Tips for giving feedback on written work
Tips for giving feedback on written work
Some of the biggest challenges in helping students with research is their lack of preparation. The problem is not an ignorance of statistics or research design as that takes only a little bit of support. The real problem is that students want to do research without hardly reading any research and lacking knowledge of how research writing is communicated. This post will share some prerequisites to performing research.
Extensive reading means reading broadly about a topic and not focusing too much on specifics. Therefore, you read indiscriminately perhaps limited yourself only to your general discipline.
In order to communicate research, you must first be familiar with the vocabulary and norms of research. This can be learned to a great extent through reading academic empirical articles.
The ananoloy I like to use is how a baby learns. By spends large amounts of time being exposed to the words and actions of others. The baby has no real idea in terms of what is going on at first. However, after continuous exposure, the child begins to understand the words and actions fo those around them and even begins to mimic the behaviors.
In many ways, this is the purpose of reading a great deal before even attempting to do any research. Just as the baby, a writer needs to observe how others do things, continue this process even if they do not understand, and attempt to imitate the desired behaviors. You must understand the forms of communication as well as the cultural expectations of research writing and this can only happen through direct observation.
At the end of this experience, you begin to notice a pattern in terms of the structure of research writing. The style is highly ridge with litter variation.
It is hard to say how much extensive reading a person needs. Generally, the more reading that was done in the past the less reading needed to understand the structure of research writing. If you hate to read and did little reading in the past you will need to read a lot more to understand research writing then someone with an extensive background in reading. In addition, if you are trying to write in a second language you will need to read much more than someone writing in their native language.
If you are still desirous of a hard number of articles to read I would say aim for the following
Extensive reading is just reading. There is no notetaking or even highlighting. You are focusing on exposure only. Just as the observant baby so you are living in the moment trying to determine what is the appropriate behavior. If you don’t understand you need to keep going anyway as the purpose is quantity and not quality. Generally, when the structure of the writing begins to become redundant ad you can tell what the author is doing without having to read too closely you are ready to move on.
Intensive reading is reading more for understanding. This involves slows with the goal of deeper understanding. Now you select something, in particular, you want to know. Perhaps you want to become more familiar with the writing of one excellent author or maybe there is one topic in particular that you are interested in. With intensive writing, you want to know everything that is happening in the text. To achieve this you read fewer articles and focus much more on quality over quantity.
By the end of the extensive and intensive reading, you should be familiar with the following.
Once a student has read a lot of research there is some hope that they can now attempt to write in this style. As the teacher, it is my responsibility to point out the structure of research writing which involves such as ideas as the 5 sections and the parts of each section.
Students grasp this but they often cannot build paragraphs. In order to write academic research, you must know the purpose of main ideas, supporting details, and writing patterns. If these terms are unknown to you it will be difficult to write research that is communicated clearly.
The main idea is almost always the first sentence of a paragraph and writing patterns provide different ways to organize the supporting details. This involves understanding the purpose of each paragraph that is written which is a task that many students could not explain. This is looking at writing from a communicative or discourse perspective and not at a minute detail or grammar one.
The only way to do this is to practice writing. I often will have students develop several different reviews of literature. During this experience, they learn how to share the ideas of others. The next step is developing a proposal in which the student shares their ideas and someone else’s. The final step is writing a formal research paper.
To write you must first observe how others write. Then you need to imitate what you saw. Once you can do it what others have done it will allow you to ask questions about why things are this way. Too often, people just want to write without even understanding what they are trying to do. This leads to paralysis at best (I don’t know what to do) to a disaster at worst (spending hours confidently writing garbage). The enemy to research is not methodology as many people write a lot without knowledge of stats or research design because they collaborate. The real enemy of research is neglecting the preparation of reading and the practicing of writing.
The Discussion & Conclusion section of a research article/thesis/dissertation is probably the trickiest part of a project to write. Unlike the other parts of a paper, the Discussion & Conclusions are hard to plan in advance as it depends on the results. In addition, since this is the end of a paper the writer is often excited and wants to finish it quickly, which can lead to superficial analysis.
This post will discuss common components of the Discussion & Conclusion section of a paper. Not all disciplines have all of these components nor do they use the same terms as the ones mentioned below.
The discussion is often a summary of the findings of a paper. For a thesis/dissertation, you would provide the purpose of the study again but you probably would not need to share this in a short article. In addition, you also provide highlights of what you learn with interpretation. In the results section of a paper, you simply state the statistical results. In the discussion section, you can now explain what those results mean for the average person.
The ordering of the summary matters as well. Some recommend that you go from the most important finding to the least important. Personally, I prefer to share the findings by the order in which the research questions are presented. This maintains a cohesiveness across sections of a paper that a reader can appreciate. However, there is nothing superior to either approach. Just remember to connect the findings with the purpose of the study as this helps to connect the themes of the paper together.
What really makes this a discussion is to compare/contrast your results with the results of other studies and to explain why the results are similar and or different. You also can consider how your results extend the works of other writers. This takes a great deal of critical thinking and familiarity with the relevant literature.
The next component of this final section of the paper is either recommendations or implications but almost never both. Recommendations are practical ways to apply the results of this study through action. For example, if your study finds that sleeping 8 hours a night improves test scores then the recommendation would be that students should sleep 8 hours a night to improve their test scores. This is not an amazing insight but the recommendations must be grounded in the results and not just opinion.
Implications, on the other hand, explain why the results are important. Implications are often more theoretical in nature and lack the application of recommendations. Often implications are used when it is not possible to provide a strong recommendation.
The terms conclusion and implications are often used interchangeably in different disciplines and this is highly confusing. Therefore, keep in mind your own academic background when considering what these terms mean.
There is one type of recommendation that is almost always present in a study and that is recommendations for further study. This is self-explanatory but recommendations for further study are especially important if the results are preliminary in nature. A common way to recommend further studies is to deal with inconclusive results in the current study. In other words, if something weird happened in your current paper or if something surprised you this could be studied in the future. Another term for this is “suggestions for further research.”
Limitations involve discussing some of the weaknesses of your paper. There is always some sort of weakness with a sampling method, statistical analysis, measurement, data collection etc. This section is an opportunity to confess these problems in a transparent matter that further researchers may want to control for.
Finally, the conclusion of the Discussion & Conclusion is where you try to summarize the results in a sentence or two and connect them with the purpose of the study. In other words, trying to shrink the study down to a one-liner. If this sounds repetitive it is and often the conclusion just repeats parts of the discussion.
This post provides an overview of writing the final section of a research paper. The explanation here provides just one view on how to do this. Every discipline and every researcher has there own view on how to construct this section of a paper.
Writing the results of a research paper is difficult. As a researcher, you have to try and figure out if you answered the question. In addition, you have to figure out what information is important enough to share. As such it is easy to get stuck at this stage of the research experience. Below are some ideas to help with speeding up this process.
Consider the Order of the Answers
This may seem obvious but probably the best advice I could give a student when writing their results section is to be sure to answer their questions in the order they presented them in the introduction of their study. This helps with cohesion and coherency. The reader is anticipating answers to these questions and they often subconsciously remember the order the questions came in.
If a student answers the questions out of order it can be jarring for the reader. When this happens the reader starts to double check what the questions were and they begin to second-guess their understanding of the paper which reflects poorly on the writer. An analogy would be that if you introduce three of your friends to your parents you might share each person’s name and then you might go back and share a little bit of personal information about each friend. When we do this we often go in order 1st 2nd 3rd friend and then going back and talking about the 1st friend. The same courtesy should apply when answering research questions in the results section. Whoever was first is shared first etc.
