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Oct 2018 - Year 20 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

The Roger Federer Club* – or How Extensive Writing Can Help Language Students

Vahida Berberovic, MaTESOL, MBA, currently works at UTS: Insearch in the ELT and Diploma programs, teaching English and Communications. She has over twenty years of teaching and training experience across a variety of sectors, programs and age groups. Vahida is also a writer, so has a particular interest in the writing process, and how best to facilitate interaction between a student's capacity and capabilities with the demands of academic writing tasks. She is currently engaged in research into peer feedback and its effects on writing success. Email:

Ann-Charlotte Stent, MaTESOL, teaches in the ELT Department at UTS Insearch and consults as an editor of academic publications. She has 16 years of experience in teaching English for Academic Purposes. With writing being one of the key success factors to academic success, Ann-Charlotte has a great interest in the development and teaching of academic writing skills. Email:



There is nothing more frustrating than to see your students either not succeed or succeed poorly in a writing exam when you know that they can do much better. This action research project is the result of many discussions focussing on the issue of students struggling under exam conditions  and not applying vocabulary and grammar rules that they have applied, and applied well, during scaffolded activities.



We analysed literature related to writing and found very little that addresses this phenomenon. In fact, we found that most research related to writing focuses either on the writing process, such as researching, writing an outline, drafting or editing; or the research is related to the genre approach - where each genre writing is analysed in relation to the structure, analysis, deconstruction and production (Hyland 2003, Feez & Joyce 1998). Very little attention is paid to regular and unrestricted writing, the ‘non-linear, exploratory and generative process whereby writers discover and reformulate their ideas as they attempt to approximate meaning’ (Hyland 2003, p.11). It was interesting to note that the few studies related to extensive writing we could locate were all conducted in countries where the mainstream language is not English.

The second part of our research was related to fluency. Again, it was frustrating to find that most research in this area was related to reading and very little to writing, although the implications were that the principles of daily practice are applicable to all macro-skills (Nation 1996).

For the purpose of this project, we have defined ‘extensive writing’ as the activity of engaging in the writing process regularly and often, without input (or very little input) and without the usual aim of being assessed or published.

Our observations, research and our own experiences led us to the conclusion that our students need to write much more often to be able to translate theoretical knowledge of writing conventions into practical application. This led to the following research questions:

Will extensive writing improve students’ writing fluency?

How will extensive writing influence the students’ academic accuracy?

Students participating in this project were higher-intermediate and advanced students, mostly from South-East Asia. They attended pathways language courses in preparation for University courses, either at undergraduate or post-graduate level.



The students were required to write for fifteen minutes every week day, in their 10-week course, using Google docs.  Google docs was chosen for several reasons: students use online applications much more in their every-day writing outside of their study so it is quite intuitive for them; it is easy to monitor and provide feedback; it provides privacy for students. The students were offered ten topics each week to choose from but were free to write about any topic, as the aim was to write for fifteen minutes and not deliberate on the topic or content too much. We read and commented on the content, but not on the form. Comments were often in question format so that our questions often led to a dialogue with students on a topic of interest.

In order to be able to assess fluency, the students’ daily word count was recorded, as well as the word count of their diagnostic tasks in Weeks 1, 6 and 9 of their 10-week course. In relation to accuracy, the students’ diagnostic tasks were analysed in terms of number of overall sentences compared to the number of correct simple and correct complex sentences. We also both kept a daily journal of our in-class observations and met on a weekly basis to compare and discuss our findings.

We conducted a semi-structured interview with a small group of students to gain a more in-depth understanding of their views of the project. In an attempt to assess whether our students’ writing had improved to a greater extent than their peers’,, we compared their writing exam results with the results of the whole student cohort for that level.



1. Fluency
While the word count oscillated from week to week, the median count showed a small but steady increase over the course of the project.

2. Accuracy
Despite differences, many students improved their level of accuracy. One pleasing outcome was the increased number of complex sentences students attempted.

3. Exam results

The biggest surprise were the exam results. When we compared the results of the students participating in our project  with the results of other students, in relation to guided writing, our students were not achieving better results. However, in exam conditions, our students managed to achieve the same results as they had in guided writing activities, while all other classes performed significantly worse under exam conditions. This proved our hypothesis that daily practice would allow students to apply their theoretical knowledge in exam conditions.

4. Confidence and risk-taking
It is undisputed that confidence and risk-taking are essential elements of successful language learning but convincing students of their importance is often a challenge. However, as this project progressed, students’ confidence and participation increased and they were much more ready to accept that making mistakes is part of their learning. This became apparent not only in their writing, but also in speaking activities in the classroom. They were less hesitant to participate in speaking activities, and the participation rate, and hence the speaking abilities improved significantly.

5. Personal relationships
Safe in the knowing that no one but us, their teachers, could see what they had written, the students often opened up in their writing and felt comfortable criticising their regime or parents, sharing their dreams and hopes as well as personal frustrations or secrets. It brought us closer and made our classroom an even more relaxed and supportive environment. In addition, we had many more reference points we could use in our teaching. It also allowed weaker students, who might not participate much in class, to voice their opinions. In addition, it was very rewarding to undertake this project with a co-researcher and colleague. It allowed for many spirited debates, discussions about what approach to take and opportunities to verbalise concerns.



This project was conducted over twelve months with a small number of students, and each group of students only participating for 10 weeks before moving on to a different course. Therefore, it is impossible to make broad statements or establish far-reaching conclusions. However, it seems that daily writing practice enables the students to recall theoretical knowledge more easily and apply it in various contexts, even in exam conditions. The findings warrant recommendations to undertake further research into the relationship between extensive writing and improving active writing skills.



Burns, A, (2010) Doing action research in English language teaching, Routledge, New York.

Chenoweth, N. A, & Hayes, J. R, (2001) ‘Fluency in writing’, Written communication, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 80-98.

English, R, (2015) ‘Lightning writing revisited’, Practically Primary, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 11.

Herder, S, & King, R, (2011) ‘Extensive writing: another fluency approach to EFL learners’, First Extensive Reading World Congress, Proceedings 1, pp. 1280130.

Hyland, K, (2005) Second language writing, CUP, Cambridge.

Nation, P, (1996) ‘The four strands of a language course’, TESOL in Context, vol. 6, no. 2, June, pp. 7-12.

Nguyen, L. T. C, (2015) ‘Written fluency improvement in a foreign language’, TESOL Journal, vol. 6.4, December, pp. 707-730.

Sun, Y.C, (2016) ‘Extensive writing in foreign-language classrooms: a blogging approach’, Innovations in Education and Teaching Internationals, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 327-339.

UNSW (2016) ‘Shut Up and Write’ Café Meet-ups, UNSW, accessed 18 April 2016, <>. 

Watkins, B. T, (1990) ‘More and more professors in many academic disciplines routinely require students to do extensive writing’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 18, vol. 36, no. 44, p. A13.


*Roger Federer was used as an example and inspiration for daily practice – Roger Federer is the most successful male tennis player of all times. Yet, every morning, he spends two hours just hitting the ball – the most basic move needed to play tennis.


Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the English Language course at Pilgrims website.

  • Collaborative Writing for Academic English
    Jonathan Collett, Australia

  • Using Questions to Enhance Critical Thinking in Academic Writing
    Giselle Carnemolla, Australia

  • The Roger Federer Club* – or How Extensive Writing Can Help Language Students
    Vahida Berberovic and Ann-Charlotte Stent, Australia

  • Improving Grammatical Accuracy in the Writing of Pre-intermediate Students
    Jeff Millar, Australia