Key words: genre-based approach, teaching writing, EFL
Writing is often used as a way to practice and consolidate new lexis or grammar but we do not pay much attention to developing this skill. And even less attention is paid to showing learners how important writing may be for communication. As stated by Hedge [3, p.11], “When setting writing activities, teachers need to vary the audience, identify who the readers are to be, and try to make every piece of writing fulfill some kind of communicative purpose, either real or simulated”. It has always been seen as the most difficult for EFL students in language learning .
According to Richard and Renandya , mainly what learners face is struggling with generating and organizing ideas using an appropriate choice of vocabulary, sentence, and paragraph organization, and finally, putting such ideas into an intelligible text. Besides the mentioned above, our learners also experienced a lack of motivation to produce their writings without knowing the aim of their communication. They never planned and confused the register and the degree of formality in styles. It is well-known that many learners do not find developing their writing skills useful because they mainly use speaking and listening skills for daily interaction. This was true for our learners as well because they saw writing as a task not a way of communication.
To find out ways of addressing learners’ needs in writing, it was decided to identify what proficient writers do when producing a piece of written work. When writing, proficient writers go through certain writing processes or stages. The most common model includes 4 stages: prewriting, composing, revising, and editing. Each stage consists of smaller processes, e.g. the prewriting stage which includes identifying the context, planning, and making notes. For example, before writing this cover letter, the writer probably tried to choose qualifications and qualities which are appropriate for the post of a public relations coordinator:
− ‘I completed my degree in French and German.’
− ‘… and I enjoy working with people.’
Though different authors provide different variations of the writing stages, most of them agree that writing is not a linear process but a recursive activity in which “writers will revisit some of these stages many times before a text is complete” [5, p.38]. Poor writers tend to use their original plan through the whole writing process and hardly ever change anything in their first draft, whereas expert writers might decide to change some paragraphs by deleting or adding details which are more relevant than the ones they chose before.
The pre-writing stage is important because, at this stage, expert writers try to understand the writing context. This means they identify the purpose of writing and the audience . For instance, they know that the main purpose of a cover letter is to make a good impression in order to be considered for the position. That is why it is necessary to use a formal style and organize ideas clearly by using paragraphs. Poor writers do not consider their audience which may lead to an inappropriate style and organization. For example, using such valediction as ‘Lots of love’ when writing to a person you do not know is unacceptable, most likely the writer did not take into account the relationship between the writer and the reader before writing this cover letter.
As Hedge [3, p. 21–22] suggests, two significant questions help expert writers identify the context at the prewriting stage: ‘What is the purpose of this piece of writing?’ and ‘Who am I writing this for?’. By asking the first question, proficient writers select the organisation, whereas the second question affects the choice of “what to say and how to present it in the most appropriate style”. [3, p.22]. Following that, they can identify the field (the what of the situation), tenor (the who of the situation), and mode (the how of the situation) and plan what they are going to write about.
On the stage of problem identification, we followed the Badger and White  recommendations to use a process genre approach to analyse learners’ omissions and set the tasks depending on what the learners need. Using a process-genre approach is believed to contribute to planning this lesson so that it can meet the learners’ needs. Also, this approach is useful to make learners go through writing processes like planning, writing the first draft, revising, and editing, which is helpful for writing tasks they will have and developing their writing skills.
A standard lesson based on the process-genre approach has a certain procedure, each stage of which contributes to the development of learners’ writing skills. One of the examples in the series of lessons, when teaching learners how to write a cover letter. To increase learners’ motivation and provide them with a purpose for writing, it was decided to address the letter to an English teacher who had to later choose the best cover letter. After the context of the lesson had been set, learners were asked to read a job advertisement and brainstorm what they should write in a letter using a mind map. This helps learners focus on the content of their letters as according to Hedge [3, p. 8], “successful writing depends on more than the ability to produce clear and correct sentences”, and at the composing stage, expert writers try to get the right context first without paying much attention to the language.
Then learners were asked to write the first draft of their letters using their background knowledge. As the following activity, learners compared their letters and explained why they had chosen such order of paragraphs and style. After analyzing learners’ first drafts, we identified two main problems that our learners had. One group of learners could not use the appropriate structure to organize their ideas. The second group of learners needed to work on using a formal style and useful phrases. However, as learners would have a chance to compare their work to the sample of a cover letter written by an expert writer, we believed that this would help both of these groups solve their problems.
Learners compared their letters to the sample cover letter and answered some questions which helped them notice the language, style, organization, and layout of the letter. Then we elicited what learners found out and learners were asked to rewrite their first drafts. Therefore, the standard procedure that repeated throughout the course, trained the learners to follow the structure, notice the errors, and developed a habit to plan and edit. As a result, learners overcame not only the challenges with communication aims and style but formed an understanding of the equality of importance for planning, editing, and proofreading stages in the writing.
To conclude, based on the received results and experience, it was practically proved that process-genre based approach refers to the process of writing showing its systematic orders or steps to follow either by teacher or students. In addition, if professionally monitored it helps in terms of improvement of organization, physical design, or layout as well as the communicative purpose and linguistics features used in writings. It can be successfully applied to teaching those students with low competencies and low motivation. It directs the students to write from basic content with support to the final independent production. Process-genre based approach will be one of the newest and practical, and effective approaches to teaching and learning writing.
As for the role of the teacher during the lesson based on process-genre approach, it was observed that the teacher might take a role of a facilitator, who monitors learners’ performance, supports them, and provides any necessary feedback. This approach supports the idea of student-centered learning, which is believed to be one of the most effective ways of teaching and learning.
To sum up, teaching learners how to write does not only depend on improving grammar or expanding vocabulary. Yet it is not enough to simply give them a good model of a written work and to ask them to write it. Such aspects of writing like genre, style, context are extremely important when teaching learners how to write such letters. When presenting the stages of writing it is significant to emphasize that these stages are natural and learners should follow them unconsciously.
- Badger, R. & White, J. (2004). Aprocess genre approach to teaching writing. ELTJ Vol 54/2 April 2004
- Harmer, J (2004). How To Teach Writing. Pearson Longman
- Hedge, T (1988). Writing. Oxford University Press
- Richards, J., & Renandya, W. (2002). Methodology in Language Teaching: An anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University press
- Tribble, C. (1996). Writing. Oxford University Press