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Writing!.......and building towards writing

Updated: Apr 2

The topic of how to help your students with writing is a common theme for English B'Yachad tutors. Although most of our students identify conversational skills as their number one priority in working with a tutor, writing often creeps in! And writing can be intimidating for fluent or first-language English speakers let alone English language learners.

English B'Yachad students are adult learners, who benefit most when working on an English skill in the context of real-world usage.

Some students recognize the need for improving their writing skills. Others may describe work or academic situations in which they can identify the need to write in English. Other students may simply not be ready or interested in tackling writing.

Tutor Terry M (Nashville) shared that after three years with English B'Yachad , she believes that students become open to working on writing when they need to write!

Pre-Writing strategies...

Terry has used a technique whereby she writes about something in English that is relevant to the student's work situation; then she translates her writing to Hebrew with a program called REVERSO. She sends her student the translated Hebrew text. When they meet, Terry and her student discuss in English what he read in Hebrew.

This approach, utilizing Hebrew text with English responses, has helped her student feel less intimidated and she believes that she may be able to transition this approach into getting her student to work on writing --- when he's ready of course!

Real world needs guide the writing process...

Tutor Carri K (Chicago) shared that although writing has not been the primary focus of her work with her student, it emerged during their conversations about the student's job. They discussed and practiced how to write emails to various people or groups. Those relevant and concrete situations become the basis for learning and writing practice. Carri and her student worked together to construct writing examples about these work situations. And in some cases, her student was able to actually adapt and use at work what she wrote in the leaning sessions!

Carri shared one of her "Cardinal rules" about writing with her student which is wise to include in any work on writing. That "rule" is: Always assume that someone else will see what you write.

Contrast writing with oral communication which provides "feedback mechanisms" to be sure the other party 'gets' what is being said. Tone and further explanation are easier to control either in person or on a call - especially if the student is less than comfortable using English to convey the essence of the message.

Carri facilitates understanding of how to approach writing by asking questions to help her student think about tone, language, style, vocabulary, and audience before practicing the actual writing. Carri's approach breaks down the writing process into smaller, less intimidating components.

  • Should the email style be direct or more nuanced?

  • Is the email directed to a manager or other team members or both?

  • Who will read this email and is it likely to be forwarded to others?

  • Is the writer asking for an action to be taken by the reader?

  • Is the message's purpose simply to convey information?

Our students can find themselves in conversation (written or oral) with people in other locations for whom English may also not be the first language. Hence the need to be sure the words used are simple and clear. Further clarification should be encouraged so that all parties understand the message. Although these tips may sound very business formal and high-level, Carri clarified that even these discussions between her and her student were at an elementary level.

Using formulas and templates to build writing confidence and skill

As there's often a formulaic approach to many kinds of business emails, Tutor Eada R (Montreal) put together a guide for use with students that provides simple, yet common, examples of email styles and basic content. Eada shared her resource with the English B'Yachad community and it is available for download below.

email writing - useful expressions to use
Download PDF • 89KB


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