Tag Archives: Writing

Assessing Writing from a Discourse Perspective

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 obsess 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 includes the following

  • background to the problem
  • problem statement
  • objectives
  • significance statement

For the body section, things to look for includes

  • Discussion of first objective
  • Discussion of second objective
  • etc

For the conclusion, it is more fluid in how this can be done but you can look for the following

  • Summary of the introduction
  • Main point of each objective
  • Concluding remark(s)

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 provide, 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 confuse as promises made in the introduction were never fulfilled in the body.

The conclusion is more art than science. However, there should be a 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

  • main idea
  • supporting details

Every paragraph should have one main idea, which summarizes the point of the paragraph. The main idea is always singular. If there are 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

  • Change the main idea to be consistent with the supporting details
  • Change the supporting details to be consistent with the main idea

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.

Conclusion

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.

Advertisements

Writing Techniques for the ESL Classroom

In-class writing is common in many many ESL context. This post will provide several different ways that teachers can get their students writing in an ESL classroom.

Imitation

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 actually 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 to 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 be try to rewrite something that they heard at normal speed.

Self-Writing

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, particularly 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.

Conclusion

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.

Understanding ESL Writing Patterns Across Cultures

When people are learning the 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 are 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 an native English speaker there are several problems with the writing

  1. There is no main idea. The entire paragraph is missing a point. The writer is laying down claims about their point but they never actually tell you what the point is. Native speakers want a succinct summary of the point when information is shared with them. Eastern writers prefer an indirect or implied main ideas because being too direct is considered rude. In addition, if you are too clear in an Eastern context it is hard to evade and prevaricate if someone is offended by what is said.
  2. The discourse markers are missing. There are no “for example” or “second” mention. Discourse markers give a paragraph a strong sense of linear direction. The native English speaker can tell where they are in a train of thought when these markers are there. When they are missing the English reader is wondering when is the experience is going to be over.
  3. There are no transition sentences. In the native English speaking example, every discourse marker served as the first word in a transition sentence which move the reader from the first supporting detail to the next supporting detail. The Eastern example has only details without in guidepost from one detail to the other. If a paragraph is really long this can become overwhelming for the Native English speaker.

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.

Conclusion

My student have shared with me that English writing is clear and easy to understand but too direct in nature. Whereas the complaints of teachers is the 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 the 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 to not change them to act a certain way all the time.

Writing as a Process or Product

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 terns of rhetoric, vocabulary use, organization, etc. The students were given several different examples that could be used as models form 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 finally 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 provide 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 develop of ideas, organization, coherency, and other aspects of writing. All this is done through the teacher providing feedback to the student was 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 give each student individual attention to grow as individual. ‘A’ students get what they need as well as weaker students. Everyone is compared to their own progress as a writer.

Conclusion

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.

Overcoming Plagiarism in an ESL Context

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 plagarism. 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 plagarism

This post will 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.

  • Students cannot meet the expectation for grammatical perfection. This encourages  them to copy excellently written English from Google into their papers.
  • Focus on grammar leads to over-correction of the final paper. The overwhelming red pen marks from the teacher on the paper can stifle a desire for students to write in fear of additional correction.
  • The teacher often provides little guidance beyond providing examples. Without daily, constant feedback, students have no idea what to do and rely on Google.
  • People who write in a second language often struggle to structure their thoughts because we all think much more shallower in a second language with reduced vocabulary. Therefore, an ESL paper is always messier because of the difficulty of executing complex cognitive processes in a second language.

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 plagarism

  • Grammar is slowly fixed over time through feedback from the teacher. This allows the students to make corrections before the final submission.
  • Any instances of plagiarism can be caught before final submission. Many teachers do not give credit for rough drafts. Therefore, plagiarism in a rough draft normally does not affect the final grade.
  • The teacher can coach the students on how to reword plagiarize statements and also how to give appropriate credit through using APA.
  • The de-emphasis on  perfection allows the student to grow and mature as a writer on the constant support of the teacher and peers.
  • Guiding the students thought process is especially critically across cultures as communication style vary widely across the world. Learning to write for a Western academic audience requires training in how Western academics think and communicate. This cannot be picked up alone and is another reason why plagarism is useful because the stole idea is communicated appropriately.

