My ELT Book Challenge (Update 1)

About a week ago or so ago, I invited you all to join me in an ELT Book Challenge. Judging by the number of comments it attracted (much more than I had expected), I’m not alone in looking at my collection of ELT books and thinking “I really should open you more” …!

It’s been a bit of a juggle this week (and will continue to be for a while!), as I had already borrowed two ELT theory books from the staffroom library: Garton, S. and Graves, K. (2014) International Perspectives on Materials in ELT  published by Palgrave Macmillan, and Roberts, J. (1998) Language Teacher Education published by Arnold. I chose the former because it’s come out since I did my M.A. ELT and read All The Books about materials development, which I continue to be interested in, and the latter after being inspired by the Teacher Education Scholarship Circle. However, in order to fulfil my aim to pick up also one of my own books, I decided to continue with Eggins, S. and Slade, D. (1997) Analysing Casual Conversation published by Equinox, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages – since I dipped into it for my LSA4 speaking skills essay, in fact!

Pleasingly, my choice of books spans not only a large time range (1997 to 2014) but a nice spread of topics – materials development, teacher education and spoken language analysis. I say “pleasingly” as it feeds my hunger for variety!

In terms of materials development, so far I have read the introduction of the book, Materials in ELT: Current Issues, which, as you would expect, situates the book, and the first chapter, The ELT Textbook, which was by Jack Richards and opens Part 1 – Global and Local Materials. (This is an edited book, so each chapter is by a different author and on a different topic, making it nice and easy to dip in and out of!) Richards looks at the role of the textbook in language teaching, making reference to McGrath’s (2002) metaphors for describing teacher relationships with textbooks and exploring issues such authenticity and representation (this is something I explored in my research module, as I looked at phonological representation in that well-known course book series Cutting Edge), as well as the process of choosing a textbook, distinguishing between analysis and evaluation (including pre-, during and post-use), and, briefly, adapting it. This was quite a general chapter, and for me was a useful revision of aspects of materials use that I studied in the academic year 2012-2013. I imagine those who are doing the course now would probably find it a good starting point, as it is brief and general, and would be able to use the bibliography to go into greater depth on the various elements explored.

As for Teacher Education, I am still on part one (in my defence, it goes up to page 61!), which looks at theories of learning and teacher education and is titled thus. This is an interesting read, as it revisits the theories of learning that I looked at as part of my Delta and M.A., but relates them to teacher education. So, there is a little bit of revision but also adds something new. So, it considers the behaviourist approach, where trainees are expected to follow a particular model of teaching, with no deviation, so that learning to teach is an exercise in imitation; the humanistic approach where change is enabled rather than directed by other people, giving the trainee more control; the constructivist approach, which draws on Kolb’s theory of experiential learning and draws on a trainee/learner’s existent knowledge and experience, so they are no longer a blank slate but somebody who brings something of value to the table; and finally a socialisation approach, where as well as the trainee’s own experience and background, influences on the trainee are also taken into consideration e.g. the school, the community, the education policies in play etc. According to the contents, the author is going to conclude that a social constructivist approach is the best, but I have not yet read the conclusion (that is the point I have reached!) so I am not sure exactly what reasons he will put forward. (Though, I could probably guess at some of it, as when I was studying, I, too, became a big fan of this approach in language teaching!)

Finally, as far as Conversation Analysis goes, I’ve read chapter 1, called Making meanings in every day talk, in which the authors demonstrate that language is “used as a resource to negotiate social identity and interpersonal relations”, giving examples of conversation and showing how we can begin to guess at the type of speaker (gender, class etc.) based on the language they use. Apparently what’s special about casual conversation is that it seems trivial and yet is anything but trivial. It is carefully constructed even though that careful construction is achieved without the speakers thinking about or being aware of that construction.  Casual conversation is different from transactional or pragmatic conversation (e.g. buying something) in a variety of ways, including length (casual conversation tends to be longer), formality (casual conversation is generally more informal) and use of humour (casual conversation uses humour). In the second chapter, which I have only just started, the authors start to discuss the different approaches to analysing conversation, which are sociological, sociolinguistic, logico-philosophical, structural-functional, critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis. As I have only just started, I can’t tell you the difference between them all for now, but I assume I will have a better understanding of this by the end of the chapter.