Consider how to Represent the Answers
Another aspect to consider is the presentation of the answers. Should everything be in text? What about the use of visuals and tables? The answers depend on several factors
Know when to Interpret
Sometimes I have had students try to explain the results while presenting them. I cannot say this is wrong, however, it can be confusing. The reason it is so confusing is that the student is trying to do two things at the same time which are present the results and interpret them. This would be ok in a presentation and even expected but when someone is reading a paper it is difficult to keep two separate threads of thought going at the same time. Therefore, the meaning or interpretation of the results should be saved for the Discussion Conclusion section.
Presenting the results is in many ways the high point of a research experience. It is not easy to take numerical results and try to capture the useful information clearly. As such, the advice given here is intending to help support this experience
Students often struggle with shaping their methodology section in their paper. The problem is often that students do not see the connection between the different sections of a research paper. This inability to connect the dots leads to isolated thinking on the topic and inability to move forward.
The methodology section of a research paper plays a critical role. In brief, the purpose of a methodology is to explain to your readers how you will answer your research questions. In the strictest sense, this is important for reproducing a study. Therefore, what is really important when writing a methodology is the research questions of the study. The research questions determine the following of a methodology.
What this means is that a student must know what they want to know in order to explain how they will find the answers. Below is a description of these sections along with one section that is not often influenced by the research questions.
Sample & Setting
In the sample section of the methodology, it is common or the student to explain the setting of the study, provide some demographics, and explain the sampling method. In this section of the methodology, the goal is to describe what the reader needs to know about the participants in order to understand the context from which the results were derived.
Research Design & Scales
The research design explains specifically how the data was collected. There are several standard ways to do this in the social sciences such.
Within this section, some academic disciplines also explain the scales or the tool used to measure the variable(s) of the study. Again, it is impossible to develop this section of the research questions are unclear or unknown.
The data analysis section provides an explanation of how the answers were calculated in a study. Success in this section requires a knowledge of the various statistical tools that are available. However, understanding the research questions is key to articulating this section clearly.
A final section in many methodologies is ethics. The ethical section is a place where the student can explain how the protected participant’s anonymity, made sure to get the permission and other aspects of morals. This section is required by most universities in order to gain permission to do research. However, it is often missing from journals.
The methodology is part of the larger picture of communicating one’s research. It is important that a research paper is not seen as isolated parts but rather as a whole. The reason for this position is that a paper cannot make sense on its own if any of these aspects are missing.
Writing a review of literature can be challenging for students. The purpose here is to try and synthesize a huge amount of information and to try and communicate it clearly to someone who has not read what you have read.
Often a student will collect as many articles as possible and try to throw them all together to make a review of the literature. This naturally leads to problems of the paper sounded like a shopping list of various articles. Neither interesting nor coherent.
Instead, when writing a review of literature a student should keep in mind the question
What do my readers need to know in order to understand my study?
This is a foundational principle when writing. Readers don’t need to know everything only what they need to know to appreciate the study they are ready. An extension of this is that different readers need to know different things. As such, there is always a contextual element to framing a review of the literature.
Consider the Format
When working with a student, I always recommend the following format to get there writing started.
For each major variable in your study do the following…
There first thing that needs to be done is to provide a definition of the construct. This is important because many constructs are defined many different ways. This can lead to confusion if the reader is thinking one definition and the writer is thinking another.
Examples and Theories
Step 2 is more complex. After a definition is provided the student can either provide an example of what this looks like in the real world and or provide more information in regards to theories related to the construct.
Sometimes examples are useful. For example, if writing a paper on addiction it would be useful to not only define it but also to provide examples of the symptoms of addiction. The examples help the reader to see what used to be an abstract definition in the real world.
Theories are important for providing a deeper explanation of a construct. Theories tend to be highly abstract and often do not help a reader to understand the construct better. One benefit of theories is that they provide a historical background of where the construct came from and can be used to develop the significance of the study as the student tries to find some sort of gap to explore in their own paper.
Often it can be beneficial to include both examples and theories as this demonstrates stronger expertise in the subject matter. In theses and dissertations, both are expected whenever possible. However, for articles space limitations and knowing the audience affects the inclusion of both.
The relevant studies section is similar breaking news on CNN. The relevant studies should generally be newer. In the social sciences, we are often encouraged to look at literature from the last five years, perhaps ten years in some cases. Generally, readers want to know what has happened recently as experience experts are familiar with older papers. This rule does not apply as strictly to theses and dissertations.
Once recent literature has been found the student needs to organize it thematically. The reason for a thematic organization is that the theme serves as the main idea of the section and the studies themselves serve as the supporting details. This structure is surprisingly clear for many readers as the predictable nature allows the reader to focus on content rather than on trying to figure out what the author is tiring to say. Below is an example
There are several challenges with using technology in class(ref, 2003; ref 2010). For example, Doe (2009) found that technology can be unpredictable in the classroom. James (2010) found that like of training can lead some teachers to resent having to use new technology
The main idea here is “challenges with technology.” The supporting details are Doe (2009) and James (2010). This concept of themes is much more complex than this and can include several paragraphs and or pages.
This process really cuts down on the confusion of students writing. For stronger students, they can be free to do what they want. However, many students require structure and guidance when the first begin writing research papers
I have worked with supporting undergrad and graduate students with research projects for several years. This post is what I consider to be the top reasons why students and even the occasional faculty member struggles to conduct research. The reasons are as follows
Lack of Reading
The first obstacle to conducting research is that students frequently do not read enough to conceptualize how research is done. Reading not just anything bust specifically research allows a student to synthesize the vocabulary and format of research writing. You cannot do research unless you first read research. This axiom applies to all genres of writing.
A common complaint is the difficulty with understanding research articles. For whatever reason, the academic community has chosen to write research articles in an exceedingly dense and unclear manner. This is not going to change because one graduate student cannot understand what the experts are saying. Therefore, the only solution to understand research English is exposure to this form of communication.
Determining the Problem
If a student actually reads they often go to the extreme of trying to conduct Nobel Prize type research. In other words, their expectations are overinflated given what they know. What this means is that the problem they want to study is infeasible given the skillset they currently possess.
The opposite extreme is to find such a minute problem that nobody cares about it. Again, reading will help in avoiding this two pitfalls.
Another problem is not knowing exactly how to articulate a problem. A student will come to me with excellent examples of a problem but they never abstract or take a step away from the examples of the problem to develop a researchable problem. There can be no progress without a clearly defined research problem.
Lack the Ability to Ask Questions about the Problem
If a student actually has a problem they never think of questions that they want to answer about the problem. Another extreme is they ask questions they cannot answer. Without question, you can never better understand your problem. Bad questions or no questions means no answers.
Generally, there are three types of quantitative research questions while qualitative is more flexible. If a student does not know this they have no clue how to even begin to explore their problem.
Issues with Measurement
Let’s say a student does know what their questions are, the next mystery for many is measuring the variables if the study is quantitative. This is were applying statistical knowledge rather than simply taking quizzes and test comes to play. The typical student does not understand often how to operationalize their variables and determine what type of variables they will include in their study. If you don’t know how you will measure your variables you cannot answer any questions about your problem.
Lost at the Analysis Stage
The measurement affects the analysis. I cannot tell you how many times a student or even a colleague wanted me to analyze their data without telling me what the research questions were. How can you find answers without questions? The type of measurement affects the potential ways of analyzing data. How you summary categorical data is different from continuous data. Lacking this knowledge leads to inaction.
No Plan for the Write-Up
If a student makes it to this stage, firstly congratulations are in order, however, many students have no idea what to report or how. This is because students lose track of the purpose of their study which was to answer their research questions about the problem. Therefore, in the write-up, you present the answers systematically. First, you answer question 1, then 2, etc.
If necessary you include visuals of the answers. Again Visuals are determined by the type of variable as well as the type of question. A top reason for article rejection is an unclear write-up. Therefore, great care is needed in order for this process to be successful.
