Delta LSA Writing

This is my Delta LSA on writing. This was my external assignment. I got a pass. I am sharing it with you so you can get an idea of what a writing LSA could look like. Please do not copy anything from my assignment. Plagiarism is not taken lightly and Cambridge has zero tolerance of it.

There are a few problems with the formatting/font due to the fact that this post is a copy paste of a word document.

  1. Introduction

My teaching experience has shown me that helping learners to become good writers can be quite challenging. At an intermediate level, when their grammar and lexis become richer, producing texts that are well written is quite hard. In fact, at this level they also become familiar with different genres, register and tone, making writing texts more difficult for my students.

Writing emails may be an everyday task for some of my learners and semi-formal emails is a common genre in their course books. In this assignment, I zero in on helping my learners improve their writing of semi-formal emails (booking a hotel via mail) which can be transferred to their real needs as they may need to contact a hotel and reserve a room. It is also a genre that has distinct features like formulaic expressions, the layout is different, structures used can be more demanding (e.g indirect questions).   In fact, semi-formal emails can be quite tricky as they share features of formal and informal emails so distinguishing the differences is integral (see section 2 on learner problems).

 “Fundamentally, writing is learned rather than taught, and the teacher’s best methods are flexibility and support” (Hyland 2002, p.78) which is why it is imperative that I train my learners to activate and use writing strategies (see section 1.3) necessary for effective writing whilst encouraging their efforts. All the above are reasons why I chose to write the paper.

  1. Literary review

1.1. Two productive skills: Writing versus speaking

Speaking and writing share common features but there are many differences. In order to understand writing, methodologists often compare writing to speaking.

Speech·         more hesitations, interruptions and self- corrections·         no spelling and punctuation conventions·         relies on gesture and paralanguage

·         concrete, fragmented, informal and context-dependent

·         characterized by turn-taking

Writing·         more subordination and passives·         longer sentences·         more explicit coding of logical relations

·         less modal modification

·         structurally elaborate, complex, abstract and formal

·         characterised by monologue

Street 1995, cited in Hyland, 2002-exact copy of table

Such a dichotomy neglects distinct differences of spoken and written genres. Biber (1999, cited in Hyland, 2002 p. 50) found that features like the present tense, deletions which are characteristics of spoken speech are also found in written genres like narratives and personal letters. On the other hand, elaborated references like relative clauses, which frequently occur in written text, are also prominent in interviews and public speeches (spoken genres) ibid. Therefore, Hyland (2002, p.51) concludes that, ”these descriptions require more delicate, more socially informed, and more  genre-sensitive frameworks than simple comparisons between exposition and conversation allow”.

1.2. How we write

No matter what someone is writing whether it is an email reserving a room or a shopping list, it is done in the following way; people plan, draft, edit and then provide a final draft. Sometimes someone may re-draft or re-edit and the time spent may vary from almost no time to even days (process wheel-Harmer 2007, p.6).

harmer

Image taken from Harmer, J. 2004, p.6

1.3. Writing Micro and Macro Skills

Brown (2004, cited in Damayanti n.d) composed a list of writing micro and macro skills which are the following:

Micro skills

Produce

  • graphemes and orthographic patterns of English.
  • writing speed according to purpose.
  • acceptable string of words following word order rules.

Use

  • acceptable grammar.
  • cohesive devices.

Express

  • meanings in different grammatical forms.

Macro skills

Use

  • the appropriate conventions and rhetorical forms of writing.
  • a pool of strategies like assessing audiences’ interpretation, paraphrases and synonyms, editing etc.

Convey

  • links and connections between events and express ideas such as main idea and supporting information
  • culturally specific references in the written texts

Distinguish

  • between implied and literal meaning

Accomplish

  • the meanings of functions of the texts based on form and purposes                                                       Brown (2004, cited in Damayanti n.d)

1.4. What affects our writing

According to Harmer (2007, p. 16-26) the way people write is affected by

  • genre features
  • text construction
  • cohesion (lexical and grammatical)
  • coherence
  • register

1.5. The email

  • Follow the style/conventions of letters, faxes.
  • Use grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, capitalization as in any other type of communication.
  • Everything in capital letters equals shouting.
  • Keep messages short and to the point as many people receive many emails.
  • Edit emails just like any piece of writing.                                                               (Ashley, 2005)

1.6. The semi-formal email

We send semi-formal emails to people we do not know well, colleagues, tourist information offices, hotel managers. Formal emails are sent to people of authority which we do not know well for example, the mayor, the president, a human resources manager when applying for a job. Informal emails are sent to our friends, people we know well and have a friendly relationship with. The language in semi-formal emails is closer to that of formal emails as the writer may use a friendly tone but still needs to be polite, friendly but quite formal regarding language.

