Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Teaching Writing with Global Intermediate: an analysis of the features of its writing activities

Here is another coursebook recommendation report, this time written by Lucas Gontijo Silva, for the course Writing for Teachers. Do you agree with him?

1.   Introduction

Global Intermediate is the coursebook currently used in the second part of the intermediate course at Casa Thomas Jefferson, Brasília, DF. The book is filled with activities that focus on all four skills of language competence: listening, reading, speaking and writing. However, when we carefully analyse and test its use on a regular basis, we are able to confirm that some activities fall short: the ones that focus on writing.

Although the book provides extra writing lessons (pp 16, 28, 40, 52, 64, 76, 88, 100, 112 and 124), it still does not equip students with the necessary material to help them work on their writing skills within the regular lessons carried out in the course. The intermediate course at Casa Thomas Jefferson does not include those pages on its syllabus. As a result, the coursebook in question cannot be sufficient in order to meet the needs of a skills-based course that also has to focus on writing.

Effective and fruitful writing activities can be recognized in a coursebook that is meaningful for the students who make use of it, a coursebook that is genre-based, a coursebook that provides them with scaffolding and planning for writing, a coursebook that contains good models and authentic texts, and a coursebook that is furnished with follow-up activities.

2.   Background

The intermediate Course at Casa Thomas Jefferson is mostly an environment for young students that range from the age of 13 to the age of 17. The students at issue are characterized by having quite an amount of school load and some extracurricular activities. They usually demonstrate more facility with the passive skills, i.e. reading and listening. However, some of them also struggle with those skills, besides speaking and writing. They are also at a stage in which they are still forming social and academic competencies, such as punctuality, responsibility and respect. Because of that, teachers commonly have to deal with homework neglection and deviant behaviour.

Taking this audience into account, writing activities must be able to catch students’ interest and prove their relevance and immediate applicability to the students’ lives. As follows, I will point out specific criteria that should be considered while examining the quality of the writing activities of a coursebook and will also analyse Global Intermediate in view of it.

3.   Literature Review

Many things must be considered when we think of what makes a language teaching course good and effective. When it comes to teaching writing, there are mainly five aspects that should be considered in an EFL skills-based course: whether the approach is genre-based, the use of scaffolding, the use of follow-up activities, the presence and usage of good modelling and, finally, whether writing is meaningful and relevant to the students.

A.  An approach to genres in writing

A genre-based approach to teaching writing is essential in order to create language awareness in our students. As Reppen states (2002), after analysing different types of texts and their distinct characteristics, students are able to thrive as writers, assess their own pieces of writing, and engage in peer-feedback more productively. According to her (p. 323), through genre-guided activities, students manage to see different texts from different perspectives, taking the writers’ purposes and the readers’ needs into account.

B.  Scaffolding

Hyland (2007) affirms that scaffolding directly relates to interaction between peers, which enables them to grasp the activities better. As claimed by him (p. 158), as students interact and discuss the topic through scaffolding, they develop an independence from their teacher’s “direct instruction”. Widdowson (1978) also expresses the great value of scaffolding by describing it as a “gradual approximation”. Students, therefore, become better writers when they are “actively encouraged to follow through a series of preparatory steps” (Scrivener, 1994, p. 157) producing then the final piece of writing.

C.  Follow-up

Another important aspect about teaching writing is the implementation of follow-up activities, that is, those that are done after the students have produced their pieces of writing. The writing process is not finished, and the students are encouraged to evaluate each other’s texts. Seow (2002) affirms that that strategy is a means to stimulate a sense of responsibility in them.

D.  Meaningful writing

Hyland (2007) also explains that the genre approach helps teachers plan their classes around themes or like real-life activities. Writing in order to specifically do or achieve something is what raises students’ interest and makes them see a meaningful purpose in writing. As maintained by the professor, this approach helps students learn beyond mere abilities and competencies; it makes them assimilate contextual and social elements that involve one specific genre.

E.  Modelling

Finally, the use of good models and authentic material is another extremely important aspect in teaching writing. Students benefit from being exposed to real texts and from having authentic models that inspire and encourage them to engage in writing. According to Al Azri and Al-Rashdi (2014), authentic texts “expose students to real language”, “meet learners’ needs”, “affect learners’ motivation positively” and “present authentic information about culture”, amongst other reasons.


