Category: Recommended Resources

Review: Writing – Learn to write better academic essays

Review: Writing – Learn to write better academic essays

I teach a lot of EAP and particularly essay writing classes, but have as yet not found a textbook to work with that I’m entirely happy with. Ever on the look-out, I came across the Collins EAP series, winner of the ELTon 2014 Innovation in Learner Resources Award, and more specifically:

Van Geyte, E., Writing: Learn to write better academic essays (Collins, 2013)

As we can see from the title, this is actually a self-study guide (with an answer key), but it seemed suitable for my students as it’s aimed at those on pre-sessional EAP courses or in their first year of undergraduate study. The word ‘better’ in the title also highlights that this is a book aimed at building students’ writing skills, for example moving from tests like IELTS or TOEFL to ‘proper’ academic papers.

The book is set up so that students, or classes, can work through it from start to finish, or dip in to the chapters most relevant for their current learning goals. In total, there are 11 chapters, which cover various study skills related to academic writing and language points relevant for written expression. The chapters are consistently structured, which makes for easy orientation, each including brief aims, a self-evaluation quiz, information on the chapter’s writing focus, practical exercises, and key reminders. Throughout the chapters, there are also ‘Tips’, and some more advanced vocabulary is explained in glossary boxes. The author estimates that it would take about 3-4 hours to complete one chapter. There are also lists of useful phrases and annotated sample essays at the end of the book, which are authentic examples of students’ work from a variety of subject areas.

Overall, this book takes a process approach to composition, though it also includes sections on evaluating and improving essays as a product. There is a nice emphasis on the development of learning and growing as an academic, fitting writing in to the students’ progression through their degree. It’s also good that the author highlights the importance of students informing themselves about the requirements and expectations at their specific institution / within their specific department, and not merely relying on this book for reference. I find this particularly important with regard to certain conventions. For example, the ‘Thesis Statements’ shown in the book are more statements of intention and outline, which may not be in-keeping with some disciplines and stand in contrast to most American published writing textbooks.

Within the chapters, the practical exercises, e.g. re-capping key terms, analysing example texts, are neatly spread throughout the sections, so they’re not only at the ends of the complete chapters. Nonetheless, these exercises are sometime rather short and perhaps slightly too specific, so they don’t always seem to be checking understanding of the whole section. Many of the example texts included are students’ answers to IELTS/TEOFL-type exams, and are authentic student-written texts, though I worry that these are not necessarily the best models for the ‘real’ academic papers students will have to write at university.

From the very first chapters, the focus is on writing essays, thus mimicking the process students will likely follow when dealing with coursework writing tasks. However, paragraph structure is touched on only briefly, and elements such as Topic Sentences and ‘one main idea per paragraph’ are somewhat lacking emphasis for my liking. Likewise, the ‘narrowing down the topic’ in an essay’s introduction, or the functions of a good conclusion (vs. summary) are not really emphasized. I think this is where we can see that the book is really aimed at those students who have some initial academic writing experience, perhaps in their main language, and need to expand on this to be successful at university. For an introductory EAP course there may be too little emphasis on these aspects of writing, though this might be less problematic if the book is used to supplement other teaching materials, as it could then function as homework preparation or a summary of the points covered in class.

A definite advantage of this book over composition textbooks aimed at native-speaker undergraduates is the good level of focus on the language of academic writing. I particularly like the ‘modesty’ (=cautious language) section and the ‘Authority’ chapter, though students will need some understanding of the metalanguage used to talk about language in this way. I have to say, I’m not entirely convinced that the general ‘Accuracy’ chapter is necessary in a book on writing, since these are language points that perhaps belong more in general EFL textbooks or other reference works. Instead, the critical thinking section may warrant more attention, and it also is important to note that the ‘Reading Comprehension’ chapter focuses mainly on sentence structures. Still, the ‘Research’ chapter does a very good job at clearly explaining and demonstrating note-taking from sources and making decisions about what information to include in an essay. Similarly commendable is the chapter on ‘Integrity’, which takes a more positive approach to using sources effectively for one’s writing, rather than simply avoiding plagiarism. It frames citing, quoting, and paraphrasing as one of many academic conventions to follow, thus removing students’ fear of plagiarism.