Language:

Semi-formal greeting/Salutation:

Dear John,

Dear hotel manager,

Semi-formal sign off:

Yours sincerely,

Yours faithfully,

Kind regards,

Thanks,

Introduction

  • Reason for writing:  Departure date will be on (date, including the day of the week) at (time).
  • Arrival date will be on (date, including the day of the week) at approximately (time).
  • I am writing to book a room/I am writing to reserve a room (room type) in your hotel for (number) nights for (number) guests                                                               From: sites.google.com/site/hotelbookingsonline/Home/sample-hotel-reservation-letter

Main body

  • Information included in different paragraphs:
  • Room type information
  • List of any special requirements/needs
  • Booking/requesting/enquiring about special facilities                                     From: sites.google.com/site/hotelbookingsonline/Home/sample-hotel-reservation-letter

                                                                           Conclusion

 Thank reader for prompt attention/assistance.

Thank you for your prompt attention to the above. I look forward to receiving a letter confirming my reservation.                                                                                            From: sites.google.com/site/hotelbookingsonline/Home/sample-hotel-reservation-letter

  • Requesting information ( mixture of direct/indirect questions Could you also inform me ….?I would also like to know if… 
    • I would also like to know whether
    • Do you know ….?
    • Could you also tell me….?
  • Thanking for information: Thanking you in advance for this information                            (Taken from: www.sites.google.com Поликарпова Римма Николаевна writing hints and tasks 10-11)
  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information
  • Avoid using contractions/emotional language-emoticons

Layout example of a semi-formal email

sample

                                                                                         (Ashley, 2005)

  1. Learner Problems and suggested solutions

Formal (semi-formal) versus informal language

In semi-formal emails, students have difficulty using the appropriate formal language. As semi-formal emails are closer to being formal than informal it is necessary to train learners on the differences between formal and informal language. Learners who have languages which have formal grammar structures when writing formally (e.g in Greece we use  εσεις-esis- which is the formal pronoun you and shows respect) may have difficulty understanding that a pronoun for example, does not suggest formality whilst special structures do.

Suggested solutions:

A teacher could:

  • give learners very informal sentences and ask them to write a more formal sentence and then pass it over to the next student going from “ I need some information…” to I would like some information” etc. When the last student gives up or the sentence written is more informal than what the previous student wrote, the learner who provided the final formal sentence gets a point (English club, 2012).

Evaluation: this is a semi controlled task which practices writing in the form of a game so it can be fun. Chain sentence exercises require good planning on behalf of the teacher as some students may end up with piles of papers. Game like activities can be appreciated by all learners especially kinesthetic ones. The purpose someone is learning English may affect the learners’ attitude towards the task as more exam oriented classes may mistakenly view this as a waste of time as they are preparing for exams and not learning English for fun.

Problems with word order-syntax

Weigle (2002, cited in Watcharapunyawong & Siriluck 2013) claims that,

 L2 writing can be more difficult if syntactic properties of the two languages are very different, which makes L2 students rely on their first language when writing in a second language (ibid).

Greek learners in particular have difficulty with word order as in Greek word order is freer than in English (Papaethymiou-Lytra, cited in Swan and Smith 2002). From my own experience, my Chinese learners have difficulty with word order too as there are not many tenses and there is not a particular word order in Chinese.

Suggested solutions

In order to help learner with the syntax of semi-formal written English a teacher could:

  •  show learners sentences and ask the learners to identify the parts of speech and by using discovery methods ask them to form the rules of syntactic patterns of for example, indirect questions which are prominent in semi-formal emails. They could also fill out syntactic grids and have a visual representation of the syntactic patterns.

Evaluation: activities that engage learners in discovery method learning are an effective way to help learners realize the rules that govern the language. Such activities are appreciated by learners who like to learn rules and have an arithmetic perception as in my view, syntax is often like math. It is more appropriate for adult learners already acquainted to the syntactic patterns.  This type of task could be used as a lead in activity to freer productive activities.

  • Another alternative suitable for younger learners is filling out open ended sentences which give the students the beginning of a sentence and they have to fill in the ending. Students cold listen to a song  and then fill in the missing information. After that they are asked to mimic the sentences with their own examples focusing on the target lagage.

Evaluation: younger learners may not be familiar with syntactic patterns and may lack the maturity to understand such tasks like syntactic grids. That is why drilling tasks, which are a controlled way of learning, may be more effective.

Problems with spelling

Greek spelling is phonetic with almost one to one phonetic correspondence, but this is not the same in English. This can affect the writing semi-formal emails as spelling is integral! In order to help learners with their spelling a teacher could:

  • Practice spelling of difficult words like request/information/query with spelling bee games if the learners are young or by having a running dictation activity.

Evaluation: this is a fun and creative way of teaching spelling and young students enjoy it. Unfortunately it cannot be done on a day to day basis as it can be quite noisy and may be discouraging for weaker students as they may not be able to win.