All the literature mentioned above concurs in regarding writing highly and seeing it as a fundamental part of a language course. The various elements that are necessary to compound high-quality teaching or determine a great coursebook can be easily identified when it comes to writing. Such elements must be avidly pursued in order to encourage and uphold a good practice of the teaching of writing.

4.   Analysis of Data

When we bear in mind a skills-based course, we cannot overlook the skill of writing. Successful writing relies on the fulfillment of certain criteria. Coursebooks must be carefully analysed and questioned according to these criteria so that we make sure that their use concerning writing is effective and productive in a language course.

A.  Meaningful material

The age group that uses the book and the interests that surround students’ lives should be taken into account when taking a close look at the coursebook. Global Intermediate has, therefore, proven to be a book directed towards an older audience. Many teachers at the school have stated that when they go through some lessons, such as Unit 3, part 2 and Unit 5, part 2, the students tend to react in the same way, with lack of enthusiasm and boredom. This is so because young teenagers do not naturally have interest in energy sources or government collocations (the central topics of the lessons mentioned above). When it comes to the writing activities, this reality aggravates the problem, since students do not have a sufficient stimulus to engage in the writing tasks. Assignments such as writing a comment on an online science magazine can be difficult and uninteresting for students at that age.

B.  Genre-based material

Another aspect that should be appraised is whether the coursebook makes use of genre-oriented tasks. Whether the activities within the lessons provide students with contextualized tasks in which they can see the purpose of writing is extremely important. When students are told to write solely to improve their writing skills, the activity has an end in itself and becomes pointless from their perspective. There has to be a purpose in writing that relates directly to students’ lives and interests, and genre-based writing lessons are those which deliver the context and the sense of reality that students need.

The writing tasks in Global Intermediate, however, do not comprehend this strategy. The lesson tasks usually involve forming questions, writing lists or a general comment or paragraph about something. That means that students are not guided on how to write authentic texts that are used in specific contexts.

C.  Scaffolding and Planning

Good writing lessons also include scaffolding and planning. In other words, the lessons have to naturally welcome students into the writing task, rather than surprise them with an assignment that they are not ready to do. The activities must be conducted in a way that the students are gradually prepared for the assignment, and that is why instructions regarding planning must also be part of the lesson.

Unfortunately, the lessons in Global Intermediate do not bring scaffolding and planning strategies before the writing tasks. The instructions just usually tell students to write a piece of writing after they have discussed something that relates to the lesson, which is not the necessary process that students have to go through so as to produce a text with quality. Good scaffolding involves guiding students with regard to the context, the purpose, the content and the form of the text, to put it briefly. Also, the students are not given any orientation concerning outlining, map-minding or other planning strategies.

D.  Modelling with authentic texts

Since the writing tasks mostly orientate students to write a comment or a paragraph, a lack of modelling with authentic texts can be spotted in Global Intermediate as well. Although students are provided with catchy images and appealing layouts in the reading activities that usually precede the ones on writing, they still do not have great models for their own pieces of writing (predominantly comments and paragraphs). After having read texts that somehow relate to the lessons, the students are not encouraged to produce something similar to the only model that has been given in the lesson.

E.  Follow-up Activities

Finally, an effective coursebook that helps students work on their writing skills must contain at least one effectual follow-up activity through which pupils can give and get valuable peer-feedback. That is so because, otherwise, the writing section of coursebooks will always end up becoming homework assignments or assessments and students will never have the chance to actually exchange knowledge and ideas with their peers. The activities that focus on writing need to be made an essential part of the course and must be regarded by teachers and students as highly as the others that emphasize different skills. The writing activities within the lessons in Global Intermediate only instruct students to read their compositions to each other and then say whether they agree with their peers. That is not enough for the aim of developing students’ writing skills and language awareness.