At the end of the book, chapter 11  – ‘Essay process and presentation’ – came as a slight surprise, as the entire book leads the students through the process of writing, though it does include some further information on drafting (which could come earlier?) and using tutors’ feedback – though this last point is also covered in Appendix 2. Appendix 1 presents full sample essays annotated with positive and negative comments, which are undoubtedly useful models for students. In Appendix 3, we find a list of ‘Useful Phrases’. I’m not generally a fan of such lists, as I prefer to encourage students to notice useful language from the source texts they read in their field/subject area, though these phrases may provide comforting scaffolding for students writing their first academic papers.

In general, then, this book provides a clearly-written and practical guide through the process of writing a university essay. I’m not convinced that it would be most effectively employed as the main text of an essay writing class, though it definitely includes elements very beneficial helping students to develop into academic writers, and I would absolutely recommend it as a supplementary resource for EAP learners.

Review: Oxford EAP (Upper-Intermediate/ B2)

Review: Oxford EAP (Upper-Intermediate/ B2)

With many thanks to my colleagues with whom I have had endless discussions about this textbook!

This series of attractively-designed textbooks piqued our interest as soon as we heard about it! My review focuses on: de Chazal, E & McCarter,S ( 2012) Oxford EAP A Course in English for Academic Purposes. Upper Intermediate/B2. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 

OEAP Up Int

The books are divided into units, which are each further divided into four sections (reading, writing, speaking, listening) plus a vocabulary page. Each unit deals with one topic, and audio and video materials are provided on a DVD which accompanies the student’s book as standard. The student’s books also include a very useful language reference section, glossary, and a key to the exercises.

The official description of the series from the OUP website states that:

Oxford EAP provides a course that is inclusive and international with a strong focus on the core skills needed for academic study, catering for the needs of EAP teachers and students across the globe.

One issue we faced, though, was that the range of topics was really very wide, thus a number of sections dealt with topics too far off what our students study, so they were less able to engage with them to achieve good language-learning results. Nonetheless, the topics and materials are accessible to non-experts, and the reaction may be different with another cohort of learners. This may also be less of an issue in EAP groups preparing students for study in different disciplines. As a further note, some examples show conventions more acceptable in some fields than others (such as use of first person in writing, or explicit Thesis Statements), so tutors will need to highlight this for students.

The series sells itself on its modular structure, which OUP says will enable teachers (and learners) to be flexible in selecting the relevant units for their own goals and priorities. They also suggest that this flexibility makes the books appropriate for both pre-sessional and in-sessional EAP courses. In my experience, this is true only to a limited extent, depending on the context. Most university terms run for 15-20 weeks, and unless they are intensive courses I doubt that any group would manage to complete a book in this time. In my context, we used the listening & speaking sections in one term and the writing (and some reading) for another 15-week term. I personally felt quite pressured to get through the units I had chosen, since there are so many exercises, which often build on each other and cannot be omitted. And indeed, students won’t want to omit too much if they have paid out for a textbook!

That said, the exercises are on the whole very worthwhile and provide a straight-forward introduction to key academic skills, with the majority of the input being authentic materials from OUP’s other academic textbooks – a major selling point of this series! The skills, for example presenting, reading academic texts, listening in academic contexts, essay writing, and seminar speaking skills, are introduced and practised progressively throughout various units, and the language and skills are well integrated, for instance by using example sentences which pertain to the unit’s topic to demonstrate the language structures. The vocabulary pages seemed to be targeted accurately at the B2 level, and are ideal for self-study.

Our students have a pretty strong command of English (good upper intermediates) but need to cover the basics of academic working. With this goal in mind, my colleagues and I liked many of the listening activities, particularly listening to lectures in units 1 & 9. The sections on presentations and speaking on seminars were also all worthwhile. Some of the videos exemplifying presentations are held by other EFL students – this makes them highly authentic, but our students did notice some mistakes in their speech, and sometimes took them into their own language production. Therefore, it is important to note that these videos are not always a good model for language, though of the skill being trained (e.g. presenting). The language activities in the B2 book were sometimes a bit too easy for our students, though most probably benefited from the re-cap of previously learnt lexis and structures.  Indeed, one colleague commented:

It wasn’t really clear to me whether users of this book would be aiming for B2 on the CEFR, or whether the aim was to take them from B2 up to the linguistically dizzy heights of C1!