As is usual at the beginning of a project, excitement and motivation were sufficient to allow me to not only do the theoretical reading but also use one of my more practical/methodological books. I had planned to use two, but ran out of time and cut my use of the second one, though I think it will fit nicely into next lesson.

The first book I used was part of the Delta Publishing Teacher Development series: Morrison, B. and Navarro, D. The Autonomy Approach. This is a book that I discovered at IATEFl last year, and was delighted because it reflected and extended the approach I had been using with my learners in Palermo, in terms of helping them become more autonomous. The great thing about this series of books is that they combine theory and practical ideas for implementing it. In my case, I had gathered a lot of the theory during my M.A. and set about trying to implement it once I returned to teaching. I’m quite glad I didn’t discover this book until after I had tried to do that, as it was a really interesting and rewarding process to go through, but would nevertheless recommend this book to anybody with an interest in learner autonomy and its development (which surely should be most, if not all, of us!).

I chose an activity for reviewing resources, as I have been encouraging my learners to choose different activities each week to try. This activity can be found on page 67 of the book. The heart of the activity is a set of questions that encourage reflection on the use of a set of student-chosen resources. In my case, it was student-chosen activities rather than resources, but there is some overlap, as the activity tends to specify the use of a given resource. I decided to do it as a speaking ladder activity, as I wanted it to be reasonably fast-paced and I wanted the students to talk to as many classmates as possible. Why? Well, students had chosen different activities to try, so hearing about what classmates have tried could sow seeds of interest and inspiration for future weeks. I did the activity at the start of the lesson, and it certainly lifted the energy levels in the room, ready for the rest of the lesson. There was potential for chaos, as the questions didn’t explicitly ask students to tell each other WHAT activity/resource was under discussion (the activity assumes sustained discussion with the same group of people) but students are not stupid, and indeed they quickly explained their activities to their partner before launching into the discussion of the particular question at hand. There were enough questions that they spoke to some people twice, so then there was familiarity with partner’s activity and a bit more depth was gone into via the additional question.

The second book I chose to use (but didn’t get round to using) was The company words keep, another Delta Publishing special. However, as I didn’t get on to using it, I will save it for a future post!

Have any of you started the challenge yet? Have you blogged about it? If so, either link to your blog post below, or use the comments to share your thoughts on what you have read or tried. I look forward to seeing what you have all been up to! :) Not sure when my next update will be – hope to strike a balance between too often and not often enough, though!

My ELT Book Challenge

The summer before I started my M.A. ELT/Delta, that is, summer 2012, saw me starting to build up a collection of ELT books. Prior to this, I mostly just had my trusty Scrivener and Parrott books from my CELTA days and my copy of Harmer acquired later upon recommendation from one of my CELTA tutors when I asked her what would be a good book to buy. Now my collection looks like this:

My books! (Not pictured: Eggins and Slade: Analysing Casual Conversation – which is by my bed…)

Many of them were acquired during summer 2012 and the academic year 2012-2013, and a handful since then too (though nowadays I tend to buy kindle editions rather than paperback, as carrying an iPad/e-book reader is so much easier!). Roughly half have a practical/methodological emphasis and half are more theory focused. During my M.A. year, the (growing) stack lived under my desk in several piles. Since then, they have mostly lived in boxes/crates, too heavy to take with me on subsequent adventures, save a select few. Finally, they have found their way back into the open. As yet there is no book case to house them, but a patch of carpet and some book ends have done the trick. The next trick is to actually open them again! And this is where the challenge comes in.

The challenge

I challenge myself (and, of course, anyone who cares to join me using their own collection!) to try something new from one of the (methodological/teaching ideas) books each week or read a chapter (from one of the theory-focused ones), and, of course, to reflect on what I try or read.

