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Exploring model texts to improve writing

exploring-model-textsIn this post, I am writing about 5 ways to explore model written texts featured in coursebooks (Writing Reference section) to help students work on their writing. I have been using these ideas during my individual classes with adult students preparing for Cambridge First and Advanced exams.

For a long time, I have been ignoring the Writing Reference section in the coursebooks I was assigned / chose to use. I would tell my students to “take a look” and draw their own conclusions. I have started actively and purposely using these model texts relatively recently and I have received very good feedback from my students. Some of them said they felt more confident now solving their writing related doubts on their own and finally had some idea of how to use these reference materials for self-study.  I have also seen some considerable improvement in their writing, especially in terms of correct articles use and adding variety to their language.

Here are 5 ways in which I have experimented with model texts:

#1 Pick and choose

Students read the text and choose several words/expressions/grammar structures they:

  • particularly like
  • have never seen before
  • have never used before

Then, they try to work them into their own texts. Finally, we compare their own texts with the original in terms of how their chosen items were used.

Why ?

This exercise encourages students to experiment with new language and helps them build confidence. They learn and become more comfortable using a more varied range of language.

#2 What I would never write

Students read the model text and choose parts they would never write because they find the content irrelevant or boring (works best with arguments presented in essays). They delete these parts and come up with their own content to fill in the void. Then, we compare their writing with the original to see whether we could borrow some language from the model.

Why?

The biggest flaw of model texts in coursebooks is that students often think they would never produce such a text as far as the content goes. This exercise allows the students to take advantage of grammatical correctness and  general structure of the model writing but develop it using their own ideas. As a result, they see they actually could  come up with a well-written text that also reflects their opinions.

#3 Articles

Students read the text and identify the articles (+ places where zero article was used!). Then, discuss the use of each article, find the rules that apply to this particular case, let your students summon their knowledge and take a good look at articles featured in your chosen text. What I usually do next is ask my students to fill in all the necessary articles in another model text ( I usually rewrite the text after removing the articles). Finally, once they submit their own writing, the first thing we do is look at it together just to clarify the use of articles. The drill continues until they get a visibly better grasp of this issue.

Why ?

This is one of the trickiest parts of English grammar. My students are very often really good at fill-in the gaps type of exercises but find it very challenging to use articles correctly in longer texts they write themselves. I have realised that model texts are incredibly effective when it comes to seeing articles in action and in the context of a coherent text. I was initially worried an ‘articles analysis’ would put my students off, but they were actually incredibly enthusiastic to talk it over using an actual target text. Discussing / revising the rules this way turned out to be quite effective and helped reduce article errors in their writing.

#4 Avoiding repetition

Investigate whether the model text is truly free of repetition (words, phrases, grammatical patterns) and, if it passes the test, ask your students to think how this effect was achieved. Scan the text for synonyms, pronouns, and changed word forms to look for examples. You might have to choose several sentences from the model text and grade them down a bit to demonstrate what they would look like if repetition was not avoided (students are often very good at that!)

Why ?

Avoiding repetition is easier said than done especially if students simply don’t know enough vocabulary. Seeing how repetition was avoided in model texts shows effective strategies and might be a great opportunity to learn new words.

#5 Find the commas

Students go through the text and locate all the commas. Then, try to formulate the rules that govern the use of each one. Similarly to articles, you might give your students some punctuation-less texts to work on and analyse their use of commas together in their next writing.

Why ?

Punctuation rules might differ between languages and commas are often quite problematic (there are either zero commas in the whole text, or they are scattered randomly). Spotting patterns might be a challenge for some students so what really helps is reading the text out loud and making a tiny pause whenever a comma appears. Some of my students have told me that ‘hearing’ the punctuation helped them a lot because they tend to hear their own voice reading the text in their heads as they write.

If you are curious about other ways I’ve explored exam coursebook activities, take a look here, here, and here.

What are your thoughts on using the Writing Reference section of the exam coursebook?

2 Comments

  1. Great ideas, Gosia, thank you so much for sharing them! I also use the models as a rewritting exercise where I choose parts from them and ask my students to improve them (helps a lot if you want to work on synonyms/opposites). Also, I’ve used parts from different models as a pre-Writing guessing task where students need to look at the language/register and information used in the parts and guess the Writing task (e.g. email to a friend, story, review etc.). Finally, I also use a “Cut + Paste” activity which works great with students who struggle with Writing. What I do is use the first part of the model as a guide (that’s the Copy part) and then ask them to continue the model task with their own ideas.

    • I really like the guessing/identifying idea. It’s so important to recognise and correctly use style and register. Thank you, Maria!

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