In the second semester every year I have a ESL writing class, and traditionally around ten students sign up for it. There is also traditionally a 20% drop rate. In trying to make the class as rewarding for the students these are my considerations and how I intend to meet them this year.
Writing for fluency
Writing for accuracy
Writing for organization
Writing for real purposes
General English general language development
Writing for fluency is a skill most of the students who enroll know very little about. Schools stress accuracy, with volume as an after thought. Neither of these is fluency. Writing fluency is writing with an high interest in communication and a low focus on accuracy. Most writing in schools is on the word level, writing words in spaces in test mode. Students may write on the sentence level, but rarely longer in any language. If there is any focus at all on longer pieces, the one who writes the most words with the fewest "errors" is the winner. At the beginning of class no one knows how to start just writing their ideas without paying attention to, for example, spelling. Here are two activities that I use for fluency.
1. Oneword (as in oneword.com)oneword.com
The students get a word and the write about or with the word for one minute. I use three different words and use this activity as a warm-up.
2. Blacken the page
The students get a lined half sheet of B5 paper, and they fill it up with their writing based on a topic that I give them or on any topic that I give them.
With both of these activities I have problems at the beginning with students who have "nothing to write about." By the end of the semester they have plenty to write about.
Writing for accuracy is something the students are used to, and is the consideration that I spend the least time on. At the beginning of the course they are much more aware of this than anything they want to actually communicate, and their fear of error blocks most anything interesting they have inside them. In the world of word processors, most of what they have to worry about is remedied by the software, spelling, and strange grammar. I focus the entire course on two points, punctuation and capitalization. Since the learners have almost no experience writing beyond the sentence level, they often don't know how to punctuate. They are also confused as to the rules of capitalization, and their first works come out looking like German, with all the nouns in caps. They rarely use grammar that is complex enough to need attention, but when they ask me directly for how to write something in English I help them with acquiring that pattern.
Writing for organization is an interesting cultural awareness issue connected with writing. Students' awareness of organization comes almost entirely from the reading they have done in their L1, and their understanding of it is passive. When you point out to them how a written passage of Japanese is organized, they have their first "Aha moment." Their second comes when we compare that with a passage written in English. The same message is repeated three times, an idea that learners think has to be wrong. When you point out that messages are repeated three times in Japan, like on NHK news and on announcements on the train, then they have something to latch onto and use.
Writing for real purposes is something the learners are very self-conscious about in the beginning. They are not used to seeing their own words in print, and they have a very hard time commenting on other's work. Writing for real purposes also included writing in a real setting, which includes collaboration. Scholars work with other scholars on drafts of their work. Written reports in companies are reviewed and commented on for rewriting by coworkers. However most school students' work is done by the learners alone, for the teachers, and maybe others will see it during open houses at school or when they take their work home at the end of term. Recently students have been using Japanese writing more since email and texting have become so popular with the advent of the cell phone, but English writing is almost entirely done in testing circumstances, and almost never read or commented on by anyone other than the teacher. In my class students are party to any writing, formal and informal, that is done in class. Informal writing assignments include their English Log 2.0, and fluency exercises. Formal writing assignments include a self introductory piece, an introduction to their home town, their favorite recipe, and a piece on one of their special interests. These are all written and rewritten cooperatively, and finally published with a copy for everyone.
General English language ability improvement is another goal of the writing class. Since all of the communication in class should be done in English, this makes the writing class truly a four-skills class. They will be reading passages similar to the ones they will write. They will read their work and the work of other learners. They will talk about their writing and about other's, and listen to classmates talk about themselves and their writing.