Friday, 30 November 2012

Qwerty in the English Language Classroom - why practise writing skills online?

In my earlier post on writing, which looked at the reasons for and against using class time for writing assignments, I focused almost entirely on traditional pen-and-paper writing.  I'd like in this post to look more at reasons for using ICT-based activities for writing skills, and suggest some activities that could work on a VLE such as Nfomedia (which is free!).

So, why are ICT tools and online writing good for students?

1.  ICT-based reasons.

  • Students need to be familiar with basic internet tasks in English – logging in and out, completing web forms, reading and replying to short messages, and using web etiquette.  (OK, so most students will already be extremely familiar with this, but by no means all!)
  • The configuration of UK keyboards is different – for example the @ key is in a different place from European keyboards.  And of course, many students will also be used to keyboard configurations for completely different alphabets.
  • If students aim to use their English in a professional environment, they are likely to be using a computer; hunt-and-peck typing is rarely going to be acceptable.
  • Many exams are now computer based, and this will become even more common in future.

2.  Language reasons

  • Practising punctuation and capitalisation – most students make more errors in these when they use a computer compared to writing by hand, so it's important for them to practise.
  • Writing styles and registers – we tend to use computers both for our most formal and most informal writing – academic essays, professional documents, or social networking.  Writing on a keyboard can actually change the way you write so it’s important to get used to it.
  • Planning and revising – copy, paste and delete make this so much easier than on paper.

3.  Social reasons

  • It looks smart – typing doesn’t penalise students with messy handwriting. (Although that’s not to say they shouldn’t be trying to improve that too!)
  • Having an audience for their work motivates students to write to a higher standard.
  • Students can review and respond to each other’s work easily.

What kinds of activities can be done with a VLE to improve writing and language skills, and encourage collaboration between students?

  • Quizzes and q&a – the first post on a message board from each student or group contains the questions, another group replies with the answers.
  • Collaborative storytelling – first post is the opening paragraph of the story, everyone posts continuations, then vote on the best ending.
  • Typed dictation – students are in pairs, one typing, the other dictating a short text to them.  They swap places and the partner responds with corrections, then they swap roles.
  • Homophone dictation – the teacher dictates a text with a lot of homophones while students type.
  • Webquests – groups of students write answers on the VLE as they go, and finish by planning and composing a longer written piece, eg a proposal, report or letter based on what the whole group learned.
  • Proofreading – the teacher starts a message with a text that has many errors, then the students compete to produce the best possible corrected version.
  • Text register / paraphrasing activities – students rewrite a short text to make it more or less formal, or to practise paraphrasing.
  • Free practice – maybe the simplest.  Students write a paragraph or group of sentences using grammar or vocabulary they have learnt that lesson.  Another student then reviews and suggests corrections.
  • Guess who – students research and write a short text about a famous person without revealing their name, then other students have to guess the identity.
  • Silent movie – teacher links to a Youtube video in a message, students watch it without sound, and write dialogue for it, then read all the entries and vote for the best.
  • Picture description - students find a picture online and write a description of it, another student then reads it and tries to draw the picture (on paper).
And many more!

Image made with BigHugeLabs Mosaic Maker using photos taken from by @aClilToClimb, @sandymillin (x2), @pysproblem81, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

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