Even if I don’t manage it every week, having a goal will help me do it more frequently than having no goal would! :)

The teacher education circle

Yesterday I attended the Teacher Education scholarship circle. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but this was how it was described in the circular email: “It is aimed at anyone interested in training and development of teachers to share some development ideas and training methods.”  I joined this circle because I am interested in the area of teacher education, and becoming a CELTA trainer is on my long-term list of things to do, so I figured that whatever shape the circle took, I would learn something. In the post linked to above, I promised a write-up, so here it is!

Earlier in the day yesterday, a few hours before the meeting, an email went round saying that  “The first theme for discussion will be ‘Teacher Training v Teacher Development’ – what’s the difference?”. 10 of us turned up. This difference was one of the topics treated in the IH tutor training course I did that started around this time last year. I spent the bike ride into work pondering the difference, initially feeling it as one of those things where you know it is different but pinning it down is more difficult. On my bike ride I came up with:

  • training is finite, development is infinite.
  • training is done to you, you do development.
  • training is a short burst of something with a very specific goal, development is more of a journey.

10 of us turned up at the circle and we split into two groups of 5 to discuss the difference, followed by “half-assed dribble feedback” (or was it “drivel”? One of the teachers, who is a teacher trainer, was saying that he dislikes the whole putting people i.e. students or trainees, into groups to see what they come up with and then doing some “half-assed dribble/drivel feedback” where nothing is really added. Though we all seemed to agree that as part of a test-teach-test kind of approach/task-based approach, it can work really well, provided the teacher/trainer does add value in subsequent stages. Certainly, in our case, for example, a more senior member of the group did provide some of the definitions from the literature in the follow-up discussion.)

Here are some of the distinctions that were discussed:

  • training has a structure imposed by a course/syllabus (so something external), development is structured by the individual (but has the danger of lacking any structure and becoming unwieldy)
  • the motivation for training tends to be extrinsic (a qualification, a work requirement, a better salary) while the motivation for development tends to be intrinsic (to learn!)
  • that there can be overlap: a workshop could be training for the receivers and developmental for the deliverer.
  • being trained feels different to being developed.

This last one I found interesting. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about development as being something that somebody else does to you (as evidenced by my bike ride thoughts). Perhaps it’s just semantics though, as of course the concept of being helped to develop is something with which I am fortunate enough to be very familiar!

Something else that came up in discussion, particularly in reference to “scholarship time” (hours that are timetabled and paid, specifically for development): the difficulty of knowing what to do with that time. It is only for full-time members of staff, so this is not something I have to had to grapple with personally (yet! I live in hope!), but it was very interesting to hear from people who do. It was put forward that it can be daunting to face this time and know what to do with it, in terms of “I want to develop but I’m not sure what to do or where to start”. It was recognised that not everybody wants to aim towards management (i.e. follow that linear route)  – which is certainly the case for me, no thanks! – but that in terms of salary, if you don’t go up that ladder, then you cannot earn more, because of how the pay structure works. Somebody mentioned that the question that is uppermost in their minds when doing something is “why am I doing this?” and described for example the situation of needing to do a particular qualification in order to stay in a job. The idea of a mentoring system was also suggested, where more experienced teachers would be available to help less experienced teachers approach their development.

There are several things that interested me within the discussion described in the above paragraph.

