Examples of text transformation tasks and associated exercises. These tasks have been selected purely to exemplify how text transformation materials can be devised, and to illustrate some of the different genre-related possibilities offered by this type of exercise. They were originally devised for specific groups of students; I am not suggesting that these particular tasks in their current form would necessarily be suitable for other classes. However, teachers who wish to do so are welcome to use the tasks, in modified or unmodified form, if they seem appropriate.

Task 1: To increase awareness of the importance of genre-related factors.

In contrast to most of the text-transformation tasks I use, this is based on non-authentic texts. It is intended to bring out in a very obvious way the problems associated with genre-related errors. Students see two texts written in ways that are inappropriate for their purposes. The first is supposed to be a business letter from a bookshop to a customer, the second a holiday postcard to a neighbour. In both cases, students are required to identify what has gone wrong. It is easy for them to see that there is something wrong with the assumptions made about medium and writer/reader relationships, and with more careful study they can see precisely how this problem is manifested in terms of language and content. If necessary, students should study some authentic examples of brief business letters and holiday postcards. They should then rewrite the two original texts, making changes to both language and content as necessary (though they should not add new information). The second text should be set in a font that imitates hand-written script.
Apollo Hotel Apartments 
Grivas Dighenis Ave 

Wednesday, May 13th, 1998 

Mrs Jenny Hargreaves 
3, Birch Avenue 
Wilts SB4 3RW 

Dear Mrs Hargreaves,                                  [-17-]

This is to inform you that my husband, James, and I have
arrived without incident at our destination, Larnaca in
Cyprus. The average maximum daily temperature at present is
28 Celsius, and the average sea temperature is 18 . We
therefore spend a considerable amount of time each day at
the beach, where we swim and lie in the sun.

We judge the food served in restaurants here to be of a high
standard, especially with respect to flavour, and also to be
relatively inexpensive. Consequently, we dine out
frequently, despite the fact that our apartment has cooking
facilities. I regret that James usually becomes slightly
inebriated at meals, being unable to resist indulgence in
the low-priced local wines and spirits.

Yours sincerely, 

Freda G Finchley (Mrs) 


Dear Joe,

Do you remember me? We had quite a long chat about six weeks
ago when you dropped into our bookshop to order some stuff.
Actually, you were a bit upset at the time about how little
we'd got in stock and so on. I hope the Manager was able to
explain everything to you alright!

Anyway, one of the books you ordered has come at last! It's
that one by Anne Raimes, called 'Techniques in Teaching
Writing', or something like that. Actually, I'm afraid the
price has gone up a bit. We told you it would cost 7.80,
but there's been a new price list come out, and they've put
it up to 9.95! Shocking, isn't it? Well, I suppose that's
inflation for you.

So, any time you like to come in, the book will be here
waiting for you. Well, I say 'any time', but actually you're
supposed to come and get it during the next two weeks,
otherwise we have to send it back again, which would be a
bit of a shame, really, considering.

It'll be wonderful to see you again when you come for the

All best wishes,


(letters by Tim Caudery)

Task 2: Similar content and purpose, different audience and medium

This task is divided into two writing stages, the first in which changes are made only to language, and the second in which more far-reaching changes are made.

In stage 1, changes should be made to vocabulary and syntax. Be prepared for considerable discussion about what exactly the target group (native speaker 10-year-olds) might be able to understand. Stage 2 should produce more radical changes to the text, including changes to layout. After doing this themselves, students will be in a good position to comment on someone else's attempt (in this case, that of the original writers of the exercise); they often find much to criticise. Note, too, that after working with it intensively, students are often critical of the source text; one common feature of this type of work is that students come to realise how badly written many published texts actually are.

Informative Writing for Children

Original Text


Examine the kitten closely before buying. The eyes should be clear, not watering excessively, and white skin at corners should not show. Nostrils should be clear, not exuding mucus, a sure sign of incubating health problems. The ears should be clean without excessive dirt or wax-like substance which indicates the presence of mites. Examine the fur by spreading the fur and looking at the skin for sores and scabs indicating fungus condition. Check fur for fleas or flea eggs which look like small black dots. Check kitten's litter pan for signs of diarrhea.

(Extract from Cat Catalog. New York: Crown Publishers, 1982)

Exercise 1

Make any changes to vocabulary and sentence structure that would be necessary to make this text comprehensible to a child of around ten years of age. [-19-]

Exercise 2

Rewrite the text so that it is not only comprehensible to a child of ten, but so that it will also be effective in getting its message across to a child who is about to buy a kitten, probably for the first time. Your text is to be printed as a one-page information leaflet that can be picked up in libraries, vets' surgeries, etc.. (Adapted from an exercise by Althea Ryan and Hans Arndt)

Possible solution: Exercise 2

How effective do you feel this solution is?

All kittens are lovely, eager to play and simply waiting to
be cuddled. But your cat is going to be with you for the
next ten or fifteen years. So if you have a choice (and you
usually do), you might as well make sure you get one that is
healthy and able to live a good life. You can check that the
kitten you are dying to take home with you is in good

LOOK AT THE EYES. They should be clear, not watering too
much, and there shouldn't be any white skin showing at the

LOOK AT THE NOSE. If it isn't clear, but runny, the kitten
is not healthy. On the other hand the nose must not be dry
and warm, it should be cold and moist.

LOOK AT THE EARS. Too much dirt or wax indicates mites,
which is a pest that it can be difficult to get rid of.

LOOK AT THE FUR. Spread it to look for sores or scabs that
indicate skin diseases. Fleas or flea eggs show up as little
black dots.

Finally, check the kitten's litter pan, to make sure it
makes firm little piles, not messy ones.

Task 3: A more radically altered text

In this exercise students should begin by studying examples of the target genre, namely newspaper and magazine articles about holiday [-20-] travel. They will quickly discover characteristics of this type of writing such as use of first person, use of narrative sections about the writer's own visit to the place in question, descriptive passages with extensive use of positively or negatively evaluative adjectives and adverbs, and in many cases use of figurative language.

They will then be ready to tackle the task itself. Though the original article was written for a completely different purpose, there is in fact adequate information contained or implied in it to produce a short travel article. One effect of this exercise is to demonstrate how the same information can easily be presented in very different lights.

The newspaper article below describes in very negative terms the building of a luxury hotel on a Pacific island.

You are to imagine that the hotel has now been completed. You are a professional travel writer, and you have just spent a few days staying at the Rarotonga Sheraton. You had a wonderful time in this first-class hotel on a beautiful island. You are now to write a travel feature article about your stay for a British or American newspaper (choose which newspaper you want to write for). Your article must be broadly positive, though you may include some minor points of criticism if you wish.

You should base your article on information stated or implied in the source text. You may invent some minor additional details, such as information about cost and about how you got to the Cook islands, if you feel that these details are essential to your article.

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