1. Introduction

Objectives: In this unit you will

  1. Understand that writing is a process
  2. Recognize the three steps of the writing process: pre-writing, writing, and post-writing
  3. Become familiar with appropriate techniques to develop your learner's writing skills
Estimated time for completing this section: 3 hours


In the previous module, Teaching Reading to Adults, the final activity was the Language Experience Approach. This combines reading and writing, and is a useful method of not only developing reading skills but also beginning to understand the writing process. At first, when you and your student share a Language Experience, you will write what she tells. Later, as she grows more confident and skilled, she can write as well.

Many of the reading comprehension strategies and the vocabulary and word recognition skills that the beginning reader develops will improve if the reader is also writing questions and summaries, new words and their definitions. Writing down the sight words as the list grows will help the learner to recognize them over time. These two skills reinforce each other.

Optional: Download checklist for progress
Click here to download a PDF checklist that will help you keep track of your progress. You may save the document in your files. It will not save in this blog.

2. Before You Begin

What kind of writing do you do in your daily life? Do you write memoranda at work? Letters to family and friends? Emails to co-workers? Lists to yourself?

More importantly, how do you feel about writing? Is it something you enjoy or something you dread? Why?

Now think about your learner. How do you think he or she may wish to use writing in daily life? What problems might your learner have in writing? How are your feelings similar to or different from your learner's?

Required Assignment

Think of some of your reasons for writing and/or feelings about writing. Do you think your learners and your training cohort have similar experiences and feelings as yours? List some of your thoughts and save your list for a future assignment.
3. The Writing Process

Writing is a process of communicating thoughts and ideas from the writer to the reader. This process involves two skills sets. One is the thinking/creativity skill. The other involves the small motor skills involved in using a pen or pencil or typing on a keyboard. The two skills are interconnected in many ways that researchers who study the operations of the brain do not fully understand.

Thinking/Creativity Skills
One of the reasons people have trouble with writing is that the process is somewhat mysterious. We do not know where the ideas come from. We are often led astray from the topic by free-flowing words. Or, the supply seems to dry up suddenly and our minds go blank.

Small Motor Skills

1. Pen or Pencil
Adults who are not accustomed to writing might not have developed the fine motor skills in their hands and fingers to accomplish the physical act of writing. Their penmanship may be extremely poor. You will need to encourage your learner to practice handling a writing instrument. Some students may need practice copying and writing smaller letters in anticipation of filling out applications; others may be ready to practice cursive writing. Some never learn to use cursive writing but print all of their written communication.

Optional activities (Click here to learn more about small motor skills.)

2. Keyboard
If your learner has trouble writing, whether it is coming up with ideas or putting pen to paper, you may want to try putting her in front of a keyboard.

The keyboard
  1. requires different small motor skills and different neural paths from putting pen to paper
  2. frees up writers who can only stare at an empty piece of paper
  3. works particularly well with learners who experience learning difficulties or disabilities.

With adults completely unaccustomed to the keyboard, the tutor can act as scribe, typing the learner's words and ideas. As the learner becomes more familiar using the keyboard, she can take over the physical act of typing her own stories.

Optional activities (Click here to learn more about keyboarding.)

4. The Three Phases of Writing

All learned skills require practice. Learning to write takes time. It takes concentration. As a tutor, you will need to help your student become comfortable with the idea of writing and then the act of writing itself.

Writing as a process can be broken into three phases: pre-writing, writing, and post-writing or revising.

Pre-Writing: The First Phase

Pre-writing activities will help your student to get ready to perform the task of writing. Pre-writing consists of gathering ideas and thinking of the order in which they should appear so the reader can follow the thought process of the writer. In pre-writing tasks, tutors will help the learner to:
  • Think about the subject and activate their prior knowledge just as with reading activities.
  • Outline and organize ideas.
  • Focus on the reader and the purpose for writing.

Required Assignment

Use a mind map or other graphic organizer to organize your thoughts for a topic of your choice. Now go to "comments" and share which graphic organizer you chose and why.

Optional Link (Click here to find out more about graphic organizers.)
5. Writing: The Second Phase

After completing the pre-writing activities, encourage your student to put thoughts to paper. Even experienced writers will hesitate at this point. Many of the things your learners will want to write about are related to the business of their lives, such as:
  • notes to teachers or family,
  • letters requesting information or assistance, or
  • a complaint.
  • Your student's purpose for writing in these instances is well defined. At first you might want to encourage her to make a series of lists. As she becomes more capable, the writing process will also involve putting thoughts on paper.

    About the first draft

    Just remember that at the very beginning, all learners are worried about the mechanics of writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation). This is because their spelling and word awareness skills require considerable building, as do their handwriting skills. Most of the learners you will encounter need to develop spelling and sound recognition skills as well as their narrative ones. In fact, it is their lack of these tools of writing that inhibits them.

    When writing a first draft, encourage your student to write until she is finished.

    • Allow her words to flow without any editing or interruption.
    • Promise you will help to fix the mechanics later.
    Tip: If your student cannot think of the exact word, have her draw a line or a symbol, or encourage her to invent spellings for words. (McShane, Activity 66, pp 117-8)
    It is important to teach your student that revision and editing are part of the post writing process. There are two reasons for separating revision from the writing phase.