5.   Outcomes

Although Global Intermediate does have a section entirely dedicated to writing after each unit, it does not have writing activities within the lessons. Since the course carried out at Casa Thomas Jefferson does not include such sections, it does not provide students with effective and productive activities concerning the skill of writing. It definitely lacks high-quality scaffolding and planning exercises, as well as follow-up activities. It also does not contain meaningful and appealing writing tasks when we consider the specific audience that makes use of it. Finally, modelling and authentic texts are not always present as well, which makes the students confused and unprepared to produce the pieces of writing that are suggested through the lessons.

Therefore, looking only and closely at its writing activities, I recommend the discontinuation of Global Intermediate as the coursebook for the intermediate course at Casa Thomas Jefferson.


Al Azri, R. and Al-Rashdi, M. (2014). The Effect of Using Authentic Materials in Teaching. International Journal of Science and Technology Research, 3(10), pp. 249-254.

Hyland, Ken. (2007) Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16, 148–164

Reppen, R. (2002). A Genre-Based Approach to Content Writing Instruction. In J. Richards & W. Renandya (Eds.). Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice (pp. 321-327). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scrivener, Jim. (1994). Learning Teaching. The Teacher Development Series Editor: Adrian Underhill. Oxford, UK: Heinemann.

Seow, A. (2002). The writing process and process writing. In J. C. Richards & W. A. Renandya (Eds.). Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice (pp. 315-320). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Widdowson, H. (1978). Teaching language as communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Recommendation Report

In the course Writing for Teachers, participants had to write a report recommending the continuation or discontinuation of a course book based on its writing curriculum. They had to base their recommendation on theoretical references. Here is what Leandro Camargo wrote about the course book Time Zones, used in our Teens Course.  


Like many other EFL schools in Brazil, Casa Thomas Jefferson’s academic staff seeks updated books. In the Teens course, we have Time Zones course books and, to avoid problems with student’s engagement in writing activities, a revision should be done. When asked for feedback, some teachers mentioned that many adaptations were needed in order to make writing assignments more attractive to students. This issue has to be addressed so that students can have a better experience in writing exercises and eventually improve their skills.

Currently, as mentioned by the teachers, a low percentage of the students enjoy the writing activities. This needs to change so teachers can achieve their goals of making writing assignments enjoyable for both. Strategies could be implemented to increase enjoyment of writing activities, since they are just as important as the others.

Writing is an important part of any English course and poor writing can cause academic consequences. Students who don’t have good writing skills or don’t enjoy doing writing usually end the course with lack of writing ability. Consequently, these students will miss out very important opportunities in their academic lives. Changes in the writing program for the Teens course at Casa Thomas Jefferson are needed, and the following report is intended to propose ideas for improvement and continuity of the writing program.

Literature Review

Learning how to write in a second language has always been difficult and challenging for students. Planning, revising, rearranging and deleting, producing multiple drafts are just some of the tools for the writing exercise. “Over the years, different approaches have been introduced in the language classroom, yet it is the process approach that became known in the 1970s that has had the most favorable influence” (Macarthur, Graham and Fitzgerald, in Alves, 2011; 2). This approach considers all writings as a creative act that requires positive feedback with the intervention of the teacher to be well done.

Process writing is a common technique to teach writing that gives emphasis to creativity, and which pays attention to the development of writing practices instead of imitation (Tribble in Alves, 2011; 3). In this process, the teacher moves away from being someone who sets students a writing topic and corrects a finished product without any intervention. Teaching and learning happens during the whole process.

A writer must know how to organize his/her thoughts and messages in an appropriate way. Most students don´t know what they want to write and many ideas are only revealed when they start writing. Revision, changes of words and structure are made until writers are satisfied with the result. Since writing is a process of ‘generating, formulating and revising ideas’ (Zame in Alves, 2008; 6), attention and adequate time have to be provided for revision and re-writing, while teachers help throughout the process.

 Process writing can be divided into three main stages: pre-writing, focusing ideas and evaluating, structuring, and editing. Pre-writing is the stage in which the teacher needs to stimulate student’s creativity through well scaffolded activities, to get them thinking how to approach a writing topic. The flow of ideas is more important than the production of any written work. Among others, a good example of pre-writing activity is the use of brainstorming, considering the complexity of writing and how generating ideas is an essential stage (White and Arndt in Alves, 2008; 7).

