The Role Of L2 English Writing English Language Essay

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During the audiolingual method era, in the 1960s, language classes downplayed the role of writing since writing was seen as only a supporting skill. ESL writing classes, thus, only focused on sentence structures as a support for the grammar class and writing development was only the result of the imitation of input, in the form of texts provided by the teachers. It is, therefore, teacher-centered, as the teacher becomes the arbiter of the models used.

In product approach, also known as "controlled composition", the main focus was on sentence-level accuracy and reducing the possibilities of making errors. Later, teachers in "control composition" approach began to focus on the writing of paragraph elements such as topic sentences, support sentences, concluding sentences, and transitions and on paragraph development within particular organizational patterns such as narration, description, classification, and comparison and contrast (T. Tangpermpoon, 2008).

Product-based writing approaches have been called by several other names such as "the controlled- to-free approach", "the text-based approach", and "the guided composition", however, each of these terms has focused on specific aspects of this approach. Basically, writing in product-based approaches has served to reinforce L2 writing in terms of grammatical and syntactical forms with the emphasis on rhetorical drills, which provide a certain amount of freedom for English major students to create their compositions. In this case, learners, having the linguistic knowledge of second language, can apply their knowledge for writing the rhetorical patterns, different types of writing such as comparison/contrast, cause-effect, classification, and definition. In this approach, Writing is viewed as a simple linear model of the writing process which proceeds systematically from prewriting to composing and correcting. However, Johnson and Johnson in 1998 cites that a number of specialists such as Raims (1983) and Hairston (1982) believe that writers do not follow a neat sequence of planning, organizing, writing, and revising; instead they follow a recursive model.

Proponents of the product approach argue that it enhances students' writing proficiency through systematic use of the pattern-product techniques. The students are aware of using appropriate vocabularies and sentence structures for each type of rhetorical pattern. Finally, the use of native-like models in such an approach is not only crucial for imitation but also for exploration and analysis. Myles (2002), mentioned in Norhisham and mohammad (2006), further argues that, in case students are not exposed to native-like models of written texts, their errors are more likely to persist.

However, the product approach suffers from a number of strong criticisms that have led teachers and researchers to reassess the nature of writing and the ways writing is taught. Writing with this approach allows little attention to audience and the writing purpose. It devalues the learner's potentials, both linguistic and personal. Writing instructors should include not only a sense of audience but also the concept of writing purpose and idea generation techniques in the writing class so as to make learners successful in L2 writing. The outcome of the re-assessment is the writing-as-process movement, which has led the field toward a paradigm shift, revolutionizing the teaching of writing.

However, it is recommended to; first, take a quick look at the genre-based approach which has a lot in common with product-based approach in teaching writing.

Genre-based Approach

According to Badger and White (2000), cited in Kim (2007), writing in the genre-based approach is regarded as an extension of the product-oriented approach. Like the product approach, the genre approach views writing as predominantly linguistic. The genre approach, however, places a greater emphasis on the social context in which writing is produced.

The focus of writing in this approach is to integrate the knowledge of a particular genre and its communicative purpose. This will offer students explicit and systematic explanation of the role of language functions in social contexts.

Learning specific genre construction is a way to help learners come up with actual writing in the real life situations. Also, it increases learners' awareness of writing conventions such as organization, arrangement, form, and genre. Through the composing process, genre-based writing mirrors a particular purpose of a social situation and provides students opportunities to consciously acquire writing skills by imitation and analysis of each writing genre.

A range of methods can be employed in genre-based classroom. For instance, according to Xudong (2007), Paltridge (2002) proposes a framework in which students investigate the texts and contexts of target situations, reflect on writing practices, take advantage of texts from different types of genres and create mixed genre portfolios. The supporting theory of such a pedagogical approach, according to Vyotsky (1978), is an emphasis on the interactive collaboration between teacher and student, with the teacher taking an authoritative role to 'scaffold' or support learners as they move towards their potential level of performance. In the scaffolding activity, students are provided with models, and are asked to discuss and analyze their language and structure. The scaffolding element gradually reduces as the learners independently produce a text parallel to the model. In this case, the role of the teacher, thus, moves from explicit instructor to facilitator and eventually the learners gain autonomy.

