Writing is essential for communication. Note the following from the ACTFL Standards: "Communication is at the heart of second-language study, whether the communication takes place face-to-face, in writing, or across centuries through the reading of literature."

It is possible for the instructor to develop texts and skill-building exercises for even beginning language learners. The content of the passages should deal with the learners' immediate environment and the situations they face every day, along with an insight into the target culture.

Here is an example of some functional exercises providing guidance but allowing room for individuals to communicate a real message on a topic of interest — finances:

Activity 1: Expenses

This particular exercise reinforces the concepts of percentages and comparisons besides giving the learners some experience in discussing and writing about an important topic.

Prewriting: What is your largest expense? What costs the most at the student store? Where is the cheapest place to eat near campus? Discuss the costs of living.

Read the model paragraph: Students at State University generally spend their money in six different ways. Housing is the largest expense most students use 45 percent of their income for rent. The next highest expense is food at 20 percent. Housing and food together are the largest item on the budget 65 percent.

Look at the following budget for another university student: Fred

  • Housing 45%
  • Food 20%
  • Tuition 15%
  • Books 10%
  • Recreation 6%
  • Personal 4%

Write about Fred. Use the chart above for your information. "Fred, a student at State College, spends more money on housing than for anything else ..."

Write a budget similar to the sample for your situation. Then write a short essay explaining this budget.

The preceding activity is a step beyond the basic writing exercise, but it is still somewhat controlled in nature. Writing instruction today has shifted from a focus on product to a focus on process. Learners need to acquire creative strategies for composing texts.

For example, they can write minibiographies of characters from their textbooks, lab exercises or classroom dialogues. In this topical-interactive approach, the learners still focus on a function, but they have a chance to interact with the group including the teacher as they go through the process of communicating through writing.

The teacher may have to model the writing process for the students by going through the composition process with them. This activity can be done as a group assignment at first to illustrate the writing techniques:

Activity 2: Biography

Write a biography of a fellow student:

  • Country, city
  • High school
  • College
  • Future major
  • Favorite sports/activities

Activity 3: Travel

You have just arrived in Los Angeles. Send an email to your teacher. Include the following information:

  • Number of students in group
  • Area where staying
  • Other information

Send a post card to your teacher giving more information about your daily routine, sightseeing, etc. You may provide a chart of information to help the students get started:

  • Sunday, Oct. 3: Arrival to Los Angeles (7 p.m.)
  • Monday, Oct. 4: Tour of the city. Visit Hollywood
  • Tuesday, Oct. 5: Trip to Disneyland
  • Wednesday, Oct. 6: Trip to Palm Springs
  • Thursday, Oct. 7: Ride the tram up the mountain
  • Friday, Oct. 8: Return

After discussing the proposed trip in class, the learners can write a description of the trip: "On Sunday, Oct. 3, we arrived at LA airport. We began our tour the next day. We ..."

Since the students are beginners, these exercises focus on basic information that is part of their "schema" of shared information. This is something the students themselves help to create, and it has high interest value and is relevant to their daily lives.

Each student's biography or letter will be different. There is no "right answer," thus the class will have something to discuss. They use the language for meaningful communication among themselves and with their teacher.

These exercises involve realistic situations. Rather than just reading through a passage and copying, the learners discuss a planned activity and learn place names, modes of transportation and the verbs necessary for the situation such as travel, ride, fly and so on.

They can add to the chart as they write, producing individualized written commentaries that can be shared with the class. Each student can come with an individualized itinerary, for example.

Depending on the level of the class, the activity could be set in the past, or the number of stops could be increased. This type of goal-oriented approach places the writing task into the realm of realistic communication.

Learners should write toward a goal. For example, instead of writing an autobiographical sketch, they may imagine they are applying for a travel scholarship or a position as an interpreter. They must include the biography as a fundamental part of the application.

Another possibility is for the students to use cues to write about a past or proposed activity. For example, they can be asked to set up a vacation by choosing several alternative sites:

Activity 4: Vacation time

  • The Falls Apts.: clean, beautiful efficiencies, near beach. All two br,a/c.pool. $250/week+utilities $50dep.
  • Sandy Hotel: This month only! Special! Only $25/day weekly rate (single), $15 each additional. Tennis courts.
  • Ritz Hotel: 2 mi from beach. All rooms $55/day. Stay M-F Sat and Sun free. Pool, tennis, 4-star rest.
  • The Waves on the Beach: $45/day single (ocean view slightly higher). Weekender special: Stay Sat. Sun. free!

Warm up and prewriting:

  1. Which resort is definitely on the beach?
  2. Does the Sandy hotel have a restaurant?
  3. How much would it cost for two people to spend a week at the Sandy Hotel?
  4. How much would it cost to stay Monday through Sunday at The Ritz?
  5. Is there a disadvantage to staying at the Ritz?
  6. Can you tell from the advertisement what the double rate is at the Waves?
  7. Which is better, a week at the Ritz including the weekend, or a week at the Falls Apartments?

Major Topic: Which resort would you choose and why? Compare and contrast the possible choices listing the advantages and disadvantages of each before coming to your own conclusion. "For my vacation, I would prefer to go to the _________ and spend (days, weeks) because this resort ..."