  • When I heard about “scholarship time”, my immediate reaction was, “Wow! That’s so cool! Having actual timetabled time for development stuff AND being paid for it!” And, as I mentioned here, I found the whole concept very teacher empowering. It didn’t occur to me to wonder what I would do with that time if I were a full-time member of staff. (I just thought that I’d have more time for all the development things I am used to doing in my own time!) Now, I wonder if all those things would count/be acceptable use of the time. Or, if some would and some wouldn’t, which would/wouldn’t and why? So, for example, my current materials writing work with Macmillan, where I am editing my ELTon materials to make them suitable for publication on Onestopenglish; now finished but I’ve put in a lot of hours of my own time into my journal article and book chapter, both of which are due out soon-ish (the journal article I believe early next year and the book chapter when the publication process is completed!); participating in #eltchat and #eltchinwag (which are like scholarship circles in themselves, only with a regularly changing focus!); blogging (both this blog and the one I co-manage with Sandy, Independent English); writing my column for the IH journal (not anymore, of course, as I no longer work at IH!); the corpus linguistics MOOC run by Lancaster University (which I am currently studying on); reading ELT-related literature; reflecting on, and making materials for, my learner autonomy projects (I would have been thrilled to have some time allocated to that when I was at IH!); certificate training courses like the IH certificate in teaching YL and the IH Tutor Training certificate that I did while at IHPA. (Having time timetabled for those, rather than it filling up the majority of my free time for the duration, would have been amazing too!); preparing IATEFL talks/online conference talks or webinars; watching webinars and talks online… and so on.
  • As is clear from the above point, being unsure what to do next hasn’t really been a problem for me! However, looking back over my career thus far, I can see that I HAVE had mentors even though I have never participated in a mentoring scheme. My CELTA tutors Beth and Cilla: I stayed in touch with them after the end of my CELTA, and emailing them telling them about my teaching was a rudimentary form of reflection that would later become more developed in other ways (e.g. Delta, M.A., blogging), in that I would think about what I did and tell them, from time to time. And they would respond, which I would learn more from. My M.A. tutors Heather, Naeema and Ivor: while doing my Delta/M.A. ELT, I learnt *how* to develop. Obviously from the Delta it came through the PDA (Personal Development Assignment) and the EP (Experimental Practice) parts of Module 2. From the M.A., though, I learnt how to do research, how to write up research, how to present research, how to write materials, how to write a journal article. And these are all things I’ve since used and will continue to use. (They are also things that I think would be really invaluable as INSETT sessions, as well as the usual “how to teach pronunciation” and “how to use technology x” type sessions.) Of course all these tutors as much as anything have been a source of encouragement and support, which has been invaluable. However, colleagues can be an equally valuable resource in helping one to develop. Sandy Millin springs to mind here. I met her through Twitter and have learnt a huge amount from her. Seeing her develop has also provided inspiration for my own development. Currently we also collaborate over at Independent English, as mentioned earlier. Additionally, I suppose I have been very opportunistic – seen opportunities to use the skills I mentioned above and gone for it. With the “there’s nothing to lose” mindset. I wonder if perhaps people are put off trying things because they think they aren’t/won’t be good enough? I think the learning and development comes through the trying, regardless of the outcome.
  • “Why am I doing this?” Well, I don’t want to be a manager (that may change but for now that is my feeling!), the teaching salary offered at the ELTC is plenty good enough for me (of course as a non-full-time teacher, the downside is lack of hours but hopefully they will grow in number!). I suppose partly it’s to make myself more employable (who doesn’t want some job security!) but a large part of it is also joy of learning and trying new things, cheesy as it sounds. I do really enjoy learning – reading, discussing, attending events like conferences, and challenging myself. It is also joy of creativity. Writing (materials or articles or blog posts) is an outlet for creativity for me, as is taking what I learn and finding ways to use it in the classroom then seeing what happens and building on that, all of which I love. As for attending and speaking at conferences: as well as all the learning, it’s so much fun! And all of this just also happens to be developmental too – bonus! Be this all as it may, what struck me is that I hadn’t really questioned this before the teacher raised the “Why” question. I had just accepted it as an enjoyable interesting part of my teaching career. (Have you asked “why” before? What answers did you find?)

