Working together and writing together

Do you collaborate with other students as you prepare for the IELTS test? If you don’t, you should. Learning is a social process, and we learn better when we work together. When you do the test, you will be alone, of course, but the test is not part of the learning process; it is the end of it. Collaborating can be a great way to prepare for the writing test. Working on a Task 2 essay with other learners, you can:

  • discuss the question and check that you understand
  • ‘brainstorm’ ideas for the essay
  • suggest vocabulary which can be useful for the topic
  • share experiences which could be used in the essay as examples (the question asks you to ‘include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience’ but they don’t have to be yours)

I’ve always done this in class with my students but then I would have them write their essays by themselves. I started to wonder if writing an essay together might be useful practice?

I was working in a school at the time where students all used laptops or tablets in the class. All writing was done on Google Docs. A great feature of this is that documents can be shared. Once students had written their essays they could share them with me for feedback and correction. Google Docs can be shared with anyone, even other students. So for my research I had students work in groups to write an essay together. They could all see the essay but only one student was able to type (another good feature of Docs) so they had to talk to each other to write the essay. And I could see what they were writing as they’d shared the document with me too.

I was really pleased with what happened. The students talked a lot about the essay, so they were practicing their speaking skills. And they had to communicate to complete the task so it was more real than doing speaking ‘exercises’ in class. The talked about language and shared their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. In a way they were teaching each other. Different students brought different skills. One student might be great at ideas or examples but not so good at writing, whereas another student would correct their grammar. There was lots of discussion about synonyms, and the correct form and spelling of words. Together they made a better essay.

Once they had finished I could use the ‘revision history’ feature on Google Docs to see what changes had been made to the essay. I could see where errors had been corrected, more words had been added, and simple sentences had been made more complex. I interviewed some students afterwards to find out what they thought about working together. Most of them enjoyed it. They thought that sharing ideas, vocabulary, and correcting grammar were the most useful things. One student preferred to work by herself, and that’s fine. We all have different ways of working.

So how can you collaborate to improve your IELTS writing task skills? Are some of your friends or classmates preparing for the test as well? Search online for example Writing Task 2 questions and choose one to work on together. It might help to choose a topic that you are all interested in. Each of you needs a laptop, tablet, or phone. Sign up for Google Docs – you don’t need to have a Gmail address. I think it’s best if only one person writes. This means that the group has to talk to each other. But everyone can see the essay. The writer should open a new Doc then share it with the group, but only give them permission to view, not edit. Now, work together to write the essay!

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