Writing Tasks – TBLT and Others

Recently I have been trying to encourage my (mostly but not solely Czech) students to write more and in this post I’d like to describe some of the practices we have been doing. I only just now realised that distance learning naturally lends itself to TBLT writing, as learners, deprived of the opportunity to speak with the teacher, suddenly need to write more, which makes for some lovely authentic writing.

10-minute writing

I came across this about two or three months ago in this 2015 post on the Witch in Agen. It describes a simple procedure in which learners write for 10 minutes on a topic. The purpose is fluency (number of words), not accuracy, so the written pieces are not marked for mistakes, but instead are read by the teacher for content and commented on.

I though it was a great exercise to try. I tend to like all things fluency in my classes, so I explained the procedure to my students and we did the exercise about twice a week. Quickly though, it became apparent that disregarding mistakes and focusing only on the content was not really working. The students felt cheated somehow, as if I hadn’t been doing by job properly, and also felt rather reluctant to hand in writing full of (suspected) errors. So I added some tweaks: after the ten-minute limit ran out, I asked the students to look at their pieces, and while they were counting the number of words, I asked them to correct any mistakes they saw. I was surprised how relieved they were and I could see the corrections they made were good and improved their writing. So if you decide to try this exercise, allowing your students to check their writing seems sensible. One note, my students did not include prepositions and other small grammar words in the total word count, so make sure you explain how to count words.

Essays

When we switched to online lessons due to the lockdown (CzechRep was among the first countries to apply it), I wanted to go back to the exercise, but we do it much less often. This type of writing is best written by hand, which then makes it difficult for me to read and comment on when scanned. Another tweak I included was to invite students to elaborate on the 10-min writing and turn it into essays. For example, this successful topic by English Prompts: “Friends are more important than family because you can choose your friends” generated a wealth of ideas by my students. I then asked them to use the unstructured ideas outlined in the fluency writing in an essay they wrote. The instructions needed some explaining (Do you want us to write it again, Ms Kamila?), but eventually, the essays were very good and largely better written than the fluency writing.

Comments

As you can see, we’ve had fluency writing develop into writing essays. Next thing that happens is the comments. I find that due to the lesser personal contact, students open up more, so in my comments to their essays, I react not only to their use of language, but also to their thoughts, adding my experience and stories. All this is very light and natural and genuine, just as if I were talking to a friend. The students then react back in the comments and the nature of such comments is that of mutual trust, which hasn’t stopped amazing me till now. Finding the trust of students, who only need you to pass their exams, is incredibly worthy and priceless and renders the whole teaching experience worthwhile and rewarding.

And more

But this isn’t all. Some of my learners do not stop at comments, as some of our comment-conversations develop into other exchanges about topics which aren’t directly related to our learning programme. To give you an example, one of my student has started translating song lyrics by his favourite musician into Czech, and asks me to look at them. I may have philosophical talks with another one over email. And I might end up giving personal advice to a third one – all of which transitions from language teaching to language coaching and would have been unimaginable in regular classes.

Note-taking

Other successful activity I have introduced is the autonomous listening and reading. It basically follows the procedure described by Kyle Dugan here. It has been incredibly successful with my classes. I have changed it a little. Obviously, I have translated the steps into Czech. I also assign videos and texts to my classes so that they roughly correspond to our Exam Topics (such as Family, Food, Sport, etc.). Every week, I choose one video and one article and it is up to the students to work on their own and fill in the report sheets. Since this is not a compulsory exercise, some students don’t do it. I don’t mind – there is less to be marked. But those who do it send some excellent work. The writing involved comes very naturally in the last steps where learners are asked to reflect on the listening/reading and therefore produce some authentic texts, contributing their ideas, thoughts, reflections etc. As I said before, the pleasure to reacting in comments to some genuine ideas is immense.

Finally, I can see the improvement in my students writing. For one thing, they are now able to use the Czech keyboard a lot better, and that is worth noting, because it isn’t easy, look at this spelling: TUČŇÁČEK – A LITTLE PENGUIN. I can see they can now adapt their style to the form when writing emails, comment, or chat messages in the chat window on our e-learning platform. All this makes for fantastic food-for-thought and is a pleasure to reflect upon.

As you could see, I am very enthusiastic about fluency writing, so if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

(The Featured Image is from the WordPress Free Picture Library)

11 thoughts on “Writing Tasks – TBLT and Others

  1. I love the comments! It occasionally happens with playful university students that will ask questions about comments and start a conversation thread in the comments. More work, but of the kind that I don’t mind!