  • Another way I practice spelling with my learners is through dictation. I usually get them to check their own spelling or exchange with a classmate as I think this helps them notice their errors rather than me using red ink over their papers. I also get them to write sentences in chunks so they can also practice the way words collocate with each other.

Evaluation: This is something my learners are used to and has proven to be an effective way of learning new words. It is a dry activity though and not very productive. Also it is questionable if the learners remember the words after a while.

Problems with punctuation

Students have difficulty with punctuation especially when there is not an L1 equivalent (there is no semi colon in the Greek language) or when different punctuation marks are used for different reasons e.g the position of the comma.  In this case a teacher could:

  • ask students to look at a text and notice where the punctuation marks go, asking them to punctuate something and a combination of the two (Harmer 2004, p. 52).

Evaluation: Noticing activities raise awareness which is essential when learning how to use punctuation marks and using discovery methods to explain their usage is a better way to establish acquisition. They can be lead in activities to productive activities like writing their own email and using the appropriate punctuation.

Problems with coherence

Students may have problems with lexical coherence or grammatical coherence. In the case of lexical coherence a teacher could:

  • Train learners on lexical cohesion at a paragraph level. She could jumble up sentences of an email and ask the students to put them in the correct order. Then the learners could circle the words that connect the text lexically.

Evaluation: jumbling up sentences makes the exercise like a puzzle and gives the teacher the opportunity to make this type of task like a game. This is a very controlled task which does not allow much productivity on behalf of the learners but it does facilitate raising awareness and noticing. It is appropriate for all types of learners who are learning English for various purposes.

As far as grammatical coherence is concerned at a paragraph level, a teacher could:

  • Use (open) cloze activities like those in the FCE exams. She can delete the words from a formal email and ask her learners to fill in the gaps with the missing words.

Evaluation:

Gap filling activities have been used for many years now and are a great way to tap into learners’ prior knowledge, activate schematic knowledge and make use of the students’ grammatical knowledge. Their difficulty level can change from quite easy, if they only have to put the verb in the right tense, to more challenging, if pronouns, reference words are missing. Such activities are more suitable for exam preparatory classes.

                                        Problems with cohesion

Many students have difficulty connecting their ideas and giving a flow to their text especially when they do not really engage in writing in their L1. In this case a teacher could:

  • Rearrange/cut up a text and get learners to put it in the right order.

Evaluation: game like/puzzle activities are enjoyed by most students no matter their age. Putting a text back together may be a fun activity which forces students to look at the way the ideas are connected. They look at main ideas and supporting ideas and how they all connect at a text level. This is a controlled activity that could be used in presentation stages of the semi-formal email.

  • A teacher could also get the students to read a text and underline the main ideas and supporting information.

Evaluation: this is an awareness raising activity which gives the students a visual representation of what goes where and the connection of ideas. It is necessary especially when students have difficulty putting a paragraph together. Such an activity is appropriate for all types of learners.

  1. Conclusion

Helping my learners with their writing skill is a very demanding task which requires a lot of effort. Once learners start to learn how to write though the texts they produce can make satisfy the teacher and make the learners feel that they have achieved something very important. They can express themselves through a text!

References

Ashley, A (2002) Oxford handbook of commercial correspondence (pdf file) Available at: < http://www.cc.kyoto-su.ac.jp/information/tesl-ej/ej35/r1.pdf> [Accessed at 09.11.2013]

Damayanti, Y (n.d) Micro and Macro skills found in the writing exercises of the Bridge English Competence for SMP Grade. Academia edu. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/1139509/MICRO_AND_MACRO_SKILLS_OF_WRITING_FOUND_IN_THE_WRITING_EXERCISES_OF_THE_BRIDGE_ENGLISH_COMPETENCE_FOR_SMP_GRADE_VIII_PUBLISHED_BY_YUDHISTIRA  [Accessed: 18.11.2013]

English Club 17 n.d. How To Teach Formal And Informal Language [Online]. Available at: http://edition.englishclub.com/tefl-articles/how-to-teach-formal-informal-language/ [Accessed: 18.11.2013]

Harmer, J (2007) How to Teach Writing: Malaysia. Pearson Longman.

Hotel Bookings Online n.d. [Online] Available at: < https://sites.google.com/site/hotelbookingsonline/Home/sample-hotel-reservation-letter>  [Accessed: 19.11.2013]

Hyland,K. (2002) Teaching and Researching Writing: Essex. Longman.

Sites-google.com n.d Useful phrases-How to write formal emails [Online] Available at: < https://sites.google.com/site/vktgenglish/polikarpova-rimma-nikolaevna/writing-hints-and-tasks-10-11-forms/useful-words–how-to-write-formal-letters> [Accessed: 10.11.2013]

Swan, M. and Smith, B. (2002) Learner English 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watcharapunyawong, S & Usaha, S. (2013) Thai EFL Students’ Writing Errors in Different Text Types: The Interference of the First Language English Language Teaching; Vol. 6, No. 1.

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