The negative side of the genre-based approach is that learners may suffer from lack of knowledge of appropriate language or vocabulary to express their intended meaning to a specific audience. Another weakness is that the genre approach ignores the writing abilities learners have in other areas. And would not let the students express their own ideas. Also, the students may be too dependent on the teacher finding suitable materials as models. It could thus become counter-productive.

Process-Based Approach

In the early seventies, communicative teaching methodology and work on functional/notional syllabuses directed our attention more firmly towards the specific needs of the individual learner. These needs were viewed not only in terms of particular language items but also of particular types of communication, and the resulting realization that different learners actually had different requirements with respect to language skills. Process-based writing is viewed as the way writers actually work on their writing tasks from the beginning stage to the end of the written product. According to O'Brien (2004) process approach is defined as an activity in which teachers encourage learners to see writing not as grammar exercises, but as the discovery of meaning and ideas.

The process approaches focus on how a text is written instead of the final outcome. Hyland (2003), cited in Nordin and Mohammad (2006), believes that revising the product in response to feedback obtained from readers is an important activity in process-based approach. This idea comes from the fact that professional writers or even students hardly follow the fixed sequence of writing stages linearly. They have to move back and forth among different writing steps because the process of composing itself generates new thoughts. So, the process of natural writing is cyclical and recursive. The driving force behind more successful writing ability is assumed to be the want or need to express and record meaningful messages, which are progressively more complicated. Furthermore, most proficient writing balances both writer and reader perspectives, while respecting conventional norms.

Process Writing tends to encourage the implementation of open-ended tasks with the emphasis on personal expression in more extended stretches of discourse, whether written or socially constructed oral. Accordingly, communication must be considered as the integral part of the composition classroom as it is now becoming in the spoken English classroom, even though much of the initial impetus for Process Writing stressed the generation and exploration of ideas. Also it has been known as a vehicle for the discovery and communication of meaning. In a sense, the development of processing skills and general discourse knowledge tend to be emphasized rather than the acquisition of specific language knowledge, with considerable interest in language communication/use strategies.

The pedagogic justifications for process approach tend to be that it mirrors natural target behavior much more closely, along both social and psychological dimensions. In fact, the social and the cognitive dimensions not only of language use, but also language learning, are identified in this approach.

In addition, the content and particularly the procedures are said to be more motivating, since they tend to emphasize personal expression and build on the students' existing abilities and experiences with dynamic student-initiated processes. Much of teacher intervention comes in response to the students' initial attempts at meaning. It is the teachers who are expected to be responsive to the students' initiatives, rather than students being responsive to the teachers'.

It is worth mentioning that there is considerable interest in group and pair organization. Process writing very often includes some collaborative pair or group writing and peer group or dyadic response. In fact, much of recent researches have focused on peer revision, and feedback.

Common criticisms, stemming from misunderstandings, were that process writing (a) ignores the product and (b) is relevant only to advanced "creative" writing. However, it is worth mentioning that there is no contradiction between process pedagogy and academic writing; that it may be associated with any theory of writing and that it is by its nature concerned with product.

There are parallels between a process writing pedagogy and communicative, task-based, collaborative curriculum development.

The Influence of Communicative Language Teaching

Nowadays, the language pedagogy arena is, to a great extent, under the shadow of communicative methodology to the language teaching community. Although a number of alternative approaches has emerged in recent years, such as the lexical approach (Lewis, 1993) and the context approach (Bax, 2003), it is commonly agreed that the fundamentals of communicative language teaching (hereafter CLT) have been widely used for the past three decades. Furthermore, due to the set of rather diverse and uncontroversial principles, communicative language teaching can be interpreted in different ways and used to accommodate with a wide variety of classroom procedures.

According to communicative principles, mastering communicative competence to operate effectively in the new language was considered as the main purpose of instruction.

At the same time, using the language to communicate was seen as the best way to learn it. Consequently, meaningful communication became the target and the medium of language learning.

"The elaboration and implementation of programs and methodologies those promote the development of functional language ability through learners' participation in communicative events" (Savignon, cited in M. Duenas 2004).

The general conceived message is that there is no single communicative method, any standardized system with a fixed arrangement of techniques and procedures.

