Another dimension of the same problem lies in the organization of a series of statements to indicate logical relationships such as concession, hypothesis, inference, deduction, and so on. In academic writing in English it is common to put forward an entirely hypothetical argument which is usually, but not always, signalled by. Everything within the argument is hypothetical, including statements of concession or contrast. Students unfamiliar with these conventions will need help, not only in using such signals of meaning as however, although and whereas, but also in understanding the meaning of such signals as part of the total text.
As with the writing work outlined earlier, it is probably best to begin with examples of the type of writing which you wish to teach. You can focus the students' attention on various aspects of the model text, particularly the organization of ideas and the ways in which these ideas are expressed. The students can then be given parallel writing in which they apply features of the model text to a similar piece of prose. The final stage involves them in writing an original text of their own, incorporating the organization and logical features which they have practised in the preceding lessons.
Other writing activities which can be introduced at intermediate and advanced level include adding information to an existing text, deleting information from within a text and placing it elsewhere in the same passage, changing the emphasis or viewpoint and changing the function of a text (for example rewriting a description of a process as a set of instructions). Each of these is an authentic task because they are the kinds of activity which we often perform, even in everyday writing. For instance, one may face the problem of how to write an informal note to a friend or colleague who has failed, yet again, to perform a promised favour. There are subtleties of attitude and emphasis in such a note which might well result in writing several versions before the writer is satisfied that he has produced a message which was neither too aggrieved nor too forgiving!
Adding, deleting and reorganizing information are familiar activities to anyone who has to write reports, prepare proposals, argue a case or persuade an audience. At more advanced levels, these are skills which need practice. They don't have to be done as solo activities. They can be carried out as group or class activities, in which you and the students discuss the most appropriate place to add information, the changes which such additions will require and so on.
An important problem at all levels is that of dealing with errors and corrections. Unlike speaking, writing is the one productive skill in which we have time to think about what we have produced or are going to produce. This means that we can think not only about content and our intentions and meanings, but also about the form of what we will write. Furthermore, we can correct and modify as we write. Even fluent writers in their native language will tend to correct, reorganize and polish both during and after writing a first draft. The students need to be encouraged to develop these habits of self correction. They also need to be given some guidelines. If they feel that they have to correct everything, they will become discouraged and anxious.
If you are focusing on particular language and functional points in a writing lesson, tell the students to check their own work for the same features before they hand it to you for marking. In this way they may only need to check two or three particular features and they can be systematic about it rather than overwhelmed by having to check for lots of different items. It is also more likely that they will actually identify and correct errors if there are only a few things to look out for.
Gradually, over a series of lessons, you can focus the students' attention on different aspects, ranging from such elementary features as article usage to subject-verb agreement to punctuation (for example all sentences must end with a full stop) to the appropriate use of logical connectors like however, but and although. Your own marking of compositions can also focus on the same features so that the students know what you are looking for. You can also adopt a marking code, indicating in the margin the type of error by using a symbol or letter, for example V for verb, Ag for subject-verb agreement, A for article and so on. The sign in the margin alerts the student to the presence of an error in the line concerned. His task is to find the actual error and to correct it. Such a code assumes, of course, some knowledge of grammar on the part of the students.
The correction of errors is particularly important, and is something which it is wise to insist upon. Once you establish a habit of error correction, the students will write out the correct form, which you can then check when they next hand in their composition work. If you keep a record of compositions written, you can add another column to your records for corrections completed. Whether you adopt a strict attitude towards the correction of errors is up to you, but you may find that students like to know that you are taking an interest in their work by insisting on error correction and checking the corrections once they are done.
There is no need for the teacher to be burdened by checking and correcting compositions. You can share the task by having students check and correct each other's work. This fits in well with the kind of pair work communicative writing described earlier. It doesn't absolve the teacher from checking and correcting, but it does spread the load and it involves students in the responsibility of marking.
To summarize, writing at all levels involves moving from a model to parallel writing to the finalstage, in which students produce an original piece of writing based on their own ideas and content. As well as the skills of producing grammatically correct sentences, writing involves producing logically organized prose which is stylistically appropriate to the writer's purpose. It is difficult to focus simultaneously on all of these aspects, and we need to help students by dealing systematically with one feature at a time. Students can also help each other and the teacher by assuming some of the responsibility for checking and error correction. The importance of accurate and explicit writing will be more obvious to students if they write for each other, as they then have a real audience, and they will have to explain to each other the errors and ambiguities which they find in each other's compositions.