IATEFL 2013 Working on writing: an interview with Guy Brook-Hart Where should we start from when preparing students for IELTS Academic Writing? I think you have to start by looking at what Band score your students need and by looking at the Band Descriptors, what writing and language skills they will have to demonstrate in order to achieve that score. You also have to manage students’ expectations and take them step by step to the level they require. A student who would currently score a Band 5, but who needs a Band 7, won’t achieve a Band 7 without going through the stages described for students in Band 6.
In the early stages, whatever students’ general level of English, we may well have to teach them types of writing which they’re not familiar with in their own cultures. Academic essays are, for example, very much part of British educational culture, but are not necessarily something students from other countries have been systematically been taught to do in their own languages. Writing academic essays takes time and requires comprehensive critical thinking skills, but it’s central to a lot of what students will be required to do when they go to an Englishspeaking university. They will need to research, think through the subject and decide what their position is; then there’s planning and organising ideas and expressing them persuasively and coherently. Writing academic essays trains students to think in an analytic and opinion-forming way. How do you motivate students to write? Writing is hard work and doesn’t come naturally to every student. Some teachers react with surprise when I tell them that before you ask students to start work on a piece of writing you need to spend at least an hour in class helping them to prepare and understand what the task involves. Just writing the title of a piece of writing homework on the board at the end of the class really doesn’t work.
In the Complete series, for instance, students are taken systematically through each stage in the writing process: they read and analyse the task; they discuss and, brainstorm ideas; they write a plan, discuss it in pairs and with the teacher; they look at a model or sample answer to see how it’s done and they work on aspects of writing appropriate to their level – at a B1 level, how to write in paragraphs, structure and link their paragraphs logically, for instance. At more advanced levels, they are trained to think about the reader, focusing on communication, appropriate content and style to produce a positive effect and persuade. How are students’ writing needs changing? The world is changing, and English teaching with it. Writing has always been an important part of academic life, and it’s increasingly central to professional success. In the past, where people might have picked up the phone, now they write emails much more. Preparation of documents is a huge part of many people’s working lives – it’s evaluated and will influence their prospects for career advancement. How does the use of corpora help to improve coursebooks? As coursebook writer who has taught in Spain for more than twenty-five years, I’m very aware of Spanish learners’ difficulties. But when writing a coursebook, we need to focus not just on Spanish learner’s problems, but on the range of difficulties students have in many different countries. Before starting a new writing project, we ask our researchers to compile and analyse data from the Cambridge Learner Corpus and produce a report on the main areas of error for students in all our principal markets to make sure the material we write is relevant to all our students.
Guy Brook-Hart has more than thirty years’ teaching experience in Egypt, Kuwait, France, Britain and Spain, and is the author of Instant IELTS, Business Benchmark Vantage and Higher, and Complete First Certificate, Complete CAE and Complete IELTS, all published by Cambridge University Press. He will be speaking on Maximizing scores in IELTS academic writing at IATEFL on Thursday April 11th in Hall 11c at 10.35.