Content-Based Instruction

The present applicability of CLT is perceived with a two-fold projection. On the one hand, the basic CLT framework, with all the pre-determined trends in teaching methodology, such as objectives, syllabus design, methodological guidelines, learning activities and material writing. On the other hand, the off-shoots of CLT with the same basic set of principles, and diverse philosophical details or instructional practices. These, as titled in Richards and Rodgers (2001) "current communicative approaches" include The Natural Approach, Cooperative Language Learning, Content-Based Teaching, and Task-Based Teaching.

Put it another way, having tendency toward various assumptions about how second languages are learned in the current communicative approaches, has been derived from "strong" and "weak" versions of communicative language teaching (Howatt, 1984, cited in Kaplan, 2002).

Whereas, both weak and strong forms of CLT provides opportunities for learners to use the target language for communicative purposes, weaker forms tend to view communication as an end- learn the language to use it- and to put emphasis on classroom practices which are based upon description of communicative practices that describe and exemplify relationships between forms and meaning. In weak version, negotiation of meaning is the main purpose of language instruction, while form-based activities for extending the formal system of language are marginalized. However, explicit teaching of formal structure may come into focus for specific forms and form-function-meaning relationships.

On the other hand, syllabus design in strong version of CLT is based on "acquisition hypothesis" assuming that language use will improve structural development and that a "natural" syllabus, like native language development, will emerge through negotiation of meaning. In strong version of CLT, instruction is organized around situations, oral and written texts, skill or knowledge domains, or tasks that require communicative language use or various kinds. Content of the materials is based on learner's interests and needs; in this case, the materials would be more motivating to learners, and at the same time, more context-specific.

According to Kaplan (2002), content-based language instruction and some of its sub-categories such as "Sheltered courses" and "immersion education" as well as task-based learning are based on the stronger version of CLT.

Among this array of communicative-based methodological options Content-Based Teaching or Content-Based Instruction (hereafter CBI), as it is more commonly known, is one of the options whose "popularity and wider applicability have increased dramatically since the early 1990s" (Stoller, 2002, cited in M. Duehas, 2004).

Models of Content-Based Instruction

Despite differences in how terms are defined, the diverse characteristics of programs that integrate content and language can be used to determine their position on a continuum that illustrates the relative role of content and language. The continuum is useful in a number of ways. It can highlight how differing definitions of content-based instruction share common features yet are distinguished from one another. It can also suggest key decision points for program planners and implementers help inform approaches to student assessment, and define roles for teachers and the kinds of teaching skills needed. According to a classification by Met (1999), cited in Celce-Maurcia (2001), all of the programs, models, and approaches that integrate language and content, share a common phenomenon: students engage in some way with content using a non-native language. The instructional experiences in which students engage may be placed on the continuum below.




Content is taught in L2.

Content learning is priority.

Language learning is secondary.

Content objectives determined by course

goals or curriculum.

Teachers must select language objectives.

Students evaluated on content mastery.





Content is used to learn L2.

 Language learning is priority.


Content learning is incidental.

 Language objectives determined by

L2 course goals or curriculum.

Students evaluated on content to be integrated.

 Students evaluated on language skills/ proficiency.


The continuum provides for a range of programs and approaches that may be primarily content-driven or language driven. In content-driven programs, student learning of content is of greater importance than language learning. Content outcomes are a driving force of instruction, and student mastery of content is held to be of paramount importance. In language-driven programs, content is a useful tool for furthering the aims of the language curriculum. Content learning may be considered incidental, and neither teachers nor students are held accountable for content outcomes. Examples of programs that tie across the continuum can be found at all levels of education.


What lies in the range between the extremes of the continuum? We have seen that at either end of the continuum are content-driven programs that place high priority on content learning, and in which language learning emerges from content instruction on the one hand, and language-driven programs, in which language is of primary importance and content a vehicle for developing desired language skills on the other. Other forms of content/language integration include subject courses taught in the second/foreign language, subject courses taught in conjunction with language classes, and theme-based language courses that draw on one or more disciplines to develop language competence. These approaches

to content/ language integration are shown in Figure2.



Total Immersion

Partial Immersion

Sheltered Courses

Adjunct Model

Theme-Based Courses

Language classes with frequent use of content

for language practiceFigure 2.