However, I’d say the skills presented are definitely appropriate for this level. In fact, the C1 (Advanced) book, in comparison, is more aimed at students entering doctoral programmes. (As for rest of the series, I’m not sure A2 learners need an EAP book! But that is a discussion for another time!) For undergraduates, the writing sections in this Upper Intermediate book do a commendable job of introducing and expanding on essay writing, particularly: starting the process, topic sentences, paragraphs, essay introductions, essay conclusions, comparison essays, citation and referencing, and argument essays. Some further practice on paraphrasing, or some longer example essays would also be helpful, though these are probably found in other levels within the series.

Overall, the Oxford EAP textbooks have a large number of good selling points, and the Upper Intermediate book ranks among the best I’ve seen for EAP at this level. In general, it does a good job at achieving its aim of preparing students for academic work in English at university. Nonetheless, the length and scope may turn out to be drawbacks for some contexts, and, as with any coursebook, working with it will require some pretty detailed planning and materials selection on the part of the teacher.

 

You can find other reviews of this book / series here:

de Chazal, E & McCarter,S ( 2012) Oxford EAP A Course in English for Academic Purposes. Upper Intermediate/B2. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=340359669608147;res=IELHSS

 

English Language Teaching: Organisations you should know about

Teaching can sometimes be a rather lonely pursuit, especially for ELT teachers away from home  in foreign countries. It can also be a rather homogenising experience, if you’re teaching in a specific context and only really have contact with teachers in the same situation as you. In both situations, I think many ELT teachers miss out on the chance to hear about the current debates, research, trends, methods/approaches, etc that are being shared around the world. I believe that some sort of networking and sharing of ideas beyond a teacher’s immediate context is a key aspect of professional development.

The purpose of this post, then, is to provide a few links and tips that will help ELT teachers find this big world of ELT beyond their teaching situation and get them ‘networked’ with other teachers, to facilitate inspiration and development as a teacher. The list does not pretend to be complete; please feel free to add further links in the comments below. Also, I’m focusing somewhat on the German-speaking world since that’s where I am based and know most about what’s going on. Still, the first three links are of global appeal, and I hope that the list will be helpful for teachers in a wide range of contexts and locations!

 

IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)

http://www.iatefl.org/

If I could only recommend one organisation, this would be it. I’ve been a member for a number of years and the conferences and publications have been a constant source of inspiration and professional development opportunities. Double thumbs up from me!

Based in the UK. They say about themselves: “With over 4,000 members IATEFL is one of the most thriving communities of ELT teachers in the world. Our mission [is] to “Link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals” worldwide”.

As a member, you get a bimonthly copy of the ‘Voices’ mini-journal/newsletter with information about research and events going on in ELT around the world, a free copy of ‘Conference Selections’ with summaries of presentations given at the latest annual conference, free membership in a Special Interest Group with newsletters and events, a cheaper registration rate for the annual conference, and cheaper subscriptions to some of the leading journals in the field (e.g. ELT Journal).

Their next big annual conference is going to be in Manchester in April 2015, find out more here: http://www.iatefl.org/annual-conference/about-the-annual-conference

Each month, they provide provide a free webinar held by a famous name in the field. For details of the upcoming webinars (on topics such as coursebook evaluation, intercultural training, teaching with technology) see here: http://www.iatefl.org/webinars

 

TESOL International Association

http://www.tesol.org/home

They see themselves as a “global and collaborative community committed to creating a world of opportunity through teaching English to speakers of other languages.”  And say about themselves: “For nearly 50 years, TESOL International Association has been bringing together educators, researchers, administrators, and students to advance the profession of teaching English to speakers of other languages. With more than 12,000 members representing 156 countries, and more than 100 worldwide affiliates, TESOL offers everyone involved in English language teaching and learning an opportunity to be part of a dynamic community, where professionals like you connect with and inspire each other to achieve the highest standards of excellence.” See here for a brief introduction: http://www.tesol.org/docs/membership/tesol-brochure.pdf?sfvrsn=2

