This post outlines some activities to help students write well organised pieces of writing, specifically addressing the Cambridge exam mark scheme. I wrote a post about ‘content’ last week that you can find by clicking here.

In the example we’re looking at essay writing at FCE level but these ideas could apply to any pieces of writing.

One of the first problems that students may have with essay writing is generating ideas. For my class I used this speaking activity on agreeing and disagreeing with various statements. Once the students have some ideas we can focus on organising these ideas into an essay structure.

Start small

Board example.png

Write some linking and contrasting expressions on the board. Students work in pairs to write sentences based on their previous discussions, using a different expression from the board for each one. Once each pair has written at least 5 sentences feedback is done in the form of a game. Divide the class into two teams, keeping students in their pairs. The teams take it in turns to read a sentence and get two marks if it’s good and one if there’s a minor mistake. If there’s a mistake they have a chance to correct it themselves to get the second point, but if they can’t fix it the other team has a chance to steal the point by correcting it instead. Each time an expression is used it’s crossed off the board and the game ends when all of the expressions have been used.

At the end of the game students have to copy each other’s corrected sentences until they have one sentence for each expression. This will give everyone in the class a selection of correctly used connecting language to refer to when they write.

Mini essay

Either in class or as homework students select one of the opinions from the earlier speaking activity to write a mini essay about, either agreeing or disagreeing with the statement. Students should write around 100 words and follow one of these templates:

Board example2.png

Board example3.png

You could make a similar template for any part of the written exam.

When you mark the essays focus primarily on the correct use of the linking expressions. Follow up with an error correction activity if there are any errors replicated by multiple students.

Fewer restrictions over time

When students practise writing answers to full exam style questions make templates that have space for planning. You should also allow students time to discuss their ideas in pairs or groups in the lesson, especially if you are setting the writing tasks for homework. This helps generate ideas and shows students how beneficial thoughtful planning can be. They should hopefully pick up some good habits.

The templates can include specific set expressions and an organisation structure, especially useful the first time a student writes a particular type of writing. This will help students get a firmer grasp of the required register. The templates can get less restrictive over time but there should still be a clear guide for planning.

Here are a couple of templates I’ve used. They include the question, an area to plan which should replicate the structure of the piece of writing, and some advice to consider.

Report Template – a very ‘hand-holding’ template for students who are writing a report for the first time.

Essay Template – a basic template to encourage thoughtful planning. Made for students who have written a number of essays previously and have been using the connecting language successfully.

Thanks for reading!

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Cambridge English have an abundance of excellent resources for teaching writing skills, including planning and organisation.

I first saw templates being used for writing in a section on emails and letters in the IHBET course I took at ILC IH Brno (thanks to Lily-Anne Young and Matthew Smith!).