IEPIS Newsletter - August 2014 (Plain Text Version)
In this issue:
GUIDING STUDENTS BEYOND THE TEXT: CONNECTING READING AND WRITING
Academic and standardized assessments are moving away from personal response essay prompts toward a more integrative approach requiring students to read one or more texts and respond appropriately in writing. The texts may be quantitative (charts, graphs, or other visuals) or issues-based (controversial topics, current events, and so on). Such assessments require a set of skills that go far beyond mere grammatical accuracy and felicitous word choice, skills normally taught to American students in language arts rather than in foreign language classes. Many ESL students coming from traditional educational backgrounds in which texts are to be memorized or imitated need careful preparation in both the careful reading and analysis of texts and the production of an appropriately academic written text of their own.
Following basic reading instruction models, a combination top-down (going from the "big picture" of meaning) and bottom-up (analyzing how authors convey meaning with grammatical structures, figurative language, and register) approach appears to work best in facilitating students' analysis of texts, the necessary first step in the production of an appropriate written response. The following easy-to-follow assignment types have been used successfully to assist students in handling these higher-level integrated assessments.
Activities and Guidelines
The dialectical journal requires students to respond in writing to a self-chosen idea from an assigned text, which is usually lengthy (e.g., a book—fiction or nonfiction—or a long short story or article), to be read outside of class. Students dig deeper into the text by carefully reflecting on and analyzing the author’s ideas.
After informing students that this assignment is a reaction to, not a summary of, ideas in the assigned readings, have them do the following:
The dialectical journal serves as a springboard for a more sophisticated assignment, a formal reaction essay, in which the student responds to the arguments presented by one or more authors, agreeing or disagreeing and explaining why. This analytical essay integrates two or three of the author's main points, generally with a direct or indirect quote, with the student's stance in carefully constructed paragraphs that form a complete analytical essay.
Remind students that a reaction paper is not a summary or basic argument essay but rather a point-by-point analysis of the author’s thesis and arguments. Students are expected to evaluate the author’s central claim/point/argument, the underlying assumptions, and the supporting evidence.
For a single text/author: Students read the article carefully, identify the author’s thesis/main idea and supporting arguments, and select ideas to paraphrase or quote in their essay. They then draft their essay using the following format:
For more than one text/author, take the reaction essay a step further:
Reverse outlining requires students to examine how a writer constructs an essay (someone else’s or their own). This activity can be used in a variety of ways, including to examine how successful writers effectively develop and support their ideas and to assess the weaknesses and strengths of their own essays.
When reverse outlining the essay, students should consider the following:
1. Introductory paragraph
2. Body paragraphs (complete for each body paragraph)
3. Concluding paragraph
Writing a rhetorical précis (abstract summary) helps students develop their critical reading skills. This type of summary requires students to summarize the writer’s argument concisely and to describe the rhetorical aspects of the text accurately as follows:
Statistical writing requires students to turn a graph, chart, or other statistical information into clear, accurate prose. Having students draft their statistical paragraphs as follows makes turning numbers into prose much easier:
This activity (done individually or in pair/small groups) requires students—using one of their assigned readings—to search for, identify, and analyze various grammatical structures. Besides providing useful grammar review, this activity increases awareness of how an effective writer’s style and syntactic choices affect the reader. Often ESL students write choppy, awkward, wordy, stringy, ungrammatical sentences. By examining well-written texts, they learn how to write clear, detailed, varied sentences using modification and subordination. Have the students do the following:
1. Highlight and label the following structures in the reading:
4. Does the author use a lot of short sentences? Explain.
Rhetorical and Literary Devices Search
This activity requires students to examine how an author uses rhetorical and literary devices to convey meaning and helps them to become more proficient readers and writers. Using a list of literary devices (e.g., metaphor, simile, hyperbole) as a guide, students (individually or in pairs/groups) search for and highlight examples of each device in the assigned text and explain the purpose of each. This activity can also be done on a worksheet, on which students write their example sentences and explanations followed by a paraphrase without the device so that they can discover how these devices enrich meaning.
Clearly, these activities illustrate for students the very real connection between reading and writing. By building their language and analytical skills, we can provide students with the tools they need to handle the complex demands of academic assessment and prepare them for their future college coursework.
Karen Fox has held both teaching and administration positions in the ESL field for many years. She has a master’s degree in both linguistics and education and has presented at various CATESOL and TESOL conferences.
Rosemary Hiruma has extensive experience teaching academic ESL, especially composition courses. She has a master’s degree in linguistics with an emphasis in second language acquisition. She has coauthored articles and presented at various CATESOL and TESOL conferences.
Barbara Jonckheere has been teaching in the academic ESL field for many years. She has a master’s degree in applied linguistics and has presented at various CATESOL and TESOL conferences and published articles about academic writing issues.