The host a large annual conference of which I have only heard good reviews (see: http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/international-convention ), and provide publications and an online resource-bank, and guidelines for best practice in ELT. They also create a newsletter and have lively online discussion groups on specific interests within ELT. Webinars and online courses complement their busy programme of symposiums and conferences (though the time-difference makes webinars slightly problematic for those living in Europe!).  See here for the full programme: http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/online-courses-seminars  and  http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/symposiums-academies )

If you visit their website you will see that the homepage is very ‘busy’ and not always easy to navigate, but I think this simply reflects the variety of services and activities TESOL International Association offer and are involved in. If you have the time to click through, you will definitely find something that is relevant for you – whether you are a student, teacher, teacher-trainer, materials writer, etc. Definitely a thumbs up from me!

 

Teaching English – British Council

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/

This is slightly different from the other associations listed here as it is mainly an online community. That makes it especially interesting to those who cannot travel to conferences, etc, and/or don’t have much spare cash to spend on memberships and travel costs. Why register with TE? They say: “Registration on this site is totally free and allows you to interact with other users as well as add comments and download certain material. You can:

  • build your own profile in an international online community;
  • access our tools for teachers;
  • join monthly online workshops;
  • watch our teaching tips videos;
  • sign up for a variety of teacher training courses;
  • join in discussions with teachers around the world.”

The online discussion forums are really lively and cover an enormous range of topics. They also offer free webinars and instructional videos and articles, as well as training courses and workshops, both as self-study and with a trainer (see: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/teacher-training ). There is also free access to a number of journals and research publications via the site (see: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications ). Again, double thumbs-up!

 

TEA (Teachers of English in Austria)

http://www.tea4teachers.org/joomla/

They say about themselves: “As the only national association appealing to the needs of teachers and future teachers of English at all levels, TEA is concerned with helping to better the overall competencies of teachers of English in Austria by a commitment to excellence through international cultural exchange. Of equal importance, TEA is also a platform for the exchange of ideas that leads to overall improvement in the effective teaching of the English language.”

Members have access to a free online-journal and receive discounts at various cultural establishments around Austria (mainly Vienna). They also host an annual conference and a number of workshops and summer schools, see here: http://www.tea4teachers.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=35&Itemid=2

For me, what’s interesting about TEA is that their learners are German speakers, which means that a lot of what they do is directly relevant to my own teaching situation. But they do cover a wide range of contexts: young learners, adults, university, secondary school, business English, etc. So there will probably be something of interest to lots of you! Their conferences are naturally smaller than those of the international associations mentioned above, but that also means that the costs are lower, and the events are less overwhelming for new teachers / students.

 

German Association for Teachers of English (GATE)

http://englisch-und-mehr.de/wp/

Since this association is part of a larger umbrella organisation in Germany for teachers of all foreign languages, not everything is available in English (some parts of the website are still only in German). Not everything here will be relevant for everyone, particularly those teaching outside of Germany, and there is a real focus on secondary education. Nonetheless, they say about themselves: “The German Association for Teachers of English, English and more (E&M e. V.), represents the interests of teachers of English as a foreign language, irrespective of types of school and age of students. It also addresses academic staff in the fields of adult education and in-company language trainers.”

As a member, you get two magazines aimed at school teachers of EFL, a newsletter about teaching English in Germany, and can participate in their local and national conferences. Their website provides tips on lesson planning, articles on quality development, and information aimed different school-types in different Federal States. I think this organisation is of most relevance to those teaching English in German secondary schools; but if that is you, then it has quite a lot of very specific information.

