Genre Approach in Teaching of English Writing

Introduction

Genre-based approach to teaching English writing is believed to be beneficial for those students who study English as a second foreign language. This paper will consider genre approach in more detail and concentrate on the positive impact of this approach on teaching English writing in Saudi Arabia; the application of the genre approach by Saudi Arabia education will also be discussed.

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Statement of Problem

Saudi students often experience problems with English writing and require more effective teaching methods. The matter is that most of Saudi Arabian students study “in a foreign language context where product-based teaching methods dominate.” (Al-Hazmi &Scholfield 2007) Such kind of teaching consists in students’ imitating model texts and the teachers’ focusing on how well the texts are reproduced. The research showed that these methods proved to be inefficient. One cannot disagree with the fact that teaching is not all about impressing students (DeLuca, Fox, Johnson, & Kogen 2002) but when it comes to gaining knowledge, the efficiency of methods is most important. Inefficient teaching methods usually treat writing as a mere part of curriculum, whereas “an effective writing program treats writing as a process, a concept which regards the act of writing as an interrelated series of creative activities.” (National Council of Teachers of English 1986) Creativity is especially significant for writing and not all of the teaching approaches can help the students develop it. (Harper 2006) Therefore, Saudi Arabian students need new more efficient methods of teaching English writing to improve their language proficiency.

Objectives of the Research

The main objective of the research are providing theoretical background on the genre-based approach to teaching writing, discussing what benefits this approach has for Saudi Arabian students, and suggesting how this approach may be implemented by Saudi Arabian education.

The Importance of the Research

This research is relevant for the results obtained from it will help to improve education of Saudi Arabian students. Studying English writing is of great importance for Saudi Arabian students, since it gives them opportunity to better develop their language skills by means of constant writing practice (Robertson & Smith 1999). Writing is extremely necessary for obtaining proper level of higher education. These days, student academic writing continues to be at the centre of teaching and learning in higher education, but it is often an invisible dimension of the curriculum; that is, the rules or conventions governing what counts as academic writing are often assumed to be part of the ‘common sense’ knowledge students have, and are thus not explicitly taught within disciplinary courses. (Coffin 2003)

This is especially harmful for those students who study English as a second foreign language, such as Saudi Arabian students. It may be not so crucial in high school but it will necessarily have a negative effect on the students’ future academic progress, since “skill in using English in academic writing is often a key criterion for gaining entry to collegiate academic studies and exiting a college degree program.” (Harklau, Losey, & Siegal 1999) The future of the student depends on “the extent to which one can write coherently, and with as few grammatical and lexical errors as possible, in one or more of the several academic genres.” (Jones 2007) Increased interest in learning English over the past decades entailed the necessity of new teaching methods for not only teaching conversational English but English writing as well (Ferrer & Mora 2001).

Research Questions

The research is expected to give answers to the following questions:

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  1. What does the genre approach consist in?
  2. What benefits can the genre approach to teaching writing bring to Saudi Arabian students?
  3. How can the genre approach be applied by Saudi Arabian education?

Scope of the Study

A genre approach was worked out by Michael Halliday and is based on his theory of functional linguistics (Strier & Maybin 1994). Halliday kept to the idea that people have developed “very specific ways of using language in relation to how certain things are accomplished within our culture, and that different contexts and language purposes are associated with different registers, or genres of language.” (Brindley 1993) Namely understanding of different genres and explaining the students how to write in each of them will help to enlarge students’ knowledge in different academic disciplines together with improving their level of language acquisition. A genre-based approach to teaching English writing is usually used by special purpose English courses. (Casanave 2002) Applying this approach makes writing interesting and entertaining rather than complex and effortful. (Rijlaarsdam, Bergh & Couzijn 2005) This approach is revolutionary and may change the attitude of students toward writing. (Hall & Hewings 2001).

Introduction of this approach into Saudi Arabian system of education is unlikely to involve many problems. All that is required is the change of strategies the teachers tend to use in the classroom. One of the first steps is developing the students’ genre-based grammar. Grammar is essential for the writing process and knowing it properly allows manipulating the language rather than using it implicitly and unconsciously. A genre-based view of grammar “focuses on language at the level of whole text” (Paltridge 2001) taking into account its structural parts at the same time. This is also one of the benefits which genre-based approach offers to Saudi Arabian students; they will be able to not only improve their English grammar but to develop a genre-based grammar together with new vocabulary. Due to genre-based grammar, a genre approach to teaching writing helps the students to perceive the source text at the level of discourse rather than at the level of structural forms. (Robertson & Nunn 2007)

A genre-based grammar focuses on the manner through which different language processes or genres in writing are coded in distinct and recognizable ways. It first considers how the text is structured and organized and … then considers how all parts of the text, such as paragraphs and sentences, are structured, organized, and coded so as to make the text effective as written communication. (Mercer & Swann 1996)

Writing is the context within which grammar should be taught and learned (Knapp & Watkins 2005) this is why genre-based grammar should be an integral part of genre approach to teaching English writing. Apart from grammar, a genre-based approach takes into account such elements as “functions, vocabulary, language skills, situation, topics, and communicative tasks, according to the particular genre and the setting in which it occurs.” (Cummins & Davison 2007) This allows Saudi Arabian students learning different aspects of the English language; this will increase the students’ knowledge in the culture of the country the language of which they study. (Gonzalez & Melis 2000)

Taking part in a genre means much more than just producing the text that looks like the ones that are usually produced in a particular situation. It also involves understanding the social and cultural contexts in which the genre occurs and how these factors impact upon the language choices that a speaker or writer makes. (Cummins and Davison 2007)

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Another benefit of the genre-based approach for Saudi Arabian students lies in absorbing only that information which will be necessary for their future work or studying in the English environment. This approach focuses the attention of the students on the genres, or text types, “which occur in target discourse communities, that is, the work- or study-related groups the learners aim to enter or make progress in as a result of gains in the English language proficiency.” (Basturkmen 2006) This approach will help the students to concentrate only on those genres of writing which they are going to utilize afterwards.

