It is not easy to design a good writing topic task for English language learners. Not any topic can trigger learners’ appetite for producing an acceptable piece of writing. Because writing is a productive skill, some effort is required by writers and if the topic is not well chosen and formulated, the learners will undoubtedly be inhibited.
The following tips are meant to guide teachers to design good writing tasks.
To start with, learners have to be initiated to writing skills:
- They have to be trained to distinguish the distinctive features of different genres (e.g. story, email, reports, essays, etc.)
- They have to be trained to go through specific steps (c.f. Process Writing which includes planning, drafting, editing, revising, and writing the final draft)
In addition to the above, teachers have to design writing topics that are contextualized and that reflect life-like situations.
Writing and context
The context in writing tasks is the setting within which a work of writing is situated. Contextual elements provide meaning and clarity to the intended message. one way of thinking about context is to see it as a frame where the intended message is delivered. This frame can be clearly identified in the following definition of writing:
Writing is a purposeful human activity whereby the writer intends to communicate content – represented with conventional signs and symbols – to an audience (i.e. reader).
In the above definition five elements are of paramount importance:
- The writer (who)
- The content (what)
- The purpose (why)
- The audience (for whom)
- The medium (signs and symbols)
The writing topic
The topic of writing should be contextualized. One way of contextualizing the topic is by asking the following question:
Who is writing what to whom and why?
Let’s look at some concrete examples:
Write about what you did last weekend.
- What? – what’s the format of the final product? Is it an email, an essay, a letter?
- To whom? – who is the audience? A friend, the writer’s mother?
- Why? – what’s the purpose? What’s the intended purpose? To inform, to complain, to tell a story?
Write an email to your friend about what you did last weekend.
- Why? Again, the purpose of the writing is absent!
You had a terrible weekend. You are so disheartened that you want to share your experience with your English pen friend in an email.
- The above topic includes all the elements needed to set the context of the writing task. Answering the questions about who is writing what to whom and why can help learners get a precise picture of what they are expected to do.