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.

Conclusion

Grammar plays a role in  writing but the shaping of ideas and their communication is of up most 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?

Understanding Fallacies

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.

Hasty Generalization

A hasty generalization happens when an individual makes a broad claim on 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.

False Cause 

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.

Invalid Analogy

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 radical 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.

Bandwagon

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.

Conclusion

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 consumer of information to be able to identify fallacies when they are apparent.

Ordering Main Points in Writing and Speaking

Writing and speaking both involved organization. A paper and a presentation needs 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
  • Chronological order
  • Causal order
  • Problem-solution order
  • Spatial order

Topical Order

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.

  • The history
  • The rules
  • The greatest players

In this example, the order of the points does not matter. This is the defining characteristic of topical order. The order the topics come are not important

Chronological Order

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

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.

  • Cause-Tuition is rising
  • Effect-Students cannot afford to study

It is also possible to state this in the order of effect-cause as seen below.

  • Effect-Students cannot afford to study
  • Because-Tuition is rising

Causal order is useful for indicating to an audience why something is happening.

Problem-Solution Order

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.

  • Problem-Students cannot study because of rising tuition
  • Solution-Increase access to government loans

Spatial Order

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 divided the main points by geographic region such as North, South, East, and West.

Conclusion

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.

Finding a Topic and Purpose in Writing/Speaking

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 of a paper/presentation
  • Determining the purpose paper/presentation

Choosing a Topic

The topic is whatever you are going to write or speak about. In reality there are two types of topics

  1. Topics you already know a lot about
  2. Topics you know very little about

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 determine, 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…

  • to inform
  • to persuade

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 express 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.

Conclusion. 

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.

Reviewing the Literature: Part II

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

Evaluating Literature

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 loose focus so this is a critical criteria to consider.

Organizing the Literature 

There are many options in 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 over view with an occasionally detail.

Conclusion

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.

Writing Patterns I

An author’s writing pattern is how they organize the information they are sharing with the reader. There are many different patterns but we will only talk about three today. The writing patterns are list, sequence, and definition.

List Pattern

In the list pattern, the author shares a group of items in a way in which the order does not matter. Some clues that the paragraph is a list pattern includes the following, such as the use of such words and phrases as also, too, another, moreover, besides and the use of such signals as a, b,c …,  bullets (•), and asterisks (*). Below is an example paragraph using the list pattern.

There are three things you need to know about dogs

–They are cute

–They are friendly

–They are loyal

These are some of the reasons you should own a dog

Instead of using dashes we could have used bullets or a, b, c, or any other host of ways to indicate a list.

Sequence Pattern

The sequence pattern is the same as the list. The only difference is that the order of items matters. Some of the signal phrases/words are first, second, third…, now, then, next, finally and some other forms include 1, 2, 3, or a, b, c. Below is an example of a paragraph using the sequence pattern.

There are three steps to buying a dog.

–First decide which kind of dog is best for your environment.

–Second, consider how much it will cost to buy the dog.

–Third, find a nearby dealer who can provide the dog.

Here, the order matters in order to buy the dog.

Definition Pattern

In this pattern, the author describes or explains a term. Common signal phrases.words includes is defined as,  by this we mean, means  or (preceding a synonym), in other words , is, is known as. In the example below, the author attempts to describe dogs by defining their characteristics.

Dogs are one of the many types of pets people can own.  The are unique in that they  are much friendlier than other types of animals.  In addition, they are always loyal and will not often leave a good master.  People need to know that dogs make good pets.

Conclusion

Different writing patterns are useful for sharing information in an appropriate way. The examples here provide some idea for determining how an other is trying to share information with a reader. Knowing the pattern can help in seeing the “big picture” of a reading passage. It helps in understanding what the writer is trying to say to his audience. As such, this is a valuable skill to develop.

