Demoing a Process Writing Lesson on CELTA
Yesterday I taught a 45 minute process writing lesson as one of the live observations for the current CELTA course. I’m going to summarize what happened and what I learned from this observation. Teachers, feel free to take ideas from this, improve on them, and try them out. If you do, be sure to comment!
You can see some clips from the lesson below. There are nine students, most of which are sitting outside of the camera’s view. The music is a bit quirky, but it’s a fun watch anyway.
My Goals for Documenting and Reflecting on this Lesson
Recently I was given a fancy Osmo 2 (a cool stabilizing “selfy-stick”) complete with a tripod. One of my ongoing “projects” has been to record my own lessons and watch them. Apart from this, I want to put together an online portfolio containing my reflections and projects. In retrospect, I have not experimented much with process writing outside of teacher training. In this lesson I wanted to accomplish all of these within the limitations of 45 minutes.
A Description of the Lesson
I got the ideas from another tutor who used to use this lesson to model process writing in CELTA input sessions. Here is a brief description of the letter that the learners :
Olivia, a schoolgirl who wants to get out of PE class because of the cold UK winter temperatures, begs her mother to write a sick-note to the PE teacher. The mother sealed the sick-note up in an envelope and sent Olivia off to school. After giving her teacher the sick-note, Olivia found herself running laps in the cold rather than sitting out PE indoors (not sure if the letter actually made it to the teacher though).
Here is a link to the original letter, which went viral after being posted to Facebook.
This is my lesson essentially:
- Lead-in: I told the learners the story of Olivia up until she gave the PE teacher the sick-note. Then I got them to speculate with their partners what would happen next. In the feedback I summed up what I’d heard, then I told them the end of the story: Olivia wound up running laps despite the sick-note. (5-7 min)
- Brainstorming: Next, they worked together to come up with a list of elements that would likely be in the letter: greeting, closing, etc. For feedback I accepted most ideas and put them on the board. I then supplemented the list with some of the more functional elements of the letter. I told them to include a suggestion written on behalf of the mother to the teacher to help Olivia improve in some way. I drew attention to the fact that the mother is asking the teacher to play along with a trick on Olivia. (10 min, 15 min total)
- Fast writing: I knew that the learners had never been told to write as much content as possible for five minutes, but I was determined to get them to. I gave the clearest instructions to get them to do this and they didn’t disappoint. The idea was to get as much writing as possible covering the points we outlined on the board. This is a good way to develop writing for fluency. (6 min, about 21 min total)
- Peer editing: In this stage the learners swapped papers to give suggestions on the organization and whether they had covered the points on the board. My open class feedback was meant to include some feedback on language, but instead I just commented on task achievement. (about 8 min, about 30 min total)
- Mini “Language Focus”: The mother invents a word to describe a “disease of laziness” (bone-idle-itus). I told them this, but did not give them the new word. I clarified the suffixes -itus and -osis using some examples. Then I gave the students some time to invent a word accordingly and add it to the draft. (5 min, about 35 min total)
- Final Drafting: I asked the learners what the sick-note would look like (what the format or paper be like). After the lead-in some learners had asked what the difference between a doctor’s note and a sick-note was. One is more official and may come with a stamp or signature on an official document. The sick-note would be on whatever paper was laying around in the kitchen. The learners agreed with me. I ripped out some notebook paper and insisted that the learners write on my paper. Most of them made some changes to their texts as they wrote their final drafts. (8 min, about 43 min total)
- Final Feedback: I gave the earlier finishers the original sick-note to look for two examples of language they could add to their own letters. I did give at least one sentence on the board: My daughter has got a lazy-itus. I waited for the learners to give suggestions. None were sure. I asked what can replace “lazy-itus” in this sentence: backache, stomachache, etc. I asked if these were diseases. They aren’t. Then I asked how to change it. With the learners’ help we put up the following reformulations: suffer from + disease, have + disease, have got + disease, have a (bad) case of + disease. At the end, I gave everyone the original letter for comparison, and I collected their writing to give written feedback.
Later, after giving written feedback and scanning, I realized at least two mistakes that I let fall through through the cracks. For almost all of these letters I left feedback on content (telling the learners how well the letter was put together and if the message was clear), but I somehow forgot to add a message for Judy. I did that right before handing them back though.
Another mistake was a simple spelling slip that May had written. She wrote “soar throat.” I know that it’s not necessarily a good idea to give feedback on or identify every error that our learners make in writing, but I think that was one of the more important ones. At least it wouldn’t cause a communication breakdown.
Have a look at the learners’ writing and my feedback:Scanned Documents
What I learned and what I would do differently
Overall, I’m quite pleased with how I managed this class and scaffolded the writing. If I gave this lesson again to an intermediate class, I would give them a checklist for peer editing. This would save some time during that stage and give it more focus. The brainstorming stage was done in pairs. It would be better to put them into groups so that they could pool their ideas together.
From this lesson I’ve learned that scaffolding the writing should be valued much more in writing lesson than the quality of feedback given at the end of the lesson. I now feel that asking CELTA trainees to give feedback at the end of a writing lesson in is important, but it’s not where the lesson should end. Before this lesson I focused on my trainees getting to the writing faster and allowing the learners to write and allowing feedback to take place at the end of the lesson. I’ve shifted my ideas about this. It’s more important to scaffold the writing well, give some feedback at the end of class, and also provide appropriate written feedback. The learners responded very positively to the written feedback. They don’t often get that on CELTA.
I’ve also become a bit more humble. My lesson went over by a few minutes actually. If I can’t get timing “perfect” under pressure, how can I expect the trainees?