Lesson 8 - Writing Techniques for Adult Basic Education (ABE) Learners Illinois State Library

Types of Writing

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Effective writing does not happen right away. Writing must be developed through a great deal of actual writing practice that involves the writer in developing meaningful text. The tutor will want to present different kinds of writing techniques that address the level of the learner and offer variety in the lessons.

Through all of the techniques, the tutor and learner will want to create and use material that is meaningful and important to the learner. Find out what the current needs of the learner are. Perhaps the learner needs to write a memo to someone at work, fill out a job application, write an absence note for their school aged child, or design an ad to sell something. Using real life tasks in learning reinforces the importance of writing.

Below are descriptions of various types of writing


Copying is the simplest form of writing, but it takes time and practice to master. Copying makes the learner pay more attention to individual letters and their shape than reading usually does. More than a simple introduction to writing, copying is a form of writing that adults use every day. Adults copy names, phone numbers, information from newspapers, recipes, and the list goes on. Have the adult learner copy lists of items related to their lives such as a grocery list or a list of contact numbers for their volunteer tutor.

Taking Dictation

Taking dictation is a useful way to build spelling skills. Taking dictation will help learners focus on encoding the sounds of words. Dictation builds awareness of phonics. The learners should be taking dictation of information that they want for future reference.

Controlled Writing

In controlled writing a tutor limits the number of possible responses a learner can write. Cloze activities (see Lesson 7, Page 5), word pattern practices, formulas for paragraphs or for poems are all examples of controlled writing.

Sentence completion is an example of controlled writing. The tutor gives the learner a predictable and repetitious sentence to complete, such as, "I like my _____, but I don't like _____".

Using controlled writing can help learners avoid "writer's block" by limiting the number of answers and thus the possible number of mistakes. Working within a structure can be reassuring to a timid beginner. The structure provides a good way to practice certain sentence constructions. Controlled writing can enable a learner to do something she or he never thought possible, such as creating his or her own poem by modeling a famous poem.

Controlled writing does have shortcomings. By limiting answers, the learner's thoughts, creativity and voice are also limited. Some learners may consider it juvenile or stifling.

Free Writing

In free writing the learner openly expresses his or her own ideas in writing. Free writing allows the adult learner to be immediately successful since most adults already have considerable skill and experience in expressing their ideas and feelings orally. Allow the learner to spell phonetically and ignore grammar. Emphasis on grammar and mechanics is not appropriate until the learner has developed both confidence and competence as a writer. The focus is on content rather than spelling and grammar. As learners gain expertise and experience the pride of authorship, the tutor can support them as they move into the more difficult tasks of revision and editing.

Journaling is an example of free writing. A learner may write in a daily journal about their life experiences, freely with no correction. The journal provides writing practice that does not have to be shared.