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Background Essay :Language Skills

Assignment LSA2

Writing :Helping learners write

transactional letters using the Product
and Process Approaches.

By Adele Rocheforte -Anness



Problems and Solutions ……………………………..4,5,6



Word Count

Writing letters and emails asking for or giving information are part of the
Cambridge exams for all levels. As I teach mainly exam orientated classes,
this genre of writing is of interest to me and my students. I have limited the
scope of my Essay to transactional writing because in addition to mastering
this skill to pass an exam , I view this as a practical skill which students may
need later on in life e.g to write a job application .
Students rate their writing skills as average to poor in both LI ,L2,feel that
writing takes up speaking time in class and prefer to do it for homework.
With this in mind I have chosen to further my understanding of The Product and
Process Approaches to writing , exploring ways in which I can encourage
learners to obtain better results.
Writing is thought of as a “forgotten skill “ ( Bowden,T. &Marks,J.1994
p143)often given as homework and seen by students as being of little use and
therefore boring . This is true in all classrooms ESL and non. Writing is
difficult ,it requires us to be silent ,to organize our ideas ,to understand why
we are writing, to be accurate and to use an appropriate style and vocabulary.

In Transactional writing ,you are communicating for a purpose ,perhaps

to ask for information, to complain ,to apply for a job or to thank somebody and
you expect a reply ,you have unanswered questions .Your writing is usually
formal as you do not know the person you are writing to .

The following sub-skills apply

• Use paragraphs, to give an order to your thoughts and organize the

content coherently.

• Plan the content. The first paragraph stating the reason why you are
writing e.g I am writing to ask you about your cooking course, the second
paragraph to ask for information e.g when is it possible to begin the
course? Etc and finally a conclusion asking for a reply ,I am looking
forward to your reply….

• Use punctuation correctly, question and exclamation marks ,full stops

,spelling ,commas and colons.
• Uses standard forms of address ,such as Dear Sir or Madam for formal
correspondence and end appropriately e.g Yours faithfully …

• Use an appropriate style for your intention ,abbreviations and phrasal

verbs are not used e.g could instead of can ,arrive instead of get in.
• Varying language to avoid repetition.

• Keep in mind why you are writing ,what information you require, or wish
to give.

• Spell correctly.

• Write drafts as necessary, correct errors of content or language.

• Use a range of cohesive devices e.g whereas

The Product and Process Approaches to writing

The Product approach or Model Text Approach was developed in the late
70’s and early 80’s. Using a model text ,learners’ attention is drawn to certain
grammatical, lexical, layout and register features via controlled practice of
tasks. Learners then produce a similar text. This follows the presentation-
practice-production or PPP teaching approach in vogue at the time.
“The learner is not allowed to create in target language at all ….. the use of
language is the manipulation of the fixed patterns;…these patterns are learned
by imitation ; and not until they have been learned can originality occur …”
(PIncas, A. 1962: p 185-6)

Prior to this approach writing in a foreign language was seen as an intellectual

exercise to provide consolidation of structures studied previously ,rather than
a skill in its own right.

By the late 80’s the Process approach was introduced. This emphasized the
creativity and unpredictability of writing where the writer is proceeding back
and forth between the various stages to produce a finished text .

• The Product Approach (Badger,R and White,G. 2000)

Stage 1 Pre-Writing.
Model Texts are read ,features of genre highlighted e. g. formal letter attention
drawn to
Dear Sir /Madam and ending Yours faithfully.

Stage 2, Controlled Writing or Drafting.

Controlled practice of the isolated features e. g if the formal letter begins with
Dear Mr Smith you end with Yours sincerely.

Stage 3 Guided Writing

The organization of ideas.

Stage 4 Free Writing or Revising

Students produce the product.

• The Process Approach (Harmer,J.2007 p326)(Tribble,C 1996

(Sensenbaugh,R 1990 p382-3)

Stage 1 Planning or Pre-Writing

Subject for discussion is given . Brainstorming( recall of vocabulary associated
with topic) and group discussion to contextualize the topic, learners focus on
the task purpose, teacher maintains a low profile answering questions.

Stage 2 Composing and Drafting

Students make notes and evaluate ideas, possibly using authentic examples or
working from drafts written by the teacher.

Stage 3 Evaluating and Revising

Students organize ideas into a spider gram ,linear form or mind map ,this helps
them structure their ideas.

