In ESL classroom, writing skills are undeniably an important aspect to master. There are a lot of suggestions and arguments regarding writing, in which approach is more effective or which would likely give more impact to each group of people. Among the core framework in writing is the genre-based writing, process-based writing and product-based writing (Badger & White, 1999). Writing is the trickiest part when teaching English because the students need to concentrate in particular elements such as the organization, the main points, supporting details, vocabulary, grammar, and subject-verb agreement (Styati, 2010). Practice writing involves six traits, which are developing ideas, organizing, vocabulary, fluency, giving voice to readers, and conventions (Forest, na). From all the six traits of practice writing, the researcher concentrates on organization and vocabulary as these are the major elements that cause difficulty to most students to produce good writing.
Organization in writing is the plan a writer uses to put together the text. Organization includes the decisions a writer makes to select what goes into a text and what is left. A writer decides the order, arrangement, and the flow of a text by a process. Organization allows a writer to set up his or her writing in a way that make sense to the reader. Effective organization allows a piece to flow logically and can be comprehended by others. Writers show their purpose for writing with their use of organization. For example a text written for entertainment is organized differently than a text written for information. A strong organization allows a writer to stay focused and have a plan for beginning, the middle, and the end of a text.
Apart from organization, writers cannot produce good writing because they are unable to convey their ideas exactly in writing due to lack of vocabulary (Styati, 2010). Vocabulary is the decision a writer makes when deciding what words to put in his or her writing. These words not only help the reader understands a text, but they help the writer to gain his or her own style. Word choice is sometimes referred to as “word decisions,” “vivid verbs” or “adding spice to writing”. Specific nouns and modifier are also considered when making word choices. Strong word choices make a piece flow nicely and more meaningful. When the reader hears creative word choice, a piece of text sounds pleasant, natural and interesting. Writers who choose words carefully help readers to see or visualize what they are reading. Wise word choices help the reader understands a text, and not get confused by it. Vocabulary is the medium of conveying our ideas through written form. In order for the reader to acknowledge the writer’s thoughts as what he/she has written, he/she needs to have good vocabulary in describing and conveying the thoughts clearly and accurately. “Vocabulary is the main conventions used by the writer to formulate their thoughts, organize them in written structure” (Dolore & Perin, 2007).
In order to overcome the problems in organization and vocabulary in writing, the researcher uses a graphic organizer. A graphic organizer is a tool that helps a writer visually organize his or her writing. Mind map is one of the approaches used to teach writing activity. “A mind map is the easiest way to put information into your brain and take information out of your brain –it’s a creative and effective means of note-taking that literally ‘maps out’ your thoughts” (Tony Buzan, 2005:5). Mind map allows writers to remember the facts or words effectively and it makes the process of recalling much easier compared to memorizing the words of facts. Mind mapping has the ability to outline the main ideas and the supporting details in order to organize and enhance the vocabulary in writing. It helps the students to convey their ideas before they actually start writing. According to Tony Buzan (2005), mind mapping is an enjoyable activity because it uses many images and designs, which allows the writers to remember the facts easily.
1.2 Background of the study
Preparatory Intensive Program (PIP) is a 14-week course conducted at Kolej Profesional Mara Bandar Penawar (KPMBP). The main objective of this program is to provide intensive studies for low achievers in their SPM and offer them with basic knowledge in English, Mathematics, Islamic Studies and Informational Technology. They need the knowledge in order to pursue their studies at Diploma level. The students, however, need to score a minimum of 50% in each subject in order for them to pass the requirement for further study at Diploma level. Based on the analysis did by the “Unit Peperiksaan dan Penilaian Kolej Profesional Mara”, they reported that 3 to 4 students fail to continue their studies at Diploma level for the past two semesters due to not obtaining the minimum requirement of 50% in English subject. Therefore, all English teachers are required to look at this matter and provide a written report on which part that causes students’ to lose their marks. From the analysis did by the teachers, the students lost a lot of marks in their writing part since the students have low proficiency in English as mostly scored a D or an E in their English subjects for their SPM examination.
As for English subject at Kolej Profesional Mara Bandar Penwar, the students are tested in all the four skills; reading, writing, speaking, and listening. As for writing, the students are tested in writing descriptive essay. For example, they have to describe people, places and events. Through observation, the students were able to write at least 5 paragraphs and 250 words but they are incapable of conveying their ideas appropriately. Therefore, a way to help the student with their writing needs to be identified.
Based on informal observation, the students at Kolej Profesional Mara Bandar Penawar lack of pre-writing skills. Pre-writing activity is the first step in drafting the ideas into proper organization. Students seldom practice pre-writing activities because they might not be aware of the pre-writing techniques. There are few pre-writing techniques as brainstorming, journal writing, rough drafting, mind mapping and so on. In order to overcome the students’ problem in organizing and enhancing vocabulary, mind mapping would be the best approach compared to the other technique listed above. According to McGriff (2007:9), “mind maps are excellent way to help learners organize knowledge, to empower themselves to better comprehend the key concepts, and principles in lectures, readings, or other instructional materials”. This is because mind mapping is a visual guideline in organizing the points for the essay effectively and allows the students to plan their ideas into categories of main and supporting ideas.
