It never ceases to amaze me that after so many years of teaching experience, I’m still learning new things concerning classroom methodology. Not only do I benefit from attending conferences and reading ELT blogs, but I also learn a great deal by observing my own students.
I’m sure that all of you have already done some kind of collaborative writing with your classes. It’s nothing new under the sun after all. Personally, I use collaborative writing activities quite often. I put students in small groups and usually give them some picture clues to follow. They put the pictures in a specific (not necessarily correct) order and then they create a story. The whole group is then responsible for one final product, i. e. one person is recording what all the members of the group agree on. Then they share the product with the rest of the class.
Today we did a similar thing in class, but I decided to change the procedure a bit. And the tweak paid off in the end. Based on my experience, when only one person is recording the story, the rest of the group is not as involved as they should be, even though they are active during the speaking stages. The smaller the group, the better, but even in a group of three, the writing student is usually the busiest. You can obviously give each student a different role (the writer, the coordinator, the researcher, etc.) or they can simply take turns when writing. Alternatively, you can try what I did today.
I demanded that each member of the group was writing, i. e. all the 3-4 students were producing the same thing at the same time – each of them on a separate sheet of paper.
I noticed that this method had some advantages in comparison with the traditional one.
- All students were fully and equally involved throughout the whole activity.
- The degree of language noticing increased dramatically because all of them concentrated on each word of the text – if someone was not sure how to spell a word, for example, they immediately checked with the others. Those who didn’t even realize they had made a mistake benefited too. Also, when only one student is writing, the listeners may think they know how to spell a word or how to make a correct sentence, but I think they actually don’t know until they pick up a pen a start writing.
- The level of grammatical accuracy increased too because they all kept an eye on one another. It’s simply harder to make a mistake when you put a few heads together. So, if someone spotted a problem, they stopped the others and asked for clarification. Lots of rephrasing was happening at this stage.
- For all the above reasons, the amount of language practice increased as well.
- The level of collaboration seemed much higher too because of all the checking, clarifying and comparing.
- Finally, the sharing stage was easier because each student had a copy of the story so they could take turns when reading.