Stage 4 Editing and redrafting

Students write the first of several drafts .

Whereas the Product approach is based on a model ,with the result adhering to
this standard, the Process approach is open to interpretation and as such is
more creative .
Formal letters or C.Vs lend themselves to the product approach as there is an
acceptable standard model to emulate creativity in this sphere is not to the
students’ advantage,
Discursive essays or a narrative lend themselves to the process approach more
as collaborative writing, exchanging of texts and ideas should stimulate the
student to produce a more successful text .

Lower levels find easier a Product Approach as a learning tool whereas higher
levels may find this too restrictive preferring the Process Approach.

Problems and Solutions

“Writing requires a degree of accuracy in that an acceptable structure is used
and understood as opposed to oral discourse where…. despite making a
number of grammatical, lexical, syntactic and phonological errors ,the same
message in written form would generally be regarded as unacceptable, even
incompressible, if accompanied by a similar number of errors.” (Bowen ,T. &
Marks,J. 1994 p144)

Writing “Sometimes regarded as the forgotten skill” (Bowen ,T. & Marks,J .1994
We ask our students to take notes of blackboard work in class but we seldom
check to see what they have written. To paraphrase Tribble my students are
“writing to learn” not “learning to write”(Tribble,C. 1996,p 118) .Why do we do
this ? Perhaps to consolidate the grammar point the lesson has covered or
perhaps to keep a record of new vocabulary and then to practice a tense or
lexical chunk .Maybe we as teachers feel that this is what we are suppose to do

Teachers give written home work, in the form of gap fills , summaries or
exercises to be completed then these are usually corrected in class .Feedback
is often giving the answers with little explanation as to why, resulting in the
weaker students being left behind as they do not want to ask for an
explanation to not hold up the class resulting in little student interaction . “In
many cases the teacher is not able to find out what the learners know or can
do before the class”(Badger ,R. &White,G. 2000 54/2)

Writing we use on an everyday basis includes; e-mails , SMS and social

networking such as Face Book which are informal whereas essays poems ,
reports and articles are used to pass an English exam or for a particular job.
Students often expect to have writing tasks returned full of corrections which is

Specific Problems and Solutions

1)P: Models as used in the product approach can be very intimidating,
they are often a goal which is difficult for the student to reach .They can also
be inappropriate to the learners’ needs and of no interest the risk of boredom
being high. This is the downfall of using a wholly Product Approach (PA). “By
studying forms and organizational patterns first students come to see form as a
mold into which content is somehow poured… Students have no comment to
what they are writing and care only how they write it .”(Eschholz 1980 :p24)

S:To become more user friendly I feel models should be used in a step by
step manner to help the student build confidence. This involves careful
analysis of the model breaking it down into, layout ,lexical chunks,
paragraphs ,purpose and tone to be presented to the student .
This is especially true at lower levels where teaching is laying the foundation
for future production of writing skills. Gap fill exercises ,error correction and
vocabulary associations in the form of spider grams can be used to guide the
student towards successfully completing the task .The models can be cut,
made up into true and false paragraphs etc to enable the learner to become
aware of how to begin or end a new paragraph . Exercises showing the correct
use of connecting words, appropriate and inappropriate style are valuable in
giving the student clear guidelines guides to writing appropriately .

S:Consolidating learners’ prior knowledge via the process approach is useful

to give the student the satisfaction that she is progressing in her writing skills.
On the other hand using a model as in the product approach gives the
writer a clear guide as to what is expected ,this in itself being beneficial .

S: The process approach is a motivating tool as it encourages the student to

write better as this involves peer discussion and the opportunity to express
ones individuality. For exam purposes, topics can be chosen by the students
themselves ,which after being written about can be revised, corrected and in
turn serve as a model on which to base a model answer to an exam question.

S: Choice of topic and context which is both engaging and relevant is essential to
student attention, a group of young teenagers will be interested in the latest top ten
but not in the music of the 60’s.
S:Dictation is an alternative to the model approach as a valuable means to
determine if the student has understood, word formation, adjective position etc.
Dicta gloss can be used where students as a group reconstruct an authentic tape
script or dictation, where individual students write what they hear thereby
combining listening and writing skills .This enables the teacher to understand
where the students need more guidance and stimulates the students to produce a
final product .

