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Strategies for Tackling Writing Weaknesses

Having just launched the new whole school marking for communication policy (see below); we considered it timely to share a bank of strategies to aid learners who struggle to communicate when writing.

Helping learners tackle weaknesses in written communication:

Weakness: Spelling

Explanation: This can be particularly marked in learners who have a wide ranging vocabulary, quite often their spelling can lack phonic logic e.g. ‘rember’

Strategies:

  1. Suggest that the learners sounds out the word before they write it. They should count the number of syllables a word has then check that the number of syllables is represented in their spelling of the word. E.g. remember.
  2. Encourage learners to read short texts aloud, carefully and clearly emphasising each syllable of unfamiliar words.
  3. Before writing long texts encourage learners to use a word bank as part of their planning.
  4. Make a point of speak tricky, technical words in a syllabic way, emphasising each part of the word: sig-nif-ic-ance.

 

Weakness: Limited Connectives

Explanation: Some learners rarely use connectives beyond the ordinary and thus fail to signal the connections between the points they are making. The lack of these ‘signposts’ makes writing less coherent than it should be.

Strategies:

  1. Make learners aware of the full range of connectives grouped into different functions: sequencing, cause and effect, contrast etc. Direct them to the whole school literacy posters displayed in all classrooms.
  2. Deliberately use connectives in conversation, especially at the start of sentences e.g. ‘Although I understand that you want me to eat my cabbage, I’ll have to politely decline’. Encourage learners to do the same.
  3. Ban the words: and, then, but, also.

 

Weakness: Over-long Sentences

Explanation: Some learners rarely write short, simple sentences. Instead they write long meandering sentences which lack clarity and focus. In essay writing such meandering sentences distract learners from making clear points.

Strategies:

  1. Give learners long, convoluted sentences from academic texts and ask them to break them down into a series of shorter sentences.
  2. Share with learners good examples of good narrative and argumentative writing which alternates from long and short sentences for effect. Get them to continue the writing.
  3. Ban sentences of more than 2 clauses for a period of time.
  4. Show learners how to use semi-colons; their writing will improve.
  5. Give learners three different sentences, containing the same information but organised differently, and ask them to consider the effectiveness of each.

 

Weakness: Commas

Explanation: Learners often use commas instead of full stops, but they very rarely use commas within sentences for emphasis and to mark clauses.

Strategies:

  1. Use live WAGOLLs to show learners how to use commas within sentences and for emphasis.
  2. Show learners sentences whose lack of commas creates ambiguity: ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’
  3. Show learners a piece of writing and ask them to explain the purpose of each comma.
  4. Take the commas out of a piece of writing. Tell learners how many commas it should contain and ask them to put them back in.

 

Weakness: ‘Loose pronouns’

Explanation: Some learners overuse pronouns. They use such as this and it without making it clear what these words refer to. In fact, the reference often only exists in their heads, rather than in the text they are writing. The result is that the learner doesn’t really say what they mean.  

Strategies:

  1. Limit the use of pronouns, give learners a maximum number of pronouns they are allowed to use.
  2. Show learners a piece of writing which over-uses pronouns and thus become ambiguous. Work with learners to improve the writing to make its meaning explicit.

 

Weakness: Lack of clarity and development

Explanation: Some learners fail to make clear and distinct points. In argumentative writing they seem to contradict themselves without acknowledging this. This can make extended writing rambling and repetitive.

Strategies:

  1. Ensure that learners plan the content of a series of paragraphs before they begin writing.
  2. Model the writing of topic sentences then ask learners to write one for each of their paragraphs prior to writing the whole text.
  3. Practise ‘reverse engineering’ texts. Give learners a text and ask them to work out the structure, and therefore, the plan that it is based on.
  4. Give learners a text cut up into sections or paragraphs. Ask them to identify the purpose of each section and arrange them into the ‘correct’ order.
  5. Remove a couple of paragraphs from a text and challenge learners to decide the likely topic of the missing paragraphs and then to write them.
  6. Ask learners to work in groups to write ‘Frankenstein essays’; each learner takes one paragraph, then the whole piece is ‘stitched together’ but it must still make sense.  

 

Weakness: Poorly constructed paragraphs with no links between them

Explanation: Some learners simply do not use paragraphs. When they are used they are randomly begun and end in a way that has no link to the original topic sentence. Many paragraphs consist of a single sentence with no development and paragraphs are rarely linked.

Strategies:

  1. Model how to make a clear point in the first sentence and how to develop this point through the remainder of this paragraph.
  2. Practise sequencing and joining sentences, using ‘ties’ such as ‘this suggests that…’; ‘on the other hand…’
  3. Show learners a paragraph without its first sentence. Ask them to write the first sentence.

 

Having said all of this, the quickest way in which we can aid learners in improving their written answers is through modeling good oracy. Always insist that learners within your classroom speak as they would write when verbally contributing to a lesson’s content.

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