After the pre-writing stage, students write the first draft without much attention to the accuracy of their work. White and Arndt, and Hedge (in Alves, 2008; 10) suggest the technique of fast-writing. In this stage, the most important feature is meaning: Is it good? Is there anything missing? Should I add anything else?

Editing is one of the most important stages in the writing process because it´s   where a lot of learning happens. This stage also helps students in future writings, once they have the opportunity to receive feedback. Revising, besides being an important source of learning, is part of the writing process that involves assessing what has already been produced (Hedge in Alves, 2008; 11).

Writing isn't an easy task, and so it is only fair that anybody´s writing is responded to suitability. It is important to give positive feedback to help build student confidence and create good feelings for the next writing.

Since writing is a difficult exercise, students need to write over and over to become good writers. They need the opportunity to practice various types and functions of writing to develop skills, and build competence, confidence and progress toward independence.

All the stages in process writing will encourage students to try. Students will not be judged or exposed because they will have an opportunity to revise and improve before being evaluated. Practice, well planned stages, and well scaffolded pre-writing activities may change students’ lack of enjoyment towards the writing exercise.


For this report, I shared practical knowledge with teachers at Casa to get an idea of what they have been experiencing and doing to increase their student’s enjoyment of writing assignments. I also researched relevant articles on the process writing approach. These articles outline several features to teach better writing lessons in the language classroom.

Causes of low enjoyment of writing lessons

Teachers in general agree that writing is an all too common problem for an English as a Foreign or Second Language school. This can be so due to many causes; from unsupportive schools and teachers to the lack of skill of the students. Also, the absence of interest from the students due to poor pre-writing and not well scaffolded activities are listed as top reasons for the boredom in the writing classes.

Some teachers also agree that if a student is not being successful in his/her writings, then they are less likely to want to hand in the assignments. In short, all of the teachers agree that low quality models of writing and lack of genre awareness are major reasons for students not to do well in writing lessons, especially younger students, once they have special needs.

Effective writing lessons

As the main goal is a better writing program and ideas for increasing student enjoyment, one of the two most frequently mentioned things by teachers are teaching students basic writing patterns and having effective and meaningful pre-writing lessons.

An effective pre-writing class consists of generating ideas and planning. Great tools for that are, for instance, the use of well scaffolded activities including videos, writing samples and mind maps. The writing activities in the Teens course books used at The Casa Thomas Jefferson have just a few of the features suggested. When students are asked to write something, they have no idea how to do it. Activities like these are not only feasible, but also essential for students to become familiar with in order to select the appropriate kind of writing, using them in specific situations, along with the appropriate vocabulary, research, process and purpose.

In addition to improving pre-writing lessons, it is the responsibility of the teachers to motivate students to write and make them aware of the importance of producing good compositions. Creating effective activities that are reviewed and renewed regularly and establishing a writing routine with students are very important stepping stones for improving the Teens course writing program. All in all, as Time Zones is a good book, I recommend its continuation provided that changes are made in the writing activities.  


In conclusion, the findings based on teachers’ experience come to an agreement that the book should still be used for the Teens course due to its other features. Effective writing activities and lessons are very important to help students develop their abilities. Once the book being used at the moment doesn’t present well planned pre-writing exercises, it now becomes the teacher's responsibility to plan and share activities with other teachers.  The following topics are important factors in increasing students’ enjoyment of writing lessons: effective and meaningful writing lessons and the role of teachers as facilitators and motivators, so students can learn and enjoy this activity.


Kroll, B. (1990) Second Language Writing: Research insights for the classroom Cambridge University Press.

H. Douglas Brown. (1994) Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. Paramount Communications Company.

Alves, Reis Ana. Process writing. University of Birmingham: 2008. (Masters degree assignment) Available at: Accessed on July 3, 2017.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Teens 6 Magazine Project

Making writing exciting

Whenever I get to a writing lesson, I picture my students complaining and moaning about having to write anything. It’s almost as if they had a radar that indicated “boring activity ahead”. These are, thus, the lessons that intrigue me the most just for the challenge of changing that regular pattern.