Next session (in a month’s time I think it was) we are going to look at different models of development, which sounds like it should be very interesting. Meanwhile, flitting through my mind is the question “Was I/am I being developed or Was I/am I developing?” and also the question “How can I help other teachers in their developmental journey?”, rather than taking it for granted that it’s as straightforward for everyone else as it has been for me. (Mind you, I do think I have been extraordinarily lucky every step of my career so far!) I suppose this blog has been one way of helping, for example all the Delta posts I have written – I wonder if I could do anything else with it in the vein of helping people develop. Mind you, Sandy’s IH column would be a great place for anyone wanting development ideas, so maybe I could signpost my colleagues towards that, for starters. (And any of you out there looking for ideas, I suggest you have a look too!) I have actually thought of another possible way, but can’t go into that here and now. If the channel I am pursuing for it doesn’t work, then perhaps it will become a blog project too though! :-)

In conclusion, what a fascinating 45 minutes the circle was! (Although of course if you add on the bike ride and the length of time I’ve spent reflecting on what we spoke about since, 45 minutes is just the beginning…) Which also brings to mind my belief that a huge part of teacher development is motivation, and maintaining motivation. (Oh dear, don’t get me started on talking about motivation or this post will never end..!) Suffice to say, yesterday has certainly been a good injection of motivation for me.  I’m looking forward to the next session and wondering what I will achieve in the mean time. For now, though, editing ELTons materials beckons…

Scholarship Circles

In this post, I’m going to write about something that I had no knowledge of until I started working at Sheffield University this year: Scholarship Circles (SC). “Er, what is an SC?” I hear you say. (Well, at any rate, that was my first question when met with the term for the first time!) Don’t worry, just read on and all will become clear!


This is a form of teacher development.

Up till now, for me, CPD has mostly meant either something I do myself, in my own time – for example, seeking out opportunities to be published (materials writing, article writing etc), blogging, reading ELT-related literature, using Twitter and so on – or attending (and occasionally delivering) workshops at work. Of course it has also entailed being observed and being given feedback on that. IHPA had a good CPD programme, with regular workshops for teachers and encouragement to do things like write for the IH Journal and present at the IH teachers online conference. I was also lucky enough to be given leave in order to speak at IATEFL in the UK two years running.

Scholarship circles, however, rather than being either individually motivated projects or management-organised top-down fare, are teacher-led and collaborative. They can take many different forms, depending on teachers’ interests. It is not necessary for everybody to participate in the same circle at the same time (which is good because obviously that would be nigh on impossible with all the different timetables in place!). For example, you could have a reading circle, where members take turns to choose an article for the group to read, which is subsequently discussed by members together at an agreed time/location.


At Sheffield University, full-time teachers have three hours timetabled as “scholarship time” i.e. time allocated for CPD. That is to say, not in addition to the full timetable, but timetabled teaching hours were reduced by three hours to allow for this. It should add up to 90 hours over the academic year, so some weeks you may do more than three hours, others less. That’s fine, as long as it is recorded and you can show that you have fulfilled the obligation over the course of the year, as it is paid working time. As I said, teachers have to keep a record of how they use this time (a log is provided for this), so that they can demonstrate to have used it fruitfully. This includes things such as attending the (optional) workshops that are scheduled on a regular basis, delivering such a workshop, participating in scholarship circles and also individual endeavours such as working on a part-time PhD/Masters or doing a MOOC course. (I’m an hourly paid teacher currently, so I am not paid for “scholarship time”, BUT I may participate in as much of the CPD opportunities available as I care to, which is great!)

As far as Scholarship Circles go, anybody can set one up, on any area of interest. I have already mentioned the reading circle, which was set up jointly by two ELTC teachers, one of whom selected the article for the first meeting. Google docs is used as a way of organising the circles, so there is a document with a table containing each circle, its coordinator and meeting time. It can be edited by all teachers, so anybody can sign up for any circle or, indeed add a circle which others can sign up to. I have also signed up for a teacher education scholarship circle, which is for anybody who is interested in training teachers. The first meeting is tomorrow, so I can’t tell you anything about that yet! I am most excited about it, however.


What I like about scholarship circles is that they are teacher-led rather than being management-led like traditional CPD. It is up to teachers to decide what and when, according to their interests and availability. Obviously the reduction in teaching hours makes this kind of development a much more realistic prospect, both in terms of timetabling and motivation. The CPD programme as a whole seems to empower teachers, as it is up to teachers how they use their “scholarship time”, something that really appeals to me. It also recognises that everybody is at different places in their development and has different needs/interests, and enables these to be pursued rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

I really enjoyed the first meeting of the reading circle and volunteered to pick the article for the next session. Sessions are fortnightly to give time for article picking, sharing and reading. You can learn so much from the people you work with, just  by having time to do something like this – be it reading and discussing an article or any of the other circle focuses.

