Aim (In terms of subject matter): to write a well-structured argumentative essay using the plan developed before.

Aim (In terms of thinking): a) to learn that the aim set in an essay can be reached by finding suitable arguments; b) to learn grouping thoughts and present information in a clear and logical order.

Task: to write an essay keeping in mind that the aim is to persuade the Latvian government and save the Latvian Post.

Lesson description: the students (Form 12) had 2 lessons (80 minutes) for writing their essays. They had to refer to the plans they worked out before. They were allowed to use the online dictionaries.

There’s a rule at my lessons that the use of online dictionaries is minimized to the simplest words, which the students are quite sure of and which they will probably learn later. Actually, I prefer when they use the vocabulary offered by the coursebook, but it takes time to look up words in it. So, the internet is allowed, but the students have to think twice before taking new words from it. I actually reduce the mark for excessive use of unknown, unreadable words which will never be used. I’ve also noticed that the era of thoughtless google translation is coming to an end, which I am glad for.

Teacher’s role: to help if students ask questions. They usually have questions about the unknown vocabulary they find in dictionaries. In such cases I go through the whole process of looking up the word, including formulating the sentence, thinking about its grammar and then selecting the most appropriate word in LV. Then, the students either decide to change the sentence for a simpler one and they don’t need a dictionary, or we read the meanings in CH and select the most suitable one, often by multiple translation between LV-EN-CH-EN-LV-CH. It’s a slow process, but I have noticed that the students have become more successful in operating with their own active vocabulary, regardless its size. As if they are gradually learning to rely on themselves (I always tell them to imagine that they are talking to a Chinese in the street, where there are no dictionaries at hand, only their own memory).

Overall reflection of the lesson: as a result, most essays, even the shortest ones, had a good structure, there were even separate paragraphs – which has never happened before! Besides, the stronger students gave their personal evaluation of the facts they were describing. Their sentences were complex, with clearly expressed cause-effect relations, comparisons etc. And in all essays it was clear what their authors wanted to say, their arguments were supporting the idea that the post has to be saved (or not saved, as one boy thinks).

Generally speaking, the aims were reached: the texts were logically written and I hope that a step towards understanding how to write a good text was made. It would be naïve to think that next time they will do equally well, but I will ask them to have a clear aim and an approximate plan, it will help them to get closer to good texts.    

Thinking task framework: partially step 2 – building the thinking algorithm together with the student. It was explicitly present in the process of looking up words in a dictionary. Also, we have discussed the importance of the aim and its influence on the contents and the structure of a piece of writing.

Main conclusions: 1) working out plans before writing must be done for the sake of good writing and if done in CH it can become a speaking task, should try; 2) it may sound strange, but I should continue insisting on a minimal use of dictionaries while writing.

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