DSC06109.JPGTo do so, I am always reflecting on how relevant and interesting the writing can be for my young teenage students. The formula is not so hard: just take the genre of the piece of writing into account and think about how it could be applied to their realities. That is basically what I did for my Teens 6 group. Writing news reports was the goal, so I decided to take my students from the role of students to the role of reporters.

The students were obviously excited with the idea of becoming reporters and writing a story. The idea was that they would gather in pairs or trios and would each be assigned a certain page of our class magazine. Once I had a Google slide template of the magazine prepared and ready to be accessed through a shortened link (, I instructed my students and took them to the Resource Centre to make it happen.

DSC06129.JPGI had to do it in two classes. The first attempt wasn’t so good because some of my students messed around and interfered in other students’ slides. In the following class, I told them off and told them that they would be given a last chance to finish their reports. I also said that those who didn’t finish would have their pages taken out of the magazine. That gave them some encouragement. On the second day, then, they worked a lot better and behaved as expected.

After joining forces with the Resource Centre at the Main Branch, the magazine was printed out and the students were able to have their own copies. The gleam in my students’ eyes when they saw the magazines I had brought paid off all the effort and struggle I described in the previous paragraph.

Maybe a magazine project cannot be carried out every semester, but something we can definitely do is plan our lessons every day wondering whether they will bore our students or excite them. Bearing that in mind and having some deal of willingness, we will be able to come up with many other ideas that can surprise our students and make a difference in their lives.

Lucas G. Silva

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TESOL 2015 - Writing Teaching

I had the honor of being invited to take part in the panel “Crossing Borders, Building Bridges: Second Language Writing in Global Contexts” at TESOL 2015 in Toronto, CA. The presenters shared their experiences in Second Language Writing (SLW) practice and research in global contexts including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. The presenters discussed best practices in SLW pedagogy and research projects that are influenced by contextual factors such as medium of instruction, culture, and politics. Below I share a transcript of my talk.

Many thanks to Lúcia Santos, Isabela Villas Boas, Denise De Felice and Vânia Rodrigues for this wonderful opportunity of sharing the hard work we do at the Casa.


I have been at Casa Thomas Jefferson for fifteen years, the last five of which working as Advanced Course Supervisor. Let me briefly describe my context to provide you with some background information that will, hopefully, help you better understand the scope and nature of our work in the teaching of writing, as well as the challenges we face in our educational context.

Casa Thomas Jefferson is a language institute, which, for the past 51 years, has specialized in teaching English as a foreign language. We currently have a little over 17 thousand students, distributed among 6 different campuses, 10 outposts in private K through 12 grade schools, and a select number of corporate courses  in Brasília. Our students have English classes with us twice a week, which amount to a total of approximately 4 hours a week. We are an extra-curricular program, and a large number of our students begin studying with us from as early as 4 years of age, staying with us until they become young adults, teenagers ranging from 16 to 18 years of age. Therefore, the bulk of our student population are youngsters, some of whose parents have been our students in the past, so we do have a reputation of excellence and tradition in teaching English, which we strive to uphold every day.

The teenagers who have been with us since their early years graduate from our Advanced Course, the course which I oversee; these students speak fluent English, and achieve a very respectable command of the language in terms of structure and vocabulary. They can understand spoken and written English, as well as produce the language with a dependable degree of accuracy and fluency both in oral and in written form. That is a result of our skills-based approach to teaching English, adopting communicative methodologies that are informed by highly regarded, pedagogical practices, such as those informed by social-constructivist principles. Another key feature of our methodology is that our classes are taught in English, since we have a strong English-only-environment policy in our classroom.

We adopt coursebooks in all of our courses, which we choose via a comprehensive book analysis process in which teachers, as well as other members of the school Coordination, evaluate and critique several coursebook series before we make a final choice and adopt one specific series. We are, however, very particular about how we need to adapt whatever material adopted to best suit our own context and our students' needs. That is actually one of the major sources of impetus for the ongoing professional development that takes place at the Casa. Course Supervisors, such as myself, are responsible, among other things, for assessing the success in the adaptation process and spotting opportunities for improvement and development, which result in training for our teachers.

