Do your students hate writing? Try infographics instead!
EFL teachers in Mexico and elsewhere, require a certain understanding of their student’s educational background, the host country’s educational philosophy, and the vox populi of the country. In many places, some things take on more value and meaning when it comes to education in general and language instruction in particular. In Mexico, and we who live and teach here need to face this fact, writing doesn’t have what one might call the exalted status it might have in other countries. On the contrary, few students at any level of instruction here write well in their own language and this affects how EFL professionals teach writing. As a university level instructor, I feel sometimes I am given the unwelcome burden of having to teach writing from square one: What is a sentence? What is a paragraph? Yes, please do use a period to end a sentence, etc. These basic concepts of writing are found in Spanish, too, and are all things students should have learned in their native language educational system.
To make matters worse, since writing isn’t something students often do, if at all (even at the university level), pupils find themselves in an unfamiliar landscape of rules they have never heard, concepts they can’t visualize, and having to talk to an ‘audience’ that doesn’t seem to really exist. For students this appears like an alien environment, though there are ways to make it seem less unusual. I suggest using infographics as a gateway to writing. Starting with basic concepts and moving up to complete paragraphs. I begin with memes and just one or two word concepts (phrases), and move up to captioning pictures, then on to infographics.
I have been using infographics for several years now, and I find students are less threatened by the tasks than say an essay. (This may be evidenced by a smaller number of errors, and more assignments received). Because infographics are ‘visual’ students find it easier to express themselves and can see when an image and a statement are incongruent. Similarly, because they are encouraged to use their own photos and videos, the written product becomes a personal statement. So far, so good in my classes, at least. The students prefer making these infographics to writing. I prefer them because the results are easy to grade and I can adjust the structural focus of the written aspects very quickly.
I don’t have all the answers about how to deal with writing in an EFL classroom. The publishing houses are stuck on essays, while foreign universities in the UK and US both continue to practice linguistic imperialism by insisting on traditional teacher training and setting forth guidelines that are long on desired outcomes, but weak on on cultural understanding. Maybe by refocusing on what writing really means to a person, the place it has in a society and in its quotidian existence we can encourage students to explore it as an important means of communication that is both valuable and viable in their daily lives.