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Teacher's Corner: Teaching Academic Writing
In this month’s Teacher’s Corner, we examine four activities that help teachers teach academic writing.

In the United States, many students begin their university studies by taking academic writing courses, which are designed to help students develop and expand their writing skills. Courses in academic writing teach students to exercise higher order thinking skills such as analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information and ideas and to present unique ideas or claims based on careful research. The skills involved in academic writing make it one of the more difficult skills to master for any learner, but it is especially hard for an English language learner. Not only does academic writing involve writing in another language, but it also involves careful reading, discussion, and brainstorming in another language. Academic writing constantly requires students to push their intellectual limits.

Given how much is asked of students in academic writing classes, it is only reasonable to expect teachers to struggle with planning and designing academic writing courses. Not only must teachers have a firm grasp of rhetorical styles, writing genres, and research skills, they also must devote a significant amount of time to constant feedback and assessment.

In this month’s Teacher’s Corner, we examine four activities that help teachers teach academic writing. Each activity this month highlights an important aspect of academic writing that students can apply not only to writing courses, but to other subjects as well.  In addition, each activity emphasizes the role of the learner in addressing and responding to his or her own writing. The first week’s activity examines the role of close reading and note-taking in the writing process. Week Two focuses on an activity that supports academic vocabulary development, and the next activity considers the role of teacher-student conferences in the academic writing classroom. We finish the month sharing a simple yet effective peer-to-peer task to use for proofreading final drafts.

Below are some free resources available from American English. Take time to review these resources as you plan your writing courses. Then, use the activities described during the next four weeks to highlight and reinforce steps within the writing process.

Additional Resources

For additional information about teaching academic writing, check out these resources and many others available on the American English website:

·      Unraveling the Mystery of Academic Writing

·      Using Evidence in Academic Writing: Avoiding Plagiarism

·      A Paragraph-First Approach to the Teaching of Academic Writing

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Table of Contents

Reading to Support WritingExpand

In academic writing, one of the key tasks is to analyze and synthesize information from multiple sources. For example, in a typical academic writing class, students might be tasked with writing summaries of several articles focused on a single topic. Once the summaries are complete, students must formulate a written response to the articles that includes a comprehensive look at the issues presented and an analysis of its causes and effects. In order to summarize a text, students must have a solid understanding of that text and, in order to respond, students must understand the text and take time to develop their own opinions and ideas related to the topic at hand.

In our first activity this month, we explain how to integrate reading early in the academic writing curriculum by teaching students to conduct close readings and annotations of their sources. A close reading is a type of intensive reading that includes making notes, or annotations, on the text. Close readings help readers focus on language, content, and ideas as a way to support comprehension and use of the material. In an academic writing class, close reading is the first step in teaching students how to conduct research and organize information.

Teaching students to conduct close readings and make annotations requires an emphasis on reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and intensive reading for details. Ultimately, close readings and annotations give students the tools to better navigate academic texts—texts that they will be expected to explain, synthesize, and evaluate in all of their academic writing assignments. This activity will show you how to teach students to closely read a text and make useful and relevant annotations to use in related writing tasks.

Level

Advanced

Language Focus

  • Writing
  • Reading

Goals

During this activity, students will be able to:

  • Annotate a text focusing on main ideas, key words, comments and opinions.
  • Identify a text’s main idea and subtopics by underlining and paraphrasing them.
  • Learn and utilize two vocabulary strategies for recognizing new terms.
  • Interact with the text through comments, questions, and opinions.

Materials

Preparation

  • Write the following questions on the board or create a handout for students:

o   How long does it take you to read an article for class?

o   Do you take notes while you read?

o   If you take notes, what information do you include in your notes?

o   What are some reasons we take notes while we read?

  • Put students into pairs. One way to put students into pairs is to draw a line down the middle of the room. Tell students on one side of the room to stand and find a partner on the other side of the room.

Procedure

1.     Begin class by putting students into pairs.

2.     Once in pairs, ask them to discuss the questions listed on the board for 5-7 minutes.

3.     Bring the class back together as a large group. Ask students to share some of the answers they discussed. Then, focus on the last question: What are some reasons we take notes while we read?

  • As students share their answers and ideas, write them on the board.

4.     When the students finish sharing ideas, write the word annotate on the board. Ask students what they think this word means.