So, as you can see, the work has really only just begun when a new coursebook is adopted. And, traditionally, one of the major components of our courses which require lots of adaptation and personalization is exactly the teaching of writing.


Let me now go into the writing teaching methodology we adopt at the Casa. As mentioned before, we adopt a skills-based approach to teaching English. Therefore, writing is one of other skills that we want our students to develop in English. From beginner levels, our students already start producing short texts, and are exposed to tasks which will foster an experience in writing as a process which not only involves linguistic knowledge but also planning and drafting skills. In other words, we expose our students early on to practices informed by the belief that writing is a sociocognitive process, recursive and non-linear in its creative nature, and the very expression of one's voice.

By the time our students reach the Advanced levels, they have developed a repertoire of basic writing skills, as well as some writing metalanguage. They have also been introduced to the concepts of audience and purpose, with some experience with different genres. They have worked with drafts, receiving feedback on their writing by means of comments addressing content, style and organization, as well as indications of linguistic improvements by means of proofreading symbols used by teachers.

In the Advanced levels, our students, who are mostly teenagers going to high school, are asked to focus on a specific genre, namely the academic essay, which they are required to master both for language proficiency and college entrance exams.


I would now like to focus on some of the distinguishing features of the Writing Program we develop in the Advanced Course. Our Advanced Course is made up of four semesters. The first two, corresponding to the upper-intermediate level, are critical for the success of the writing program developed during the last two semesters, which correspond to an advanced level of English.

During the first semester of the upper-intermediate levels, students' writing goals are to consolidate and master the writing of paragraphs, following the linguistic and organizational requirements of body paragraphs in academic essays. Now, once they go on to their second semester in upper-intermediate, they will gradually expand on their previous knowledge to learn how to structure a full essay, containing an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion. They acquire some basic training and knowledge of the overall requirements of a well-structured essay before going into the advanced levels in the next two semesters.

Once they get to their third semester in the Advanced Course, they'll get plenty of practice in the four-paragraph academic essay. They will be provided with practice in a variety of writing strategies, producing expository and argumentative essays, for example. In other words, they are learning a specific rhetoric and genre that will benefit their writing skills in and outside of our English classroom.

At this point, it's appropriate that I mention another aspect of our educational context. In Brazil, they way our teenagers are taught Composition in their K through 12 schools, more specifically in grades 10 through 12, is fundamentally different from the experience with Composition they have with us at the Casa. A vast majority of Composition teachers in Brazilian high schools adopt a product-oriented approach, where writing teaching means correcting students' mistakes and grading essays against college entrance exams parameters. There is emphasis on neither the cognitive nor the social dimension of the writing process, which relegates writing to being an end-product, resulting from the mechanical replication of models, which is ultimately a score on a life-changing exam for these teenagers, the one that will get them into a good university as soon as they leave high school.

Back to our English teaching context, in the Advanced Course, teachers are required to use a set of writing worksheets which will serve as the basis for their pre-writing lessons. The writing topics are adapted so as to become appealing to our teenagers, and are chosen in order to fit the subject-matter explored in their coursebook units. Students are assigned their writings at the end of a unit, after they have had plenty of opportunities to explore a given topic. In the case of the Advanced Course, pre-writing lessons are preceded by a Reading lesson, which will serve as an entry point to the required writing for the unit.

Now, keeping in mind that we have approximately 100 teachers working with a population of a little over 2000 Advanced students, we need to adopt instruments that will ensure the quality of every lesson, be it a pre-writing, or any other type of lesson. So, we try to select and adapt topics that we believe will entice our teenagers, stimulating their creativity and willingness to voice their opinions and feelings. We also adopt the use of writing scoring rubrics to try to minimize subjectivity in the feedback process, as well as to provide students with a set of clear expectations for their work. Our students need to know how their writing will be assessed by their teachers.

A pre-writing lesson will typically contain the following stages: think about and discuss the writing topic, brainstorm content, outline ideas, study and analyze a model and focus on specific language strategies to convey meaning. Once students have had their pre-writing lesson, they produce their 1st drafts, on which they'll get feedback from their teachers regarding several aspects of their writing: content (their ideas), text (organization, genre, style), and language (grammatical accuracy and word choice). Students may also get feedback from peers and from one-on-one conferences with their teachers. They are then asked to produce their final drafts, whose grade will be considered for evaluation purposes, together with the other grades they have as part of our course.