2) P.Writing ….is likely to be a time consuming, laborious and possibly

unrewarding process. In short it is hard . (Bowen, T.& Marks, J.1994 p
1539)We teachers often give writing for homework to allow more time for
interactive activities in the classroom with the consequence that writing is
viewed as a something which is required of the student but not enjoyed, as
opposed to speaking activities . In this way we as teachers perhaps give the
students the impression that writing is a dull activity because teachers and
students do not participate actively in the outcome, only the teacher analyses
and corrects.

S:Writing can also be turned into games ,where teams work against the
clock ,resulting in a sense of competition especially in a task based approach
to producing the finished product .For example teams working collectively to
complete a gap fill exercise or to write a story using picture prompts, the first
team to finish with the fewest mistakes is the winner

S:It can become a chain exercise ,where groups collectively write the finished
text using a task based approach. For example the teacher gives each group a
beginning sentence e.g Last night….each student in the group adds a sentence
to form a story ,this can be taped or a scribe records.

S:A judging panel can be set up amongst the students to determine the best
text eg who they would give the job to based on the letter of application

S:Interclass writing ,where letters asking for information are answered by

another class of the same level produces interest and motivation to write well.

S:Using emails to correspond with students in another country is very

stimulating and a medium that the students feel very comfortable in
,unfortunately not a lot of schools offer this opportunity .

3) P:Correction of written work by the teacher can often only be on a weekly

lesson basis by which time the student has forgotten what she has written
.The corrected work is handed out, briefly discussed, with little consolidation
of errors ,generally the students do not want to know why they have made a
mistake ,the emphasis being on their mark obtained.

S: Turn round time for correcting can be improved via in class correction
between peers and the teacher –actually corresponding with a source such as
a school or an institute which will give an authentic reply and provide a
stimulus to be accurate or using Wikispace for teacher or peer communal
correction. The number and type of mistakes can be recorded by the student to
raise awareness of the type and size of the problem.

4) P: When teaching an exam class where writing skills regarding reports

,articles ,essays ,book reviews etc are needed the student is required to be
able to write in a very structured way . The students’ primary goal is to
produce an error free product. Often native speakers use models and have
time to reflect, edit etc but students in exam conditions need to be able to
plan and write quickly it is also a life skill.

S: Clear examples of what is expected and finding out what the students
writing needs I feel are fundamental. This can be done by using old exam
answers and simply asking them what they want to do or by a questionnaire.

My view point

I believe that the Process and Product Approaches are compatible and
complimentary ,as they;
• Use brainstorming exercises to generate ideas when the students write
their first drafts. This can generate interest and give the students a
context to elaborate on .The process approach
• Introduce model texts to raise awareness of the appropriate language
,layout and style which guides the student to emulate the text and
encouraging the student by giving the security that what she is doing is”
right”. The product approach
• Exchange drafts providing the opportunity to simulate a receiver
motivating the student to do her best to communicate.

I agree with Anita Pincas(1982) when she wrote ”Any kind of writing that is to
be learned should be demonstrated in a model of some kind. Learners need to
start by becoming familiar with the type of writing they are going to practice.
Once they have achieved some familiarity with it ,they can practice the skills
involved. After such exercises they can try to produce their own piece of

Writing requires a great deal of commitment and motivation (Bowden,T

&Marks, J.1994 p 157 ) Even in L1 writing is difficult, the key factor is to
keep students motivation high ,this means presenting them with a task that is
attractive ,setting clear objectives and when correcting not to undermine the
result that they have achieved .

Badger,R &White,G 2000 A process genre approach to writing. ELT Journal
54/2 OUP
Bowden,T &Marks, J.1994 Inside Teaching .Heinemann
Eschholtz ,PA.1980 The prose model approach: Using products in the
process .The TR Donovan and BW McClelland (eds) Eight Approaches to
Teaching Composition .Urbana :National Council of Teachers of English.
Harmer,J. 2007 The Practice of English Language Teaching,4th Edition Pearson
Education Limited
May,P 1996 Exam Classes.Oxford
Pincus,A. 1962 Structural Linguistics and Systematic composition teaching to
students of English a foreign language. Language Learning 12/3.
Pincas, A. 1982 Teaching English Writing. Macmillan
Sensenbaugh,R.1990 Process writing in the classroom.Journal of Reading
33(5) p382-383
Tribble ,C .1996 Writing .OUP.