Objective of the unit

By the end of the unit, students will have used and learned certain learning strategies to improve their writing.

What is writing?

Writing is a complex cognitive process of translating represented language (ideas, thoughts, feelings, impressions) in a coherent written discourse, in reference to certain communicative and social contexts (Hayes and Flower, 1987; Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1985; Díaz Barriga and Hernández Rojas, 2010).

There are specific aspects that writers should take into account in order to be successful such as spelling, lexis, coherence, cohesion, style and textual organization.

Writing makes our ideas visible, which helps students evaluate their own writing, reflect on their learning strategies and become competent writers.

Competent writers:

  • are good readers and have learnt the written code
  • are aware of the audience and make time to think about what it already knows
  • take time to think about what they want to say and how to say it
  • plan the text and make a mental image of the text they are to write
  • set goals and manage time
  • monitor their writing while doing the task
  • modify their writing to connect ideas or change meaning
  • use different resources to back up their ideas (books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, newspapers)
  • make sensible use of writing strategies for prewriting, drafting and rewriting.
  • consider feedback an essential  part of the writing process

Teaching goal: In order to help students become better writers we need to  teach them the following strategies explicitly:

Learning strategies in a nutshell

“Learning strategies are techniques that facilitate the process of understanding, retaining and applying knowledge.” Jodi Reiss

There are different ways to classify learning strategies. The most popular one classifies them in metacognitive, cognitive and social.

Metacognitive strategies are usually referred to as “thinking about learning”.

Metacognitive strategies that need to be taught:

  • Using a diary or calendar to organize tasks, assignments, study periods and tests.
  • Using a homework to keep track of work, questions to ask and ideas.
  • Splitting projects and assignments in smaller units of work.
  • Finding one’s weaknesses
  • Self-evaluation

Cognitive strategies are the ones that lead to both the understanding of the object of study and the application of the new knowledge in different situations.

Cognitive strategies to be taught:  

  • Comparing L1 and L2
  • Identifying key words and concepts
  • Creating graphic organizers, maps, charts, diagrams
  • Categorizing and classifying
  • Using background knowledge to build learning
  • Paraphrasing
  • Guessing from context

Social strategies are strategies that allow learners to work and learn from peers or the environment. 

Social strategies which need to be taught

  • Working in pairs or groups to solve problems, do tasks.
  • Respecting class rules
  • Taking and respecting roles


How can learning strategies help students write?

“Learning strategies are the thoughts and/or actions that students use to complete learning tasks… the tools that students themselves can employ independently to complete a language task” (Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary and Robbins, 1999). Retrieved from

The goal of teaching learning strategies is to help students be aware of how they learn in order to be more efficient, motivated, and independent language learners.

In order to fully understand what students actually do and to help them complete a writing task, we need to know the types of learning strategies students can use in reference to the types of texts they are writing, the purposes they have and the audience.


What do students write for?

Students can write for different purposes. Everyday writing tasks include filling out forms, taking notes in class, taking down telephone messages, writing simple notes, making posters, writing emails and texting. Some people may need to write complicated prose such as technical reports, articles and even books.

There are different types of texts students can write: narrative, expository, descriptive, sequential, cause and effect, problem-solution and argumentative texts.

Teachers should bear the writing purpose in mind when designing a writing task and help students identify it so that they can use adequate writing approaches.



According to Joan Rubin and Irene Thompson (1994), most students find that strategies which helped them achieved better results in their own language can also be applied to English writing.

There are some specific strategies for developing writing skills:

Before writing:

  • planning before writing
  • using graphic organizers
  • using prior knowledge
  • reading writing samples or models
  • looking for regular patterns in spelling
  • Learning the rules for punctuation

While writing:

  • imitating native speaker´s language
  • avoiding excessive reliance on the dictionary
  • monitoring

After writing:

  • having someone else look at the writing
  • checking grammar
  • revising
  • using a spell-checker
  • finding out similarities and differences between the L1 and the L2.
  • evaluating

Frequent Writing Problems and Possible Solutions

Type of writing problem


Possible solutions

Lack of knowledge about the topic

Students don´t know about the topic and don´t know what to write about.

Use content-based instruction to teach the topic in a thematic unit

Lack of text organization and structure

Students don´t know how to make paragraphs and how a text is organized.

Expose students to different types of texts and focus on language and textual analysis. Monitor and scaffold students when writing.

Inadequate use of language

Students make spelling and punctuation  mistakes. They lack lexical knowledge and the cohesion is wrong.

Help students use spell-checkers, dictionaries and teach the language they will need to use before writing.

Lack of concentration when writing

Students write on a different topic and they go around the bushes.

Help students plan their writing and monitor them.  Model some self-talk while writing. Make students use graphic organizers before writing. Use writing strategies forms and questionnaires for students´self-evaluation and planning.