I used this activity with pre-intermediate learners, but you could adapt it for pretty much any level.
Choose a short text, maximum 100 words, suitable for the level of your students. Our text was:
Italy are playing Germany in the World Cup tonight. If you’re free, we could watch it together. It’s on Sky Sports. I haven’t got satellite TV, but we could watch the match in The Castle. It starts at 8.00. What do you think?
Taken from ‘English Result Pre-Intermediate Student’s Book page 34
We had been practising phrases for making invitations the day before, so the learners were already familiar with the concept, but we hadn’t looked at a written invitation.
Read the text to your students at normal speed. Before you do this, tell them they need to write down key words – don’t try to write every word! These will probably be nouns and verbs. They compare their key words to a partner. If they don’t have much at all, read it one more time, but no more.
Learners now work in pairs or small groups to construct a text which is a complete piece of logical English. You can decide how similar you want them to make it to the original text. My students don’t focus on accuracy, and aren’t very good at ‘stealing’ good English from other places to use in their own texts, so I wanted them to produce a text which was as similar as possible to the original. This prompts learners to discuss/consider language a lot more than is usual in class, and they are generally very engaged.
(I gave my students the first line ‘Hi Marek’ and the last ‘Niko’ so that they weren’t too confused about the names.)
Finally, ask them to compare their text to the original and note any differences. At this point students will often ask questions about why a particular form is used in the original – be prepared to answer these questions.
Now that learners have had time to thoroughly process the text, ask them to turn over all of their paper. They then work together to reconstruct the complete text on the board as a class (or in fairly large groups if you have a big class – 5-6 students).
Students compare their text with the original again. Ask them about any differences. For example, my students put ‘It’s starts’ not ‘It starts’ and ‘watch in The Castle’ instead of ‘watch the match in The Castle’. By asking them to explain why the original was different, they noticed the difference.
Clean the board, and repeat. The second time they worked together, my students produced the text almost perfectly, with only one capital letter and one article missing.
I tried it a third time, but here it went downhill, with quite a few more mistakes – it’s up to you how many times you do it!
The extension on the extension
To finish off the process I asked my students to write an invitation to another student in the class, using some of the phrases from the example. I suggested they try to remember the phrases first, then compare their invitation to the original. One student wrote something completely different which didn’t make a lot of sense (there’s always one!) but most of them produced very well-written invitations. Completely by chance, each of my 6 students wrote to a different other student, so they then had a written ‘messaging’ conversation to arrange their meeting or offer excuses if they had refused.
At the end of the lesson, I asked how easy it was to write their own invitation, and pointed out to the students that this process of remember/write/check is something they could do at home. They were engaged throughout the lesson, and really annoyed with themselves when they made mistakes the second time they wrote on the board.