Who is this post for?
- Students looking at writing skills – especially writing a report for FCE / CAE
- Teachers looking at lesson structures
- Teachers / Managers looking at effective ways to get honest feedback
The thing I love the most about a product writing lesson is that it’s surprisingly multi-level. Because you structure the class around a model text and language from that model, (as long as you grade the model and the target language accurately) you can use this kind of lesson with classes from A1-C2. Students have the support they need because they can see a model, and when they finally produce their own work, they can rely on this model to different degrees depending on confidence and competence. Obviously, student output will vary wildly, but once you are at the written output stage of a product writing class, the pressure is off both the teacher and the student in that the traditional “teaching” part of the class is over, as is the stage at which students openly exhibit what they do and don’t know in front of the whole class.
Sample lesson / structure
Have a look at the material here (from New English File Advanced) Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)
- Start students off with a discussion in small groups about the positives / negatives of their school, or things they would like to see in their perfect school. You could produce a form for them to make notes in.
- Get group feedback
- Students read the report on P.80 – ask some comprehension questions and get feedback on the structure / language used (How is it paragraphed? Is the language formal or informal?)
- Start looking at the controlled practice activities – P. 80 b, P. 81 c / d. Remember to get some of this language on the board – look sideways at the sentences (What comes after “advisable to” / “strongly recommend”?) – and go through meaning / form / pronunciation.
- Organisation stage – students look at how they will structure their report (ordering) – they can do this in a group
- Individual writing stage – the output stage. They’re trying to write their own report about the school, using some of the target language.
They can finish this for homework, and then you can either use some of their mistakes for another lesson, or provide feedback in a different way.
You could use this lesson with any level. I would even say that you wouldn’t need to adapt the model text for Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate students; grade the task, not the text. So, perhaps you would only focus on exercises c and d with an Int class (P.80 ex. b might be a bit tricky). For Elem / Pre-Int, you would need to simplify the text a bit, and perhaps your language focus would focus on something like “Ways to give opinions” (I believe / In my opinion / I think) or “Reporting using past simple”. You’d then need to prepare controlled practice activities around the model text, but this wouldn’t be too time-consuming, as a lot of the adaptation would be exactly that: adapting rather than rewriting.
Teachers / Managers
I watched a fairly inexperienced teacher do a great job with this product lesson from New English File the other week – they used P.80 and then c / d from P.81, missing out the brainstorm etc. stages after that, because they would be more applicable to a process writing task instead (see more on product / process writing structures here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-sj ). The thing that makes this lesson interesting for students, teachers and managers, is that the output stage gives students a chance to reflect privately on what they believe the strengths / weaknesses of their school are. This is perhaps more revealing than focus groups, as students are often reluctant to voice their issues directly to a manager, or in front of other students. The timing of this class supported this theory; we had a focus group the week before and much of what was raised on the written reports from this lesson hadn’t been mentioned! I’ve since arranged for all classes to do this lesson at some point this term, so that we can get some really good feedback to work from.
Have a look at the material in this file. Here are a few things to consider if you’re preparing for Cambridge Exams.
- The structure is based on a series of titles
- The introduction clearly states the aim of the report
- The conclusion is very generalised
- There are a lot of examples of the passive being used, as well as language for generalising – eg. “It is generally thought…”
- Precision is an important part of the test. Why say “making classes smaller” when you could say “reducing class size”? The words do / make / get are often used because a student doesn’t know the exact verb that a native would use. When you start to write one of these verbs, think: is there a better word I could use?
As always, if you want to send your attempts to me, I’d be happy to receive them! 🙂