to your students:

  1. Writing mechanics are the first things we learn about writing.

Writing mechanics can be learned and mastered in one school year, once students can write the alphabet from memory, if they are taught correctly, practiced daily, and valued as a way to communicate. By the end of 3rd grade of primary, every student should be able to exhibit his/her knowledge of the following mechanical writing skills.

  • Mechanics include the formation of individual letters (the alphabet), knowing the way that letters fit together to form words, how words form phrases and sentences, and how sentences are formed into paragraphs.
  • Writing mechanics also include the use of capital letters to begin a sentence and for proper nouns, correct spelling, indentation of paragraphs, punctuation, and the correct use of basic grammatical structures, when they are indicated, and when they have been taught and practiced. (By end of 3rd grade: present, past, future, present/past progressive tenses, pronouns, singular /plurals, common irregular verbs)
  • NOTE: The constant, on-going argument about cursive and/or manuscript writing, in one ot two languages, can be solved easily.


Teach D’NEALIAN writing! D’Nealian is a bridge between cursive and manuscript. Students do not confuse the b, d, p, g, q letters. With D’Nealian and a keyboard, students won’t need to know anything else about writing. Let’s face it, cursive writing  is a form off calligraphy, art, used by the monks 500 years ago, before the printing press. Where can you find it? In schools, nowhere else.  Many of us over 50 years of age spent years in school practicing cursive writing. Do we all write alike today? NO.

Writing is a personal art-type. As a means of communication, who really cares if it’s cursive or manuscript. Let’s get our priorities straight. Writing legibly and neatly, yes. Practicing so our writing looks like the model in the book is a waste of time. Choose D’Nealian writing, used in 50+ countries, world-wide, including most of the Colegios Americanos in Mexico, as well as other forward-thinking schools.

  1. Content of what is written is the part of writing that can take a lifetime to master.

Well-known authors say that they are constantly upgrading their writing, improving , expanding their skills and their use of the flow of words into ideas.
Except for copying, all writing is creative : something that comes from the brain
of a writer. When the words come form the brain, the heart, and the soul of the writer, then we can say that the writer is being “creative”.

When teachers begin to teach creative writing skills, there’s an essential “law”:


That means if you can’t think it, you can’t say it, and if you can’t say it, there is no way you can write it.
 In other words, creative writing skills require oral fluency. Until students acquire fluency with speaking, they will not be able to write creatively, from their brains.  This is one of the reasons why WRITING should be the last skill developed in children, for both the native and the second language.

In the meanwhile, as students acquire and build oral language skills and fluency, they can do two things to build a strong base for writing beginning half-way through 1st grade of primary:

  1. Master the mechanics of writing, with daily practice, led and guided by the teacher. This does NOT mean memorization of writing rules, definitions, or memorization of verb tenses and parts of speech! It means a short, daily mini-lesson, using the mechanics, and copying short phrases or sentences or structures being emphasized in the lesson.
  2. Read….lots and lots of daily reading, both by the teacher, aloud to the students, (storytelling or book reading aloud), and silent reading for comprehension by the students from books at their reading levels.


READING supports and enhances vocabulary expansion, and reading shows students how words flow together to make a story. If you want to write well, creatively, you have to read well.


  1. The teacher’s role is to familiarize the students with the mechanics of writing.

         Practice mechanics with a short, daily writing exercise, gradually building and solidifying the skills, so they become automatically implemented. Support daily reading to and by the students, pointing out interesting words, phrases, allusions, symbolic writing, metaphors, analogies, use of adjectives and adverbs to “paint a picture” with words, and the use of high-level vocabulary. These techniques used frequently teach students how to elaborate creatively.

Mechanics and reading should be supported in class by the teacher to help build strong writing ability. Exhibit ways to develop creative writing skills with students by the use of structured writing work, in class, and the expansion to independently-written writing activities, in class.

NOTE: “in-class” is used specifically because teachers need to be there to help and support the development of students’ writing skills, and to observe / correct when problems might arise.

Homework serves no purpose in the creative writing process until writers arrive at proficiency level,  C-1, and are well-prepared to write independently. Homework promotes dishonesty! Parents, or other kids, or Google do the homework, if it’s done at all.

Get with it, teachers. TEACH writing, Don’t ASSIGN writing.


  1. “Writing” versus “Speaking” is a very important concept to know.

Some teachers believe that writing is easy for students. The physical act of writing the alphabet or copying words is not what we are talking about here. Writing from the brain, creating words on paper, depends on two things, as previously explained:

  1. The speaking fluency ability and vocabulary level of the students…
  2. How much a student reads, so as to see how the flow of words can create imagesin the brain.