We have also been adopting a Portfolio approach, in which students are encouraged to reflect on their overall development through the semesters as Casa Advanced students. One of the strategies we want our students to learn with the collection of a portfolio is to identify areas for improvement and establish goals for future assignments.

Now, the use of portfolios in the Advanced Course presents challenges. Brazilian students, coming from the background they have in their K-12 school culture, do not seem to value their own writings. That is understandable, given the mechanical production of essays for college entrance exam prep. By implementing writing portfolios, we are trying to foster a sense of value regarding writing as a means of personal expression.

Another challenge we face is a certain level of resistance to adopting peer revision, which I personally believe to be a natural fit to a portfolio approach and a writing teaching pedagogy based on socio-constructivist principles of learning.

Another challenge worth mentioning has to do with time constraints and teachers' workload. It is no easy task for teachers to do the necessary planning and keep up with the drafting process, providing the necessary support and the high quality feedback our students need to succeed. One major adaptation we've had to implement is that of bringing the number of drafts from three to only two. That means that teachers now provide feedback on content, organization, as well as language use upon correcting students' 1st drafts. Teachers are also instructed to grade 1st drafts so that, should a student fail to produce a final draft, that student already has a grade for his writing work, even if he or she do not follow through with the entire drafting process.

To the effect of tackling those issues involving time constraints and handling logistics (turning in assignments and providing feedback in a timely manner), we have started experimenting with a digital alternative to the physical portfolios. We are experimenting with the affordances of Google Classroom for the development of our Advanced Writing program. We are still in a piloting stage, having invited a small group of about ten teachers who were eager to try out this new tool with their Advanced students. We hope that, by making the handling of logistics simpler and paperless, students and teachers might find ways of managing the process more rapidly and more conveniently. And of course, that is not to mention other possibilities of sharing content, communicating, and classroom flipping that we have just begun exploring with this tool. Digital portfolios and the possibility of showcasing students' writings to a real audience online are what's next for our students' writings.

I'd like to share a quote by Professor Ken Hyland in his book Second Language Writing, which I feel synthesizes our efforts towards an effective writing teaching pedagogy:

"In practice this (an effective methodology for L2 writing teaching) means a synthesis to ensure that learners have an adequate understanding of the processes of text creation; the purposes of writing and how to express these in effective ways through formal and rhetorical text choices; and the contexts within which texts are composed and read and which give them meaning."

We choose to teach writing the way we do because we believe that effective, communicative writing can and should be taught to our English learners. We believe that the very development of their writing skills directly impacts their cognitive and expressive abilities, empowering our teenagers as they exercise and get to know their own voices.

Clarissa Bezerra


HYLAND, Ken. Second Language Writing. Cambridge Language Education series (Editor: Jack C. Richards) Cambridge University Press, 2003.

VILLAS BOAS, I. F. Stepping Stones for Successful Writing. In: VI Seminário de Línguas Estrangeiras da Universidade Federal de Goiás, 2006, Goiânia. Anais do VI Seminário de Línguas Estrangeiras - UFG, 2006. p. 453-464

VILLAS BOAS, I. F. Process Writing in a Product-Oriented Context: Challenges and Possibilities. Article based on part of the Doctoral Dissertation entitled A Contribuição do Processo de Ensino-Aprendizagem de Produção Textual em Língua Inglesa para o Letramento do Aluno,  presented at the School of Education, Universidade de Brasília, 2008. In: RBLA, Belo Horizonte, v.14, n.2, p. 463-490, 2014.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Google Classroom - The New Classroom

In the first semester of 2014, Casa Thomas Jefferson gained access to Google Apps For Education (GAFE). In August, 2014, Google released the Classroom App as part of GAFE, and so our journey began. 

In the month following this release, we started phase 1 of our New Classroom project. With the help and support of our EdTech Department Head, Carla Arena, and her team, we began using Classroom in two of our Advanced Course groups. We decided we would have our Advanced Course teenagers use it to write their compositions throughout the semester. Once the semester came to a close, we sat together and shared our experiences. We decided it was worth continuing the project the following semester, so we thought about getting more teachers involved and using Classroom. 

