Encouraging sustainable writing practices in the ESL/EAP classroom

Image source: bigstockphoto.com
Image source: bigstockphoto.com

Hey now, TESL Ontarians! Have you ever found yourself concerned that your students may leave your class/course without a solid foundation for long-term development of their writing? Perhaps they have managed to write an argumentative essay or reflective essay in your class, but you wonder what you could do to better help them achieve the feat again in the future?

During the span of my teaching career, I have felt this way at times. So, over the past several years I have been sure to include a focus on writing processes and practices that may help students achieve sustainable academic writing outcomes. In this post (as well as in a subsequent post in November), I outline some of the ways in which we can inspire such sustainability, followed by links to some e-tools teachers may want to employ during their teaching of writing to ESL/EAP audiences.

  1. Provide genre-specific models – Corpus analysis

In providing students with models of effective academic writing (essay, reflection, book review, research paper), students may better be able to, i) identify and incorporate effective “chunks” of language into their writing and ii) (begin to) build awareness of particular discursive, rhetorical, and structural norms associated with each type of writing. It is also suggested that instructors dedicate class time to “breaking down” these writing samples in order to draw attention to particular elements.

  1. Model brainstorming/mind-mapping

Class time should be devoted to having students “think through” possible avenues for their writing piece. Part of the pre-writing process, brainstorming and/or mind-mapping can help students take their ideas from the conceptual to the concrete.

  1. Model outlining

Perhaps even more important for EAP students is the pre-writing process of outlining. Providing students with model outlines and devoting class time to the production of such outlines promotes a sustainable practice that can benefit students throughout their academic trajectories. An added benefit of outlining is an increased understanding and awareness of the structural components of particular types of academic writing.

  1. Give class time for actual production

Just as providing reading time has been shown to benefit students’ academic literacy development, the case is also true for providing time for writing in class. Such writing time should be guided and the teacher should act as a roving resource for students as they engage in the pre-writing, writing, and revision of their pieces.

  1. Incorporate peer editing/revision

Providing guidance for micro-level (surface-level features) and macro-level (structure, coherence/flow) peer editing can also increase students’ abilities to become better editors of their own work, something that bodes well for their sustainable writing outcomes. Such revision can easily be guided by the instructor during class time.

  1. Provide qualitative feedback

ESL/EAP instructors often spend a great deal of time focusing their feedback on surface-level errors (s-v agreement, lexical choices, punctuation). While this feedback is valuable, it should comprise only part of the written feedback provided to students. Qualitative feedback on macro-level issues such as structure and flow (not to mention content!) may be equally important and result in greater uptake on the part of the student, particularly if given in tandem with a one-on-one meeting.

  1. Provide resources for self-study

One of the more under-utilized strategies for promoting student success is the provision of resources that can allow for students to take a more active role in their learning. This is certainly the case for academic writing, where mobilizing and utilizing electronic resources such as electronic dictionaries, translators, thesauruses, mind-mapping / brainstorming / outlining tools, and academic writing corpora can be particularly helpful in paving the way for long-term sustainable writing success (more on this in my November blogpost).

By encouraging and modeling these processes (and providing class time for this pre-writing, writing and revision) we can help our students sustainably produce written products to their own satisfaction as well as that of their teachers/professors.

Resources (these are merely a few of many free and effective e-resources available)

Broad academic writing support website: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/

Free academic writing corpus: https://lsa.umich.edu/eli/language-resources/micase-micusp.html

E-thesaurus: http://www.thesaurus.com/

E-dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/

E-translator: http://babelxl.com/

E-mind-mapping / brainstorming tools: http://mindmapmaker.org/ http://popplet.com/

YouTube “how to” video for how to use outlining function in Microsoft Word: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfu1AnJappg

Hey now! My name is James and I have been involved in teaching ELT/ESL/EAL/EFL/EAP (enough acronyms yet?) for the past 15 years. My teaching and teacher education experiences have taken me across the Americas (from Brazil to Mexico to various parts of Canada). I have a PhD and MA from OISE/University of Toronto and research/teaching experience in a wide variety of classroom contexts. Recently, while teaching graduate and undergraduate students at universities across southern Ontario, I have been experimenting with different modalities in delivering English for academic purposes and TESL theory & methodology courses/workshops. I am excited to share my experiences in educational research and pedagogy with the TESL Ontario faithful as we co-construct knowledge together.


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