Whenever I deal with research students I often walk through these six concepts. Most students never make it past the second or third concept. Perhaps the results will differ for others.
Successful research writing requires the ability to see the big picture and connection the various section of a paper so that the present a cohesive whole. Too many students focus on the little details and forget the purpose of their study. Losing the main idea makes the details worthless.
If I left out any common problems with research please add them in the comments section.
Writing in a cursive style has been around for centuries. However, there has been a steep decline in the use of cursive writing in America for the past several decades. This post will trace the history of cursive writing as well as what is replacing this traditional form of writing.
Cursive in one form or another dates back until at least the 11th century with examples of it being found in documents related to the Norman Conquest of England. Cursive was originally developed to prevent having to raise the quill from the page when writing. Apparently, quills are extremely fragile and constantly reapplying them to the paper increase the likelihood they would break.
Cursive was also developed in order to fight more words on a page. This became especially important with the development of the printing press, With people hated the condense font of the printing press that they revolted and developed a cursive writing style.
In America, people’s writing style and penmanship could be used to identify social rank. However, this changed with the development of the Spencerian method, developed by PLats Spencer. This writing style standardized cursive thus democratizing it.
After Spencer, there were several writing systems that all had their moment in the sun. Examples include the cursive styles developed by Palmer, Thurber, and Zaner. Each had its own unique approach that all influenced children during the 20th and early 21st century.
The initial decline of cursive writing began with the advent of the typewriter. With typing, a person could write much faster than by hand. Writing by hand often has a top speed of 20 wpm while even a child who has no trying in typing can achieve 20wpm and a trained typist can reach 40 wpm with pros reach 75 wpm.
Typing also removes the confusion of sloppy handwriting. We’ve all have been guilty of poor penmanship or have had to suffer through trying to decipher what someone wrote. Typing removes even if it allows the dread typos.
With computers arriving in the 1970’s schools began to abandon the teaching of cursive by the 1980’s and 90’s. Today cursive writing is so unusual that some young people cannot even read it.
Typing has become so ubiquitous that schools do not even teach it as they assume that students came to school with this skill. As such, many students are using the hunt and peck approach which is slow and bogs down the thought process needed for writing. The irony is that cursive has been forgotten and typing has been assumed which means that it was never learned by many.
To further complicate things, the use of touch screens has further negated the learning of typing. Fast typing often relies on touch. With screens, there is nothing to feel or press when tyoing. This problem makes it difficult to type automatically which takes cognitive power from writing as now the student has to focus on remembering where the letter p is on the keyboard rather than shaping their opinion.
ESL students usually need to learn to write in the second language. This is especially true for those who have academic goals. Learning to write is difficult even in one’s mother tongue let alone in a second language.
In this post, we will look at several practical ways to help students to learn to write in their L2. Below are some useful strategies
Build on Prior Knowledge
It is easier for most students to write about what they know rather than what they do not know. As such, as a teacher, it is better to have students write about a familiar topic. This reduces the cognitive load on the students allows them to focus more on their language issues.
In addition, building on prior knowledge is consistent with constructivism. Therefore, students are deepening their learning through using writing to express ideas and opinions.
Coherency has to do with whether the paragraph makes sense or not. In order to support this, the teacher needs to guide the students in developing main ideas and supporting details and illustrate how these concepts work together at the paragraph level. For more complex writing this involves how various paragraphs work together to support a thesis or purpose statement.
Students struggle tremendously with these big-picture ideas. This in part due to the average student’s obsession with grammar. Grammar is critical after the student has ideas to share clearer and never before that.
Students should work together to improve their writing. This can involve peer editing and or brainstorming activities. These forms of collaboration give students different perspectives on their writing beyond just depending on the teacher.
Collaboration is also consistent with cooperative learning. In today’s marketplace, few people are granted the privilege of working exclusively alone on anything. In addition, working together can help the students to develop their English speaking communication skills.
Writing needs to be scheduled and happen frequently in order to see progress at the ESL level. This is different from a native speaking context in which the students may have several large papers that they work on alone. In the ESL classroom, the students should write smaller and more frequent papers to provide more feedback and scaffolding.
Small incremental growth should be the primary goal for ESL students. This should be combined with support from the teacher through a consistent commitment to writing.
Writing is a major component of academic life. Many ESL students learning a second language to pursue academic goals. Therefore, it is important that teachers have ideas on how they can support ESL student to achieve the fluency they desire in their writing for further academic success.
There are many reasons that a person or student should learn to master the craft of writing in some form or genre. Of course, the average person knows how to write if they have a k-12 education but here it is meant excelling at writing beyond introductory basics. As such, in this post, we will look at the following benefits of learning to write
Improved Reading and Listening Skills
There seems to be an interesting feedback loop between reading and writing. Avid readers are often good writers and avid writers are often good readers. Reading allows you to observe how others write and communicate. This, in turn, can inspire your own writing. It’s similar to how children copy the behavior of the people around them. When you write it is natural to bring with you the styles you have experienced through reading.
Writing also improves listening skills, however, this happens through the process of listening to others through reading. By reading we have to assess and evaluate the arguments of the author. This can only happen through listening to the author through reading his work.
Writing, regardless of genre, involves finding an audience and sharing your own ideas in a way that is clear to them. As such, writing natural enhances communication skills This is because of the need to identify the purpose or reason you are writing as well as how you will share your message.
When writing is unclear it is often because the writer has targeted the wrong audience or has an unclear purpose for writing. A common reason research articles are rejected is that the editor is convinced that the article is not appropriate for the journal’s audience. Therefore, it is critical that an author knows there audience.
In relation to communication skills is thinking skills. Writing involves taking information in one medium, the thoughts in your head, and placing them in another medium, words on paper. Whenever content moves from one medium to another there is a loss in meaning. This is why for many people, there writing makes sense to them but to no one else.
Therefore, a great deal of thought must be placed into writing with clarity. You have to structure the thesis/purpose statement, main ideas, and supporting details. Not to mention that you will often need references and need to adhere to some form of formatting. All this must be juggled while delivering content that critically stimulating.
Writing is a vehicle of communication that is not used as much as it used to be. There are so many other forms of communication and interaction that something writing is obsolete. However, though the communication may change, the benefits of writing are still available.
Learning to write takes a lifetime. Any author will share with you how they have matured and grown over time in the craft of writing. However, there are some basic fundamentals that need to be mastered before the process of growing as a writer can begin.
This post will provide an approach to teaching writing to young children that includes the following steps.
Learning the Letters
The first step in this process is learning to write letters. The challenge is normally developing the fine motor skills for creating letters. If you have ever seen the writing of a 5-year-old you have some idea of what I am talking about.
It is difficult for children to actually write letters. Normally this is taught through having the students trace the letters on a piece of paper. This drill and kill style eventual works as the child masters the art of tracing. An analogy would be the use of training wheels on a bicycle.
Generally, straight lines are easier to write than curves. As such, easy letters to learn first are t, i, and l. Curves with straight lines are often easier than slanted lines so the next stage of letters might include b, d, f, h, j, p, r, u, and y. Lastly, slanted lines and full circle letters are the hardest in my experience. As such, a, c, e, g, k, m, n, o, s, v, w, x, and z are the last to learn.
Learning to Write Sentences
It is discouraging to have the child learn the entire alphabet before writing something. It’s better to learn a few letters and begin making sentences immediately. This heightens relevance and it is motivating to the child to be able to read their own writing. For now, the sentences do not really need to make sense. Just have them write using a handful of letters with support.
Simple three-word sentences are enough at this moment. Many worksheets will provide blanks lines with space at the top for drawing and coloring which provides a visual of the sentence.
It is critical to provide support for the development of the sentence. You have to help the child develop the thought that they want to put on paper. This is difficult for many children. You may also be taxed with proving spelling support. Although for now, I would not worry too much about spelling. Students need to create first and follow rules of creating later.