Tony Buzan (2005) states that, mind maps can help students to enhance their vocabulary and enable them to organize and clarify thinking. Mind maps are an explicit planner where from the topic, the students will branch out the main ideas and the supporting details (Reima, 2011). In this research, Tony Buzan’s mind mapping technique is to teach writing as his mind maps are easy to portray.
Unlike mind-mapping, brainstorming, journal writing and rough drafting will not be suitable in teaching essay writing as, these activities will not help the students to organize their writing and do not help them in designing their main points for their essay writing (Styati, 2010). Styati (2010) noted that, brainstorming, journal writing and rough drafting are suitable for high proficiency students, as those techniques do not help students in organizing the ideas accordingly. Those techniques are used only for jotting down the key points without any structure or planning.
Thus, the researcher is interested to investigate whether mind-mapping technique helps the students to improve their writing skills in terms of organization and vocabulary as well as, to find out their perceptions in using mind-mapping technique.
1.3 Statement of the problem
Based on observation on PIP students, it was discovered that the students faced difficulties in writing descriptive essay. They are tested on writing descriptive essay because PIP syllabus required the students to master in writing descriptive essay. They are unable to put their ideas into words because the students have limited vocabulary and they also face difficulties in organizing their essay. Salleh (1997:12) states, “The success in mastering a language is determined by the size of the vocabulary one has learned”. During writing activities, the students are able to convey their ideas which seem to be very creative through oral conversation however they have difficulties in writing the ideas in proper organization. In writing descriptive essay, adjectives are the most used vocabulary. The writing focuses on describing places, people and events. For an example, things the writing task of describing people, the students are expected to know words as tall, short, cute, bright eyes, fair skin, plum, fat, round face, curly hair and so on. Those words are actually common adjectives which describe noun (people).
Based on observation again, PIP students are not aware of pre-writing activities. They start writing their essays immediately without drafting or some students just scribble the points without organizing it. Therefore, the students normally write as what come across their mind without proper planning and it causes their essay to be written without proper paragraphing. Their essay lack of focus and the paragraphs lack of development or connection to the topic. Besides, body paragraphs are not evident where their ideas will be scattered everywhere in their essay. This caused repetition of the same points or words in different paragraph. This makes them to lose marks, as the idea is almost the same in each paragraph. The students do not know where they should start to write and where they should end it (Torrance, Thomas & Robinson, 1994). Their ideas will be jumbled up in all the paragraphs. They are unable to produce a good introduction, body and conclusion. Their essay will be unsystematic and the readers will have difficulties in understanding their message.
Due to this, the researcher investigates if mind-mapping technique could be the best approach for the students who have difficulties in writing. W.Santrock (2006:284) states that “a concept map is a visual presentation of a concept’s connections and hierarchical organization”. The researcher chooses mind map to teach writing descriptive essay because mind maps engage both sides of the brain because their imagination in combination with words, number and images. The left brain focuses on logic and word wheras, right brain focuses on images. This will help the students to remember things better and also will enhance their writing skills in vocabulary and organization of an essay. Students find it difficult to remember the rules for writing but by using mind map technique this could be overcome. Mind maps are the “thinking tool to unlock your brain power because they reflect the internal mind maps of your brain” (Tony Buzan, 2005).
Thus, this research aims to find out whether mind-mapping technique helps students to enhance their vocabulary and organizing their ideas when they write descriptive essays.
1.5 Objectives of the study
The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of mind mapping towards writing descriptive essays among students in Preparatory Intensive Program at Kolej Profesional Mara Bandar Penawar.
Specifically, the study is conducted to fulfill the following objectives:
- To discover whether mind-mapping technique helps students to:
- i. organize their writing better.
- ii. enhance their vocabulary level in terms of adjectives
- To investigate students’ perceptions of using mind mapping technique in:
- i. organizing descriptive essays writing
- ii. enhancing vocabulary for writing descriptive essay
1.6 Research questions
This study will attempt to answer the following questions:
- Does the use of mind mapping technique help students in their descriptive writing process?
- i. How does it influence organization of the essay?
- ii. How does it help in enhancing students’ vocabulary in terms of adjectives?
- What are students’ perception in using mind-maps:
i) for organizing descriptive essays writing?
ii) in enhancing vocabulary for writing descriptive essay?
1.7 Significance of the study
There is a big significance especially for English teachers where, this study may increase the awareness in using mind-mapping techniques as a pre-writing planning strategy in improving students’ writing skills. It is hoped that the findings from this study will clear the teachers’ doubts and misconceptions towards the benefits and effectiveness of mind-mapping technique in teaching writing skills. Moreover, this study recommends an alternative approach, which is a student-centered approach instead of using the teacher-centered approach. Mind mapping is a student-centered approach that encourages students’ involvement and commitment in their learning process.
This study could also provide a useful launching pad for further research in this area of interest. The findings of this study could provide some form of empirical data for future research in this area. It could perhaps help not only in writing descriptive essay but also in also other types of essays. Thus, the result of this study will provide some useful insight for researcher who wishes to use mind-mapping technique to improve students’ descriptive writing skills.
At the same time, students’ perception towards using mind-mapping technique in teaching descriptive writing also gathered through questionnaires and interviews. It is hoped that, this study will overcome students’ difficulties in writing descriptive essay and help students to organize and enjoy writing essays.