Preparing and drafting formal emails of complaint through a process-genre approach
by Esther Ratcliff
The students will be quite receptive to the topic of complaints, as everybody can usually draw from experience in this area. The topic of the lesson is also a natural progression of what we have been discussing in class recently.
The students will be familiar with the register of the model text and some of the conventions of formal genres, such as no use of contractions.
They are used to writing in a formal style at work, and so the actual task of producing a short formal piece of writing should not be that problematic.
The students are advanced, so they will be confident with using lexis about travelling, restaurants, hotels and holidays for the writing task.
The students will have an awareness of some of the different connectors in the text such as ‘however’ and perhaps ‘furthermore’.
Anticipated problems and solutions
Problems with the Tasks
Problem: The students might find the text sequencing part challenging because it is not something that they are familiar with doing.They will find the sections that refer to the ‘first night’ and the ‘second’ night easier because the links are more explicit. I expect that they might link up the parts of the text by recognising lexical chains, grammatical links or by simply noticing how the ideas progress. They might also decide that some of the sentences could come at the end when they are actually part of the introduction. I have cut the sections of the letter in way that means it is not obvious which sections match up, because the parts don’t match perfectly.
Solution: I will try to help them to focus on how the linkers help the internal coherence of the text, rather than general ideas within the letter which is obviously also valid. When they see the final complete version of the letter, I will ask them to see if and why it differs from their version.
Problem: I think there is a risk that one of the students (Marta) may become dominating during speaking activities and also maybe in feedback after the speaking activity.
Solution: Through classroom management I will try to make sure that she is sat with Nuría who, although is very softly spoken, quite strong and will hopefully make discussions with Marta more balanced. I will also try to nominate quieter students during feedback.
Problem: Students might find Stage 6 a little strange because they have never done something like this before. In particular, they might not be able to think of ideas for their complaint before the drafting stage.
Solution: I will try and encourage them to verbalise their ideas in a way that stimulates better expression of ideas. I will also draw their attention back to the model answer to help stimulate more ideas.
Problems with the Language
Problem: Students might be confused by the fact that the use of pronouns vary from ‘I’ to ‘we’ throughout the model letter.
Solution: Reassure students that this is one of the conventions of a formal letter when you are writing on behalf of other people.
Problem : Identifying features in Stage 4 that make the writing formal might be more difficult for some students because although they are familiar with formal registers, they might not be able to analyse it immediately that well.
Solution: I will draw students’ attention to the parts of the text, which should generate ideas about the level of formality, i.e. formal lexis, passive voice, the beginning and the end.
Problem: There is a possibility that students might get confused with ‘in fact’, and ‘indeed’ as this is an area that has come up before in both speaking and writing activities.
Solution: Explain that ‘indeed’: Can be used with very to emphasise an adjective or an adverb I was very pleased indeed to see him. Thank you very much indeed.
Can be used after be or an auxiliary verb to suggest confirmation or emphatic agreement.
Did you have a good time? I did indeed.
Explain that ‘in fact’: Can be used to show whether somebody’s expectations have been fulfilled or not Did you enjoy your holiday? Very much in fact.
Can be used to introduce additional surprising or unexpected information.The holiday was awful. In fact we had to come home early.
Can be used to say that the hearer’s expectations were not fulfilled. How was the holiday? Well, in fact we didn’t go.
Problem: Asking students to explain the implicit cohesive devices in Stage 5 by paraphrasing might be too challenging because they are not familiar with doing this. Also, by nature, the use of a cohesive device, replaces the need to use longer sentences, so this might also be a little unnatural for the students.
Solution: I will help students by encouraging them to think of the message of the sentence. This will help them to become aware of the internal coherence of written discourse, and also of the function of each connector.
Problem: Students might have problems with the form of the connectors in Stage 6. They might not be that familiar with despite + gerund, because they might only remember, despite the fact that, despite this/that, in spite of (noun). Yet may also be new for them. Furthermore and moreover are will probably be less problematic. However is not likely to cause too much confusion.
Solution: Remind them of the rules associated with the meaning and form of the connectors on a separate slide on the PPT.Draw their attention to despite + gerund, is actually the same as despite + noun. (They have recently studied gerunds and infinitives.)
Problems with Technology
Problem: Powerpoint, USB, laptop, projectorsfails. Solution: Students work from handouts of the slides.
The rationale behind this lesson aims to enhance the shared needs of the group by addressing something that will be useful for them in their jobs and also in future writing exams. Because it is a non-exam class, it was an opportunity to spend some time developing process writing of a genre with which the students are familiar. In addition, the choice to focus on the process approach towriting was because whilst they are all familiar with formal genres, I spend very little time in class on writing, and rarely give students an opportunity to organise their ideas in class before beginning to write.
I decided that I would draw on the research of spoken protocols and paraphrasing in this lesson because I feel that this approach helps recreate what happens in spoken language. Speakers have more tools and coping mechanismswhich make spoken communication more fluid, yet in written discourse, writers are expected to have much more immediate precision. Talking about ideas in the draft stage gives students an opportunity to organise their ideas in a similar way to what happens in spoken language. It is also an opportunity to address writing in a less atomistic manner, as students see a model text, analyse the genre and are given time to make some notes. I think this approach will be especially beneficial for this group as they can be rather quiet in classroom activities. I hope that it will stimulate ideas, and also give students the confidence and the time to verbalise their ideas in class which will help them achieve greater internal discourse coherence.
The decision to develop the sub-skill of formal cohesive devices was firstly based on my wider teaching observations at this level; as in my experience advanced students have difficulty using connectors correctly. Secondly, it was because it is area that Cambridge highlights as a main student weakness in writing exams which I discovered from going to a training session for the Cambridge Advanced writing paper. Lastly, it is because I think written language cansometimes be more powerful than spoken language. Successful use of connectors, and an understanding of their nuances, can transform a piece of writing. I do not anticipate that students will become fully aware of the mechanics of linkers in discourse, but it aims to make them more aware of how they can enhance a piece of writing.
I decided to narrow down the focus of the connectors because even though these students are advanced, I think it is better to have a good command of a narrow range of connectors that are used correctly, rather than a wide range used incorrectly. Therefore, I adapted the material in a way which highlights the use of a few connectors. The task of sequencing the formal letter helps students to see strategically how the connectors link up the text. I decided to keep ‘however’, because it is a high frequency connector, and it is often overused by advanced students. By selecting other specific connectors, I want students to notice there are also other connectors appropriate to formal registers. I decided to include ‘in fact’ because two of the students confuse ‘indeed’ with ‘in fact’ when they want to use ‘actually’ or ‘in fact’. Although the decision to work on the implicit and explicit meaning of discourse markers in stage 5 of the lesson is challenging, it is a way to check that students have an understanding, rather than a vague idea of how linkers work in discourse. It also pushes students to notice language and develop the subskill.
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