Writing is probably the skill most affected by the rise of the Internet. Apart from anything else, the last decade has seen the emergence, or rise in prominence, of important new tools such as blogs and wikis, and social-networking platforms that have seen our learners becoming more used to writing. In many cases, you will find that learners already write regularly online. One of the challenges for language teachers is to help learners extend their ‘internet world beyond their first language’, and a way to meet this challenge is to use the Internet as a language-learning opportunity (Godwin Jones, 2008: 7).
The writing you will want to focus on will depend on the profile of your learners, and early on you should find out what kind of writing they are involved in now and may do in the future. In this chapter, there are activities that look at a range of different writing sub-skills, such as planning/ generating ideas; writing more fluently; or more accurately; drafting and re-drafting range; reporting; and summarizing; making text cohesive; and writing different genres; and text types.
One of the areas you will want to examine is writing CVs; and another is email; especially if the learners are adults. The challenge with email for many learners is not only a linguistic one, but can also be related to unfamiliarity with a target language’s cultural norms or values. Emails help with composing more formal email communication is required. Other areas looked at in this chapter include spelling, writing text messages, writing narratives, writing collaboratively, note taking, writing discursively and writing biographies.
The use of blogs; can be encouraged with language learners, and the ease with which they can be published, and the potential they have for encouraging greater productivity, means they are attractive tools to introduce to language learners. Through writing a blog, a learner can develop a introduce blogs to learners will depend very much on the time you have available, and your choice between the main three types- tutor blog, class blog and learner blog (Campbell, 2003)- will depend very much on what your aims are. Further discussion of these can be found in Activity 7.3 and in chapter 2 buliding a learning community.
Whichever type of blog you decide to use, experience has shown that it can be difficult to maintain momentum (Stanley, 2006), and some of the activities in this chapter have been written with this in mind. A key to successful use of blogs is to ensure that whatever is written by learners on a blog is responding to learners’ posts promptly and writing short comments relating to content, rather than trying to correct learners’ posts promptly and writing short comments relating to content, rather than trying to correct learners’ work online. The importance of audience should not be underestimated, as Warshaucer (2010: 4) points out: “Blogging can… be used to help students write for a social audience and hone their words in response to others, while becoming sensitive to both the benefits and risks of expressing themselves online’.
Collaborative writing can also be highlighted by the use of technology. Perhaps the best tool for this is the wiki (a simple website with content that can be easily added to an edited collaboratively). Whereas email, chat and blogs often accentuate informal and personal exchange, writing on a wiki can be more formal and topic-based. Each learner can be made to feel they are contributing to a larger whole, although the process of developing collective knowledge is sometimes hard for learners to adapt to. One way of helping this transition to collaborative work has been suggested in an activity for the finished product. Apart from class wikis, teachers may also want to experiment with other projects such as the Simple English Wikipedia (http://simple.wikipedia.org), targeted at English-language learners. Collaboration on a project of this nature could be highly motivating for some learners.
Writing on social networks is another area that should not be ignored. Social-networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have become important to many of our learners’ lives, and teachers may find that some of their learners are already using the target language to communicate with others on these sites. If this is the case, then using it in class could well be an option that will be popular with learners.
Collecting learner writing in electronic portfolios (e-portfolios) is another area which can be considered by the teacher. Gathering learner writing can be made an integral part of a learner’s personal learning environment: the e-portfolio part of this process is further discussed in chapter 11 Assessment and evaluation.
Apart from conventional writing skills, your learners may need to develop digital literacy skills, which is another reason for using digital tools. How much of this you do in the language classroom will depend on you and your learners, but there is much here to explore with learners: what information sources to use and how best to make use of them, the multi-modality of digital texts (i.e. combining text with images, included in activities in this chapter), writing in different digital contexts (e.g. using mobile phone text messages, or SMS, included in Activity 7.17), and the use of fonts and other design features, ect.