Finding the Best English as Second Language Learning Strategy

Why ‘Talk for Writing’ is the Best and Greatest English Learning Strategy in the Whole Wide World and Entire Universe!

“Why don’t you use textbooks?” “What textbook would you advise me to buy for my child?” “You don’t have a textbook for your curriculum?” and the always ironic, “Book teach me good, why you no use?” are just some examples and iterations of the most popular question I have been asked as a teacher. Many parents are amazed that we don’t require a core textbook that has been designed for English acquisition. These are fair inquiries. After all, many of the parents learned English this way so why shouldn’t their children?


Welcome to my article, “Why ‘Talk for Writing’ is the Best and Greatest English Learning Strategy in the Whole Wide World and Entire Universe!”. Wow, did I just say that? You bet. Unlike my Parent Teacher Workshop on ‘Talk for Writing’, where I answered the question ‘How?’, this article will answer the question ‘Why?’. Why in my opinion is ‘Talk for Writing’ better than other English and Literacy strategies out there?

There are three main reasons;

  • ‘Talk for Writing’ is more natural
  • It is more engaging
  • It is more differentiated

‘Talk for Writing’ certainly doesn’t sound natural does it?  Talking to help your writing seems oxymoronic, like sleep for working, or eat for dieting. Is ‘Talk for Writing’ as simple as putting a pencil in your mouth and waggling it about? No. ‘Talk for Writing’ is the idea that pupils learn better when they can say the words from a text, dramatise them, learn the vocabulary and phrases, and then create their own original text from what they’ve internalised; very similar to the way a native language speaking child acquires their language.

Unlike many language schemes, grammar is not taught as a standalone activity. It is embedded naturally into a pupil’s learning, along with the core language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing. I once taught a pupil that had rote-learned English phrases such as “I would like to buy a bag of onions,” with complete modal verb mastery. Unfortunately, the pupil lacked the speaking skills and confidence to say this, which was fortunate as she didn’t even like onions! Learning from a textbook may help to reinforce certain grammatical points, which is why it is included in our homework packs. But, it won’t give you a well-rounded natural pupil in terms of their English knowledge and usage.

The second reason is engagement. Pupils will invest time in activities in which they are interested. “Discuss three ways you could escape a savage bear in the Stone Age’ is more likely to invoke engagement than ‘turn to page 37 and talk about the explicit usage of the indefinite article with the definite article and the omission of an article altogether depending on the countability of the subjective or objective.’ Whew! That was boring – even writing that! In ‘Talk for Writing’, we naturally adapt all our subject information to the pupils’ interests and culture. For example, when studying the text type ‘Recounts’ in ‘Talk for Writing’, we prepared a model text based on 3D adventures, such as riding a rollercoaster and paraskiing. This automatically engaged the pupils as they experienced these activities on the MaxHub Smart TV. This experience allowed teachers to further engage the pupils with deeper contextual questions such as how pupils felt and what they said. Pupils ‘owned’ their experience and created a model text based on their own adventure. Try doing that with predicates and subordinate clauses. You’ll lose your pupils very quickly indeed!

The third reason that ‘Talk for Writing’ is more successful than a textbook based strategy is differentiation both in terms of pupil ability and the context of our school. Unlike textbook based learning, we start with a simple core text and increase the difficulty. This means that pupils with a low level of English can perfect their understanding of the text and vocabulary, while higher level learners can look to improve the text. ‘Plant the small seed in the brown soil’ can be a complicated sentence for beginners, whereas an intermediate learner may improve the sentence to ‘Carefully plant the miniature seed in the soft brown soil and make sure it is fully covered’.  The personalised text reaches more pupils than that of a generalised textbook.

Likewise, most English textbooks don’t differentiate in terms of culture. Ask yourself, has the textbook been written specifically for Chinese learners? Of course not! Most strategies expect pupils to fit the text whereas in ‘Talk for Writing’, the text fits the pupil. Several years ago, pupils I was teaching had to listen to the sentence ‘The police found traces of ash in the boot of the car.’ The question was ‘Did the police find traces of ‘ash’ or ‘hash’? The inappropriateness of this ‘children’s’ question notwithstanding, the term ’boot’ is a British term that even the most adept English-speaking pupils at Huili would be unlikely to know. The best judge of content for your children comes from their teacher and ‘Talk for Writing’ allows the teacher to choose or create a text that is applicable to the pupils.

To conclude, ‘Talk for Writing’ allows teachers the freedom to plan personalised, engaging and appropriate lessons for your child. It would be easy to choose a textbook to teach out of, but this would be morally reprehensible because each pupil is different and requires more flexibility and adaption than a textbook can offer. We have great teachers here, and through ‘Talk for Writing’ we can provide more support, more interest and a greater fluency of English skills than any textbook can.