Teaching writing

Introduction to teaching writing


Most students who come for help with literacy will have difficulties with writing. It may be something they have avoided for years, after negative experiences at school. They feel they cannot express clearly what they wish to write. Many are embarrassed about their handwriting or spelling and don’t want to appear foolish in front of family and friends. Others may be reluctant to seek employment, promotion or embark on further education and training for fear it will involve writing.

Writing is a complex process that requires a different range of skills from reading. As well as the skill of visual recognition, so important in reading, it requires recall and reproduction. The process ranges from writing with traditional pen and paper to writing an email, writing details when booking a flight on the internet or sending text messages on a mobile phone. Many students find it a daunting task precisely because it demands the co-ordination of so many elements: from clarifying their purpose, planning and sequencing their thoughts, to the technical aspects, such as handwriting or word processing, spelling, structure, layout and understanding information technology. In addition, they may find it takes longer to see progress in writing than in reading.

Writing should always arise from the student’s needs and interests. In the early stages these are often functional, for example letters, application forms, notes to school. However, as tuition progresses, it is worth giving time to encouraging expressive or imaginative writing.  This is often the area that students have most difficulty with, but expressive writing has the potential to radically change the student’s relationship with the written word. By seeing their own words in print, students can develop a sense of mastery and ownership of the resulting piece. In addition, many adult learning centres regularly celebrate student achievements through publishing collections of student writings.  These provide a rich source of ideas, as well as encouragement and inspiration for other learners.


Stimulating ideas for writing


Students often need help in thinking about ideas for writing. Try some of the following:

  • Writing about student’s hobbies/ interests – gather information or pictures to encourage writing and exploration of student’s own interests.
  • Make a photograph album – use photographs of the student’s family or of local interest and write short notes about each picture.
  • Keep a simple diary – write a sentence about the events of each day. Keep a record of appointments including names and places.
  • Keep an address book – include own address as well as other people’s. Check that the spellings are correct.
  • Collect samples of different kinds of writing. Include formal and informal writing – letters, notes, telephone messages, stories, reports, invitations, greetings cards, envelopes, curriculum vitae, forms, poems and samples of writing by other students.
  • Plan an outing or a holiday – include notes and checklists of what you have to do. Find out about events, places of interest or particular cities/countries, and write down necessary information.


Note.  Those with basic word processing skills may find writing on a computer helpful. Seeing one’s writing in print helps to build confidence.  It also means students do not have to worry about handwriting.


Stages in the writing process

Most people go through a number of distinct stages before completing a piece of writing. It is useful for students to understand this so that they can tackle the task one step at a time.


Talking freely

  • Suggest topics or themes to write on
  • Initiate discussion to draw out student’s ideas
  • Listen


Catching the words

  • Take notes for the student
  • Map out or diagram points



  • Clarify student’s purpose
  • Suggest ways of going about it (for example arranging ideas in chronological order,  identifying student’s emphasis, clarifying their point of view)


First draft

  • Scribe using Language Experience approach
  • Give spellings when requested
  • Ask for clarification
  • Remind student of other points s/he planned to include



  • Ask questions for clarification
  • Offer suggestions such as rearranging points or paragraphs, cutting bits out, elaborating where necessary, breaking into paragraphs, punctuation
  • Help to check spelling


Final copy

  • Encourage student to proof read
  • Prepare for final handwritten or printed copy



  • Support student at a reading evening
  • Share written work with other tutors and students through newsletters or publication of student writings


Approaches to teaching writing

Writing should always focus on the student’s needs and interests – at the beginning these are often functional, for example emails, notes or forms.

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Working on handwriting

Work on handwriting should always arise from the student’s expressed needs and should not be imposed by tutors.

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Stimulating ideas for writing

Students often need help in thinking about ideas for writing – here are a few you can use.

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