Aims: Often students (particularly EAP students) have a vague notion that they need to ‘improve their writing’. What does this mean? Well, for some students that might be working on grammatical accuracy, for others learning how to structure an essay, for others maybe expanding their vocabulary. For many though, what they really want to do is improve their writing ‘fluency’, that is to make their writing sound more natural, to ‘flow’. This isn’t an easy thing to teach though! However, apart from the (always good) advice to read, read, read, I have found this lesson to really help them to understand what you mean when you talk about writing fluency. As such it is a lesson I refer back to again and again.
Level: B2+ (and particularly good for EAP students)
1. Show the class the following text (or write one similar):
I woke up this morning. I was hungry. I didn’t have any food. It was raining. I walked to the shop with my umbrella. I bought milk and bread. I started to walk home. It was windy and there was heavy rain. My umbrella blew inside out and broke. I ran home. I got very wet. I made tea and toast. I went to bed.
Ask them: Is this a ‘good’ piece of writing? Why or why not? Is the meaning clear? How could we improve it?
What you should be able to elicit is that although the meaning is clear it is not very interesting. It has no ‘flow’. Suggestions to improve might include: varying sentence length, adding adjectives or adverbs, connecting sentences, giving more interesting details. Write any suggestions on the board.
2. Show them this text (or a similar one you have redrafted):
When I woke up this morning I was starving hungry because I hadn’t eaten any dinner the night before. I went to the kitchen to get breakfast, but my flatmates had finished all the food already and there was nothing to eat in the house. I looked out the window and saw it was raining. I was so hungry though! I decided I would just go to the corner shop to buy some food. I grabbed my umbrella and headed out. At the shop I bought a loaf of bread and some milk. As I started walking home there was a sudden gust of wind, and my umbrella blew inside out. I heard a crack. It was completely broken! Just at that moment the rain started to pelt down really hard. I ran all the way home, but by the time I got there I was soaked through to the skin. I made some tea and toast and went back to bed.
Ask them if they think this text is better and why or why not (often they will suggest other improvements!) Ask if they can identify which of the things they had suggested before in the text and look through for examples.
3. Now it is their turn to try and improve a text. Show/give them a copy of this text.
I was tired. I was cleaning my teeth. I saw something in the mirror. I looked up it was a ghost. I screamed. My friend ran in. She said it was just the cat. I think it was a ghost.
You can give them different texts, or ask them to write simple texts and get them to swap around.
4. Ask them to swap around or read their stories out in groups and discuss what they changed, how different they are. You could even get them to collate their individual stories into one collaborative group effort.
5. Ask them what they think is meant by writing ‘flow’. You should be able to explain/elicit that it is connecting ideas together to make the writing interesting, easy to read and sound ‘natural’.
(This idea has been inspired and adapted from a lesson on Teachitworld called ‘Letting it Flow’.)