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Topic 6 – Written communication. Kinds of written texts. Structure and formal elements. Norms ruling written texts. Routines and formulae


Davies and widdowson state that “reading is an activity made up of a large number of skills of both and motor cognitive type”. The students are not usually aware of this composite nature. If possible (depending on the cognitive level of the student, the student will be provided with some definitions:

“reading is translating from written symbols to a form of language to which the person can attach meaning”.

the reader´s job is to obtain meaning from print (which is a cognitive task).

This composite act involves three combined tasks

1 Connecting the written symbols to what they stand for: phonological level.

2 Understand the structures (words, sentences) in which these symbols are organized: syntactic level.

3 Interpret what the student is reading: semantic level.

There is a great level of overlap in the 3 stages.

Learning to read in a 2nd or foreign language.

When acquiring his/her mother tongue, the child is forced to proceed by generalization from what he knows to what he does not, and quite soon he/she is faced with making a guess at a new word. Learners of a second or foreign language must be guided to face this guessing activity as soon as possible in their learning.

Once a 1st stage is fulfilled, the student must face new problems. This probems are related to the fact that, as Davies and widdowson state: “written language is not simply a different physical realization of the abstract language system, it is also different in the functions they fulfil as means of communication”. Understanding language needs a knowledge of the manner in which it is used for the purposes of communication. It is very difficult to recreate ordinary spoken communication in the classroom, but it is easy to provide examples of authentic ordinary written communications, which are very useful to get students into this further stage of meaning.


1 Speech takes place against the background of a situation and at least some of the language we use when speaking relates to that situation. Many references deal with the situation.

2 In speech, there is normally some kind of interaction and feedback with addressee: non verbal communication, phatic messages… In writing we can´t check attention, understanding, etc in real time.

3 prosodic resources are not available in spoken language. Instead, we must use graphological devices, punctuation, hierarchy, etc.

4 word and sentence boundaries are not as clearly marked as in speech.

5 speech discourse provides a wider range and more time for revision, re-structuring, error correction, etc.


1 modal function. When writing, we need to be more explicit to compensate that reference from reality which is present in speech. Modality is more used in writing, to compensate the absence of paralinguistic elements which give information about how a sentence must be taken.

2 Metalingual function. Used to define exactly what the terms in the text are used to.

3 Contact function: to maintain contact with the reader.


Some aspects to have into account:

1 It depends on communicative competence.

2 understanding of a text is not a monolithic concept: The student must face the activity of reading in different ways, depending on these factors:

There are different text types, and they must be approached in different ways. We should provide enough variety of texts (descriptive, narrative, expository, argumentative, dialogic), and different activities to improve the communicative results of the reading practice in each text.

There are different reasons for reading: reading for pleasure, for obtaining information, for memorizing data, etc.

3 The paragraph and the text is the basic unit of reading (not the sentence).

4 reading is a continuous process of guessing. The student must be trained to use what they know (syntax, derivative morphemes, context, context of situation) to find out what they don´t know.

5 it shouldn´t be separated from other skills. It should be linked to writing (summaries, note taking) and speaking (discussion, debates).

6 Students can only improve reading comprehension with a certain measure of motivation:

communicative function: 2nd ó foreign

exercises meaningful

materials +- authentic

ideal: understanding the text necessary to succeed in communicating through which we achieve something. Group detective playing.

Needs: depor, rock (curricular adaptations)


SENSITIZING: Developing strategies to cope with unknown words and complex sentences.

Inferring and predicting: making use of syntactic, logical and cultural clues to discover the meaning of unknown elements.

Understanding relations within the sentence.

Recognizing the devices to create textual cohesion: reference, linking words, synonyms, etc.

IMPROVING READING SPEED: students who read too slowly usually get discouraged from reading and fail to grasp the meaning of the whole of the sentence, paragraph or text. They must be encouraged and challenged to increase their reading speed. Exercises with speed checking (always ensuring that speed doesn´t hamper comprehension) can be useful.


Skimming means going through the reading material quickly to get the gist of it.

Scaning means trying to locate specific information.

Skimming and scanning are two complementary tasks often combined in reading a text. They must be linked to a real communicative purpose, not trained as ends themselves.



Ortography: (spelling) The relation between sound and symbol in English complex. Activities must be keep a balance between too much emphasis in spelling and letting students be indifferent to misspelling. We also should encourage the use of a dictionary as a good way to improve, and pay attention to recurrent clusters (ck, sk,oo), and suffixes and prefixes.

Punctuation: we must make them aware of its communicative value. Give text without punctuation. Structure, paragraphs, theme and rheme. Hierarchy.

RHETORICAL. These resources are not exclusively used in written texts. For practical reasons, the mastery of these resources is more useful, as well as more easily practiced and assessed in written texts.

COHESION:Set of resources for linking one part of a text to another.

Reference: a linguistic item has its reference in something else. This is John. He is a postman.

Substitution: replacement of an item in the same linguistic context. He doesn´t play the guitar. He plays the bass guitar.

Ellipsis. A term is understood by context. (short answers).


Reiteration of items, use of antonyms, closed sets, etc.

Conjunction (logical relationships)


From the beginning of a text, what has been said provides the environment for what is going afterwards. This sets internal expectancies that must be fulfilled. For, example, if the title of a text is The problem of pollution, it wouldn´t be coherent to speak of other topic than the explicated in the title. Also, the new ideas, topics, characters, etc should be some kind of coherence with the others ideas, topics, characters etc. of the text. The connectives and other links used must be coherent with the relations between the elements involved. For example, after a but, we expect an element which contradicts to some extent the previous element: note the incoherence of sentences such as “It had been rained but the floor was wet” or “He studied so he passed the exam”.

DEIXIS: it determines the interpretation of utterances in relation to their time and place of occurrence, identity of the speaker and addressee, etc.

References inside the text are possible both in writing and speaking, though they are realized in different ways: In writing we can make references to what is above and below in the text, but we can´t mention what is said before or what will be said later.

Other kinds of deixis are not possible in writing, since they depend on the real context shared by the speaker and who is listening. (this is my chair).



Open questions.

R/W questions.

Multiple choice.

Solve problem.

Complete diagram.


List of chronological events.

Comparison of versions.


Writing activities must keep a balance between free expression and writing guide and control.

Text should be used as writing unit from the beginning. The resources shouldn´t be taught step by step, but using texts as a framework to introduce the devices the students must try to master.

Real, meaningful texts contribute to motivation and to increase the students communicative competence.

Motivation is also achieved by variety of texts and activities, as it does the adaptation of these to the needs of every group and if possible of every student.



Learners have a small amount of language available, and most of it has been acquired orally. The objectives should then be modest, but even at this stage we should introduce tasks where writing is used for communication.

For example: activities where the students have to exchange objects, using the the words and pictures written in the blackboard to write notes used as a kind of “money” with them.

Cooperative correction and group work is specially useful in this stage.


Now it is essential that students retain the feeling that they are making progress.

More resources and types of texts can be introduced: comparison, contrast, definition, examples.

The amount of control over the learners´ writing can be gradually reduced.


Skills must be progressively integrated, with reading-writing activities as comprehension tasks, summaries, note-taking… we can even try a 4 skill integration. For example a good activity could be the writing and delivering of an application form, and the discussion of it in a job interview.


Writing of compositions, essays.

Full use of types and resources can be introduced.

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