Over to you!

Have you ever participated in or organised a scholarship circle before? (Even if it didn’t go by that name!) If so, what did it entail? If you haven’t, do you think it would work in your workplace? Why?/Why not?

Really look forward to hearing about your experiences/thoughts on this. In exchange, I promise I’ll write about the first meeting of the teacher education circle! :)

Circles! (Taken from

Circles! (Taken from

New beginnings…

Yesterday evening, my upper intermediate General English course at Sheffield University’s ELTC started. I will be meeting this multilingual, multicultural group of students twice a week for the next 12 weeks (including this week). The course does not have an exam at the end, which is not something I have encountered often in my teaching career to date! The Social English class I taught on the 10 week pre-sessional at the university this year also wasn’t assessed as it was made up of students who had already met their conditions, but it wasn’t a four skills integrated standard course either. The only other occasion for me has been the continuous enrolment intensive courses at a private language school in Leeds that I taught on during the third semester of my M.A. but those were every day with continuously changing groups of students rather than twice a week with the same group. The course book for this course is New English File Upper Intermediate, another first for me, and we are using the version where it is broken down into book A and book B, so book A is the book for the next 12 weeks. I’m also planning to use all the learner autonomy materials I’ve developed during my couple of years at IHPA – the reading project, the experimenting with English project and so on. Finally, I am hoping to use the ELTon award-winning materials I wrote for my dissertation, as I haven’t worked in the UK since finishing them so it is a golden opportunity!

Yesterday’s class was the first class I’ve taught at the ELTC since finishing my CELTA there in March 2010. I *have* done two summer school pre-sessional programmes with the university since then (10 weeks this summer just gone, 10 weeks in the summer last year) but those take place elsewhere on campus rather than at the centre itself. It’s lovely being back the centre – it’s a purpose-built building, with lots of space and a wealth of resources. A lot of value is also placed on teacher development, which I am looking forward to exploiting in the coming months. Indeed, I had my first bit of training yesterday, when I attended a refresher session for using Smartboards combined with an introduction to using Google classroom. Fortunately the tech team have prepared “how to…” guides for both of these, which can be accessed via the teachers portal. It was a lot of information to take in at once! I fully intend to get to grips with both the Smartboard and Google classroom in the coming weeks: Google classroom is very similar to Edmodo, so my interest in that is hardly surprising, and the Smart Board has some potentially useful features. I’m sure it can do lots of fancy, advanced stuff too, but what stood out for me is that you can also do a range of little things with it, that enhance rather than take over your teaching. As I try them out and see how I (and the students) get on with them, I’ll share anything of interest that I learn here. Of course, Google classroom will tie in nicely with my above-mentioned learner autonomy projects.

Yesterday I also signed up for a free course delivered by Lancaster University, called Corpus Linguistics: Method Analysis, Interpretation. It’s an 8-week course which involves video lectures and interviews, tasks, discussions on a forum, and which allows you take from it what you want to take from it. I learnt about the existence of Corpus Linguistics and corpora during my M.A. ELT/Delta year at Leeds Met, and it’s something I’ve wanted to follow up on since those days but have lacked the time to do anything beyond using with my students and developing some materials to help me to do that. I’m hoping this course will give me the understanding and tools to use corpora more effectively, both for my own and my students’ learning.

All in all, my professional life is a very different picture from what it was this time last year, when I was just starting back at IHPA for a second year and about to embark on my IH tutor training certificate. As ever, I firmly believe this academic year will be what I make of it, and I plan to make as much of it as I possibly can, especially as there is no shortage of opportunity. After a quiet month or so on this blog (time off is good!), I hope to post more regularly again, both teaching-related and corpus linguistic course-related. Watch this space…

Watch this space!