    Wonderful post, Kamila, thanks!

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  2. I’m glad you found Fluency Writing! When I was using it in a French lycée, I had the students do it in a notebook that I kept in the room and that they used only for Fluency Writing. So there was less reluctance to “hand in” work that was not corrected. They knew that the notebooks were only for that. And everyone could see that whereas at the beginning their ten minute texts were very short, they got longer and longer as time went on. It was useful for me to be able to show the notebooks to parents who could literally see the progress made. The Witch in Agen.

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  3. Hello Judy, I found it through your Facebook account I think. I think it is a great exercise and the modification came from within – something the students started doing on their own, so eventually I would just allow a few extra minutes at the end. I am sorry we do it much less now in the online scheme, but my time is limited and there is a lot more written work to look at now. I also noticed the number of words depended on the topic, not only on the student’s ability to write. And my students are young adults in a private program – no parents, just an ambition to pass all the exams. All these aspects are very interesting to observe. So thanks again for this inspiration! Best wishes Kamila

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    1. I too modified the exercise when I was working with students preparing the written part of the French baccalaureate. I gave them an entire hour to write a rough draft reply to a typical baccalaureate subject, telling them I would collect them and grade them … on quantity. If they wrote the required number of words they had 10/10. My students often suffered writer’s block from fear of making mistakes and I had seen some sweat blood and have only 30 words on the paper after an hour’s torment. The idea of being graded for quantity freed them. When I got their papers, I gave them their promised grade and underlined IN GREEN everything that was correct. Then I returned their papers and gave them a week to rewrite them. After a week they gave me both the original draft and the revised, clean copy, which I graded for Quality according to the official rubric, which gave them a second grade over 20; They realized that they could write a first draft fairly quickly and have time to revise it and recopy it within the exam time limits.

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      1. This is awesome advice. Thank you for describing the procedure! My learners are different in that they usually wrote 80-140 words in 10 minutes but there were just too many errors. So I would tell them to look at their piece when they finished and look at the typical mistakes they knew they made (in Czech it is the word order in the second position in the sentence, choosing the correct declension case and correct ending). Unfortunately the practice ended too early before I could develop it into something more sustainable. Also now that I think of it, our students start classes in October with usually zero knowledge of Czech and they move up to B2 in May. So it doesn’t make sense to introduce the exercise till after Christmas, roughly speaking.

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      2. As you probably know, I am a firm believer in Krashen’s principles of Comprehensible Input. While students do need to learn to use their monitors to be able to correct errors, more reading will help them not to make the errors in the first place.

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      3. I do know and I follow your posts with interest. I agree that more comprehensible reading would be very beneficial – I can see that students who read more make better progress. There are certain syllabus constraints I am bound by, which doesn’t stop me from thinking of a better way of teaching this language.

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  4. I do a quick five-minute creative writing with G7 students. They really enjoy that, but we haven’t been able to do that lately, what with all the online learning and all. I had to cut down on a lot of activities. I hope you’re well, Kamila! Sending hugs.

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    1. Hi Tesal, so good to hear from you! Yes, it’s the same here, too, my scope of activities is a lot narrower these days. Thanks for stopping by and for the lovely comment. Sending hugs back, take care! K.

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  5. Hi Kamila,

    It’s great to see you posting again! I’m not sure if the fluency writing you describe is just very similar to a technique our creative writing teacher used in 8th grade or if it’s the same thing – we were supposed to write for 10 minutes on whatever popped into our heads. I can’t remember what the teacher said the rationale was but, for instance, in Tricia Hedge’s “Writing” this activity is called freewriting and its primary purpose is to combat writer’s block.
    I sometimes do freewriting with my students in our F2F sessions before we move online, mainly to gauge what their writing is like without any reference materials on hand. I used to just ask them to write about whatever came to mind, but what I usually do now is give them a couple of sentence beginnings (the “If I didn’t have to be in this class now…” type and I think that’s helpful because they aren’t used to freewriting.
    I agree that it seems to work better in a F2F setting, but it is essentially a technique that is meant to be employed with no expectations that the writing will be “corrected”, so students can use it at home or in whichever setting they like if they find that it helps them. That’s how I see it at least.
    Anyway, I’m really glad to see that your students’ writing skills are improving – I do think online is a natural fit for teaching writing skills. I would say that, wouldn’t I? 🙂

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