Designing L2 Writing Tasks

Pre-Writing

Pre-writing tasks review and build students' knowledge of relevant vocabulary, relevant grammar points and, most importantly, students' background knowledge, since that is what really generates thoughtful and interesting written work. Pre-writing tasks are a crucial element of successful writing instruction.

Watch the video clip and take notes on areas of language and sub-skills pre-writing activities should build.

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A discussion of the sub-skills needed to write a description of one's winter break.

Duration: 02:15

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Pre-writing activities may take many different forms. Here we review a few effective ways to get the writing process started: associograms, prompts, interviews, and reading/listening activities.

Associograms

An associogram is a collection of lexical items and/or ideas that relate to a topic.

Play

The instructor models the generation of an associogram.

Duration: 01:42

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Language learners in a third year German class generate an associogram.

Duration: 03:33

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Prompts

A well chosen picture or song can foster the learner's creativity. A few questions in addition to the picture can really help ideas flow.

Written prompts can help students hypothesize what is going on in the picture and generate interesting content. These prompts can be provided by the instructor or generated through brainstorming by the students. They can follow the Five Ws and the H from journalism: who, what, when, where, why and how):

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The potential uses of prompts for guiding the writing process.

Duration: 01:58

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Interviews

Interviews can serve to generate ideas for writing and move learners beyond their own experiences. It usually works best when some of the questions (using the 5 Ws and 1 H) are unexpected or "hook" students' interests.

Before you watch the video, make a quick list of a few potential problems associated with using interviews and also several positive outcomes of interview type activities as a pre-writing activity.

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A discussion of the use of interview questions for generating ideas for L2 writing.

Duration: 01:46

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Responding to Texts

When language learners respond to texts, whether written or oral, they can learn new vocabulary, expressions, grammatical structures, and valuable pragmatic information (e.g., how to structure an e-mail, a movie review, etc.).

Below is an example of a reading-based pre-writing activity that leads to students writing their own greeting cards. The questions accompanying this model birthday card should lead the students to notice relevant expressions, rhetorical structure, grammar, content, greetings, etc.

Postcard with handwritten German text

Translation: Dear Kilian! Greetings from Grandma and Grandpa from Germany. And naturally also from Sandrin. We wish you a lot of fun with reading! Lots (Thousands) of kisses from Germany! We love you! Grandma, Grandpa and Sandrin.