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Models and samples as a resource for writing
by Greg Gobel


Recently, some colleagues have said they would not use models to help their learners write saying they constrict and limit the learners. In my experience, though, I have found models tend to help learners with both the process of writing and in creating a reasonable product. However, my colleagues’ comments raised doubts in my mind. So, I have decided to research the use of models to determine how useful they actually are and to discover more uses of them to improve my ability to help my learners write more effectively.

A brief background: Models and four approaches to teaching and learning writing

Models are essential in product writing, which focuses on a final product and where ‘the learner is engaged in imitating, copying and transforming models of correct language’ (Nunan, 1991: 87). Process writing recognizes ‘that competent writers do not produce final texts at their first attempt’ and thus the priority of using models was reduced in favor of the skills that learners would need to write, i.e., a focus on ‘how’ to write, rather than just ‘what’ to write (summary of Nunan, 1991: 87). The genre approach revived the use of models,- as focusing on ‘what makes’ a genre (a type of written discourse) became prioritized. The process/genre approach combines the benefits of the others, making it inclusive and versatile (Badger/White, 2000). Table One shows how models and samples fit into these approaches:

Approach Use of models
Product • Familiarizes learners with features of a text
• Learning is assisted imitation of input from model texts
• Models texts often made s ecificall for the classroom
Process • Learners ‘develop, rather than consciously learn’ (Badger/White, 2000:
154), so
• Using models is considered less important
• Product is not ‘preconceived’; models may be used ‘only after the students have written somethin of their own’ White/Arndt, 1991: 5-6
Genre • Learners get exposed to authentic examples of the focus genre through models and samples
• These are analyzed and discussed, ‘but not for slavish imitation’ (Tribble, 1996: 58)
• Social context is important and can be determined from analysis
• Any ‘[i]mitation is only a first stage, however, designed as much to inform as to enforce adherence to strict genre rules.’ (Harmer, 2001:
Process/Genre • ‘Writing development happens by drawing out the learners’ potential and by providing input to which learners respond (Badger/White, 2000:
- 158)
• Learner-centered: ‘what input is needed will depend on [the] particular
group of learners’ (Badger/White, 2000:158)
• Input may be model/sampIe texts

Table One (summarized from Badger/White, 2000, except where noted)

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