Initiating ESL students into writing: Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Posted in by Heba Said

Writing, by no means, is an easy enterprise. The myriad factors that our brain negotiates to pen down, safely, a body of thoughts disguised as sentences connected in unison to represent a whole idea is complex.

It must indeed be one of the most daunting tasks in academic lives of students – writing in their native tongue is difficult enough, let alone a foreign one.

To ask a student to write, say, a fictitious draft with some nice story elements here and there, you are not just asking him to, ahem, write. He has to brainstorm (or snowstorm or thunderstorm with all that the word storm entails) hundreds of thoughts and then as the saying goes “the calm after a storm”, you want the student to sit down and make the shift from chaos to order. It is this process of turning those air-suspended thought bubbles into lines which makes the writing experience a formidable task to conquer.

As a teacher and amateur writer, myself, I’m quite baffled as to why and how most curricula and syllabi do not tread lightly with the issue of writing. On the contrary, it is being dealt with as just another lesson in the unit sequence and children are expected to master many writing genres within a very short time with no account taken of their still budding language skills. Why, (instead of dabbling superficially in different types of writing from here and there), don’t we focus the students’ abilities on mastering master only one or two genres?

Out of all the various writing faculties, it’s not an overstatement that authoring fiction is the most demanding. Asking a seven-year-old to fabricate a plot for a story (there are adult writers who attend writing workshops for this specific purpose) and creating a series of events linked together in a cause-and-effect sequence is a no picnic; what’s more, expecting them to add depth and peculiar traits to their characters, enriching their setting and taking the reader to a climax and its resolution should be an entire year’s work, not a month or two.

It is far more comprehensible as well as fruitful to start with nonfiction. By not exhausting the student’s energies by involving their imagination in fictional compositions and allowing them to focus on the linguistic functions as they express bare, realistic facts, we can thus direct their efforts into developing a clearer understanding of how language, first and foremost, works. When we ask children to write for instance about spiders or birds in the simple present or about their favorite season while in the meantime enlightening them about connectives and transitional phrases, we are building a strong syntactic and lexical foundation that will enable the children to manipulate and even play with language forms. Not to mention the fact that writing nonfiction yields faster results and so the children will feel more motivated and inspired to work on their writing assignments as they reap the rewards of their labors.

This is the start of a series of posts on “writing” through which I’ll be exploring how we, as teachers, can help our students to unleash their linguistic prowess leading them into becoming proud and confident writers.

Heba Said


Related Articles

Let her choose her dream dragon

Let her choose her dream dragon

Yup, a 'new Mum'. That's what I have been...
Budding Minds
The Writing Monster – An Interview with a student

The Writing Monster – An Interview with a student

“Writing tasks were monsters who often invaded my nightmares....
Budding Minds
Traumatic Task of Writing: Part 1

Traumatic Task of Writing: Part 1

“Miss, please do not ask us to write,” a...
Budding Minds