The typical child will probably not be able to write paragraphs until the 3rd or 4th grade at the earliest. paragraph writing takes an extensive amount of planning for a small child as they now must have a beginning, middle, and end or a main idea with supporting details.
At this stage, the best way to learn to write is to read a lot. This provides a structure and vocabulary on which the child can develop their own ideas in writing. In addition, rules of writing can be taught such as grammar and other components of language.
Writing can be an enjoyable experience if children are guided initially in learning this craft. Over time, a child can provide many insightful ideas and comments through developing the ability to communicate through the use of text.
Teaching a child to write is an interesting experience. In this post, I will share some basics ideas on one way this can be done.
To Read or not to Read
Often writing is taught after the child has learned to read. A major exception to this is the Montessori method of reading. For Montessori, a child should learn to write before reading. This is probably because writing is a more tactile experience when compared to reading and Montessori was a huge proponent of experiential learning. In addition, if you can write you can definitely read under this assumption.
Generally, I teach young children how to read first. This is because I want the child to know the letters before trying to write them.
If the child is already familiar with the basics of reading writing is probably more about hand-eye coordination than anything else. The first few letters are quite the experience. This is affected by age as well. Smaller children will have much more difficulty with writing than older children.
A common strategy to motivate a child to write is to have them first learn to spell their name. This can work depending on how hard the child’s name is to spell. A kid named “Dan” will master writing his name quickly. However, a kid with a longer name or a transliterated name from another language is going to have a tough time. I knew one student who misspelled their name for almost a year and a half because it was so hard to write in English.
A common way to teach actually writing is to allow the child to trace the words on dot paper. By doing this they develop the muscle memory for writing. Once this is successful the child will then attempt to write the letters with the tracing paper. This process can easily take a year.
Sentences and Paragraphs
After, they learn to write letters and words it is time to begin writing sentences. A six-year-old, with good penmanship, will probably not be able to write a sentence with support. Writing and spelling and different skills initially and it is the adult’s job to provide support for the spelling aspect as the child explains what they want to write about.
With help, children can create short little stories that may be one to two paragraphs in length. Yet they will still need a lot of support to do this.
By eight years of age, a child can probably write a paragraph on their own about simple concepts or stories. This is when the teaching and learning can really get interesting as the child can now write to learn instead of focusing on learning to write.
Writing is a skill that is hard to find these days. With so many other forms of communication, writing is not a skill that children want to focus on. Nevertheless, learning to write by basic literacy is an excellent way to develop communication skills and interact with people in situations where face-to-face contact is not possible.
Grading essays, papers and other forms of writing is subjective and frustrating for teachers at times. One tool that helps in improving the consistency of the marking, as well as the speed, is the use of rubrics. In this post, we will look at three commonly used rubrics which are…
A holistic rubric looks at the overall quality of the writing. Normally, there are several levels on the rubric and each level has several descriptors on it. Below is an example template
The descriptors must be systematic which means that they are addressed in each level and in the same order. Below is an actual Holistic Rubric for Writing.
In the example above, there are four levels of marking. The descriptors are
Between levels, different adverbs and adjectives are used to distinguish the levels. For example, in level one, “ideas are thoroughly explained” becomes “ideas are explained” in the second level. The use of adverbs is one of the easiest ways to distinguish between levels in a holistic rubric.
Holistic rubrics offer the convenience of fast marking that is easy to interpret and comes with high reliability. The downside is that there is a lack of strong feedback for improvement.
Analytical rubrics assign a score to each individual attribute the teacher is looking for in the writing. In other words, instead of lumping all the descriptors together as is done in a holistic rubric, each trait is given its own score. Below is a template of an analytical rubric.
You can see that the levels are across the top and the descriptors across the side. Best performance moves from left to right all the way to worst performance. Each level is assigned a range of potential point values.
Below is an actual holistic writing template
Analytical rubrics provide much more washback and learning than holistic. Of course, they also take a lot more time for the teacher to complete as well.
A lesser-known way of marking papers is the use of primary trait rubric. With primary trait, the student is only assessed on one specific function of writing. For example, persuasion if they are writing an essay or perhaps vocabulary use for an ESL student writing paragraphs.
The template would be similar to a holistic rubric except that there would only be on descriptor instead of several. The advantage of this is that it allows the teacher and the student to focus on one aspect of writing. Naturally, this can be a disadvantage as writing involves more than one specific skill.
Rubrics are useful for a variety of purposes. For writing, it is critical that you understand what the levels and descriptors are one deciding on what kind of rubric you want to use. In addition, the context affects the use of what type of rubric to use as well.
How a teacher guides the writing process can depend on a host of factors. Generally, how you support a student at the beginning of the writing process is different from how you support them at the end. In this post, we will look at the differences between these two stages of writing.
At the beginning of writing, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made as well as extensive planning. Generally, at this point, grammar is not the deciding factor in terms of the quality of the writing. Rather, the teacher is trying to help the students to determine the focus of the paper as well as the main ideas.
The teacher needs to help the student to focus on the big picture of the purpose of their writing. This means that only major issues are addressed at least initially. You only want to point at potential disaster decisions rather than mundane details.
It is tempting to try and fix everything when looking at rough drafts. This not only takes up a great deal of your time but it is also discouraging to students as they deal with intense criticism while still trying to determine what they truly want to do. As such, it is better to view your role at this point as a counselor or guide and not as detail oriented control freak.
At this stage, the focus is on the discourse and not so much on the grammar.
At the end of the writing process, there is a move from general comments to specific concerns. As the student gets closer and closer to the final draft the “little things” become more and more important. Grammar comes to the forefront. In addition, referencing and the strength of the supporting details become more important.
Now is the time to get “picky” this is because major decisions have been made and the cognitive load of fixing small stuff is less stressful once the core of the paper is in place. The analogy I like to give is that first, you build the house. Which involves lots of big movements such as pouring a foundation, adding walls, and including a roof. This is the beginning of writing. The end of building a house includes more refined aspects such as painting the walls, adding the furniture, etc. This is the end of the writing process.
For writers and teachers, it is important to know where they are in the writing process. In my experience, it seems as if it is all about grammar from the beginning when this is not necessarily the case. At the beginning of a writing experience, the focus is on ideas. At the end of a writing experience, the focus is on grammar. The danger is always in trying to do too much at the same time.
Often, when teachers provide feedback on a student’s writing, they tend to focus on the grammatical/punctuation aspects of the paper. However, this often does not make a lasting impression and it also can frequently cause students to freeze up when the need to write as they become obsessed with the details of grammar rather than with the shaping of ideas.
Another approach to providing feedback to students is to analyze and assess their writing from the perspective of discourse. Discourse rules have to do with the overall structure of a paper. It is the big picture aspects of writing. Clear discourse can often help to overcome poor grammar/punctuation but excellent grammar/punctuation can overcome a poorly structured paper. This post will provide some of the components of discourse as they relate to writing a paper.
The Organizational Level
At the highest broadest level is the organizational level. At this level, you are looking to be sure that the students have included an introduction, body, and conclusion to their paper. This seems elementary but it is common for students to forget to include an introduction and or a conclusion to their writing.
You also want to check that the introduction, body, and conclusion are in proportion to each other based on how long the paper was intended to be. Often, students write short intros, have a long body section, and have little conclusion as they are exhausted from the writing.
At this point, thorough reading is not taking place but rather you are glancing to see if all the parts are there. You also are searching to see if the ideas in the introduction, are present in the body, and reiterated in the conclusion. Students frequently wander when writing as they do not plan what to say but rather what and see what Google provides them.