  • Give students a hint: Are there parts of the word they recognize? Notate or note

5.     Tell students that they are going to annotate a text as a way to practice note-taking while they read. Explain that annotating texts can better help them understand the text and will prepare them to use the text later for research and writing purposes.

6.     Hand out a copy of the sample annotation.

  • Ask students to read through the sample annotation and make a list of the types of notes that are made.

7.     After students finish this, have them share their findings with the group while you write their responses on the board.

8.     Next, add any of the following to the list of things to include in a thorough annotation:

  • Comments/opinions on ideas, concepts, and/or information presented in the text
  • Questions about the text
  • Connections to prior knowledge
  • Vocabulary including two of the following: definition, connotation, translation, part of speech, and collocations.  Remind them that fully acquiring a vocabulary term involves a complete understanding. By examining a new word from a few different angles, they will begin to have a clearer understanding of the vocabulary.
  • Underline/highlight main ideas and topic sentences
  • Paraphrase important ideas
  • Summarize ideas at end of each page

9.     Finally, give students the rest of the article used for the annotation. Tell them that they are now going to annotate the rest of the article by using the note-taking list. This task can be done as homework or in class.

Variations

An alternative to this activity is to allow students to do the full article’s annotation in pairs or small groups. When students work together to analyze a text, they pool their shared knowledge and offer ideas that they might not otherwise find on their own.

Extensions

This activity can be extended to include a written summary. By having students write a summary, they have a chance to move from note-taking to using the text in an academic writing task. The summary is a way to assess whether students can transfer the information from their notes and the text into their own words. The annotation and the summary helps prepare students for academic writing tasks that ask them to analyze and synthesize multiple texts.

References

Rogier, D. (2014). Assessment literacy: Building a base for better teaching and learning. English Teaching Forum, 52(3). 2-13. Retrieved from https://americanenglish.state.gov/resources/english-teaching-forum-2014-volume-52-number-3#child-1783

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Writing Check with the Academic Word ListExpand

The Academic Word List (AWL) is a list of 570 of the most commonly found vocabulary words in academic texts (Coxhead, 2000). When English language learners in academic settings focus attention on wordlists such as AWL, they have an opportunity to expand the vocabulary necessary to communicate in academia.

In this week’s activity, students will use the AWL to check and revise their own written work using an online tool called an AWL highlighter. AWL highlighters are an easy way for teachers to identify target vocabulary and for students to check their own written work for correct use of words from the AWL. Simply copy and paste the text to be reviewed in the online highlighter. Once you submit the text, a new version of the text is given with any AWL words highlighted. The text can then be used as a way to check vocabulary use or give students a chance to revise their own work focusing on academic vocabulary.

The number of AWL words that students use in their own writing will vary. If teachers are teaching vocabulary from the AWL and/or want to ensure that students are using academic vocabulary, students can always be given a set number of words to use. For example, a typical academic text run through the AWL highlighter might have 1 to 10 AWL words. Depending on your student’s level, their vocabulary knowledge, and the essay length, a manageable target is to ask each student to include 5 to 7 AWL words in their writing.

Level

Advanced

Language Focus

Writing

Goals

During this activity, students will be able to:

  • Identify AWL vocabulary in their writing using an online AWL highlighter tool.
  • Use online resources and learner dictionaries to revise AWL vocabulary used in their writing.

Materials

  • Computer with internet access
  • AWL Highlighter: This AWL Highlighter can process 2400 characters at a time, which means students might have to run portions of their text through separately.
  • Student writing (best with longer text) that has the AWL words highlighted
  • Paper/pencils
  • Online dictionaries or print copies, thesauruses, learner dictionaries, online corpora (corpora are collections of written and/or spoken text that linguists use to examine how words are put together and used)

Preparation

  • Before class (or in class, if computers are available), ask students to input a draft of their essay into the AWL highlighter; directions are provided at the end of this lesson with screenshots.
  • Students must bring a printed version of their writing assignment to class. The students must run this writing through the AWL before class, so that every student has a printed copy with the AWL words highlighted.
  • Write the following steps on the board:

o   Read the first sentence with an academic word aloud.

o   Look up the word in the dictionary to ensure that the definition of the word matches the intended meaning of the word in the sentence.

o   Together, read the sentence again. What part of speech is necessary for the word to fit correctly in the sentence?

o   If necessary, change the word to the correct part of speech using the dictionaries and additional tools if available. Make the correction on the paper.

o   When finished with one paper, check the other.

