First lessons for Academic Writing classes

Summary: Starting courses for people who need to write essays and academic papers in English.

Things I would want to include in a first class for people learning academic writing in English might include:

-       Some exchange of personal information, probably including needs analysis

-       A chance for students to talk about their own research/ academic interests

-       Some kind of language review, e.g. a tense review, an introduction to the Academic Word List (AWL), linking expressions, or useful vocabulary for talking about academic writing in this and future classes (“topic sentence”, “abstract”, etc) – perhaps as a review of typical mistakes/ confusions such as differences between linking expressions

-       Discussion of and/ or tips on what makes good academic writing

-       Some discussion of variations in academic writing (e.g. cultural differences, between essays for homework and published papers, or between semi-academic articles and academic papers)

-       Talking about the process of academic writing

-       Some discussion of what students can do to improve their academic writing outside the classroom

-       Other discussion on the topic of academic writing, perhaps with dual-function discussion questions/ academic writing tasks

-       An introduction to shorter pieces of academic writing, e.g. abstracts, CVs, LinkedIn pages, titles, starting paragraphs or academic bios, perhaps including actual writing of something short

-       Some vital functional language, e.g. expressions for starting essays, defining your terms or using references

-       Preparation for the first homework

That obviously makes for too much content for one class (or even possibly one course!), but there are ways of combining the ideas above to make a single first class with more than one purpose, for example by:

-       Going from needs analysis and/ or other exchange of personal information to students talking about which of that information they would include in a CV, LinkedIn profile or academic biography (e.g. on their blog or with their published paper), then talking about how to go about writing one and moving onto to talking about the process of academic writing

-       Students working together to write abstracts of their (past, present, future or possible) research

-       A language review based on one of the genres mentioned above, e.g. putting tenses back into an academic bio, or putting determiners into an abstract

-       Adding linking expressions to statements on good academic writing and then expanding on them, e.g. “Academics traditionally avoid the word ‘I’ in academic writing. However,…”. This can also be designed to bring up the topic of variations in academic writing.

-       Using Academic Word List vocabulary to make statements about academic writing that they should agree or disagree with, moving onto asking them to make similar tips with more AWL vocabulary

-       Moving from discussing academic writing to using one of those questions as an essay question that they should plan an answer for, then going onto general discussion of the stages of academic writing

-       Moving from writing something short such as a title to tips on doing that and then more general tips on academic writing

-       Brainstorming good academic writing, then setting a homework task for which they can use those ideas (perhaps also organising the ideas into paragraphs in class)

-       Getting them to brainstorm and plan the homework task in class, before or after discussion of the process of academic writing

-       Reading reviews of academic writing self-study materials from peer-reviewed English teaching journals, discussing which materials sound best, and then analysing how the reviews are typical or atypical examples of academic writing

-       Discussion questions (or academic writing tasks which can be discussed) which include typical words to talk about academic writing and/ or typical words in academic writing tasks

-       Error correction of a short academic text such as an abstract, then discussion of typical confusions, working on a similar text about themselves and/ or their research, or discussion of developing editing and other academic writing skills

-       Error correction of an email to academic staff, then discussion of what the email that their first homework is attached to should be like

You can also move from one of the ideas above into useful functional language for the rest of the course, for example:

Opinions language (including supporting opinions)

-       Presenting opinions language after discussion questions (or academic writing questions that can be treated that way)

-       The same with a discussion question at the end of the needs analysis stage asking them for opinions on academic writing

-       Thinking of and/ or finding support for their views on which academic writing tips are good or not

Quotes/ References

-       Quoting each other after the needs analysis/ sharing personal information stage or discussion questions stage, e.g. “According to Juan, academic writing varies a lot by culture”

-       Finding quotes online to support or go against tips on academic writing that they think are good or bad ideas

Giving examples

-       Asking them to give examples of times when certain rules of academic writing do and don’t apply, e.g. “I can sometimes be used in academic writing, for example IELTS essays”

-       Asking them to give examples to support their views on the academic writing tips that they are given, e.g. “You should usually include a determiner, e.g. ‘the first thing we should consider is…’ and ‘A major argument for this is…’”

Defining your terms

-       Getting them to use defining your terms phrases to define words necessary to talk about academic writing and/ or words which are often used in academic writing tasks

-       Getting them to use defining your terms phrases to define academic writing or good academic writing

-       After explaining their own research and/ or academic interests, students work together to define fundamental terms necessary to describe those things in a way that anyone in the class can understand, then check if that if they are in fact that easy to understand

-       Give them vocabulary that they could use in the needs analysis/ sharing personal information stage with definitions, then they analyse those definitions for useful defining your terms phrases

Hedging language

-       Give students overgeneralized tips on academic writing which they should make more realistic by adding phrases like “possibly” and “could be said”

See the article First lessons for Academic English (EAP) classes on this site for more ideas.

Copyright © 2013

Written by Alex Case for

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