Beat the IELTS Task 1 Writing: Application

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
Gender
Male                20                                     20                                  18
Female            30                                     50                                  58

Remember there are four approaches to writing the prompt

  1. A simple fact from the graph/table
  2. Compare information in the graph/table
  3. Contrast information in the graph/table
  4. Summarize information from the graph/table

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

Outline

  1. Fact
    1. Women without kids spend 30 hours a week in unpaid work.
    2. Women with 1-2 kids spend 50 hours a week in unpaid work
  2. Comparison
    1. Men without kids and men with 1-2 kids both spend about 20 hours a week in unpaid work.
    2. 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
  3. Contrast
    1. 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.
  4. Summary
    1. Women spend more time in unpaid work then men

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. 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 then men.

IMPORTANT

If you count 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 Outline

  1. Fact
    1. Women without kids spend 30 hours a week in unpaid work.
    2. Women with 1-2 kids spend 50 hours a week in unpaid work
  2.  Comparison
    1. Men without kids and men with 1-2 kids both spend about 20 hours a week in unpaid work.
    2. 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
  3. Contrast
    1. 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.
    2. Women with 3 or more kids spend more time in unpaid house work than women with fewer or no children.
  4. Summary
    1. Women spend more time in unpaid work then men

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 house work than women with 1-2 or no children. In conclusion, it can be said that women spend more time in unpaid work then 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.

Beat the IELTS Task 2 Writing: Application

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.

Writing Process
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 is agree 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 to 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. 

Outline Example
The standard five paragraph essay will be employed in the outline below.

  1. Introduction
    1. Topic sentence-There are people who believe that smoking is bad for you
    2. Thesis-I agree that smoking is bad for (remember agreeing or disagreeing is the easiest way to write)
    3. Reasons
      1. Causes health problems
      2. Is a waste of money
      3. Is a bad example for children
  2. Reason 1-Smoking causes health problems
    1. Example-grandfather smoked many years. He got cancer and died a terrible death (NOTE: examples do not have to be true. The goal is to illustrate the reason)
  3. Reason 2-Smoking waste money
    1. Example-Friend spent money on cigarettes and hand constant financial problems
  4. Reason 3-Smoking is a bad example for children
    1. Uncle smoked. Eventually his kids smoked. My uncle always regretted that his children smoked even though he did it. His kids said that they smoked to be like him. 
  5. Conclusion
    1. Smoking is not good for a person because it leads to many problems

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 lost 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 

Essay Example
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 smoke cigarettes for years. Eventually, he become 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 waste money. I have a friend who smokes. He spends several dollars a day on this habit. Since he is always spending money for 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. 

Conclusion

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

Beat the IELTS Task 2 Writing

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 breakdown the question to determine what you need to do.

Many Task 2 writing prompts have three components to them. They are listed below

  1. A statement that is a fact or opinion
  2. What you need to do (the job)
  3. Advice on how to complete the task

Let’s look at an example

  • Schools should ask students to evaluate their teachers. Do you agree or disagree? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

In this example we have all three components.

  1. Schools should ask students to evaluate their teachers. (This is the opinon you are reacting to)
  2. Do you agree or disagree? (Your job is to explain why you agree or disagree)
  3. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. (Here is the advice to complete the task)

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 is explain 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 task are the easiest to respond to. 

Another important point is that if the prompt ask 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.

Outline
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.

  1. Introduction-Paragraph has three component to it as explained below
    1. The 1st sentence should restate the statement or opinion. Indicate what the topic is even though the reader already knows. 
    2. Indicate whether you agree or disagree. Tell the reader if you agree or disagree right away. There is no time to be indirect and mysterious
    3. Give your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing. In order to have five paragraphs you will have to develop three reasons why you agree or disagree. Each reason will have its own paragraph in which you explain it. It is common for students to struggle here. They have an opinion but they do not have any well thought out reason for the opinon. This is one reason why the IELTS is not only an English test but a test of thinking ability. 
  2. Body paragraph-The three body paragraphs follow the same format as explained below
    1. 1st sentence should state the reason-Your first sentence in each body paragraph should restate one of your reasons why you agree or disagree. 
    2. Example-Every reason needs some sort of illustration that further explains the reason. For example, if you think smoking is bad for someone because it causes health problems. You might share a story about how smoking killed a close relative. This illustration further clarifies why you think smoking is bad for you 
  3.  Conclusion-Restate your opinion and reasons using different English if possible. There are other ways to end an essay but this is the simplest.

Examples will be provided in the future