From sentence to paragraph to essay – Teaching paragraph writing in Saudi Arabia

After having taught in Saudi Arabia for around 8 years, it is only now that some aspects of what makes Saudi students ‘tick’ is making me re-think my preconceptions of why students struggle to write.

During a recent writing course I was teaching, the best student in the class made me aware that he and the other students had never been taught how to write paragraphs at school. “We were just told to write”. So that’s what they did – write.

They were not taught to:

  • Plan
  • Write an outline
  • Brain storm
  • To write their ideas in any particular order
  • Or to write with any kind of interconnectedness
  • Or to summarise their ideas

There were told “just to write”.

This information is important, as what this brief piece of information reveals, is that students lack basic cognitive/thinking/learning skills, and that in the EFL classroom in addition to worrying about language, a great deal of time needs to be spent in just developing these more ‘lateral skills’.

If anyone knows of any traits within Arabic writing that might help us understand the Arabic writing/thinking process, then could they please share their experiences?

It’s not an Arab problem, it’s a Saudi problem. I say this, as all Arabs tend to be boxed into one category, but as experience shows, cultural and experiential factors play a significant part in how learning and language skills develop. We certainly need more research in this area.


English in Saudi Arabia from Year 4

When anyone has reservations about the introduction of English, it often results in accusations of being conservative. At the same time, those who want to start English from Year 1, are accused of being anti-Saudi or ‘liberal’.

At the moment, a few schools are implementing the ‘new idea’. Many no doubt believe that starting English earlier, is bound to be better.

But here’s a question. Does more English necessarily mean better English?

Saudi students that I’ve taught make it clear that their teachers did not ‘teach properly’. Without realising, our students are alluding to an issue that may not have been considered. It’s called ‘TEACHING METHODOLOGY’. Basically, if English continued to be taught from the current Year 7, then as long as a new teaching methodology was being introduced, the results could be much better than they currently are.

So the bottom line here, is better teacher training, and better materials. Starting from Year 4 may sound great, but is it really the answer