Collaborative learning as we know is not a new approach. It is an educational approach to teaching and learning that involves at least a group of learners working together either to solve a problem, complete a task or create a product. In ESL writing classrooms, I always promote collaborative learning and one of the areas is on the development of ideas among my lower intermediate learners.
All ESL teachers are fully aware of the limitations that lower intermediate or weak learners have especially in terms of language proficiency and ideas. If a writing task is assigned individually, many of the lower intermediate learners will find it challenging. However, if they have to complete the task as a group, it will be much easier for them. Therefore, collaborative learning is employed to allow learners to assist each other to develop ideas.
In certain classrooms where some learners are extremely weak, sufficient examples on how they should complete their task to develop ideas should be given. Scaffolding activities have their own advantages. These are some suggestions for scaffolding activities at the INITIAL STAGE, depending on the ability and commitment of lower intermediate learners:
1. All main ideas are given to learners. They only need to discuss and collaborate to provide all the details.
2. Half of the main ideas are given. Learners have to discuss and collaborate to give other main ideas and details.
3. Main ideas and some of the details are given. Learners have to discuss and collaborate to provide other details.
Later on, when learners are ready, they will provide the main ideas and details on their own based on each of the controlling ideas given. Some suggested controlling ideas are shared below.
ESL teachers have to introduce and explain these terms to their learners first; “Controlling idea”, “Main idea” and “Detail”. Teachers must also explain about the importance of developing their ideas in essays. With clear understanding of the purpose of their writing practice, the writing tasks done by them collaboratively will be more meaningful.
Collaborative writing practices among lower intermediate learners allow weak learners to achieve more. If the writing task is done individually, we know, most of the time, little could be achieved. However, when the opportunities to collaborate are given to them, they are able to discuss and produce more and more details to develop each main idea. Moreover, collaborative practices give them strength and confidence to complete each task to develop main ideas.
The template shared here only covers five main ideas and learners have to provide two details for each of the main ideas. Definitely, the number of main ideas and details can be added. It depends on the ability and commitment of the learners as well as the availability of time. Whatever it is, we the ESL teachers should always coach our lower intermediate learners to develop their skills to develop ideas. Their ability to do so will boost their confidence to write more and more especially the 350-word continuous essay in examination, in shaa Allah.