Most teachers tend to think that, writing is better done for homework individually…I don’t!
When writing is done in class, as a collaborative activity, it can have many of the same benefits of a group speaking activity:
Discussing the writing process obviously provides more opportunities for learners to interact in English, a benefit in itself.
Collaborative writing can also be a lot of fun! Especially, when it is related to pictures!
To start with, have students draw their own pictures or bring in photos. Or, you can provide pictures for them from books, magazines, the internet and other sources.
Jigsaw writing is a way of structuring collaborative writing, so that the process is clearly defined. This works well with picture stories or cartoon strips. I put students into small groups and read them a book story showing them the pictures at the same time….Then, I hand each group, photocopies of the book story and ask them to write a paragraph- or simple sentences, for my junior students- describing what is happening or happened in their picture(s).
Then, I regroup the students into larger groups so that there is someone in each group who has written about each of the pictures, and ask them to decide on the correct order of the pictures and make any changes necessary to turn their paragraphs- sentences, into a coherent whole. Students can then read and compare the different versions of the story!
Another idea is, to throw all the book pictures or any other pictures available…. up in the air(!) , and when all the pictures land on the floor, ask the groups of students to collect any pictures they like more, decide on the order they wish the pictures to be and finally, collaboratively write sentences for each one of the pictures and make a new story!
Finally, they can be asked to share their stories with the other groups of story writers and make comments.
In the next lesson, they can then put the pictures together to make their own small book. Ask them to colour it, and give it a name, too …. This is a great motivator for the students. They will enjoy reading their books and will be looking forward to writing more. You could also let them take their books home to share their stories, and new writing skills, with their families.
With older students, one really fun activity is the following: give students a short amount of time to draw an abstract picture (this works better if you have some crayons or markers ready to go). Tape all the pictures to the wall. Students then have to write a short paragraph giving the picture a title and describing what they think is happening in the picture. The fun comes after all of the paragraphs have been written. Students then try and link up which paragraph matches which picture. This usually results in a lot of mismatches and quite a bit of laughter. If there’s time left, it can also lead into a good conversation about modern art in general. I usually, ask the groups of students, to take their pictures back and write a ….science fiction story book ,using all of their pictures in any order they prefer and share with the class
I like having a group of different level students composing a story together. It can be so useful, efficient and rewarding. Useful for everyone: weaker students have their peers helping them in a non threatening environment. They have time, they dare to ask for more explanation, they won’t shy away when something’s not clear. The stronger students can only solidify their knowledge! It’s efficient because instead of one teacher dragging along 15 students, then correcting 15 different stories, what we get is a cluster of groups working on their own and producing one hopefully well-polished writing in the end!
And it’s rewarding – classroom time has been used efficiently and there is an end product everyone has contributed to.
I think collaborative writing using pictures, can be a really good way of getting students to write ‘by stealth’ but you do have to be careful that it doesn’t just end up with the stronger writers doing all the work…
There are many more activities that can be used which give children a realistic reason to write. Whatever activity we choose to use should be one that is motivating and that taps into your students’ interests.
I have recently been introduced to Storybird. It looks fantastic, although I haven’t had much chance to explore it yet. It has beautiful artwork that you can use to make stories. If anyone has used it in class I would love to hear of your experience!