Phase 2 of our New Classroom project has been named 'Classroom Gurus' project. One of our goals for this next stage is to create and strengthen a core group of teachers who will become multipliers of the knowledge and skills they will acquire during their engagement with their students, using Google Classroom to optimize the writing process that Advanced students engage in throughout the semester. 
Our first Classroom Gurus meeting

A group of fourteen teachers were invited to join the project this semester, and just yesterday we had the chance of sitting together for a couple of hours to launch phase 2 and get the "Classroom Gurus" inspired and motivated with the project. Our main goal was for them to get a feel for the platform, the new possibilities, the challenges and opportunities ahead through a change to a paper-free paradigm for the compositions students write in the semester with a focus on feedback rather than on the bureaucratic aspects of the writing process, as now this is going to be taken care by Google Classroom. In the platform, much of the back and forth of papers are automatically handled by the system with the automatized creation of students´ papers in Google Docs and the creation of folders for each assignment.

Here are the teachers´ first impressions:

It is a brave new world ahead where we know adjustments, failure and new learning will take place as we move forward. We feel, though,  that it is time to experiment and move on. Another point of the project is to value the human resources we so highly consider in our Institution, Casa Thomas Jefferson. We have a very potent humanware, educators who are ready for the edgy jump into pedagogical innovations when they are recognized, treasured and supported in new edtech endeavors.

Last but not least, there´s the learner spectrum. By promoting a new type of process not only are we reaching them in different ways, but also helping them enhance their own digital literacies that will be so essentially demanded from them in their educational and professional contexts. We, as an educational institution, feel responsible for students´ success in their language learning and life in general.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Seven Basic Steps to Write a Good Essay

Have you ever asked yourself why it is so difficult to make students interested in writing? Don’t you sometimes feel demotivated by the boredom you see on students’ faces when you announce a new writing task? So, why is it that students never seem to be in the mood for writing? If you ask them, you may get several different reasons, which will vary from the most vague ones to a few honest answers. In fact, quite a few may be related to the fact that students may not really know how to write and essay: how to plan it, how to start it, and what steps to follow. Therefore, take some time to show them how the work should be done. It is a matter of showing them that they can do it right. So have your students bear in mind that when it comes to writing an essay, seven basic steps will allow them to achieve the best outcome.

First of all, choose a topic you feel like writing about and brainstorm on it. What do you know about the subject you have chosen and its relevance to your audience? Make sure your choice is related to a subject which you are familiar with. The more you know about your topic, the better your essay will be. So, be assertive. Your readers need to trust you and to believe in what you write. In short, they need to feel like reading your text.
Secondly, designing an outline will help you make sure your text has unit and coherence. Don’t start writing your essay before you have ordered the principles of your text. Ask yourself what kind of essay it is going to be. Think of an effective thesis statement for your introduction, and also a topic sentence for each body paragraph. After that, make sure you have enough ideas, examples and facts to support your topic sentences, and come up with a good way of concluding your text. By organizing your ideas before writing your text you will more successfully tend to follow your original thoughts and the principles of your essay.
Also, make sure you share your piece of writing with a classmate. Revising your own text may be tricky. Even though it is imperative that you read your text a few times before posting, publishing, or turning it in to your teacher, having someone else read it will provide you with impartial feedback. Having your work read by a peer may allow you to see details you miss as you write your first draft.
Finally, you should always revise your text in detail and proofread your second draft. After you’ve had a peer read your essay and give you feedback on it, you are cleared to give it a second look and do your best to fix and enrich it. That’s the moment at which you should consider the suggestions given and improve your production. Writing a new version of your essay will have you check whether you have succeeded in being clear and making your point.

As you have seen, writing an effective essay takes nothing more than 7 simple steps to be followed. In brief, think before you write, organize your ideas and reasoning, and ask for a second opinion on it. In other words, just stick to the recipe and add your talent to it. So choose a topic you are familiar with and that you know in detail, and believe you are able to do it.