  • Pair students according to their writing abilities, with students of similar levels working together or stronger students working with weaker students.

Procedure

1.     Begin class by putting students into pairs.

2.     Once in pairs, give them a dictionary and offer any other materials on hand for vocabulary work.

3.     Tell students that they will look at and revise their writing together.  

4.     Have students look at one essay first. Review the steps already written on the board.

5.     As students work through their essays, teachers can circulate to assess how well the task is going.

6.     Upon finishing, teachers can choose whether to collect the corrected papers or continue revising the essay for other issues.

Variations

An alternative to this activity is to prep the students for the activity by reviewing a piece of writing together as a group. Prepare a text the students are familiar with and run the text through the AWL highlighter online. Print enough copies for the students to use as you work together through the article. First, model the activity by working together as a large group on two words. Then, assign students to groups of three to four and have each group work on an assigned word. If the text you are examining has only a few AWL words, have each small group examine all of the included AWL words. When finished, bring students back together and ask each group to share their findings.

Extensions

This activity can be extended after pairs of students have checked both of their essays. One pair of students can give their essays and corrections to another pair of students. The pairs go through the steps on the board for the new essays that they have been given. Ask the new pairs to make any necessary changes before returning the essays to the authors. If there are disputes, encourage them to discuss their differences of opinion and come to an answer as a group of four.

References

Coxhead, A. (2000), A new Academic Word List. TESOL Quarterly, 34: 213–238. doi:10.2307/3587951

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Writing ConsultationsExpand

In the United States, students typically write multiple drafts before turning in an assignment. This is called “process writing.” In process writing, students begin with brainstorming and pre-writing activities. Next, they move on to drafting and revising a piece of writing. Finally, they finish with editing and proofreading tasks. The nature of the writing process is multi-layered and involves collaboration and cooperation among students and teachers. Each step in the writing process is revisited and repeated as students learn to reflect, assess, and edit their own writing as well as their classmates’. At the same time, teachers offer much-needed feedback and guidance as they oversee and manage students throughout the writing process. Throughout this process, the student writer must constantly remember who the audience is and what the audience needs in order to understand the writer’s ideas. Continuous feedback from as many potential audience members as possible is a critical part of the writing process. In the English language classroom, the audience consists of fellow students and the teacher(s). Much has been written about peer evaluations and feedback among students, but conducting teacher-student consultations during the writing process can be valuable to student writers in understanding their own strengths and weaknesses.

In this week’s Teachers Corner, we offer a template for conducting a successful teacher-student writing consultation. The time and work involved in consultations might seem overwhelming, but the value students take from the individual, focused feedback can carry over into the rest of their continued writing development.

Level

Any level within academic writing

Language Focus

Writing

Goals

During this activity, students will be able to:

  • Identify areas of writing that need improvement based on topics as targeted by the teacher and assignment.
  • Receive feedback on writing issues unique to their own progress and writing development.
  • Create an action plan for revision outlining what specific changes they will make during the next revision.

Materials

  • Pen/pencil
  • Copy of students’ writing to be discussed
  • Space to meet
  • Time (typically 15-20 minutes for each student)

Preparation

  • Collect students’ drafts 1 to 2 days in advance of conferences
  • Schedule individual conferences with each student (block out 15 to 20 minutes of time for each student)
  • Read each draft in advance noting comments, issues, and any suggestions according to your own rubric and specific assignment demands. The feedback you give will depend on the assignment demands, which draft is under review, and the focus of your teaching. Feedback should be focused, clear, and include achievable tasks for writers throughout editing and revisions. For specific ideas on how to give feedback during the writing process, check out the article “Error Correction and Feedback in the EFL Writing Classroom: Comparing Instructor and Student Preferences” from English Teaching Forum. It is also good to estimate what grade or mark the assignment would receive as it is in this draft.
  • Ask students to prepare and bring the following information to the conference (see optional handout in Appendix A):

o   3 questions that they have about their paper and/or the assignment

o   2 things they did well in their draft

o   2 things that need improvement in their draft

Procedure

1.     Begin the consultation by inviting the student to sit down. Then, have the student take out the handout (Appendix A), and explain how the consultation will proceed.