    1. Writing is dynamic and creative. The flow of ideas, even when it is slow, requires energy to keep going.
    2. Making corrections is a static process; it looks for fault and error. It will completely stop the flow of ideas.
    Therefore, do not make corrections until all of your student's ideas are on paper. Once that happens, you can correct the mistakes by helping her to:
    • find the exact words
    • fix spelling and grammar mistakes
    • modify sentence structure or sentence order

    6. Required Writing Assignment

    Free Writing: In this exercise, you will need to set a timer for ten minutes. Then, put your pen to paper and begin writing. You must write words on the paper for the entire period of time. You can start out by writing, "This is stupid, this is dumb, I hate this," but within a few minutes you will find that you are writing and the timer will surprise you.

    The purpose of free writing is to loosen up the process. Peter Elbow, author of any number of books on teaching writing, especially teaching writing to adults [Anyone Can Write (2003), Writing with Power (1981), Writing Without Teachers (1973)] is a strong proponent of using free writing. He is an engaging writer himself, and his books offer excellent insight into the writing and revising process.
    Optional: Watch this video about free writing:

    Look back at the list of your feelings about writing from the Before You Begin activity and post your insights into the free writing process in "Comment." Then read what others have to say.

    Other Writing Activities
    The following are some other activities you can use with your student to encourage writing:
    1. Language Experience Approach (LEA)
    2. Writing lists, filling out forms, brainstorming and clustering
    3. Journaling

    Required Assignment

    How does journal writing help develop learning in the adult? What are some concerns raised in this article? How can you, working one on one, make use of the journaling technique? Post a few of your thoughts in "Comments."

    7. Revision: The Final Phase in Writing

    After you have succeeded in helping your student complete a first draft, you will help her to edit and proof it. Watch this introductory video about revision:

    Also watch this short video about the three-step revision process. This technique works just as well for the very low level learner as well as for the GED student. Tutors must make sure to help the student step-by-step, helping students to see that writing at all levels is a process and that all good writers must revise their work:

    In revision, you will add details that you and your student decide are necessary or helpful to understanding the topic. You and your student will work at:

    • eliminating any extraneous or repetitive information;
    • moving and rearranging sentences to make the flow of ideas more logical or easier for the reader to follow; and
    • correcting spelling and sentence structure errors. (For many people, especially those who have had trouble in the past, these are the biggest blocks to writing.)

    Lesson planning tip: How will you fit the three stages of writing into your lesson? Click here for some suggestions.

    Point to ponder
    An interesting way to work on the logical and smooth flow of ideas is to take a paragraph and write out the individual sentences. Then, cut the paper so each sentence is in its own strip. Mix them up, and have your learner put them in the proper order. (This is a particularly good exercise for your kinesthetic learners.)

    Optional: This sentence order exercise from Cerritos College will provide additional practice for your student.

    8. Integrating Writing Into Your Lessons

    Combined reading and writing lessons work so well together. As Kerka says, writing provides the opportunity for the learner to develop his or her ideas on a topic. Writing about a reading assignment allows the learner to think that assignment through. It also gives you a ready-made topic on which to write. Integrating Writing Into the Classroom (www.glencoe.com/sec/teachingtoday/
    ) describes a number of ways in which to combine reading and writing lessons together.

    It is not likely that your learner will become a notable author or discover a previously untapped talent. But all of us need writing in our daily lives, and being able to use writing effectively is something that will strengthen your learner's spirit to continue. Writing tasks should be applicable to daily life: lists, letters to teachers or friends, or complaints to stores or landlords are all immediately useful. But there is a little bit of poet lurking in everyone's soul.


    All of us require writing skills in our daily lives. Not being able to write coherently affects the life of your student as strongly as not being able to read fluently. Writing involves both small-motor skills and creative skills, which can add to the difficulty in developing writing skills. In addition, most learners are worried about their lack of spelling and grammar capabilities. Separating the writing process into its three phases: pre-writing, writing, and post-writing will assist your learner to focus on the communication skills. Realizing that revision is a separate step can open up the process to allow for a flow of ideas. The Language Experience Approach is very useful in showing that the communication of ideas is completed by the combined skills of reading and writing.

    In the next unit, you will learn to assess your student's skills and create lesson plans to help her reach her goals.

    Self Check

    Answer the following True or False statements

    __T __F 1. Most learners feel comfortable with their spelling and grammar skills.

    __T __F 2. Most of do not need to write to be able to function well in our lives.

    __T __F 3. Prewriting consists of gathering ideas and thinking about the order in which to put them.

    __T __F 4. Writing is a complicated but easily understood process.

    __T __F 5. It is a good idea to revise at the same time you write the first draft.

    __T __F 6.. Writing provides an opportunity for a learner to develop his or her own ideas.

    __T __F 7. The Language Experience Approach shows that the communication of ideas is completed by the combined skills of reading and writing.

    __T __F 8. In writing, look for ways to make the flow of ideas easier for the reader to follow.

    __T __F 9. Small motor skills are an integral part of the writing process.

    __T __F 10. List writing and filling out forms are good ways to develop the writing process.

    Check Answers Here

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