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Writing Workshop

Enticing the learners to write right

By: Mubarak Abdessalami

        Writing well requires time, a much long time. Even professional great writers struggle to write. They write and rewrite over and over and over again until they are quite satisfied. Due to its toughness, writing is really an ordeal. In school context, writing is never welcome as an assignment. As the majority of the students are allergic to writing, teachers are forced to look for smarter ways to entice them to write. Any of the teachers reading this right now would smile and nod. We, language teachers are aware of what it is all about. Well, I was reflecting on "the best" and "the easiest" way to drag and engage my Baccalaureate Students into a serious writing process. Although I had already shown them theoretically and by practice how writing could simply be a task among others, they always see writing assignments as a frightening horrible nightmare ogre due to the elements stated in a previously published article.

        When it comes to writing all the teachers have to tell you about the unsuccessful manoeuvres to make their students like writing. From process writing to quick writes, all the roads lead to an amalgamation of catastrophes connected either to structure, coherence, tense use, spelling or irrelevance to the topic.

        This idea is not new, but I managed to make it look original. When the students came into the classroom, I asked them to form a round table moving their desks. They enjoyed that, it breaks the monotonous class routines. We sat in a way that everyone is facing the others. I took a seat myself and I heard one of them commenting, "Welcome to the United Nations peace conference!" We all laughed at it and I immediately replied by another comment,

        "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, peace always starts from schools. Any one outside the school borders is in danger of never knowing peace. Those who leave school before graduation are known as dropouts, why don’t we start our conference by detecting the causes of the phenomenon and try to draw the profiles of the students at risk of quitting school before graduation".

        Brainstormed, the students start to think and utter whatever ideas that crosses their minds and they jot them down without even deciding if they are subject related or not, I advised them to do so. The stream of thinking should not be interrupted. They came up with ideas like:

        The causes were numerous and some of them seemed irrelevant. So we started to verify each note and either keep it or discard it. Later on we thought of organizing these causes into groups like:

        After we had agreed upon three of them only, we drew a chart and started to fill in it with the corresponding ideas already jotted down. This part of the work was directed by questions like:

  1. "Which causes are family related?"
  2. "Which ones are school related?"
  3. "Which ones are purely personal?"

    • Poor parents
    • Divorce of the parents
    • to have to get married
    • to have to get a job
    • no support from the family
    • no or little parents control or supervision
    • etc

    • unwelcoming school environment
    • peer pressure
    • low grades
    • failing core subjects
    • problems with teachers
    • absenteeism
    • etc

    • laziness
    • drug addiction
    • believing school is useless
    • the dream to emigrate for a better life
    • lack of adaptation
    • undisciplined
    • etc

        Once we had finished this stage, we started to think of a thesis statement as easy as falling off a log like:         "Many students drop out of school for various reasons but the most common ones are familial, school related and personal."

        Now the students were asked to write the most appropriate topic sentence for each of the cause categories stated in the thesis statement.

        Well, most students were first concerned with finding alternative vocabulary for the verb "to drop out", In collaboration with good students, we provided them with "to leave", "to quit", "not to finish", "to fail to complete", "to give up" and by the way I supplied them with terms like, "schooling", "education", "early leavers", "sensitize" and few more expressions I thought they'd need them while writing.

        The students started to realize why writing is the most hated school task but at the same time why it is imperative to go gradually with the writing process and to respect normal moves to reach a layout able to make writing later on very easy to do.

        Meanwhile the students started to give topic sentences like,

        As soon as we had all agreed upon the suggested topic sentences, students were prompted to write down details susceptible to support each of the three topic sentences stated in the chart above. In their final draft they’d revise for mistakes and appropriate linking words; but this is not our main concern in this stage of the process.

        The three paragraphs constructed in the same way, the students were to think of a concluding paragraph or a clincher like:

"Aren't these causes enough to make students quit school before graduation? Now why don't we try to solve the students' problems so as to prevent those at risk of dropping out from the specter of loss?"

        As the students reached this final stage successfully, they needed to reinforce and deepen their understanding of the topic, that's why we immediately engaged in a general discussion on the consequences of being a dropout. Some students mentioned unemployment, some others talked about low pay and some even mentioned prison. The discussion went into another arrangement for another assay based on the same procedures of dealing with the topic: "The consequences of being a dropout".

        Later on I asked the students to think of some feasible simple solutions. Most of them thought of organizing a campaign to encourage students to stay at school and urge the government to assist the students at risk emotionally and materially by providing a social assistant or even a psychologist to listen to their problems and try to solve them together or at least guide them on the right path. Poor families have to be assisted materially not to be obliged to prevent their children from going to school to do field work or household chores.

        In addition to this, parents are to be sensitized of the value of learning and of the importance of their children’s schooling. Practically, the school should be serious looking for the reasons why some students have bad grades or are absent from school most of the time. Parents’ associations have a lot to do about this phenomenon.

        Finally all of us agreed that discussions help the students to think right and eventually write right. This way of managing and organizing the workshop boosted the students’ self-confidence and improved their competencies to deal with school work in a collaborative way more efficiently. The students promised to write five paragraph argumentative assays and would try to apply this same process on other phenomena or themes in the future.

Report Writing

        Before we parted, I had asked the interested students to write a report on what we had done during the two hours workshop. And this perhaps is the beginning of making the workshop go beyond the restricted meaning of writing (essay, narrative, letter or else) to be just writing according to the communication situation, to the audience and to the goals the writing serves without giving names.

        Hence the students were quickly shown how to write a report through building an outline as indicated in their text-book. Now that they must have gathered information enough to write the report which would keep the reader fully in the picture, they must organize the indispensable details in this way:

  1. Title
  2. Introduction
  3. Core of the body
  4. Conclusion

1. The title should be short and precise.

2.The introduction should contain the maximum of details connected to the workshop, like

3. The core of the body which talks generally about what the workshop covers especially the main ideas

4. The conclusion which will try to evaluate the workshop briefly.

        What is important about the report is that unlike the essay, it is a document to be written in an ordinary plain language void of rhetoric discourse where no stylization or knick-knacks are needed. Before the perfected error free final draft, the students should first hand in a sloppy copy or a first draft for proofreading.

        I admit that it is very hard to manage such a workshop where the noise was deafening and the mother tongue interferes very so often. It is completely new for the students to tackle such a phenomenon in a foreign language. They have a lot to say about it but they require a special range of vocabulary and jargon, they meet for the first time. It is more a discovery of the possibility to start writing big. All in all, it was a new learning experience for the students and they liked it very much. As for me it was also an exploratory journey but fortunately I learned too much more than expected from this experience. More improvement is needed but in the end it is encouraging to tackle more themes connected to the students’ interests.

        I'll try to publish a sample or two of the essay and another sample of the report written by the students and let you see if this approach to teaching writing has been fruitful and successful or not.

Thank you for your patience.

"All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."
~ Ernest Hemingway ~

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Teaching Writing Purposefully (pdf)