  • First, explain that you have read their paper and have some feedback for them.
  • Next, address their questions and then discuss their own ideas about their paper.
  • Then, explain that you will share your feedback and suggestions with the student duringwhich time the student should be taking notes and asking questions.
  • Once the feedback portion is over, spend time developing an action plan for how to proceed in the revision.

2.     After explaining the procedure, ask the student what grade he/she would assign the writing if it were to be submitted at this time. Make a note of this grade on the handout.

3.     Then, have the student ask the first question on his or her list. Offer your feedback and response. Repeat this for each question the student prepared.

4.     Next, ask the student to share what she/he wrote on the handout about strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge what the student says and reinforce the strengths. This can help build students’ confidence in their skills and abilities as writers.

5.     Once the student has reviewed what he/she prepared for the conference, take out the copy of the writing you reviewed. Tell the student what specific elements of writing you examined for this draft. In early drafts, give attention to structure, organization, and content development. These are called high-order concerns. In later drafts, offer feedback on sentence structure, transitions between ideas, and grammatical features that affect comprehension. We refer to these issues as low-order concerns.

  • As you review your findings, give students time to respond, ask questions, make notes, and offer suggestions for changes.

6.     When you finish reviewing the draft with your comments, explain the grade or mark you would assign to the draft as it is today. This can help students see how much work they need to do as they move forward with the assignment.

7.     Finally, look at the handout together and complete the section with the action plan that the student will use in moving forward with the assignment. This handout can serve as a checklist for both you and the student as you check, revise, and ultimately grade future drafts.

8.     When all of these steps have been completed, ask the student what additional questions or concerns he/she has before leaving. Thank the student for coming and remind each student that even if he/she has work to do on this paper he/she has made a good start.

Variations

If you are a teacher with limited time available to meet with students individually, consider conducting small-group conferences. Small-group conferences can also support the individual feedback and attention that learners need. Put students of similar writing abilities into groups 3 to 4 and schedule a conference time with each group. With 3 to 4 students, it is better to allot a little more time, such as 30 minutes for each conference. Again, collect and mark the essays in advance of the conference, but instead of focusing on individual needs, focus on shared needs among the group. For example, each essay can be marked to address individual concerns, but look for issues that all group members need addressed such as thesis statements. Identify 3 to 5 issues that are prevalent across the group and prepare a mini-lesson that addresses the issues and gives participants a chance to work as a group to develop plans.

An additional option if time is limited is to read the draft during each conference. This will likely result in less written feedback and mirror more of a conversation about the essay. Still, students can prepare as they would for the conference outlined above and develop an action plan with you.

Appendix A

Teacher-Student Conference Handout

What grade/mark would you give your current essay?  __________________________________________

What are three questions you have about your essay?

1.     ________________________________________________________________________________

 

2.     ________________________________________________________________________________

 

3.     ________________________________________________________________________________

 

Write two things that you do well in your essay.

1.     ________________________________________________________________________________

 

2.     ________________________________________________________________________________

 

Write two things that need improvement in your essay.

1.     ________________________________________________________________________________

 

2.     ________________________________________________________________________________

 

Notes from Conference

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

Action Plan for Revision

What are 5 changes you will make to your draft?

1.     ________________________________________________________________________________

How will you make this change?

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

2.     ________________________________________________________________________________

How will you make this change?

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

3.     ________________________________________________________________________________

How will you make this change?

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

4.     ________________________________________________________________________________

How will you make this change?

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

5.     ________________________________________________________________________________

How will you make this change?

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

What grade/mark do you want to get on this paper? ___________________________________________

What else will you do in your revision to achieve your desired grade/mark?

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

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Using a Proofreading ChecklistExpand

As teachers, we put many demands on our students when it comes to finalizing papers and proofreading. We assume that they are both able to identify and fix their own mistakes. However, many language learners struggle to identify lower-order concerns such as spelling and subject-verb agreement. Lower-order concerns are addressed in later drafts of writing and include issues related to spelling, punctuation, grammar, and citations. Higher-order concerns are issues that we examine early in the drafting process and affect an essay’s overall structure and design. These include issues related to thesis and content development, organization, and structure. Learners struggle to identify both higher and lower-order concerns, but lower-order concerns are particularly difficult, to recognize and edit. It is not because learners do not have the knowledge, but, at the end of the writing process they are like all writers—tiredly scanning their paper without taking time to pick up on the hidden mistakes. We can help our students recognize these small errors before they submit their final versions while giving them the tools to catch such mistakes in the future.