The Section Level
At the section level, you are looking to make sure that the various parts that belong within the introduction, body, and conclusion are present. For the introduction, if it is a standard research, paper some of the things to look for include the following
For the body section, things to look for includes
For the conclusion, it is more fluid in how this can be done but you can look for the following
First, you are checking that these components are there. Second, you are checking for the clarity. Normally, if the problem and objectives are unclear the entire paper is doomed to incomprehensibility.
However, bad grammar is not a reason that problems and objectives are unclear. Instead, it may be the problem is too broad, cannot be dealt with in the space provided, etc. Objectives normally have the same problem but can also be unrelated to the problem as well.
Sometimes the problem and objectives are to narrowly defined in terms of the expertise of the student. As such, it is highly subjective in terms of what works but the comments given to the student need to be substantive and not just something vague as “look at this a second time.”
If you cannot give substantive feedback it is normally better to ignore whatever weakness you found until you can articulate it clearly. If this is not possible it’s better to remain silent.
The body section must address all objectives mentioned in the introduction. Otherwise, the reader will become confused as promises made in the introduction were never fulfilled in the body.
The conclusion is more art than science. However, there should be an emphasis on what has been covered as well as what does this mean for the reader.
The Paragraph Level
At the paragraph level, you are looking for two things in every paragraph
Every paragraph should have one main idea, which summarizes the point of the paragraph. The main idea is always singular. If there is more than one main idea then the student should develop a second paragraph for the second main idea.
In addition, the supporting details in the paragraph should be on topic with the main idea. Often, students will have inconsistencies between the main idea and the supporting details. This can be solved by doing one of the following
At the paragraph level, you are also assessing that the individual paragraphs are supporting the objective of the section. This again has to do with focusing on a singular thought in a particular section and within each paragraph. Students love to wander when writing as stated previously. Writing is about breaking down a problem into smaller and smaller pieces through explanation.
The assessment of the discourse of a paper should come before the grammatical marking of it. When ideas flow, the grammatical issues are harder to notice often. It is the shaping of discourse that engages the thinking and improves the writing of a student in ways that grammatical comments can never achieve.
Perhaps the simplest way to get ESL students writing is to have them imitate what is read to them. This allows the students to learn the conventions of writing in the target language.
This is usually done through some form of dictation. The teacher reads a few words or reads slowly. This provides students with time to write down what they heard.
The actual marking of such an activity would involve the use of rubrics or some sort of count system for the number of words the student was able to write down. Often, spelling and pronunciation are not considered major factors in the grade because of the rush nature of the writing.
Controlled and Guided
Controlled writing involves having students modify an existing writing sample. For example, changing all the verb in a paragraph from past to present. This will require them too often change more than just the verbs but other aspects of writing as well
Guided writing involves having the students respond to some sort of question or stimuli. For example, the students may watch a video and then are asked to write about and or answer questions. They may also try to rewrite something that they heard at normal speed.
The most common form of self-writing is the writing of a journal. The writing is only intended for the student. Even note-taking is considered a form of self-writing even though it is not normally comprehensible to others.
Self-writing, particular journals, can be useful in developing reflective thinking in students in general even with the language barriers of writing in another language.
Display and Real Writing
Display writing is writing that is primarily intended for the teacher, who already knows the answer that the student is addressing. Examples of this type of writing include essays and other writing for the purpose of a summative assessment. The student is literally displaying what they already know.
Real writing is writing in which the reader does not know the answer to that the student is addressing. As such, one of the main differences between display and real writing is the knowledge that the audience of the writing has.
When working with students it is important to provide them with learning experiences that stimulate the growth and development that they need. Understanding the various forms of writing that can happen in an ESL classroom can provide teachers with ideas on how to help their students.
When people are learning English they will almost always bring how they communicate with them when they are speaking or writing in English. However, for native speakers of English, the written communication style of ESL students can be bewildering even if it is grammatically sound.
This phenomenon of the L1 influencing the writing style of the L2 is known as contrastive rhetoric. This post will provide examples from different cultures in terms of how they approach writing in English and compare it to how a native-speaking person from a Western country writes to show the differences.
The Native English Speaker Writing Example
Below is a simple paragraph written by a Native English speaking person.
Exercise is good for a person for several reasons. For example, exercises helps to strengthen the body. As a person moves he or she is utilizing their muscles which promotes maintenance and potentially growth of the muscle. Second, exercises helps to remove waste from the body. Strenuous exercise causes people to sweat and breath deeply and this increases the removal of harmful elements from the body. Lastly, exercise makes people feel good. Exercise encourages the release of various hormones that makes a person feel better. Therefore, people should exercise in order to enjoy these clear benefits
The writing style of an English speaker is usually highly linear in nature. In the example above, the first sentence is clearly the main idea or the point. Right from the beginning the English writer shares with you where they stand on the subject. There is little mystery or suspense as to what will be talked about.
The rest of the paragraph is supporting details for the main idea. The supporting details start with the discourse markers of “for example”, “second”, and “lastly”. Everything in the paragraph is laid out in a step-by-step manner that is highly clear as this is important for English speakers.
Unfortunately, this style of writing is what many ESL students from other cultures is compared too. The next examples have perfect “English” however, the style of communication is not in this linear manner.
Eastern Writing Style
According to Robert Kaplan, people from Eastern countries write in a circular indirect manner. This means that Eastern writing lacks the direct point or main idea of western writing and also lacks the clearly structured supporting details. Below is the same paragraph example as the one in the English example but written in a more Eastern style
As a person moves he or she is utilizing their muscles which promotes maintenance and potentially growth of the muscle. Strenuous exercise causes people to sweat and breath deeply and this increases the removal of harmful elements from the body. Exercise encourages the release of various hormones that makes a person feel better.
The example is grammatical sound but for a native English speaker there are several problems with the writing
The example is highly fluent and this kind of writing is common in many English speaking countries that are not found in the West. Even with excellent knowledge of the language the discourse skills affect the ability to communicate.
My students have shared with me that English writing is clear and easy to understand but too direct in nature. Whereas the complaints of teachers are the ESL students written is unclear and indirect.
This is not a matter of right in wrong but differences in how to communicate when writing. A student who is aware of how they communicate can make adjustments so that whoever they are speaking with can understand them. The goal should not be to change students but to make them aware of their assumptions so they can adjust depending on the situation and do not change them to act a certain way all the time.
In writing pedagogy, there are at least two major ways of seeing writing. These two approaches see writing as a process or as a product. This post will explain each along with some of the drawbacks of both.
Writing as a Product
Writing as a product entailed the teacher setting forth standards in terms of rhetoric, vocabulary use, organization, etc. The students were given several different examples that could be used as models from which to base their own paper.
The teacher may be available for one-on-one support but this was not necessarily embedded in the learning experience. In addition, the teacher was probably only going to see the final draft.
For immature writers, this is an intimidating learning experience. To be required to develop a paper with only out of context examples from former students is difficult to deal with. In addition, without prior feedback in terms of progress, students have no idea if they are meeting expectations. The teacher is also clueless as to student progress and this means that both students and teachers can be “surprised” by poorly written papers and failing students.
The lack of communication while writing can encourage students to try and overcome their weaknesses through plagiarism. This is especially true for ESL students who lack the mastery of the language while also often having different perspectives on what academic dishonesty is.
Another problem is the ‘A’ students will simply copy the examples the teacher provided and just put in their own topic and words in it. This leads to an excellent yet mechanical paper that does not allow the students to develop as writers. In other words, the product approach provides too much support for strong students and not enough support for weak ones.
Writing as a Process
In writing as a process, the teacher supports the student through several revisions of a paper. The teacher provides support for the development of ideas, organization, coherency, and other aspects of writing. All this is done through the teacher providing feedback to the student as well as dealing with any questions and or concerns the student may have with their paper.