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 21.59.37

My professional home now. :-)

My ELTon-winning materials have gone live on!*

*well, some of them have anyway! The rest will hopefully follow suit in due course…

Some of you might remember that I rather unexpectedly (so much so, that I found myself writing the speech I didn’t make after the event!) found myself standing on the stage at the ELTons award ceremony in May 2014.

Macmillan winner 3

In the interview (which you can see here if you click on the The Macmillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing tab on the right-hand side of the video screen), I explained that the materials were as yet only available on my hard drive.

Fast forward a year and a bit, to September 2015, and I can, with great pleasure, announce the appearance of my ELTon materials, the fruits of my dissertation project labour of love in 2013, at Leeds what was Metropolitan now Beckett University, on Macmillan’s Onestopenglish website! I have been working with Sarah Milligan from Macmillan to prepare my materials for publication on this website, which has been a great learning opportunity for me.

You can find the materials by clicking on either of the photos below:


Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 19.26.42

– I hope you enjoy using them – let me know how it goes if you do! (And yes, I know, yet again my name has been misspelt: good job I’m all too used to it! ;-) Correction hopefully to follow!)

Making general EAP more specific – academic writing

The 10-week pre-sessional programme at Sheffield University is an English for General Academic Purposes course rather than an English for Specific Academic Purposes course. This means that students learn general academic skills and vocabulary rather than subject specific. However, even working with a general EAP course book, like Oxford EAP, it is possible to tweak a lesson so that it links in with students’ academic fields, and, in my experience, this has a very beneficial effect on students’ engagement with the (often rather dry) lesson content, as the relevance and usefulness is clearer to them and the content more meaningful. I managed just such a lesson tweak in my most recent academic writing lesson (yesterday). Though far from being rocket science or anything particularly special, a few simple tweaks made a big difference, so I thought I’d share what I did here…

The aim of the lesson was for learners to be better able to write comparison essays, in terms of structure and complex comparison sentences using subordinators. The Oxford EAP spread was logical:

  • dividing a list of ideas corresponding to a given essay title by perspective (e.g. financial, social…)
  • focusing on the overall structure by getting students to match block and point-by-point outlines (with no content) to descriptions
  • matching outlines with content relating to the beginning essay title and evaluating the clarity of each
  • producing an outline for another essay title (using notes given to help)
  • identifying the chosen outline in a paragraph of text responding to another essay title and using this as a springboard for focusing on subordinators (highlighting, analysing, controlled practice)
  • writing a comparison essay (in response to another title)

My students are approximately 50% medicine, 50% dentistry in terms of field, so for this lesson I got them to sit grouped accordingly. Before starting on the above sequence, I encouraged them, in their groups, to brainstorm a list of comparisons they might make in their field. For example, in dentistry, they might compare systemic fluoridation with topical fluoridation (as I have discovered in the course of the project thread of this programme!). Once they had generated their lists, I asked them to look at each item and think of at least two perspectives from which they could compare their items. So, for the above example, it could be from a financial perspective or a health perspective. These are M.A. students to be, so they are interested in what they are going to study. Thus, starting the lesson in this way immediately grabbed their attention because it was fully relevant to them.

Having done that, with relevance of comparison essays established, we moved onto the OUP EAP sequence and worked through it up till the end of the controlled practice activity for subordinators. Then we returned to the information generated in the above-described opening sequence, from which they selected a comparison and produced an outline (choosing a block or point-by-point structure) based on that, thus linking the learning back to their field. They also wrote some complex sentences, using subordinators, comparing their chosen items from their chosen perspectives. This was far more engaging than writing sentences in response to a random essay title that they didn’t really care about. Obviously in an EGAP course these are inevitable, but even on such courses it definitely pays to be on the look out for ways of linking the general content back to the specific disciplines. (Without needing to be an expert in those fields, of course!)

Next week we are looking at problem-and-solution essays: hopefully I can make these as engaging as comparison essays turned out to be!

Yay, writing! ;-)

Yay, writing! ;-) (Image licensed for commercial reuse with modification)