Writing for Young Learners (Article Summary)

  Today I will talk about how to teach alphabet and number to (very) young learners in English (L2). 

The importance of writing in everyday life

     Writing is so much a part of our everyday life that we can encounter with it everywhere such as at home, in the street, on television, on computer, etc. Life is full of a varieties of written texts. For example; newspapers, letters, novels, short stories, magazines, brochures, comics, text messages, and so on. But why is writing so important in our everyday life? The answer is clear: Writing provides us with a tool to make sense of experience and to clarify our thoughts. We write because we feel we have something to say. Therefore, writing activity can be said to be a communicative and internally motivated activity.

     Here, there are two types of writing activities:

1       Writing as a language activity: focuses on grammatical structures
2       Writing as a communicative activity: used to inform, relate, persuade, and so on.

However, we have a serious problem: writing as a communicative activity is missing in many foreign language classes (Zen, 2005)

When to teach L2 literacy to young learners?
     It is claimed by many scholars that one of the major factors affecting when to teach a foreign language is the critical age hypothesis. However, several researches have postulated that there are different periods of different parts of language (Seliger, 1978; Long, 1990). Well, when should young learners be taught L2 literacy?
     We have said that first factor for teaching L2 literacy is critical age hypothesis. Another major factor is the acquisition of L1 literacy skills. L2 literacy needs L1 literacy. They are connected to each other. Moreover, children’s desire to read/write in L2 is an important element to teach L2 literacy to young learners (Moon, 2008, p.398). The role of L2 in society and the purpose of teaching L2 may also be the determinants of when L2 literacy should be introduced to children.

Development of writing in young learners
     By the time children arrive in the kindergarten, they will already be familiar with writing (for example; labels on packages). However, there is another significant challenge: development of the motors skills necessary to produce written texts. At this stage most very young learners are able to communicate effectively through speech and will have achieved this level of competence.

Young learners who have only recently started elementary school (7-8 years old) are good at oral skills and are still learning to write in L1.It is better to keep writing in a foreign language at minimum at this stage. 

There are some activities suggested by Byrne (1991) for young learners: 



Joining up dots to form words: This very basic activity can be useful in early stages, partly to provide the pupils with practice in forming letters.
Labelling items: Pupils use words listed for them in a box to identify and label.
Filling in speech bubbles: Pupils have to fill in speech bubbles by matching the sentences with situations.
Making copies of songs:  Pupils make their own copies of dialogues, songs and poems.
Completing crosswords: Pupils may be given picture clues or word lists to complete puzzles.

Young learners who have already acquired literacy skills in L1 can do more elaborative writing tasks on condition that they are provided with a model. Suggestions of Byrne (1991):

·             Grandma’s Horrible Cupcake
·             Read and write a postcard
·             Read the poem and write one for yourself. 


Approaches to teach writing

     Studies related to the development of writing ability in a second or third language in children are much less common (Widdowson, 1984). However, recent trends in writing research point out the benefits of a process-genre based approach to the teaching of writing.

      In the past, enhancing young learners’ writing skills was achieved through transcriptions and copying. It was believed that the development of writing in children can be best developed through continuous practice and transcriptions. Several classroom hours were to copying pieces of writings. But such an approach to the teaching of writing develops children’s writing skills in a very limited way, which fails to prepare them for the ways in which writing is used outside the classroom. This way of teaching writing to children does not introduce them the exciting potential of writing in terms of communication and self-expression.

There are three types writing approaches:

1.      The product approach: According to Badger & White, this approach sees writing as mainly concerned with knowledge of writing about the structure of language, and writing development as mainly the results of the imitation of input, in the form of texts provided by the teacher. T gives pupils some descriptions related to an object. Ss produce similar sentences by the help of the same structures or lexical items. They may be asked to describe something of their own in the end. However, it is evident that there is nothing communicative or meaningful in these tasks. Activities may be on copying words, simple word puzzles, matching games, etc.

2.      The process approach: Writing in process approaches is seen predominantly to do with planning and drafting, and there is much less emphasize on linguistic knowledge such as knowledge about grammar and text structure (Badger & White, 2000, p.154). Children subconsciously learn and develop their writing skills. Teacher’s task is to facilitate and encourage their writing potentials.

Stages of the process approach:

ü  Generating ideas: Exploring ideas (called as pre-writing phase)
ü  Planning: Experienced writers plan what they are going to write.
ü  Drafting: considered as the first version of a piece of writing. As the writing process proceeds there may occur a number drafts till the final version.
ü  Revising: Ss make improvements related to their drafts in terms of its content and organizations.
ü  Editing: Includes correcting pupils’ errors and helping them to find their own errors or mistakes. The areas need to be edited: spelling, grammar and punctuation.
ü  Presenting: Requires putting the writing in a final finished format to share with others

3.      The genre approach: The functions of pieces of writing are realized by their genre structure. This approach has some similarities with product approach. The strongest similarity is its focus on linguistic features of writing. We have a wide range of different kinds of writings such as articles, comics, letters, cards, advertisements, poems, reports, etc.

The Use of Graphic Organizers to Develop Writing Skills of Children

Graphic organizers can be defined as visual planners on which students record information in a logical way. The attention to graphic organizers and the effort to teach pupils how to make their own graphic representations provides an effective means for developing their writing skills.
Guidelines for training students to create graphic organizers:

·         Present students with good examples of completed graphic organizers for text they have read.
·     Model how to construct a graphic organizer with students and use think aloud techniques so students can hear and see what you are thinking as the teacher.
·     Discuss with students when and how they should use these graphic organizers for their own purposes.
·         Provide a lot of coaching for the students as they create graphic representations for texts.
·         Give students many opportunities for practice and give them appropriate positive feedback.
·         Gradually shift responsibility for constructing graphic representation to the students.
·         Allow for individual differences in students’ thinking and their graphic representations.
·         Set clear and manageable goals since the training process takes sizable amount of time.

An example of graphic organizer:


*Retrieved and summarized from Writing for Young Learners by Ceylan Yangın Ersanlı

For buying the book which includes the article: http://www.dr.com.tr/Sanatci/ceylan-yangin-ersanli/s=244076