I have been teaching English as a foreign language in secondary schools in Tunisia for many years. Although I have always used stimulating strategies to encourage my students to write and I have motivated them in various ways to produce good writings- letters, poems, short stories, articles, questionnaires…, I was acutely aware of their reluctance towards writing as a regular activity and their anxiety whenever they were handed their papers back. It was evident that they preferred to do something more enjoyable than a task they considered hard, tiring and boring!!!
When discussing this issue with my colleagues, I found out that they faced the same problems with their students and some of them desperately recognized having resorted to neglecting and avoiding this activity in their English classes. They either left it till the end of the session because of time constraints or gave it as homework. Hence, writing is neglected and ignored.
No wonder our students are bad at writhing and have poor marks! To remedy such an alarming situation, we need to readjust and update the techniques we have been using and to question our personal attitude towards writing. Hopefully, the various changes brought by Information and Communication Technologies in the domain of education are of great help and offer a wide range of interactive tools to forestall students’ major problems and to render writing a more interactive and enjoyable experience.
II- Writing and ICT
The more we use interactive ICT tools to teach writing, the more we are enthusiastic, positive, motivated, passionate and engaged. Consequently, we are able to pass this passion on to our students. Therefore, writing is no longer a passive, tiring, boring and frustrating hard task but should be:
* regarded as a natural way of communicating.
* naturally linked to oral language and reading
* both an individual and a shared experience.
* an interactive experience.
* challenging and fun.
* promoted by ICT.
When pupils write to peers in other countries, writing is no longer a simulated classroom activity, but rather a means of exchanging personal information, a way of informing and learning about other peoples’ schools, environments, and cultures. The procedure is simple: the pupils receive a letter and then write one back. Communication through writing becomes as natural as communication through speech.
There are electronic dictionaries for all levels of learners. Students can consult them at all stages of writing to check spelling, grammar, vocab…
They can, also, use forums, chat to communicate with other people through writing.
There are writing programmes, such as Storybook Weaver and Writers Workshop, for the promotion of creative writing. These programmes allow pupils to create text with the help of background pictures. Some of them read aloud the text pupils have created, while others allow students the opportunity to read out their text and listen to their own voice.
Creating web pages with FrontPage Editor, DreamWeaver or any other web editor is a more advanced and rewarding way of motivating pupils to write and publish their work on the net.
Teachers have the possibility to assign many activities where computer work is combined with non-computer work, eg planning a tourist brochure by first discussing it in a group, writing the text on a word programme, finding supporting pictures to illustrate, letting others see the draft and give feedback before revising and editing the text and finally making a web page out of it!
The possibilities are enormous and imagination has no limit.
III- Writing activities we can teach with ICT
There is a large variety of ICT-based activities we can choose from; they can be online or offline. As teachers, we are called to adapt them to the level of our students and to the context:
* Simple sentences
* Enriched sentences
* Descriptions after a reading activity
* Letters/ E-mails
* End of stories
* Beginning of stories
IV- Writing Tools on the Web
There are programmes which help students create their own writing activities. Others generate sentences, poems, quotes, stories…
* Playing with words, creating interactive writing games. You can choose the plot, the setting, the character…After you finish, you can print and e-mail your writings : http://www.writingfix.com/
* Publishing pupils’writings : poems, stories, journal writing… http://www.amphi.com/~pgreenle/EEI/studentpublish.html [http://www.tooter4kids.com/classroom/writing4kids.htm/]
* You can have fun and learn to write English sentence patterns with Random/ Automatic Sentence Generators : http://www.manythings.org/sm/ (You can use it even when you’re disconnected.)
* You can generate your poem or story by using some programs .
* You can download some free software on your PC or on a CD and use it to write sentences, quotes, stories: http://www.writesparks.com/
To help our students improve their writing skills and become more positive, there are important things we need to remember:
* Simple activities at the word or sentence level are advisable in order to provide young learners with basic skills and the opportunity to build up their confidence in writing.
* It is at all times important that the teacher shows willingness to write with and for pupils, thus acting as a model and inspirer of their written language.
* With ICT, communication through writing becomes as natural as communication through speech.