Writing for fluency focuses on writing as a means of discovery – of finding one’s opinions. In order to better prepare our learners for writing, we need to include time dedicated to writing for pleasure and exploration.
In this article, Jade Blue shares some practical classroom activities to try with your learners to develop written fluency. Some years ago, I was preparing a one-to-one student for an English language exam. We were discussing the format of the speaking and writing parts. Both parts required the candidate to give their views on various topics, and the student I was teaching was especially concerned about this element. She asked, “Where do I get the opinions from?”.
What is writing for fluency?
The term ‘fluency’ comes from the Latin ‘fluere’, meaning ‘to flow’. It describes the ability to express oneself easily and without undue hesitation. In language learning, fluency is often related to speaking but also applies to writing.
As a teacher and researcher, I often take for granted my ability to write for pleasure, reflection, or as a process to explore ideas. However, I often encounter learners, like the student above, for whom writing in this way is unfamiliar. Frequently, writing lessons focus on genre and accuracy at the expense of fluency, so many learners struggle to produce ideas for content. As such, students often see writing as a chore rather than something pleasurable.
In my classes, students indicate that a focus on how to write often acts as a barrier to thinking of what to write. Writing for fluency focuses on writing as a means of discovery – of finding one’s opinions. In order to better prepare our learners for writing, we need to include time dedicated to writing for pleasure and exploration. To give students practice extending their ideas in order to generate content. Here are some practical classroom activities to try with your learners:
In this activity, learners in pairs have a written ‘conversation’ about a topic. Mini whiteboards work well (but aren’t essential) for this, and learners can ‘discuss’ their weekend or future plans, or a specific topic (perhaps as a warmer or lead into a lesson).
After the activity, students discuss what they found easy/challenging/interesting, to highlight the differences between speaking and writing. Inevitably, the conversation unfolds more slowly than spoken conversation. However, this allows learners more processing time to think of what they want to say (and how they want to say it).
The same activity can be adapted for more complex topics: groups of students answer a question on the board. In this version, learners respond to each other’s comments, as in a conversation. One of the benefits of ‘discussing’ a topic in this way is that learners enjoy the feeling of anonymity involved, as well as the extra thinking time not afforded by face-to-face discussion.
Sentences to paragraphs
Its aim is to help learners extend their ideas in written content. I call it Sentences to Paragraphs, and it can be done on paper or computer screens. It works with various topics, but childhood toys is a good example.
First, learners think about a toy they had as a child, and write 2 or 3 sentences about it.
I usually give an example on the whiteboard. “When I was a child I had a Winnie-the-Pooh bear. It had a little red T-shirt on and it was my favourite toy.”
Students swap their writing with a partner, either on paper or by sharing through digital platforms. Their partner then writes 3 questions underneath to elicit more information. Again, I usually model this on the whiteboard, inviting the class to propose questions.
Where did you get it from?
Why was it your favourite toy?
What did you do with it?
Next, students rewrite their original text to include the answers to their partner’s questions. It’s important students aren’t just adding sentences, but are integrating into their original text the additional information.
When I was a child my father gave me a Winnie-the-Pooh bear for my fifth birthday. It had a little red T-shirt on and I talked to it constantly and carried it with me wherever I went. It was my favourite toy, partly because it came from my Dad and partly because I was a big fan of Winnie-the-Pooh and didn’t have any other toys like it.
The question writing and re-writing stages are then repeated 2 or 3 times so that students end up with more detailed and descriptive content. Once learners have practised the technique, they can apply the question stage to their own writing.
In this activity, learners write an imagined description of a scene in response to a piece of instrumental music, supported by 5 question words to consider as they’re writing:
In a free writing activity, learners write what comes to mind without interrupting their thought process to edit their text for accuracy. Ask someone to suggest a topic, and write whatever comes to mind as quickly as possible. Modelling the activity in this way gives learners permission to not worry about their mistakes.
Next, give the class a list of topics to choose from and set a time that they should keep writing for.
Some suggested topics:
One of the best gifts you’ve ever been given
An animal you liked
One of your favourite places
One of the nicest things someone has said to you
Someone in your life who taught you something important As well as developing written fluency, these activities motivate students as they’re personalised and learner-centred. In writing for fluency, continuity is crucial: learners need practice to progress.
Regularly integrating written fluency activities into the classroom helps learners develop the skills to be independent, motivated writers, and gives them practice in generating and extending their own ideas.