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Tips for Writing Assignments - Writing

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When you read about your writing assignment...
bullet remember to identify right away the TENSE(S) you need to use (depending on whether you are being asked to write about something that happened in the past, something is happening now in the present, some plans for the future or some hypothetical situation). Then...
bullet brainstorm on the grammar consequences of this, including the language functions you will need to use.

Time and Tenses
Past Time: Past simple, Past continuous, Past perfect.
Common structures: When we arrived (Past simple), they were watching the news (past continuous). While we were packing (past cont.), my mum cooked (past simple) dinner. I hadn't finished (past perfect) when we had to hand in the exam (modal in past simple).
Present Time: Present continuous: I’m spending my holiday in London! We are visiting tons of places. Present simple: I really like the city + frequency adverbs and expressions for present habits and routines: Madrid is usually very crowded. Twice a week there is  a street market in my area. Present perfect: Have you visited…yet? Today we have gone on a day-trip to Aranjuez. This week we have done tons of things!
Future Time: Present continuous as future. “Going to” future. “Will” future.

Use of Modals (Some ideas)
Past Time: Past habits: used to, didn’t use to. General past ability: could (When I was little I could ride a bike). Specific past ability: was/were able to (I was able to find the keys, finally). Past obligation: had to, didn’t have to. Past permission: was/were (not) allowed to.
Present Time: Strong recommendation: must (“You must visit this place!”, “I must tell you about my trip!”, “You must meet her/him!”). Strong advice: should. Advice: should. Making suggestions: can (If you come to Madrid, you can visit…), could...
Future Time: In future plans you can add sentences to indicate: Possibility: may (“I may visit towns nearby, if I can stay a couple of days more”), might (“I might travel to X from there, but I’m not sure whether I’ll have enough time”), could…(“We could go and visit you, but that’ll depend on transport/transportation”). Making suggestions: could (“I could saw you…” “We could go sightseeing in the morning”, can (“We can visit Jane, after that”)… (In oral communication and written dialogues, + expressions like “How about …-ing …?” “Would you like to…?”, “Let’s …!”, “Why don’t we …?”

Hypothetical situations: [What would you do if ... (past) ...?]
would” (conditional tense) and Type 2 conditional sentences. What would you do if you were mugged? What would you do if you won the lottery? What would you do if you were offered a job abroad? Making suggestions: could (If you came to Madrid, you could visit…)

Other useful uses of modals for any circumstance where they fit:
Asking for favors: Will you hand me that book over there?
Offering to do sth for sb else: Shall I start? Shall we drive her home?+
Making suggestions
: Shall we go to the cinema?
Offering/Asking for advice: Should. What should I wear to the party?
Feeling morally pressured: I must stop going to bed after midnight.
Expressing obligation: What do we have to do now?
Expressing prohibition: We are not allowed to leave. We can’t leave (reporting on law or rule).
Expressing legal obligation: You must fasten your seatbelt.
Expressing need: I need to leave at six.

Language functions. Collect useful expressions and sentences for
Thanking: thank you letters/notes – write a letter to a friend you stayed with last weekend, thanking him/her for his/her hospitality and saying what a great time you had! Write a letter to a friend saying thank you for watering your plants while you were away. Write a thanks letter to your mum/dad.
Apologies: letters of apology and sorry notes – write a sorry note for a friend you left standing the other day. Write a sorry note saying you can’t meet your friend at the airport and offering a solution.
Asking for help/info: letters of request. Informal: write an e-mail to a friend asking for help with your studies before an exam. Formal: letter requesting information about courses abroad.
Inviting: letters/notes of invitation – write a letter to a friend telling her/him about something you would like to do and that you want him/her to join you. Write an invitation to your birthday party.

Practice!!! Practice makes the master. Have a look at the writing assignments in your textbook, and in your notes and find out what time they refer you to write about.

Check out our sections Functional Grammar and Writing (top navigation bar)