Finally, teaching English writing by means of genre-based approach will help to develop creative thinking in students and tangibly improve their language skills. It will allow them to find out “how genre interacts with different varieties of language across different contexts of use and how these interactions predict particular patterns of language that can be described in terms of the user’s choice of lexis, grammatical structures, and cohesive devices.” (Johna 2002) Thus, genre-based approach can shape language learning and development (Bhatia 2004) because the students stop focusing at simple reproducing of the source text; the approach also allows the students to use the obtained knowledge about genres in writing and improving their level of language acquisition. (Taboada 2004)

Methodology

Suggested methodology for the research will include questionnaires and teacher journals. Questionnaires will be compiled for both students and teachers; their aim is to find out the teachers’ and the students’ attitude towards the introduction of new approach to teaching English writing and to figure out which benefits the students expect from this approach. Quantitative analysis of the obtained data can then be compared with the results received after the introduction of the approach. Teacher journals will help to observe the students’ progress. The teacher will grade the students’ achievements in writing and then compare the results with students’ achievements before introduction of the research. This will help to find out how much beneficial the approach was for students.

Criticism of the Genre Approach

Certain criticisms as for application of this approach exist. Some of the scholars argue that genre-based approach is founded upon “the principal aim of deconstructing for the learner the linguistic and textual structures which characterize a given genre with the view that the ability to reproduce genres is a form of empowerment through appreciation.” (Kostuli 2005) Some of other scholars state that introduction of the genre-based approach may be challenging “if the learners are developmentally ready and involved in authentic tasks” because “explicit teaching may result in acquisition in very specific instances.” (Swales 2004)

Nevertheless, most of the teachers who successfully implemented the genre-based approach to teaching English writing got convinced that this approach has mostly positive impact on the students’ progress in writing. The introduction of this approach into Saudi Arabian education system will be beneficial for the learners who will considerably improve their oral and written English, as well as their writing skills.

Bibliography

Al-Hazmi, S & Scholfield, P 2007,’Enforced revision with checklist and peer feedback in EFL writing: The example of Saudi university students’, Scientific Journal of King Faisal University, vol. 8,no. 2, pp. 237-267.

Basturkmen H 2006, Ideas and options in English for specific purposes, Routledge.

Bhatia VK 2004, Worlds of written discourse, Continuum International Publishing Group.

Brindley S 1993, Teaching English, Routledge.

Casanave CP 2002, Writing games: multicultural case studies of academic literacy practices in higher education, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Coffin, C 2003, Teaching Academic Writing: a Toolkit for Higher Education, Routledge.

Cummins O & Davison C 2007 International Handbook of English Language Teaching, Springer.

DeLuca G, Fox L, Johnson MA, Kogen M 2002, Dialogue on writing: rethinking ESL, basic writing, and first-year composition, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ferrer A & Mora HF 2001, Teaching English in a Spanish Setting, Universitat de València.

Gonzalez RD & Melis I 2000. Language Ideologies: Education and the social implications of official language, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hall DR & Hewings A 2001, Innovation in English language teaching: a reader, Routledge.

Harklau L, Losey K, & Siegal M 1999, Generation 1.5 meets college composition: issues in the teaching of writing to U.S.-educated learners of ESL, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Harper G 2006 Teachin creative Writing, Continuum International Publishing Group.

Johns AM 2002, Genre in the classroom: multiple perspectives, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Knapp P & Watkins M 2005, Genre, text, grammar: technologies for teaching and assessing writing, UNSW Press.

Kostuli T 2005, Writing in context(s): textual practices and learning processes in sociocultural settings, Birkhäuser.

Mercer N & Swann O 1996 Learning English: development and diversity, Routledge.

National Council of Teachers of English 1986, Handbook for planning an effective writing program: kindergarten through grade twelve, DIANE Publishing.

Paltride B 2001 Genre and the language learning classroom, University of Michigan Press.

Rijlaarsdam, G, Bergh, H & Couzijn, M 2005, Effective Learning and Teaching of Writing: A Handbook of Writing in Education, Springer.

Robertson A & Smith B 1999, Teaching in the 21st Century: Adapting Writing Pedagogies to the College Curriculum, Routledge.

Robertson P & Nunn R 2007, The Study of Second Language Acquisition in the Asian Context, Lulu.

Stierer B & Maybin J 1994, Language, Literacy, and Learning in Educational Practice: A Reader, Multilingual Matters.

Swales J 2004, Research genres: explorations and applications, Cambridge University Press.

Taboada MT 2004, Building coherence and cohesion: task-oriented dialogue in English and Spanish, John Benjamins Publishing Company.

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