This style of writing teaching helps students to understand what kind of writer they are. Students are often so focused on completing writing assignments that they never learn what their tendencies and habits as a writer our. Understanding their own strengths and weaknesses can help them to develop compensatory strategies to complete assignments. This can of self-discovery can happen through one-on-one conferences with the teacher.
Off course, such personal attention takes a great deal of time. However, even brief 5 minutes conferences with students can reap huge rewards in their writing. It also saves time at the end when marking because you as the teacher are already familiar with what the students are writing about and the check of the final papers is just to see if the students have revised their paper according to the advice you gave.
The process perspective gives each student individual attention to growing as an individual. ‘A’ students get what they need as well as weaker students. Everyone is compared to their own progress as a writer.
Generally, the process approach is more appropriate for teaching writing. The exceptions being that the students are unusually competent or they are already familiar with your expectations from prior writing experiences.
Academic dishonesty in the form of plagiarism is a common occurrence in academia. Generally, most students know that cheating is inappropriate on exams and what they are really doing is hoping that they are not caught.
However, plagiarism is much more sticky and subjective offense for many students. This holds especially true for ESL students. Writing in a second language is difficult for everybody regardless of one’s background. As such, students often succumb to the temptation of plagiarism to complete writing assignments.
Many ideas are being used to reduce plagiarism. Software like turnitin do work but they lead to an environment of mistrust and an arms race between students and teachers. Other measures should be considered for dealing with plagiarism.
This post will explain how seeing writing from the perspective of a process rather than a product can reduce the chances of plagiarism in the ESL context.
Writing as a Product
In writing pedagogy, the two most common views on writing are writing as a product and writing as a process. Product writing views writing as the submission of a writing assignment that meets a certain standard is grammatically near perfection, and highly structured. Students are given examples of excellence and are expected to emulate them.
Holding to this view is fine but it can contribute to plagiarism in many ways.
These pressures mentioned above can contribute to a negative classroom environment in which students do not really want to write but survive a course however it takes. For native-speakers, this works but is really hard for ESL students to have success.
Writing as a Process
The other view of writing is writing as a process. This approach sees writing as the teacher providing constant one-on-one guidance through the writing process. Students begin to learn how they write and develop an understanding of the advantages of rewriting and revisions. Teacher and peer feedback are utilized throughout the various drafts of the paper.
The view of writing as a product has the following advantages for avoiding plagiarism
In a writing as a process environment, the students and teacher work together to develop papers that meet standards in the students own words. It takes much more time and effort but it can reduce the temptation of just copying from whatever Google offers.
Grammar plays a role in writing but the shaping of ideas and their communication is of upmost concern for many in TESOL. The analogy I use is that grammar is like the paint on the walls of a house or the tile on the floor. It makes the house look nice but is not absolutely necessary. The ideas and thoughts of a paper are like the foundation, walls, and roof. Nobody wants to live in a house that lacks tile or is not painted but you cannot live in a house that does not have walls and a roof.
The stress on native-like communication stresses out ESL students to the point of not even trying to write at times. With a change in view on the writing experience from product to process this can be alleviated. We should only ask our students to do what we are able to do. If we cannot write in a second language in a fluent manner how can we ask them?
Fallacies are errors in reasoning. They happen in speech and in writing. The danger of fallacies is that they can deceive people into accept false ideas and claims that can lead to serious consequences. In this post, we will look at several types of fallacies with examples.
A hasty generalization happens when an individual makes a broad claim in a few instances. Below is an example
Throughout American history, military leaders who become president are terrible leaders. Consider the examples of Ulysses Grant and James Buchanan..
The problem with the reasoning in this fallacy is that it is not always true. There are many examples of military leaders who became excellent presidents. Examples include George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Dwight Eisenhower.
A false cause fallacy is claiming that A caused B when there is no real connection. Below is an example.
When ice cream sales increase there is also an increase in homicide rates. Therefore, if we want to reduce homicides we need to reduce ice cream sales.
On the surface, such an argument makes sense. However, correlation is not causation. There are other factors that lead to homicide in addition to ice cream sales.
An analogy is the comparison of two concepts or things for the purpose of explanation. An invalid analogy is the inappropriate comparison of two concepts. Below is an example.
In America, the school-year is from September to May. Since this schedule works in America it will surely work in Thailand
This analogy is comparing the American and Thailand with the idea that they can both have the same academic calendar. The problem is that both countries are radically different in terms of facilities. Most American classrooms are temperature control while many in Thailand are not. Since there is a lack of air conditioning in many Thai schools the calendar has been adjusted so that teaching does not take place during the hottest time of the year.
A bandwagon fallacy is based on the premise that since so many people are doing A it serves as evidence that everyone should do it. Children are often victims of this fallacy when they try to justify why they did something. Below is an example.
The action of the administration is appropriate. The reason being because is that 70% of the faculty support the decision of coed dormitories.
The fact that the majority support something is not the only indication of whether it is right or wrong. Other factors such as religious beliefs and even culture may need to be considered as well.
Fallacies can serve as a major tool for confusing people on different topics and ideas. The examples in this post only serve to show some of the few ways that fallacies manifest themselves. It is important for a consumer of information to be able to identify fallacies when they are apparent.
Writing and speaking both involved organization. A paper and a presentation need to have a clear sense of direction for the benefit of the audience. In this post, we will look at different strategic ways to organize the main points of a paper/presentation. Specifically, we will look at the following ways to organize the main points of a speech.
Topical order involves taking the topic of your speech and dividing it into several subtopics. The subtopics are related to the topic as they come from it. For example, if you are giving a speech on the topic of basketball you may have the following subtopics.
Chronological order involves a time sequence. In this approach, the order matters a great deal. A paper/speech that is focused on history or events would often use a chronological order. You use chronological order if putting things in place by time will help to make your paper/speech clearer to your readers.
Causal order indicates a cause-effect relationship in a paper/speech. For example, if your speech/paper is on the price of tuition you might make the claim that rising tuition is making it difficult for students to go to school. This main idea has two main points that are in causal order.
It is also possible to state this in the order of effect-cause as seen below.
Causal order is useful for indicating to an audience why something is happening.
Problem-solution order is similar to cause-effect. The difference is that in a problem-solution approach you indicate what is wrong and then explain how to fix it. With cause-effect you only explain what happened with providing answers. For example, if the problem is that tuition is rising, you may suggest that the solution is to increase access to government loans. The problem-solution is as follows.
Spatial order is about location and direction. This involves such terms as up/down, left/right, top/bottom, north, south, etc. This is a highly descriptive order that allows the audience to have a first-hand experience of what the writer/speaker is sharing. For example, if you are speaking/writing about a city, you might divide the main points by geographic regions such as North, South, East, and West.
Organization is a critical key to success in communication. Whether writing or speaking it is important to develop a strategy for ordering the points you intend to share.
Although not exactly the same writing and public speaking having many things in common. This is especially true during preparation for a paper or presentation. The goal here is not really to compare and contrast writing and public speaking but to point out tools that can be used in both disciplines. In this post, we will cover the following
Choosing a Topic
The topic is whatever you are going to write or speak about. In reality, there are two types of topics
Which of these two choices you pick depends on the audience of your paper/presentation.
Brainstorming is one way of picking a topic. This involves several different techniques such as make webs, clusters or even performing an internet search.The way you pick a topic is not as important as finding something to develop for your audience.
Determining the Purpose
There are two levels at which the purpose is determined, the general and the specific purpose. The general purpose of a paper/presentation is the overall goal of the paper/presentation. There are many different purposes but two common ones are…
Informing involves teaching the audience about something. For example, you might write a paper on cellphone apps. In this approach, you are teaching the audience about apps.
To persuade means to try and convince people or change their opinion about something. For example, you might have the purpose of showing readers what the best apps for English are. this involves not only presenting information but trying to convince people about what the best English apps are.
