Have you ever introduced a group writing task, only to be met with a yawn from your right, a sigh from your left or a poker-face down the back who you know is thinking, ‘I’m still going to do it on my own properly tonight’?
So, why are some students so reluctant to collaborate on writing tasks?
Cons: (from a student’s perspective)
- I don’t see the benefits of group/paired writing tasks and sometimes I feel I’m just listening to and ‘learning’ my partner’s mistakes.
- I’d prefer to do it on my own; there’s always someone lazy or quiet in the group who contributes very little.
- I’d rather do it as homework individually where I can focus; the classroom is too noisy when we work in groups.
- When the teacher corrects it, I won’t be sure of what parts were mine and my partner’s. It doesn’t show me what I need to improve on.
- It takes too long when you have to discuss every little detail with your partners before writing anything.
- I don’t like correcting my partner’s work; I’m not the teacher and they won’t like it.
So who is responsible for getting these students on board?
You are! These are all perfectly justifiable and real concerns for many students and it’s up to you as a teacher to explicitly highlight the advantages of group work as opposed to working alone.
Be open! Have a discussion with your students beforehand and ask him how they feel about writing in groups (put them in a group to discuss this). Get feedback – I’d be surprised if some of the above didn’t crop up.
Now, refer them to the CEFR ‘can do’ descriptors in relation to what they will be able to do with the language after completing the task so that they have a clear understanding of the learning objectives and discuss the advantages of collaborative work.
Use your students; ask them when they might need to work collaboratively on a project? If you are teaching adults, chances are they will have worked collaboratively in University and team work is common practice in the workplace.
Here are some of the pros of collaborative writing you could share
with your students.
- Most workplace projects involve discussion, planning and collaborative writing; give your students the opportunity to develop their soft skills such as negotiation, critical thinking, turn-taking, assertiveness, as well as developing their language skills.
- A collaborative approach allows students to develop a topic from various perspectives, drawing on the strengths of the students in the group.
- Increases spoken interaction as students brainstorm, negotiate ideas and
meaning, plan, draft and redraft together.
- Non-threatening approach as it raises students’ levels of self-confidence and lowers the anxiety associated with producing individual pieces.
- Creates a ‘social responsibility’ as students are working towards a
- A joint effort will deliver more accurate results than an individually produced
piece as students negotiate form and meaning.
- Students’ use of meta-language through this process will enhance their
own understanding of the language.
Try out some of these collaborative tasks with your students
Give each group a different destination in your local area, i.e the supermarket, the train station, the library and ask each group to discuss and give written directions to each of these places for the new students who will arrive to the school the following week. Students can peer-review and check that they can follow the other group’s directions and suggest changes to the route etc. These can be posted on the classroom notice board and then shared with the new arrivals.
Get your students to brainstorm rules for the class, i.e ‘You must not eat in class’. And together they create a classroom poster. It’s collaborative, it’s an integrated speaking/writing task and it’s something which you can use and refer to afterwards.
In groups, students write a letter to the teacher outlining what they:
- enjoy about the lessons,
- what they don’t really enjoy,
- what they would like to do more of,
- what their difficulties are
You could give each student in the group five minutes ‘thinking time’ alone first and assign one of the above points. After five minutes, students report back to each other on their thoughts and begin planning and negotiating their points before writing.
(This is also a nice way of carrying out a needs analysis and you may find that students will be more honest because of group mentality)
Tell your students that you’ve had a terrible weekend. Tell a detailed story of how you booked a four-star hotel only to arrive and have the worst weekend of your life. Give details on the lack of customer service, the food, the bedroom, the heating etc. Now ask your students to work in groups to discuss the problems, plan and then write an appropriate letter of complaint to the hotel manager. You will need to provide students with the required vocabulary and expressions beforehand.
Bring in a selection (3 or 4) of articles from different newspapers, based on the same story but with a variation of styles and viewpoints. Students read their story and then report back on the angle of the story for their group mates. Now, together, the group have to re-write the news story in a style and point of view of their choice based on what they remember. The task incorporates the four skills of reading, listening, speaking and writing.
What’s your experience with group writing tasks? Do your students enjoy them? Do you have any other ideas that you could share with us?