Using Communicative Methods to Teach Editing

Joyce Cain

Joyce Cain

When writing language textbooks, authors take into consideration real world tasks that students need to accomplish and develop exercises and materials that they feel will best help students master the language necessary to be successful in these real world settings. This, too, was my goal in writing Grammar for Writing. Students in an academic or professional setting must produce written discourse that their professors or colleagues are able to understand.

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While writing teachers have the goal of producing successful writers, they may not have the time necessary to develop communicative activities to supplement their grammar and/or writing textbooks. By simply placing students into groups or pairs, teachers can easily integrate communicative classroom techniques that naturally supplement their textbooks. While in groups or pairs, students negotiate meaning that is likely to transfer from one person to the other(s). Grammar for Writing easily lends itself to group and pair work in a number of different ways that will enhance students’ editing skills.

  1. Making Predictions from the Pretest
    Once students have completed a Pretest, they can then be placed in groups or pairs to discuss the grammar rules that they predict will be presented in the chapter. As groups or pairs call out their predictions, these can be written on the board; as homework or class work, students must locate in the textbook where each of their predicted rules is or is not presented within the chapter. Groups or pairs can return the next day or later in class to discuss the accuracy of their predictions.
  2. Developing Topic Awareness Together: Once students have been introduced to the topic of a chapter, the teacher could ask small groups or pairs of students to read the sample passage that begins each chapter.
  3. The passage contains several different uses of the chapter’s target structure, which students can locate with their partner(s). Not only will students be discussing the structures with their partner(s), but they will also be deductively learning about the formation and use of the chapter’s target structure.
  4. Communicating about Writing Topics: Communicative methods can be integrated into lessons when preparing students for a writing task.
    Whole class, small group, or two-person brainstorming effectively lays the groundwork before students begin writing. Students can be given several minutes to brainstorm with a partner or small group and later present their best ideas. The brainstorming ideas on the chapter’s writing topic(s) can be listed on the board, using complete or partial sentences that illustrate the grammar point of the chapter.On a topic such as life’s challenges and how to overcome them, the brainstorming session might produce challenges like going to graduate school, taking sky diving lessons, and making new friends. Rather than simply listing these ideas on the board, the instructor who is teaching conditionals could illicit sentences such as “If I apply to graduate school, I will have to take many writing classes,” “If I had trained more, I could have gone sky diving last summer,” and “I will meet people more easily if I improve my speaking skills.” Again, the editing topic is reinforced in a communicative fashion, and students have a good start on the written assignment before beginning to compose on their own.
  5. Correcting homework together: Have small groups or pairs correct or complete the exercises together.
    Once students have completed exercises on their own, they can work with a group or partner to correct the exercise. Each student within a group or pair might read one sentence aloud with the corrections he or she made. If the group or partner doesn’t agree with the answer, a discussion will naturally follow within the group. It is also effective for students to sit side by side and correct the exercises with their partner. When there is a difference in answers, oral negotiation naturally occurs. This technique for the correction of exercises also has the added benefit of saving classroom time, as only those sentences that have led to discussion need further explanation by the teacher.All the exercises in Grammar for Writing lend themselves to this type of negotiation. Although every effort has been made to produce exercises that have only one correct answer, students occasionally come up with a variety of possible answers to the same problem. The type of discussion and transfer of knowledge that results when one student tries to explain information to his or her classmates is exciting and generally very productive for mastery of the grammar point as well as improvement of oral and aural communication skills.

    While the important editing stage of the writing process is generally a solitary task, Grammar for Writing can be used in a number of different ways to reinforce editing in a communicative manner. This integration of oral and aural approaches to language teaching and learning generally results in better skill development. Students are engaged and can see their editing skills improve by using Grammar for Writing in ways that require reading, listening, writing, and speaking.

Joyce S. Cain has taught English language learners at the community college and university levels for over twenty years. She started her career at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she received her M.A. in TESL and was also a teaching assistant. She later taught at Santa Monica College, Orange Coast College, University of California, Irvine, and Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico. She is currently a professor of ESL at Fullerton College in southern California. Prior to entering ESL, she was a junior high school math teacher for three years. Cain is the author of Eye on Editing 1 and 2 and the new Grammar for Writing 1-3.

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