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Developing the writing skills of second language students through the activity of writing to a real reader

Suhong Chang, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to show that ESL students without native-like control of English could be encouraged to write to a real reader by being engaged in pen pal writing activity. Additionally, this study was to determine the effects of the activity of writing to a real reader on the writing skills of ESL students. It was the goal to increase the sensitivity of ESL teachers to realize that their beliefs, role of others, encouragement and positive responses to ESL students' writing affected ESL students' writing development. Also, the importance of creating a social context where ESL students could use writing to communicate and have opportunities to explore uses of print and the complexity of natural communication was discussed. The literature search was centered on two major sections. The first section was the studies of the development of second language writing approaches that established the groundwork for studying ESL writing. The second was about the studies of the perspectives on ESL writing. The review focused on three perspectives from which ESL writing had been examined The study was conducted with fourteen ESL students in an elementary school, age six to twelve. Each of them wrote eight letters in total to their pen pals in a six-month period and received responses for each letter they wrote. A pre-test and a post-test were given to the participants for assessing their development of ESL writing ability (quality of writing and mechanic of writing), the tests were scored by the ESL teachers with the holistic scoring method. To determine the effect of activity of writing to a real reader, the interviews and questionnaires were designed to get information and opinions from the ESL students, pen pals and ESL teachers about this letter-writing activity. Analysis of the data revealed significant differences between the results of the pre-test and post-test. The scores showed that ESL students did much better in quality of writing and mechanic of writing. The data also showed ESL students' improvement in the other areas, which greatly supported the belief that second language learning processes in reading, writing, speaking and listening are developed simultaneously. The results indicated that when ESL students wrote to a real reader with encouragement, their willingness to write was enhanced and their ESL writing abilities improved. ESL students indicated their preference of writing to a real reader and demonstrated their enjoyment of this writing experience during the entire course of this study. This study validates the idea that the students' writing skills develop best when they interact with others and learn from their environment.

Subject Area

Language arts|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

Chang, Suhong, "Developing the writing skills of second language students through the activity of writing to a real reader" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3000301.