Unit 4

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UNIT 4: Teaching Writing to Adults

Writing should be a part of each and every tutoring session because an adult learner's reading improves after she starts writing. The Laubach Way to Reading incorporates writing in each lesson and starts with learning to form each letter of the alphabet. The Challenger Teacher's Manual provides suggested writing activities for each individual lesson, and Chapter 3 of the teacher's manual is solely dedicated to writing. In addition, there are three supplemental books for writing that accompany the Challenger series: Writing for Challenger, Structures in Spelling, and Patterns in Spelling. If you have a Challenger student, Writing for Challenger will be automatically sent with your student's skill book and teacher's manual request.

Learning to write includes a wide range of activities:
  • learning to form each letter
  • learning to print
  • spelling
  • writing simple lists such as a grocery list
  • composing an email message
  • writing in a personal journal
  • language experience (as described in the previous unit)

Proceed with care:
The mechanical aspects of writing such as capitalization, grammar, and punctuation are important, but if tutors become too focused on these mechanics, adult learners may avoid writing or may actually become afraid to write. Remember that writing is a process!

Objectives: In this unit you will:

  • Understand that writing is a process
  • Recognize the three steps of the writing process: pre-writing, writing, and post-writing
  • Become familiar with appropriate techniques to develop your learner's writing skills


Introduction 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 on her own as well.

Because writing goes along with reading, 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.

Before you begin consider these questions:
What kind of writing do you do in your daily life?

  • Do you write memos 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 she may wish to use writing in daily life? What problems might she face in writing? How do you think her feelings might be the same or different from yours?

If your learner tends to avoid writing, she may have good reasons.


For example:

  • It's too hard.
  • My hand gets tired.
  • I don't know what to write about.
  • I can't spell the words.
  • The paper looks too messy.
  • I can't write with someone watching.
There are different types of writing for students at different levels. For beginning students, start with something really easy: a list or a journal entry. In both cases the writer and the reader are the same person.


Writing lists and filling out forms are good ways to begin to develop the writing process for students who are having difficulty in getting started. Using items from everyday living, ordinary items sometimes called realia, can be helpful, particularly when you teach reading and writing together in one lesson. This process also helps to transfer classroom activities to the real world, your student's ultimate goal. Making a grocery list, for example, is immediately useful.

Another beginning writing exercise you might introduce to your student is journaling. Dialogue journals can be particularly helpful in building writing literacy skills. The dialogue will go back and forth between you and your student with questions and answers and general discussions.

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.

A. 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.

B. 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 may 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 communications. The Adult Literacy Centers have books on filling out forms and American handwriting.To gain an idea of the difficulties your student might experience at first, try the simple activity of writing your own name with your non-dominant hand.
  2. Keyboard - Requires different small motor skills and different neural paths from those needed to put a pen to paper. Frees up writers who can only stare at a blank piece of paper. Works particularly well with learners who have 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.


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.

A. 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:

  1. Think about the subject and activate their prior knowledge just as with reading activities.
  2. Outline and organize ideas.
  3. Focus on the reader and the purpose for writing.
  4. Graphic organizers are helpful at this stage of the writing process.

Many of the things your learner will want to write about will be related to her immediate concerns, such as:
  1. Notes to teachers or family,
  2. Letters requesting information or assistance
  3. A complaint
  4. A form


B. Writing: The Second Phase
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. Your learner will probably need to develop spelling and sound recognition skills as well as narrative ones. In fact, it may be her lack of these tools of writing that inhibits her.

When your student is working on a first draft, encourage her to write until she is finished. Allow her words to flow without any editing or interruption.

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.

Foreign students may know what they want to say and are able to organize their thoughts, but will probably need help expressing their ideas in English.

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.

Writing is dynamic and creative. The flow of ideas, even when it is slow, requires energy to keep going.

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.

The Language Experience Approach The Language Experience Approach, which was presented in Unit 3, is a very valuable tool for beginning writers as well as for beginning readers. It comes from something the student knows and cares about and is therefore an excellent catalyst for a beginner.

C. 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. 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.
  • With very simple tasks some of the phases may be very brief or may overlap with others but all three phases will still be present. For example, in writing a list, we decide what needs to be on the list, write the list, and then check to see that the list is readable and that nothing was omitted.

Lesson Planning Tip: During a tutoring session, activate your student's interest and prior knowledge by discussing one or several topics and asking her what she likes or which topics interest her.

The next time you meet, decide on the writing topic. Review the vocabulary. Try using a graphic organizer to help your learner arrange her ideas. Encourage your student to write a first draft.

In the third session, work on revising, editing and proofing the written piece. Below is a short video that demonstrates a writing activity called "Copy the Phrase."


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.

In the next unit, you will learn to create lesson plans to help your student reach her goals.



Quiz: Please answer the following questions, then click on the button below to check your answers:

1) Most learners feel comfortable with their spelling and grammar skills. True False
2) Most of us do not need to write to be able to function well in our lives. True False
3) Prewriting consists of gathering ideas and thinking about the order in which to put them. True False
4) Writing is a complicated but easily understood process. True False
5) It is a good idea to revise at the same time you write the first draft. True False
6) Writing provides an opportunity for a learner to develop his or her own ideas. True False
7) The language Experience Approach shows that the ideas can be communicated both by reading and writing. True False
8) In writing, the flow of ideas should be easy for the reader to follow. True False
9) Small moter skills are an integral part of the writing process. True False
10) List writing and filling out forms are good ways to develop the writing process. True False
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