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Developing Students’ Academic Writing Skills in English

Writing is challenging for second language learners, and academic writing requires an extra level of
effort and skills. In content-based instruction, writing serves to show not only what has been learned but
also what has been researched. Skills of summarizing and inference are called on to extract information
from reading and then share information in a clear, cohesive manner. Many students are afraid of
writing since it seems so much more permanent than speaking and because others might judge their
skills or lack of them. In some cultures, only the most gifted people dare to write in certain forms. So our
goal as teachers of writing is to make them comfortable with the skill and then move onto particular
academic forms. Gaining the ability to express yourself in writing can support being able to build on that
to use a variety of genres and structures in the future.

Depending on the students’ L1, a variety of challenges can be evident. In some languages the way of
thinking is expressed differently than in English, which is generally much more direct and like a telegram
or text message than a poem with flowery speech. Spoken English also varies quite a bit from the
written form, which can be confusing for second language learners. Spelling is inconsistent and can vary
from one variety of English to another, notably American and British.

Cohesion and coherence are the major stumbling blocks for second language writers, with word choice
and mechanics following right behind. Vocabulary errors, especially when the writer is using direct
translation, can certainly hinder understanding. Sharing models of excellent writing, in the genre that is
being taught, is a beneficial reading activity to reinforce writing.

Useful Activities
Pre-writing activities, especially in pairs or small groups, can help to organize ideas and find ways to
express them. Starting with group discussions and incorporating note taking can be effective strategies.
Reading before writing can enhance expanding vocabulary and noticing collocations, how and where
words are used together. This can lead to better writing with regard to coherence.

Generally gaining confidence in writing is critical to moving on to academic subjects. Using shared
experiences in the classroom that lead to further written activities can help. People usually like to talk
about themselves, so making the subjects personalized at first can be a step towards learners feeling
comfortable in the written form. Writing from a personal perspective first, before shifting to more
objective topics, can be very helpful in the process. Group writing can also be an effective method for
assisting learners to improve and become clearer in written expression. Talking to peers, making

© 2019 by World Learning. Developing Students’ Academic Writing Skills in English for the AE E-Teacher Program, sponsored by the
U.S. Department of State and administered by FHI 360. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License,
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This is a program of the U.S. Department of State

administered by FHI 360 and delivered by World Learning

decisions about grammar and vocabulary before and while writing, and having an audience to share
with in the classroom are all important elements to enhance writing skills.

Writing Process and Feedback
Knowing your audience is a key factor in effective writing. It is important for students to know who they
are writing for – the teacher, their peers, the school, or a wider audience. Peer editing is a very easy and
effective way to create readers who can then respond, at the level of the writers, for understanding and
improvement. Commenting on content before form, or a combination of the two, is very important for
the writer. S/he needs to know that the written words are communicating, and s/he is being heard. By
sharing responses in the class, writers can gain both written and oral feedback and clarify

Rubrics, or a well-thought out clear focus for each exercise, is a necessary part of the writing process.
When students are involved in the creating of the rubric, there is a much greater chance that they will
be on target and not misinterpreting instructions. You don’t want to overload your learners with too
many corrections; focus on one aspect of writing at a time. Read for content first, then form, so that the
writer feels understood. You don’t want to stifle the desire to communicate and connect. Initially
building up writing confidence, and then adding in the academic aspects is most constructive.

Steps to the Final Product
Multiple drafts are extremely helpful to hone the skill of writing. Re-writing may not be at all common in
your students’ experience, so making each draft focus on a different element is an advantage to keep
interest and also make sure that multiple elements of writing are addressed. Here is where peer readers
can also be utilized, making your job of correcting much easier. Make sure that all writing has been
looked at by at least 2-3 peers before it is handed in to the teacher. That way everyone has more
experience of being a reader and there will be less for you to mark. You can also find out where the
majority of the challenges for your learners lie, and create extra lessons to address them. What is
important is for everyone to enjoy the writing process and make certain that the outcome
communicates to readers.

Publication is a significant element in writing. Students need to have a clear idea of the outcome of their
writing experience. If it might be shared in a wider forum beyond the classroom, they need to be made
aware of that from the start. If you use online outlets such as a school website, blogs, or forums for
publication, that can motivate writers and make the in-class activities more real and meaningful.

(This content is copyrighted, and cannot be adapted in any way, or distributed after the end of this course. It is not Public Domain or Creative
Commons-licensed, and therefore not for public use.)

Oxford Royale Academy. (2014). 4 difficulties English poses for EFL learners, and how to overcome
them. Oxford Royale Academy. Retrieved from

Badi, I. (2015). Academic writing difficulties of ESL learners. The West East Institute. Retrieved

This is a program of the U.S. Department of State

administered by FHI 360 and delivered by World Learning

Mohamed, D., & Zouaoui, D. (2014). EFL writing hindrances and challenges: The case of second year
students of English at Djillali Liabes. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 4, No. 3. Retrieved

Tütünis, B. (2000). Content based academic writing. The Internet TESL Journal, 6, No. 7. Retrieved

Suggested Further Reading

(This content is copyrighted, and cannot be adapted in any way, or distributed after the end of this course. It is not Public Domain or Creative
Commons-licensed, and therefore not for public use.)

Writing and using content and language objectives. (2014). Making Content Comprehensible for
English Language Learners: The SIOP® Model. Retrieved from and-language-

Examples of formative assessment. (2009). [State Board of Education]. Retrieved


Regier, N. (2012). 60 formative assessment strategies. Regier Educational Resources. Retrieved


Hill, H. (2015). 10 fun-filled formative assessment ideas [Educational]. Retrieved from filled-formative- assessment-ideas

To cite this article:

World Learning. (2019). Developing students’ academic writing skills in English. In “Content-based
Instruction” [MOOC].

This is a program of the U.S. Department of State

administered by FHI 360 and delivered by World Learning