When (and how) to introduce writing in English class?

Melanie wrote in to ask:

Thanks again.I’m thoroughly enjoying this! My question, at this moment, is: when and how to begin introducing the written English, while keeping up with the Genki enthusiasm? – Melanie

Good question, Melanie!

As you know we do things a little differently at Genki English. ย Getting the kids really good, really fast is always my aim. And of course all the while making it fun. ย ๐Ÿ™‚ ย So the easy answer ย is,

Move on to reading as soon as the kids can speak really well (e.g. at least a third to half way through the Genki English curriculum). Then teach the writing using the writing parts of the Genki Phonics course, which is of course lots of fun!

Hope that helps!

Or … for those of you into teaching theory ….


The longer answer is …. and I hope this doesn’t become too heavy, so let’s start at the beginning….

First up is the order we teach things in. ย The usual order ย – and we need to get it right, after all we don’t put the fish’n’chips in newspaper and then fry it! ๐Ÿ™‚ – ย in order of priority the skills are:

  1. Listening first
  2. Speaking
  3. Reading
  4. Writing last

To be honest some courses do really well with just the first two. ย And these are always the skills that are needed most, especially if the kids will get an overdose of reading and writing at high school.

But, if you do decide to take the whole challenge …..

speakWith Genki English as we use so many songs and games, the time between the listening and speaking can be really, really short, measured in seconds really.

For example I’d always have the kids speaking, and speaking confidently, from the very first lesson. ย Very often they only have to hear each new word or phrase 2, 3 or 4 times before they can speak it.

So basically you can consider speaking and listening as one pair to be taught at the same time.

(Some courses recommend keeping the children silent for a very long time, butย experienceย shows this only works if the kids have a *lot* of English input i.e. at least one lesson every day.)

For reading …

Then between speaking and reading, in Genki English we always prefer to have a much longer gap.

Experience tends to show that where courses move into reading too quickly the kids tend to lose focus on the speaking and it isย detrimentalย to their pronunciation and fluency. ย e.g. think of the majority of high school English classes around the world.

Reading and writing also takes a lot of time and it is always moreย efficientย to spend that time on speaking/listening as much as we can.

A nice extra bonus, though, is that the longer you wait to teach reading, the easier and easier it becomes! ๐Ÿ™‚

In an ideal world, and where I have full control over the curriculum, ย I’d wait until the kids could fully converse in English before doing reading.

But very often with parental pressure etc. it can be difficult to hold out this long.

So a general rule of thumb is to start reading as soon as the kids are comfortable with speaking the English studied so far and are still excited about learning. ย  Depending on how many classes the kids have, this could be anywhere from between a third and half way through the Genki English curriculum.ย  So for one or two hour lessons per week, this could be 6 months to 1 year into the course.

You want to try and have as much English ability in their heads first before you start the reading.

So leave as much time as you can, then once you feel they ready for reading, it’s really easy to do it with the ย the Genki Phonics.

Then writing …

Now it’s finally writing time! ๐Ÿ™‚

The challenge here is that writing tends to become a time suck, and also an excuse for older kids to not do any speaking work. ย And speaking, in the 21st century, is *always* the most important skill. ย (Remember we’re not making 19th factory robots in school anymore, we’re building intelligent capable 21st century people who can communicate all the knowledge that is instantly accessible to them in today’s workplace.)

So we need to really think about and balance out how much time you put into the writing.

If you only have one or two lessons a week then I would say keep the writing at a real minimum, either none at all or just the basic exercises in the phonics workbooks.

This is until the kids have finished theย Genki English curriculumย i.e. they can speak really well and you now have lots of time free.

Once the kids can speak and read really well, then go ahead and put as much time as you like into writing andย particularlyย communicative, creative writing. ย  And one of the best courses for this is Oxford’s “Read, Write, Inc” – very expensive but gets great results if the kids have the Genki foundation. ย  Or, if you like, I can write up the Genki English writing system in a separate blog post, ย do let me know in the comments.

Update: ย  Here you go!


But why teach writing at all?

And finally, why teach writing at all? ย  ย Very often as teachers we tend to get stuck in the 19th century overemphasis on handwriting. ย 

But for most of the children of today, their jobs will be very, very different from ours.

And as such most of their creative output will not beย handwrittenย at all. ย It will be, just as this piece is I’m writing now, ย typed.

In Careers Education we always say that the easiest way to increase almost anyone’s income (including yours!) is to invest the time in learning to type as fast (or faster!) than you can speak.

The classroom of the 19th century had the four skills as listening, speaking, reading, writing.

But the classroom of the 21st century has the four skills as

listening, speaking, reading, typing

Which type of classroom are you? ๐Ÿ˜‰

If you have questions, do feel free to ask away in the comments!

Be genki,


Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. When I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. Now I help teachers just like you teach amazing lessons and double your incomes!

4 Responses to “When (and how) to introduce writing in English class?”

  1. Julia

    Hi Richard!

    Thank you (and Melanie of course) for the post.
    I fully agree with the order in which writing should be taught. The more natural is the acquisition the stronger will be the skills we teach.

    But I think that teaching handwriting is not going to be outdated. Maybe it’s going to be a kind of art, like non-virtual communication between people. And it’s another direction for spreading your genkiness! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. liora

    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed reading it and would really like to read more about the full Genki English writing system. Thanks again.

  3. Susan K

    I enjoyed this post, too. Thanks Richard.

    Some female students have requested to do writing although I want to focus on speaking until they’re really fluent. Either they enjoy it or find it easier (because that’s what they’re mainly used to doing), or maybe they have the idea that ‘just’ speaking isn’t ‘real work’. In my experience girls seem to enjoy doing lots of writing and making it look very neat whereas boys seem to have better large motor skills like sports (on the whole).

    Your idea for the English curriculum (waiting to introduce reading and writing) is unique but I totally agree with it. It’s easier to learn correct pronunciation from zero than to ‘unlearn’ wrong pronunciation when students are thinking of how the word ‘should’ sound not how it actually sounds.

    I’d also like to read more about the full Genki English writing system as I think spelling is also very important for making a good impression on future employers.

  4. Maria

    Hi, thank you very much for this idea about how to develop the writing skill. I`ll put in practice and then I will let you know muy experience. I think writing is something hard to achieve for a children and sometimes means a boring time. Being genki makes the difference. ๐Ÿ™‚

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