In the next section, four models of content-based instruction are described. The first approach is a well developed example of models designed to teach foreign languages to English speaking K-12 learners at the elementary school level. The next three models have been implemented in secondary and post-secondary second language settings. It is here, that we will discuss various aspects of THEME-BASED MODEL, which is considered the most widespread model of content-based instruction and the independent variable in the present study.

Immersion Education

The immersion model of foreign language pedagogy can be considered as a content-based approach. Unlike traditional language courses, where the target language was simply the subject material, language immersion uses the target language as a teaching tool, surrounding, or "immersing" students in the second language. In-class activities, such as math, social studies, and history, and those outside of the class, such as meals or everyday tasks, are all conducted in the target language. Today's immersion programs are based on those founded in the 1960s in Canada when middle-income English-speaking parents convinced educators to establish an experimental French immersion program enabling their children 'to appreciate the traditions and culture of French-speaking Canadians as well as English-speaking Canadians'. A number of different immersion programs have evolved since those first ones in Canada. Immersion programs may be categorized according to extent of immersion.

In total immersion, almost one hundred percent of class time is spent in the foreign language. Subject matter taught in foreign language and language learning per se is incorporated as necessary throughout the curriculum. The goals are to become functionally proficient in the foreign language, to master subject content taught in the foreign languages, and to acquire an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures. This type of program is usually sequential, cumulative, continuous, proficiency-oriented, and part of an integrated grade school sequence. Even in total immersion, the language of the curriculum may revert to the first language of the learners after several years.

In partial immersion, about half of the class time is spent learning subject matter in the foreign language. The goals are to become functionally proficient in the second language (though to a lesser extent than through total immersion), to master subject content taught in the foreign languages, and to acquire an understanding of and appreciation for other cultures.

The Sheltered Model

Sheltered and adjunct CBI usually occurs at universities in English L1 contexts. The goal of teachers using sheltered and adjunct CBI is to enable their ESL students to study the same content material as regular English L1 students. Sheltered CBI is called "sheltered" because learners are given special assistance to help them understand regular classes. Two teachers can work together to give instruction in a specific subject. One of the teachers is a content specialist and the other an ESL specialist. They may teach the class together or the class time may be divided between the two of them. For example, the content specialist will give a short lecture and then the English teacher will check that the students have understood the important words by reviewing them later. This kind of team teaching requires teachers to work closely together to plan and evaluate classes. It has been used successfully at the bilingual University of Ottawa, where classes are taught in English and French, (Bruton, 1989).  

The Adjunct Model

Adjunct classes are usually taught by ESL teachers. The aim of these classes is to prepare students for "mainstream" classes where they will join English L1 learners. Adjunct classes may resemble EPA or ESP classes where emphasis is placed on acquiring specific target vocabulary; they may also feature study skills sessions to familiarize the students with listening, note taking and skimming and scanning texts. Some adjunct classes are taught during the summer months before regular college classes begin, while others run concurrently with regular lessons.

Theme-Based Model

Theme-based language instruction is the most widespread of the three content-based models because it can be implemented within virtually any existing institutional setting, and the theme or the topic can be selected to match students' interests. Theme-based courses are language-driven: the goal of these courses is to help students develop L2 skills and proficiency in a specific topic area while the other two models aims at content mastery. Themes are selected based on their potential to contribute to the learner's language growth in specific topical or functional domains. Unlike sheltered courses, which are taught by content instructors, and adjunct courses that are taught by a language instructor and a content specialist, theme-based courses are merely taught by language instructors to L2 Learners who are evaluated in terms of their language growth.

Theme-based courses enjoy a high degree of flexibility in terms of content selection, curricular organization, and procedural application. The syllabus in theme-based courses is organized in two different ways; whether it is designed around different topics within a particular discipline, or it includes a number of individual subjects related to a general theme or content area. The course contains several topics as it progresses. So, each course is a sequence of topics around a coherent overall theme.

As it was shown in figure 2., theme-based model is considered a language driven model as it is placed immediately before the category of " language classes with frequent use of content for language practice", which is a general procedure in language instruction and not a part of CBI instruction.

According to Brinton, Snow, and Wesche (1989), cited in Kaplan (2002), content-based instruction is a "strong" form of communicative language teaching, but it has its own strong and weak versions. Weak forms include language courses whose aim is to develop communicative proficiency in the second language. Theme-based model is placed in this category. On the contrary, strong forms are language-sensitive content courses in non-language disciplines with the primary goal of mastery of the subject matter.