Once a general purpose has been determined it is important to develop a specific purpose. The specific purpose is a sentence in which you state what you are going to do in the paper or presentation. In writing, this is also often called the thesis statement.
For example, I might write or develop a speech in which my general purpose is to inform. My specific purpose is to inform the audience about different types of English apps. As you can see, the specific purpose includes the general purpose of to inform or to persuade. Below is a break down of the example in this paragraph
Topic: English Apps
General purpose: To inform
Specific purpose: To inform the audience about different English Apps
There are some tips to developing purpose statements. One, they are never expressed as a question because a purpose statement answers questions. Two, avoid figurative or technical language because they need to be as clear as possible. Lastly, a purpose statement should only be one sentence and deal with one idea as this helps with clarity.
The topic and purpose of a paper/presentation are critical for you to know and develop in advance. This sets the stage for clear communication with whoever you are engaging with your content.
In the last post, we began a discussion on the steps involved in reviewing the literature and we look at the first two steps, which are identifying key terms and locating literature. In this post, we will look at the last three steps of developing a review of literature which are…
3. Evaluate and select literature to include in your review
4. Organize the literature
5. Write the literature review
This step was alluding to when I wrote about using google scholar and google book in part I. For articles, you want to assess the quality of them by determining who publishes the journal. Reputable publishers usually publish respectable journals. This is not to say that other sources of articles are totally useless. The point is that you want to attract as few questions as possible when it comes to the quality of the sources you use to develop a literature review.
One other important concept in evaluating literature is the relevancy of the sources. You want sources that focus on a similar topic, population, and or problems. It is easy for a review of literature to lose focus so this is a critical criteria to consider.
Organizing the Literature
There are many options for organizing sources. You can make an outline and group the sources together in by heading or you can construct some sort of visual of the information. The place to start is to examine the abstract of the articles that are going to be a part of your literature review. The abstract is a summary of the study and is a way to get an understanding of a study quickly.
If the abstract indicates that a study is beneficial you can look at the whole article to learn more. If the whole article is unavailable you can use the abstract as a potential source.
Writing a Review of Literature
Writing involves taking your outline or visual and convert it into paragraph format. There are at least three common ways to write a literature review. The three ways are thematic review, study-by-study review, and combo review.
The thematic review shares a theme in research and cites several sources. There is very little detail. The cites support the claim made by the theme. Below is an example using APA formatting.
Smoking is bad for you (James, 2013; Smith, 2012; Thomas, 2009)
The details of the studies above are never shared but it is assumed that these studies all support the claim that smoking is bad for you.
Another type of literature review is the study-by-study review. In this approach, a detailed summary is provided of several studies under a larger theme. Consider the example below
Thomas (2009) found in his study among middle class workers that smoking reduces lifespan by five years.
This example provides details about the dangers of smoking as found in one study.
A combo review is a mixture of the first two approaches. Sometimes you provide a thematic review other times you provide the details of a study-by-study review. This is the most common approach as it’s the easiest to read because it provides an overview with an occasional detail.
The ideas presented here are for providing support in writing review of literature. There are many other ways to approach this but the concepts presented here will provide some guidance.
The research process often begins with a literature review. A review of literature is a systematic summary of books, journal articles, and other sources pertaining to a particular topic.The purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate how your study adds to the existing literature and also to show why your study is needed.
In general, there are five common steps to reviewing the literature and they are…
In this post, we will discuss the first two
Identify Key Terms
The purpose of identifying key terms is that they give you words to “google” when you conduct a search. Below are some ways to develop key terms.
Locating literature is not as difficult as it was years ago thanks to the internet. Now, the search for high-quality sources doesn’t even require the need to leave home. There is some sort of hierarchy in terms of the quality and age of material available and it is as follows. Each example below is rate on a scale of 1-5 for quality and newness the higher the rating the higher the quality and newness of the example
In this example, normally the lower the quality the younger the information is. Keep in mind that there are many exceptions to the example above. Self-published books would obviously have a much lower quality rating while some online sources are of much higher quality because of who is providing the information.
Once you have some keywords it is time to begin the search. Google books is an excellent place to begin. When you get to this website, you type in your key term and Google returns a list of books that contain the key term. You click on the book and it takes you to the page where the term is. This is like holding the book in your hand at the library. You note whatever information you need and go to another book.
For Google scholar, you go to the site and type in your key term. Google Scholar gives you several pages of articles. Before choosing, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
This provides some basic information on beginning the process. In a later post, we will go over the last few steps of conducting a literature review.
In the previous post, I provided tips on dealing with the IELTS Task 1 writing prompt. This post will provide an application of the various suggestions made. Below is the prompt
The graph below shows how married men and women spend their unpaid work hours. Describe the information shown below in your own words. You should write at least 150 words. Allow yourself 20 minutes for this task.
Table: Unpaid Work Hours per Week
Without Kids With 1-2 Kids With 3 or More Kids
Male 20 20 18
Female 30 50 58
Remember there are four approaches to writing the prompt
In addition, it is wise to work from left to right when deciding what data to write about.
Always start with an outline. It does not have to be this formal. However, you need to know where you are going when you write and just a little bit of scribble can help in writing clearly especially when English is not your first language
The table shows data on the amount of time men and women spend in unpaid work depending on the number of children they have. Women without kids spend 30 hours a week in unpaid work. Men without kids and men with 1-2 kids both spend about 20 hours a week in unpaid work. Female with 3 or more kids spend 58 hours a week in unpaid work but men with 3 or more kids only spend about 18 hours a week in unpaid work. In conclusion, it can be said that women spend more time in unpaid work than men.
If you count the number of words in the example above it is only a 100. The directions asked for at least 150. This means that I would receive a lower score because of the brevity of my paragraph. My writing is too concise and I need more than one fact, comparison, and contrast. How many do I need? It depends. You need to be familiar with your writing style. Do you tend to be brief? Then you will need to pull more data from the graph/table. Do you tend to have a lot to say? Then you need to pull less data from the table. You need to know your style before the test not after because then it will be too late. Practice, practice, practice is the only way to discover how you write. Below is a modified outline and essay example
Modified Example Essay
The table shows data on the amount of time men and women spend in unpaid work depending on the number of children they have. Women without kids spend 30 hours a week in unpaid work. In addition, women with 1-2 kids spend 50 hours a week in unpaid work. Men without kids and men with 1-2 kids both spend about 20 hours a week in unpaid work. Men with 3 or more kids spend almost the same amount of time in unpaid work as men with no kids and men with 1-2 kids, 18 hours versus 20 hours. Females with 3 or more kids spend 58 hours a week in unpaid work but men with 3 or more kids only spend about 18 hours a week in unpaid work. Women with 3 or more kids spend more time in unpaid housework than women with 1-2 or no children. In conclusion, it can be said that women spend more time in unpaid work than men.
In this example, I have 165 words. For me, I need more data from the table to have success. For you, you have to figure out what works.
The Task 1 writing prompt on the IELTS normally involves the interpretation of some sort data or a diagram. In my experience, the Task 1 is much easier for students to write than a Task 2. The reason being that in a Task 1 you are taking numbers or pictures and putting them into simple English. With a Task 2, the students have to actually develop an original thought rather than interpret someone else’s data. Creating is much more challenging then describing something for most people especially in their second language.
There are some basic guidelines that can help people to improve their performance on a Task 1. Below is an example with an explanation of how to approach it.
The graph below shows how married men and women spend their unpaid work hours. Describe the information shown below in your own words. You should write at least 150 words. Allow yourself 20 minutes for this task.
