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A Collaborative Approach to Writing

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I have used this method with many adult ESL classes at the beginner and intermediate levels. It works with groups that work well together anyway, and don't have any heavy issues dividing them. I assign a topic, for example, finishing a story such as "The Lady or the Tiger?," their weekend, or their hometown.The students double space their work and hand it in. I critique it thoroughly, circling errors, drawing arrows to show mistakes in word order, writing question marks where I don't understand, suggesting words by giving a few letters as hints, etc. I then photocopy all the stories and hand back a booklet containing all the stories to each student. We work through several during each class, checking with each writer as to what they really meant, and helping each writer to polish their work. This technique obviously demands a high level of student-student and teacher-student respect, and it builds even greater respect. I often compliment the students on their interesting sentences and thank them for their efforts (i.e. "It's good you made that mistake so we could learn this new word."; "I'm glad you mixed up those two verbs so we could talk about how important it is to use the correct one.") I emphasize the miscommunication caused by errors, so they can see that writing correctly is not a matter of pleasing the teacher but of saying what they really mean. I tell the students how wonderful it is that they can all learn from each other, and they really buy into it.
With a very small class, I have the students all write their paragraphs on the board. I then go through them with a red marker, highlighting what I'd like changed, and we correct it as a class. The students often like to copy each other's stories.
I use some of their sentences on our weekly tests. This validates the importance of the learning that occurs during this activity, as well as the students' experiences and ideas. I have also had the students write about their home and re-write their stories when corrected, then put them all into a booklet and given it to them for Christmas.

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