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How to Teach Writing without
Writing a Word
Lucy Valerio, IH Buenos Aires Recoleta
Think of a typical writing lesson:
• How many words do they write?
• How many paragraphs do they write?
• How much of the lesson do they spend writing?
1. Introduce the topic matter e.g. a word puzzle
2. Get the students actively thinking about the
subject matter – but speaking to each other about it
E.g. when was the last time you complained about
Lesson Stages – Stages 1 & 2
3. Provide the students with situations in which they
would complain and they have to decide if they would
write a complaint letter or not.
E.g. Look at the situations below, write yes in the box next to each
situation if you would WRITE a letter of complaint.
Lesson Stages – Stage 3
You travelled first class on a plane
and the food was inedible. The
ticket was £3,000.
You ate in a restaurant and the
waiter spilt red wine on your
There was a dead fly in the
cheese section of your local
You bought an iPod from the
Apple store and it doesn’t work.
You’ve been refused a refund.
You were served cold french fries
You bought some smoked
salmon from M&S and when you
got it home it had a beetle in it.
4. Provide the students with some phrases and they have
to decide if they are appropriate for a complaint letter.
E.g. Look at the phrases below – put a tick next to those which are
appropriate to use in a letter of complaint.
Lesson Stages – Stage 4
I am writing to complain about……
Your shop is completely rubbish and the assistant I spoke to was a moron.
If I don’t hear from you in the next 5 days you’ll be hearing from my lawyers.
I bought the item from your shop on …….
5. Provide the students with a jumbled up letter that they
have to put in the correct order.
6. Provide the students with the answer and a second
model complaint letter. They then compare the two and
look for similarities.
Lesson Stages – Stages 5 & 6
Lesson Stages – Stage 6
Dear Sir or Madam
Re: Broken CD Player
I am writing to complain about a CD player I bought from
your shop in Manchester on 28th April. The CD player is a
Soundtrax 318, and the number of CD player is SX 16906.
When I got home and tried to play it, it did not work.
I took the CD player back to your shop and the assistant
asked me if I had a receipt. I explained that I had lost it.
The assistant then looked at the CD but could not make it
work. However, he refused to give my money back. He
said that I needed a receipt.
I would like you to refund my money or exchange the CD
player with a new one. Please reply to me at the
address or telephone number above.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Sir or Madam
Re: Broken iPod
I am writing to complain about an iPod I was given as a present
which was bought from the Apple store in Manchester on 28th
April. The iPod is a 4th generation iPod and the number is
562439824. When I was given the iPod I tried to turn it on but it
did not work.
I took the iPod back to your store and the assistant asked me if I
had a receipt. I explained that I did not have a receipt as it was a
The assistant then looked at the iPod but could not make it work.
However, she refused to give my money back. She said that I had
to have a receipt.
I would like you to exchange the iPod with a new one that works.
Please reply to me at the address or telephone number above.
I look forward to hearing from you
7. The structure of the complaint letter is whiteboarded – so
the opening, closing sentences, information in each paragraph
8. The students are given a situation and then using the
structure on the whiteboard they tell each other their
9. The students swap partners so that they can fine tune their
Lesson Stages – Stages 7, 8 & 9
Stage Product Stage Process
1 Model texts are read and features
of the genre are highlighted.
1 Brainstorm ideas. Organise as a
mindmap or lexical spider.
2 Controlled practice of the
highlighted features of language.
2 Extend ideas to not form and
evaluate the usefulness of those
ideas. Eliminate some.
3 Organisation of ideas. 3 Draft ideas in to a rough form.
This is usually done in class.
4 Students are given a writing and
they use the skills to produce the
4 Exchange drafts with peers so
that improvements can be made
as drafts evaluated.
5 Finalise ideas, if required, exchange
with peers to compare to the initial
model text/peers own.
5 Finalise ideas and, if required,
exchange (again) for
1 Activating schemata Both
2 Students brainstorm ideas Stage 1 PROCESS
3 Students brainstorm some more Stage 1 PROCESS
4 Students extend their ideas and evaluate the usefulness of
Stage 2 PROCESS
5 Students work with a model Stage 1 PRODUCT
6 Students work with two models Stage 1 PRODUCT
7 Students organise their ideas for the specific piece of
Stage 3 PRODUCT
8 Students use the skills to produce the product Stage 4 PRODUCT
9 Students finalise their ideas and compare/evaluate them
with their peers
Stage 4/5 PROCESS
10 S produce the piece of writing Stage 5 BOTH
Now think of a typical writing lesson:
• How many words do they need to write?
• How many paragraphs do they need to write?
• How much of the lesson do they need to spend writing?