The literature review that I worked with, was related to teaching writing, e-mail activities and writing informal letters.
Writing is a skill that can be developed by giving specific criteria on how to reach the learner’s expectations. This project helped students to improve informal writing by using the English language as a vehicle of communication through the collaborative work of peer correction and e-mails. Based on this, the essential theoretical constructs used to carry out this project were: teaching writing, writing informal letters, e-mail activities and peer correction. In this case the constructs were pointed to identify the key elements in writing informal letters and the structure, cohesion and coherence between paragragraphs by using peer correction and e-mails. Teaching writing was essential in terms of showing the students how to obtain a product after a process.
Harmer (1998) says that the type of writing we ask the students to do depends on their age, interest and level. These aspects were important to provide the students with meaningful vocabulary, grammar, strategies to write words, sentences, topic sentences, paragraphs and simple compositions. The level of the students improved when they had guidance on common tasks such as, writing poems, charts, postcards and letters. Their interests included things they liked; another essential aspect to take into account was the purposes of writing and the needs of the group. Furthermore this theoritician says, that the activities that teachers prepared were attractive, grasped the students’ interest and involved them in the process of writing. The more they felt this connection with the topic and with the teacher, the better they wrote and participated with enthusiasm trying to do their best all the time.Within this study group, the participants showed great interest in the sessions because they selected the topics, worked in pairs and enjoyed sharing and receiving feedback from their peers. Additional to this, they were allowed to use technology to send their final product via e-mail to their friends.
Harmer (2007) says that there are several strategies to consider in the process of teaching writing, such as pre-writing phases, editing, re-drafting and finally producing a final version of their work. It is important to encourage students to write drafts, reflect and revise; they need to think what they are going to write about and this can be done by brainstorming or using a checklist to control that the task is being adequately addressed, the information is relevant, the structure is appropriate and the grammar is accurate. A useful way to work on this part is through collaborative writing. By using this strategy, students find their own mistakes and correct one another to submit a revised final paper. It is essential to make student conscious that writing is a process and that they are responsible of it. Writing encourages students to focus on accurate language as it is mentioned in Harmer (1998). The students write to help themselves to learn better. When a teacher asks them to write sentences, paragraphs or longer compositions, she is allowing her students to use the target language in real contexts or situations which can be formal or informal. In formal writing, the teacher requests students to write specific questionnaires, dialogues, invitations, essays and descriptions following certain rules in order to have an effective impact. However, the activities themselves do not teach the students how to write; for this reason, it is important to focus the attention on “writing for writing” activities. These are activities that are presented in an informal way and can help students develop their process of writing; a good example is e-mails, the tool that is used in this project. Through e-mails the learners are able to exchange informal letters, notes and answer questions in a very informal and friendly way and make them feel more confident on the use of written English.
On the other hand, e-mail activities, as types of informal letters, are easy ways to enhance student’s learning as it is mentioned in Beatty (2003). By using technology for this purpose, the students improve their writing through peer correction and teacher’s feedback. These activities can be structured and planned according to the student’s needs and interests. However, communication is sometimes difficult because language learners make plenty of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors and the students may learn them and possibly get fossilizations in their language acquisition process..
Veiga, M. R & Lupion, P. (2009, pp 31) mention that e-mail tasks contrast with traditional classroom interaction in which students have limited time to practice speaking; the tasks maximize their opportunities to use the target language through the process of comprehending, negotiating, and modifying the information they have. These tasks also enable them to use the target language in a more authentic situation where they are required to communicate and interact to achieve their communication goal. Through informal letters the students had the opportunity to share, communicate and correct information from their friends in face to face classes and correspondence via e-mail; that was why in this project computers were needed to motivate students and have these machines as a tool where the students could interact, correct and learn from one another.
This is possible through computer-assisted teaching where Chapelle & Jaieson (2008) mention that computers mediate communication between people and that this adds more dimensions to face-to-face conversations. Technology is a tool which helps learners communicate; some students found this type of communication easier than talking to a person in front of them. This computer assistance facilitated the students write their informal letters via e-mail after the students received and gave peer correction and suggestions.
On the other hand, when the students use this media they might be in contact with people worldwide and get access to wherever they want in order to expand the quality of the conversation itself or for their own curiosity.
Furthermore, writing e-mails requires of rules in order to prevent possible problems or misunderstandings among the participants. Good manners are essential when people communicate by using this media; there are rules that people need to take into account such as length of the postings, privacy issues, capitalization, appropriate answers and special symbols.
Writing Informal Letters
Evans (2000) mentions the characteristics of informal letters and the steps to follow when a student is in need of. The steps to write these types of letters are an informal greeting, an introduction in which you write opening remarks and mention reasons for writing, a main body in which you write the main subject, the conclusion and the ending. The activities are sent to people that you know very well; for instance, friends and family. You are to tell them about recent news or events of your life such as news, problems, and information in a personal tone in style.
Harmer (2005) establishes that this technique is a valuable element in the writing process. It encourages students to work in a collaborative way. This reduces the students’reluctance in the editing process. On the other hand, the students develop the skill of revising and checking their own process of learning. Even this is an effective process it needs the teachers’ feedback in order to know about the focus and the way they checked a classmates’ work.
In this respect, Orlich (1990) states that, peer correction can also be a way to help disadvantaged or special students. Students who are ashamed do not feel confident to participate or to produce written texts because they are afraid of making mistakes. Peer correction helps students overcome difficulties, the advanced students helping the weak ones; they sometimes understand better a classmate’s explanation than a teacher’s.