What to focus on most in foreign language classes (speaking, listening comprehension, reading, and writing or some other order or combination), is the subject of much research into language acquisition. However, exposure to all elements of language and increased confidence are unquestionably necessary. Regardless of your approach to language teaching and order in which you expose your students to the different mediums of language and culture, consider this writing exercise, keeping in mind that this model is easily adaptable to any level or theme.
It very helpful for the entire class to write together collectively before students work independently. The result will provide each student a chance to see that he/she was able to write a paragraph appropriately (albeit a collective one) before engaging in the task on his/her own. The paragraph produced by the class also serves as a model for the individual writing. In time, perhaps several months, students will no longer have to refer to the model paragraphs, but will rather be more able to engage the process on his/her own from the beginning.
- Begin with an outline that resembles this (the handout should be in the target language):
- Name: ________________
- Age: He/she is ________ years old.
- Class: 6th 7th 8th
- School: ________________
- Activity: ________________
- Time: ________________
- With whom: ________________
- Where: ________________
- Clothing: ________________
Put a copy on however many desks as there are students in the class, plus one for the teacher. Each student will begin with the paper on his/her desk and fill in a name (any name). All students will then rotate to another sheet and fill in the next piece of information. The class (and the teacher) will continue to rotate until all information is filled in. Students need to pay attention to what is already on the outline so that they add appropriate places, times, and clothing.
Once the outlines are done (collectively), students return to their seats and now have an outline completely filled in. The teacher will also have one. Ideally (perhaps in a follow-up class or immediately if the teacher has access to a copy machine), each student will have a copy of the teacher’s outline to follow as the class helps the teacher to write a paragraph based on his (her) outline. The teacher writes the paragraph on the board and students contribute and write down the model paragraph. Here is an example of what one of these initial paragraphs might look like (although in the target language):
- John is twelve years old. He goes to Collins Middle School. He is in the 7th grade. John plays baseball at three o’clock. He plays with his friends Craig, Mark, and Peter. They play at the park. John wears a green tee-shirt, white shorts, and gray sneakers.
Students then take their own outlines and write their own paragraphs (from their outlines) using the model paragraph as a guide. Once the students are familiar with the process, they can fill in their own outlines in the future. It is helpful to continue writing a model paragraph together as a guide until students no longer need one.
These kinds of outlines improved student writing a great deal. Also, make the outlines as specific as possible: perhaps all written in the first person or in the present tense, etc. Students like to use funny names, make outlandish outfits, and have people doing amusing things.
It is beneficial to allow this freedom and allow them to enjoy the process. Once students are at a more sophisticated linguistic level, they can begin to combine.