An Empirical Study of EFL Writing at Primary School

Autorin: Dr. des. Ruth Trüb,

This study investigated the extent to which young learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) in grade 6 are able to compose texts that fulfil a communicative function. Since many teachers raised the question of how to teach EFL writing to young learners, the study also investigated current teaching practices and the learners’ perception of EFL writing, and examined different individual and educational determinants of EFL writing competence.

The learners wrote two texts, an email and a story, which were rated independently by two raters. The writing scores were adjusted for task difficulty, rater severity and difficulty of the rating criteria, and aligned to the language levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Learner and teacher questionnaires and learner interviews provided additional data.

The learners’ EFL writing competence ranged from below A1.1 to above A2.2, with the majority of learners at levels A1.2 and A2.1. There was a statistically significant difference in EFL writing competence between the groups of learners about to enter the different educational tracks at secondary school. In order to illustrate the learners’ EFL writing competence at different language levels, writing profiles with detailed descriptions of text quality were provided. Many texts displayed heterogeneity with regard to different dimensions of text quality. Learners with lower proficiency performed significantly better in the email than in the story, while stronger learners performed better in the story. Two small qualitative analyses provided insight into the means used by young EFL learners to create a communicative effect, and into the quality of coherence in their texts.

Many teachers reported using elements of the process approach, such as pre-writing activities, scaffolding and feedback. A few teachers reported that they applied elements of the genre-approach, such as studying a sample text. Less frequently applied were elements such as collecting ideas on what to write about, discussing how to structure a text, or publishing the texts to a real audience. It emerged that, while pragmatic aspects (e.g. how to write a funny, sad or captivating story) are frequently considered when texts are assessed, they are only rarely addressed in class, and strategy instruction only plays a minor role in teaching practice. Three main factors were identified that appear to influence the learners’ perception of EFL writing: motivation, resources and task demands. If motivation was high, the learners had a clear idea of what they wanted to write about; if they had enough language resources and if task demands were considered as adequate, the learners showed a positive attitude towards EFL writing.

The learners’ self-efficacy and extra-curricular use of English were found to be strong predictors of their EFL writing competence. None of the examined educational factors significantly contributed to the explanation of the learners’ EFL writing competence, which may have been due to limitations in the research design.