The Productive Skills – Writing

The Productive Skills – Writing

Speaking and writing are the ‘productive skills.’


Nowadays, there is very little need for long, formal written work in the classroom. With the advent of email and word processors with spell checkers, most people do very little written work except for short notes to friends and colleagues. Students may however have very specific needs such as those preparing for examinations where written work is still of great importance. Writing allows students sufficient time to process information whereas speaking doesn’t. Writing is also an avenue for those students who have limited confidence speaking in front of the class. Furthermore, writing allows for the practice of grammar rules and examination techniques. In order to convey a similar amount of information, a written text is shorter than speaking because the student has time to be more specific.

It should be remembered that students learn to read and write faster when they have real reasons to communicate. This could be in the form of journal writing or letter writing. Furthermore, it may be a good idea to create situations where they will need to write real invitations, requests, thank-you notes, and letters to pen friends, cards for special occasions, morning news, commercials, and opinions. You could even get the students to conduct surveys and interviews or make their own books by drawing or cutting out pictures, writing captions and word balloons. It is important to be clear as to the aims of the writing task before the lesson. Are you encouraging fluency or accuracy? A good starting point is to begin with a fluency activity and only focusing on accurate use of language at a later stage.

Guided Writing

Guided writing is an extremely useful way to prepare students for a writing task. Effective use of patterns as learning tools, takes the mystery out of learning. This is far more useful than simply giving students a writing topic and telling them to get on with it. It is extremely daunting for students to be faced with two tasks- writing and content.

Tell the students exactly what you want! If they are writing a letter, give them the format and what information you require in each paragraph. Try and focus on useful language models. List and review instructions step by step. Provide frequent summations of salient points of the lesson. Develop and maintain routines, which will help students anticipate what will happen. This careful preparation will ultimately culminate in the students preparing a draft which can be discussed with the teacher and others prior to preparing a final text.

Writing Genre

Students will explore typical examples or models of different writing genre before embarking on writing of their own. This is done in order to discover the format, layout, audience, the register, style and appropriate language to be used. When writing a letter, for example, students will decide whether the letter is formal or informal. They will then select the correct format to be used in a business letter or personal letter. This will in turn determine the register and general tone of the language to be used. This approach to writing is extremely useful for students preparing for school examinations in English and other subjects.

Writing Structure

As mentioned in the section on guided writing, it is extremely useful to provide your students with useful patterns as learning tools. There are many different ways to write an essay, but most standard essay forms follow the same basic patterns. Teaching your students these patterns will lay the foundation for sound writing structures and principles. It is surprising how many students, who have been studying English for a number of years, are still unsure of how to write an introduction, a paragraph or a conclusion.


Students who come from various cultural backgrounds may find the formation of English letters somewhat difficult (orthography). Students who experience such difficulties will need specific help in order to improve letter, word and text formation. Assistance may be offered in the form of extensive practice exercises focusing on the formation of individual letters. This could perhaps involve the teacher writing letters, words or sentences out neatly and leaving sufficient pace below for the student to copy or imitate the writing.

It is important to note that is essential that you encourage students with problematic handwriting to attempt to improve it. Handwriting is an important skill necessary for examination purposes and a student should not be unduly disadvantaged because of poor handwriting. This problem may prevent the student from getting his / her message across.


Incorrect spelling may often give the reader the impression that the writer is careless and lacks education. One should try and remember that spelling is often very difficult for students studying English because of the lack of correlation between the sound of a word and how it is actually spelled. This is more than often, not that obvious!

Punctuation and Format

Punctuation and format conventions differ from one language and culture to another. Business and personal letters are laid out quite differently and follow specific formats as do emails. Punctuation conventions may often be specific to a particular language and may not be transferable from one culture or language to another. Successful application of punctuation conventions in the English language will assist students in conveying their message and communicating effectively.