In this model, four skills are taught in an integrated way. Topics are represented through listening or reading and the exploration of other areas such as grammar, vocabulary, language awareness, and etc. is proposed by oral passages or written texts. Class activities contains making presentation and oral reports, discussing different issues around the topic area, giving oral or written response to questions, writing summaries and etc.

According to Cummins and Swain (1983), cited in M.J. Crawford (2001), language learning is very difficult when the content is context reduced and cognitively demanding. In decontextualized courses, since there is no relation between the materials in any aspect, students experience a heavy load in cognition. However, in the theme-based approach, on the other hand, students recycle what they learn; therefore, the more they learn, the more the content becomes context-embedded and cognitively less demanding.

Stoller and Grabe in 1997 provided guidelines for the design of theme-based syllabuses and units. They believed that thematic instruction is a basic factor in most educational contexts and adjunct or sheltered instruction models represent two different organizational structures for carrying out theme-based instruction. Due to the fact, the two terms of content-based instruction and theme-based instruction can be used interchangeably. In the same line, they provided the Six-T's Approach that is applicable to a wide range of CBI contexts.

The approach has three basic goals: (Stoller and Grabe, 1997)

1. the specification of theme-based instruction as central to all CBI,

2. the extension of CBI to support any language-learning context, including those in which teachers and program supervisors have the freedom to make major curriculum (and content) decisions,

3. the organization of coherent content resources for instruction and the selection of appropriate language learning activities.

In this approach, students' needs and goals, institutional expectations, available resources, teacher abilities, and expected outcomes are of top priorities. The first T, in the series of these guidelines, is theme. Themes are the central ideas that organize major curricular units. They are chosen due to student needs and interests, teachers' abilities and institutional expectations.

The second T, topics, is the subunits of content which explore more specific aspects of the theme. Organizing topics can generate high coherence for the theme unit and provide opportunities to explore content and language. Texts, the third T, are defined as the content resources (written and aural) which derive the basic planning of the theme units. Readings of various genres, videos, audiotapes, maps, lectures, graphic representations, problem-solving activities, library searches, questionnaires and surveys are all possible sources of content which can be used in theme-based instruction. Threads, the fourth T, are linkages across themes that create greater curricular coherence. They are relatively abstract concepts for linking themes and providing opportunities to integrate information and view both language and content from new perspectives. The fifth T, tasks, is the day-to-day instructional activities used for teaching content, language, and strategy instruction. Tasks are planned on the basis of text characters. Major tasks which are developed around themes are recycled with higher levels of complexity as students progress through the units. Finally, transitions, the sixth T, are explicitly planned actions which provide coherence across topics in a thematic unit and across tasks within topics. An example of topical transition in a theme unit on demography would be a deliberate shift in emphasis from trends in global populations to trends in developing countries, to developed countries, and, finally, to students' home country.

In Six-T's Approach, content determines curricular decisions. A content-based course, following a Six T's framework, must be designed around specified theme, accompanied with supporting themes, and negotiating a coherent set of appropriate topics. Varied texts would provide opportunities for relevant language learning activities, strategy instruction, and meaningful communicative purposes.

It is commonly agreed that theme-based courses are excellent tools for the integration of language and content, providing the fact that course designers and planners do not lose the sight of content and language learning objectives and do not overwhelm students with excessive amounts of content.


Under the shadow of Communicative Language Teaching, writing proficiency is viewed as an active communicative, social process involving discussions, interaction with teachers, group work, and peer work. It motivates communication and makes thought available for reflection. The ability to write effectively is becoming increasingly important in our global community, thus finding an appropriate way of teaching writing in second and foreign language classrooms is a top priority in EFL and ESL education.

According to the present study, theme-based instruction which speaks to both the hearts and minds of students is the key to the present issue. Theme-based courses enjoy a high degree of flexibility in terms of content selection, curricular organization, and procedural application. Working with one theme, the whole class experiences the same problem at the same time and students benefit from sharing information and exploration. As a result, instructors would be hopeful to come up with a self-dependent writer who is able to write on a wide variety of academic themes.