Table: Unpaid Work Hours per Week
Without Kids With 1-2 Kids With 3 or More Kids
Male 20 20 18
Female 30 50 58
The prompt above tells us to describe the graph. This is important. For the most part, your opinion does not matter. You could make statements that women are being oppressed by the men because they are doing more unpaid work. This may be true but is this describing the graph in terms of its numbers or an expression of your opinion? The word count is short (150 words) so there is not much space for sharing an opinion. It is wiser to just describe the information as instructed. The injustice can be express after the test.
When working with my students, I always tell them to describe the data from left to right if possible. Look to the far left and describe that information first. Then move to the right. This helps in making sure that the entire graph is described in the essay. Many times students sit at their desk and have no idea where to begin. Telling them to start on the left-hand side is an easy way to get them started. It gives them a starting point and speeds up the ability to make a choice about what to write.
Normally, you only need to describe four elements of the graph to reach 150 words. You don’t want to write more than you have to as it does not increase your score but increases the chance you will make grammatical mistakes. Below is one approach I have used with students that include four different elements.
A Simple Fact
A simple fact is just that. Taking data from the table and putting it in simple English. A fact for our purposes is one description of one data point in the table/graph. Looking at the example in this post here is an example of a fact.
Males without kids spend 20 hours a week in unpaid work.
The reader can check to see if this is correct. In addition, notice how I use as many components from the table as possible. I use the term male, I use part of the title of the table “Unpaid Work Hours per Week” and I use the hours “20.” The more components from the table that you put into the sentence the clearer the sentence should be. I have my students right little checkmarks next to each component they use in a sentence so they can see how they are translating the table into simple English.
Compare Information in the Graph
Comparing the information in the graph involves taking two facts within the passage and pointing out how they are similar. Looking at the table above here is an example.
Males without kids and males with 1-2 kids both spend 20 hours a week in unpaid work.
Here I compare males without kids with males with 1-2 kids. They both spend about 20 hours a week in unpaid work. This provides yet another description of the table in simple English.
There are an infinite number of comparisons that can be made. However, following the principle of moving from left to right helps to eliminate choices, which helps in making a faster decision. Remember, we only have 20 minutes so we are not going to make in-depth exhaustive comparisons. Always keep it simple in clear English to maximize your score
Contrast Information in the Graph
This is the opposite of comparing. Here you indicate how to facts in the graph are not the same. Here is an example.
Females with 1-2 kids spend 50 hours a week in unpaid work but Females with 3 or more kids spend 58 hours a week in unpaid work.
The important part to mention is that when contrasting you need to use a contrasting word such as but, however, in contrast, etc. This implies opposite and serves as a signal to the reader.
The summary is usually one of the last sentences in the essay. It provides an overall theme of the graph. Again there are an infinite number of possibilities but you need to pick what you think is most important. Below is one example of many.
In conclusion, women spend more time than men in unpaid work.
Of course, there are other ways to do summarize such as emphasizing how men work less instead of women working more. Try to provide the reader with a one-sentence summary of the graph.
In the next post, I will provide an example of an application without so much description.
In the last post, I provided some basic tips for dealing with the IELTS Task 2 writing prompts. In this post, I will apply these tips in order to show how they can help someone to perform better on the IELTS.
Below is an example of a potential writing prompt for the Task 2
Smoking is bad for you. Do you agree or disagree? Use reasons and examples to support your answer.
Step 1: Break down the prompt to determine what to do
The prompt has three components to it
An opinion: Smoking is bad for you
Your job: Do you agree or disagree
Advice: Use reasons and examples to support your answer
This prompt is a one job task as we only have to do one thing, which agrees or disagree that smoking is bad for you.
Step 2: Develop outline
You need to think and plan before writing. It is common for people to take off and start writing without any idea of what they will say. Writing is different from speaking. We can speak without thinking but our body language can help in expressing what we want to say. In addition, when speaking to people, they can ask us for clarification. Both body language and follow-up questions are not possible when writing. This is why planning is so important. If you are unclear there is nothing that can be done.
Your thesis is whether you agree or disagree. It is the ultimate main idea of your essay. Your reasons are explanations of your thesis. Lastly, examples help illustrate your reasons. Keeping this in mind helps with the internal consistency of your argument. Many times students make unrelated points that do not support each other. Remember your thesis is supported by your reasons and your reasons are supported by your examples. This has less to do with your English ability as it has to with thinking and organizational skills. There are native speakers who cannot organize their thoughts to pass the IELTS.
The standard five-paragraph essay will be employed in the outline below.
Your outline does not have to be this formal. A few notes on a scratch piece of paper is enough for most people. You do need to think before you write. Since people who take the IELTS are non-native speakers they must be much more careful in how they approach writing. Planning allows them to focus on English while writing. Failing to plan leads to trying to plan and worrying about the English at the same time. This leads to cognitive overload and loss of points.
One other point, the Task 2 prompt requires at least 250 words. Give them only about 250 words. The more you write the more mistakes you will make as a non-native writer, which will lead to an irritated reader. Writing 500 lousy words is not going to help you pass if instead, you write 275 excellent words. It is quality with a minimum amount of quantity that matters.
Step 3: Write the Essay
Below is a write up of the outline
Smoking is bad for you. Do you agree or disagree? Use reasons and examples to support your answer.
There are people who believe that smoking is bad for. I agree that smoking is bad for you. I have three reasons why I believe this. First, smoking leads to health problems. Second, smoking waste a lot of money. Lastly, smoking is a bad example for kids.
One reason smoking is bad for you is that it harms your health. For example, I know of someone’s grandfather who smokes cigarettes for years. Eventually, he becomes really sick with cancer. The disease destroyed his body and made his life miserable. After suffering for some time, he died. His death was caused partly by his decision to smoke cigarettes for many years.
Smoking is also bad for you because it wastes money. I have a friend who smokes. He spends several dollars a day on this habit. Since he is always spending money on cigarettes he is constantly short of cash. Even though he has a good job his habit is eating a hole in his finances. He is always asking people if he can borrow money. If he stopped smoking he might have more money.
Lastly, smoking is a bad example for children. I have an uncle who smokes. When his children grew up, they started to smoke as well. My uncle always regretted that his kids smoke even though he smoked himself. He was worried about their health. His kids told him that they smoked because they wanted to be like him. His influence led to their poor choice.
I believe that people should avoid smoking. There are physical, financial, and social concerns when people choose to do this. It benefits everyone if people choose not to smoke.
In this post, we learned that there are three steps to writing which are breaking down the prompt, developing an outline, and writing the essay. These steps will hopefully help anyone who needs to take the IELTS
The task 2 writing on the IELTS calls on students to express their opinion about a topic. This is not as easy as it sounds even for native speakers. There are many common pitfalls such as not responding to the question or not understanding what the question wants you to do. One of the first steps to take in writing a response to task 2 question is to break down the question to determine what you need to do.
Many Task 2 writing prompts have three components to them. They are listed below
Let’s look at an example
In this example, we have all three components.
In this example, our job is to agree or disagree about whether students should evaluate teachers. This example is a one job task. In other words, you have to only do one thing which explains why you agree or disagree. Some writing prompts call for doing more than one job such as compare and contrast in which you compare and then you contrast. One job tasks are the easiest to respond to.
Another important point is that if the prompt asks you to agree or disagree this is what you should do. It is too complicated to try and agree and disagree because it takes a much higher level of English to express a nuance opinion. Keep it simple and maximize your score through simply agreeing or disagreeing. Everybody knows the world is more complicated then that but if you need to take the IELTS you might not be ready to express this yet. Don’t try to show the reader how smart you are save that for the future.
The biggest mistake many students make is they jump right in to writing without developing any sort of outline. This is similar to jumping in your car to drive somewhere you have never been without directions. You’ll eventually get there but you journey is longer and unpredictable because of lack of preparation. It is important to make a simple outline of what you want to say.
Below is one way to approach a one job Task 2 writing prompt. It uses a traditional 5 paragraph essay format.
Examples will be provided in the future