Because of these two aspects, writing is more difficult than speaking a language. Other issues to consider are:

  • Speaking and listening comprehension depend greatly on body language, intonations, pitch, eye contact, and positioning. Writing does not, so the writer must be clear and precise, writing exactly what he/she wants readers to know.
  • Most of what is written is not written in the present time. The past and/or future are used much more than present time, yet students new to a language learn the present tense first. This is where much reading and support activities in writing mechanics can be of help.
  • The physical act of writing takes time, especially with young children who are still developing fine motor control skills, so they see writing as very tedious. Teachers must remember that writing at this stage should be short and meaningful because children’s hands actually hurt (ache) from too much writing, and then they learn to dislike writing.
  • Teachers must keep in mind that writing is a mental ability that comes from the brain, not a physical one of writing over and over.
  • As soon as children learn to use a computer, they should be encouraged to write creatively using a computer because they can write faster, helping to keep the flow of words in their heads, making it easier to transfer them on paper.
  • When young children write with a pencil or pen, the act of writing can be so tedious, that they may forget what they want to say on paper because they are busy physically forming the letters , words, and phrases too slowly for their quick, active brain.
  • Content should be emphasized more than mechanics. Once the content is smooth, interesting, and well-written, the students can go back to correct the mechanics.
  • The flow of ideas is most important. If you have to choose between fluency and accuracy, always choose fluency first.






1 Pre-writing

Pre-writing includes all the things you need to do in order to complete the assignment, such as brainstorming, vocabulary list, ideas for topics, time, setting, characters, an outline of the article or story, type of writing you will be doing, research sites, a graphic organizer to plot the plan of the writing, etc. It may take 1 to 3 days to do this.


2 Drafting

Once the pre-writing is done, students begin the first draft, their first attempt at writing the current assignment. It can have errors, and can be a simplified version of what the students hope the final version will be. It is the skeleton of the writing, to be fleshed out later.  Re-reading your first draft is a very important step for good writing. Read it aloud to yourself or to another person to hear how it sounds. Corrections and additions can be made at this time.



3 Revising

This is the second draft where the skeleton of the writing is expanded, with good elaborations, using adjectives, adverbs, higher quality nouns and verbs, smoother flow of words and phrases, etc. Re-reading this draft again is a very important step for good writing. Read it aloud again to hear how it sounds. Corrections and additions can be made at this time, too.


4 Proofreading

The second draft is looked at with an eye to making final corrections. The proofreading checklist (presented later in this book) should be used by the students to make a final check of their work. This is the final opportunity to add words, check grammar, correct spelling, and elaborate the work. Once all the proofreading is complete with corrections made, the FINAL copy can be prepared.


5 Publicizing

Students make a final copy of their writing to be shared with others, students, teacher, and parents. This is the copy that will be assessed and graded. This is the copy that may be hung on the wall, (WITHOUT A GRADE SHOWING, PLEASE) or submitted to the students’ portfolios, or offered to be in print in a class newspaper or in a magazine.



What is a “Quick Write” or a “Journal Prompt”?

A quick write or a journal prompt is a brief written response to an idea that the teacher (or another student) announces in class. It should be done each class day as a writing routine, to get the students to think daily about writing something.


Writing 2 or 3 sentences about a theme in a story or a character in a story….The teacher gives the theme or character’s name (greed, discrimination, life, death, love, Tom, Elizabeth, etc). It could be a very brief idea or comment, explaining something in one, two, or three sentences or phrases. Students think; then they write.
A complete sentence is not necessary all the time. The objective is to write to share an IDEA.

How can we write better?

To be a good writer, you MUST be a good reader! We learn more vocabulary from reading than from listening. We learn writing structures better from seeing them in readings than from grammar lessons. SO? READ! Read a lot!


There are 3 basic types of writing:

(1) Narrative            (2) Persuasive            (3) Explanatory

These three major categories can be expanded to include:


Five styles of composition


  1. Informative narrative: The writer tells how to do or make something
  2. Descriptive: The writer gives a vivid description of an object or scene.
  3. Expressive Narrative: The writer sequences events into a story on a specific topic
  4. Classificatory: The writer compares / contrasts or gives advantages/ disadvantages to 2 or more ideas/objects/places.
  5. Persuasive: The writer makes a choice and gives reasons to support that choice to an audience.


Writing tasks for 5 days

If we’re going to have a systematized, organized routine for writing, it
needs to be done each day of class or a “routine” will not develop.
 A five class day sequence works best no matter how many days a week you 
have English because it takes 5 sessions to complete most work well enough to make it meaningful, and from which a student will learn something.
 If you shorten the sequence, students don’t have enough practice on the same topic. If you drag it out too long, for example for 10 sessions, the students get bored. So here is a usable routine to enhance classroom writing.


  • DAY 1: Brainstorm and review characteristics of the type of writing to be done.
  • DAY 2: Have the class elaborate on writing: vocabulary, ideas, a mind map.
  • DAY 3: Each student writes a first draft on his/her own.
  • DAY 4: Holistic review and editing…in pairs, using a proofreading checklist.
  • DAY 5: Rewrite, correcting errors found in the previous class, ready today to submit final, re-copied version.


What is most important for good writing?  Elaboration



Ask the students to repeat that sentence to you so they will realize its importance.


Adjectives and adverbs clearly describing people, places , and events, are essential!

Expressive verbs and nouns can make writing sound better.




Dedications (to Dad, Love, Mary)Brochures


Anthologies (list of books)


Book blurbs (short description)

Thank You notes

Greeting cards



Lists (for shopping, gifts, parties, things to do) Calendars








ConversationsWant ads


Song lyrics

Magazine articles






Reviews (of books, movies, restaurants, products)

Author page (for books)



Newspaper articles



“How to” manuals

Advice columnsSurveys










Comic strips


Proposals (what you want to do)



Crossword puzzles



Now, you’re armed with enough information to help guide and support your students to become good writers. Have fun!