In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, we share a simple activity that students lead and conduct in the final days before submitting an essay.

Level

Advanced

Language Focus

Writing

Goals

During this activity, students will be able to:

  • Recognize what common errors are included on a proofreading checklist.
  • Work individually and in pairs using the checklist as a guide to finalize their essays.

Materials

  • Copy of Proofreading Checklist (see Appendix A)
  • Essays/writing tasks
  • Paper/pencils

Preparation

  • Prepare enough copies of the Proofreading Checklist for each student
  • Remind students to bring copies of their essays/writing to class

Procedure

1.     Begin class by putting students into pairs. Give each student a number and students with the same numbers are partners. If there are 30 students in your class, give each student a number from 1 to 15, so that you have two of each number.

2.     Once in pairs, give them a copy of the Proofreading Checklist.

3.     Tell them to review and define each item on the list.

4.     Bring the class back together as a large group. Review the list as a group, asking students to share an example of each item on the list.

5.     Once the list has been explained and reviewed, tell students to trade essays. On the checklist, tell students to write their name next to reviewer on the checklist and write the name of the writer next to writer on the list.

6.     Recommend that students read the paper fully, one sentence at a time, and then go through the checklist. This ensures that they don’t speed through the essay and skip small, easily-missed errors. Give students time to review their partner’s papers.

a.            As they review their partners’ papers, have students correct one of each type of error that is given on the checklist. From then on, ask students to simply circle each error as they occur.

Once students finish, have them return the essays and checklists to their partners. Give all students in the class time to review the mistakes in their own paper and ask questions of their reviewers.

7.     Students then begin to make corrections referring to their own checklists and ask their partners and the teacher for help and advice.

8.     Remind students that they will submit their final version with the corrected draft and the checklist. Explain that this helps you assess how well the learner used the Proofreading Checklist.

Variations

An alternative to this activity is to give the learners the Proofreading Checklist to use outside of class. If the activity is given for students to check their own work, suggest they do one of the following to aid in careful reading:

  • Read the paper one sentence at a time.
  • Read the paper slowly out loud so that listening and reading skills are working together to identify mistakes.
  • Read the paper from the end to the beginning one sentence at a time. By starting with the last sentence, students can’t rush through reading and will not skip glaring errors.

An additional variation includes assigning students to items on the checklists according to their abilities. Then students are put in groups with each group including an expert for each item on the checklist. The expert is responsible for checking that one item on each paper presented in their small group.

Extensions

Extend this activity by asking students to develop the Proofreading Checklist as a group. Rather than give students a preset checklist, they can identify common errors and create a list that they will use to do the activity outlined above.

Appendix A

Proofreading Checklist

These are recommended guidelines, but you can adapt any of them to fit your own assignment guidelines.

1.     ____________    All subjects agree with their verbs.

2.     ____________    All words are spelled correctly.

3.     ____________All words are used correctly, e.g. to vs. too.

4.     ____________    All sentences begin with a capital letter.

5.     ____________    All proper nouns are capitalized.

6.     ____________    All sentences end with a period, and all questions end with a question mark.

7.     ____________    All compound sentences are connected using a coordinating conjunction.

8.     ____________    All complex sentences are connected using the appropriate coordinating/subordinating conjunction.

9.     ____________    All quotations are written within quotation marks: “ ”

10.  ____________    All quotation marks are above the text, not below, such as “example”

11.  ____________    The font is the same throughout the whole text. It does not change size or style.

12.  ____________    The essay is double-spaced or meets the spacing guidelines you have required.

13.  ____________    The margins are the correct size.

14.  ____________    Each paragraph is indented at its beginning.

15.  ____________    The writer’s last name is in the top right or left corner of each page.

16.  ____________   The paper has page numbers at the top or bottom of each page.

17.  ____________    The title is centered at the top of the page.

18.  ____________    All outside sources that are paraphrased and summarized are cited in the text according to assignment guidelines.

19.  ____________    All outside sources that are quoted are cited and formatted in the text according to assignment guidelines.

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