 

MELTA (Munich English Language Teachers Association)

http://www.melta.de/

This is a more local organisation, aimed really at teachers based in and around the Munich area. Anyone is free to join, though, and to go along to conferences, talks, workshops, etc that they regularly organise. They often have famous speakers and themed one-day “conferences” on specific areas of ELT. Their welcome is warm, and the newsletter (free for members) is very informative, if sometimes very Munich-oriented. I think the best aspect of such local organisations (more are listed below) is the networking opportunity that joining provides. For such a small organisation, MELTA is very active and offers a wide range of events and professional development opportunities – (local) thumbs up!

 

Other regional organisations in Germany:

These are the clickable links to other ELT organisations in Germany which are similar to MELTA:

ELTAF (The English Language Teachers’ Association Frankfurt / Rhine-Main-Neckar)

English Language Teachers’ Association Berlin-Brandenburg

English Language Teachers Association Ostwestfalen-Lippe (ELTAOWL)

English Language Teacher’s Association Stuttgart

The English Language Teachers’ Association Ulm/Neu-Ulm 

Hamburg English Language Teaching Association

 

Other useful links:

A list of more ELT organisations (all of which are affiliated with IATEFL) in your country, here: http://www.iatefl.org/associates/list-of-associate-members

Links für Englischlehrer in Deutschland: http://www.wagner-juergen.de/englisch/

 

 

Resources for Writing Academic Essays

Here are some more useful resources – this time based on writing academic essays. There are lots of discussion threads about this topic in various online forums, which can be confusing for students and teachers, so I thought I’d share the list of resources I recommend:

WEBSITES
MLA Citation style, the basics: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/

APA Citation Style, the Basics: http://www.apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/basics-tutorial.aspx

Chicago Citation Style, a quick guide, http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

A plagiarism tutorial: http://tutorials.sjlibrary.org/tutorial/plagiarism/tutorial/introduction.htm?flash=no

The University of Edinburgh, Academic Essay Writing: Some Guidelines: http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/study/undergrad/essays/

Using English for Academic Purposes: A Guide for Students in Higher Education – Academic Writing: http://www.uefap.com/writing/writfram.htm

BOOKS

Altenberg, E.P., English Grammar: Understanding the Basics (Cambridge U.P., 2010)

Bailey, S., Academic Writing: A Handbook for International Students (London: Routledge, 2006)

Cottrell, S., Critical Thinking Skills (Palgrave, 2005)

Cottrell, S., Skills for Success (Palgrave, 2010)

Creme, P., & Lea, M.R., Writing at University: A Guide for Students (OUP, 2008)

Gillet, A., Hammond, A. & Martala, M., Inside Track: Successful Academic Writing (Pearson/Longman, 2009)

Oshima, A. & Hogue, A., Writing Academic English (Pearson/Longman, 2006)

McWhorter, K., Study & Critical Thinking Skills in College (New York: HarperCollins, 1996)

Savage, A., et al, Effective Academic Writing (OUP, 2006)

Snow, A., Zwier,L.J., & Zimmerman,C.B. (eds), Q: Skills for Success – Reading and Writing (OUP, 2011)

Resources for Giving Oral Presentations

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful for teaching EFL students how to give good presentations – focussing on structure and langauge etc. Maybe you’ll find them helpful too!
WEBSITES

Brunel University’s centre for excellence guide to delivering presentations. http://www.brunel.ac.uk/learnhigher/giving-oral-presentations/delivering-your-presentation.shtml

Gillet, Andy. Using English for Academic Purposes: A Guide for Students in Higher Education: Speaking in Academic Contexts. http://www.uefap.co.uk/speaking/spkfram.htm.

BBC Key Skills, Effective Presentations: http://www.bbc.co.uk/keyskills/comms/level3/module3/1.shtml

The Open University, Giving Presentations: http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=398876&direct=1

University of Surrey, Communications: Oral Presentations: http://www3.surrey.ac.uk/Skills/pack/pres.html

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (specifically to check pronunciation of words): http://www.oxfordadvancedlearnersdictionary.com/?cc=global

BBC World Service / Learning English, Better Speaking: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/webcast/tae_betterspeaking_archive.shtml

English Media Lab, English Intonation Exercise: http://www.englishmedialab.com/pronunciation/upper-intermediate%20intonation%20exercise.htm

The New Okanagan College, English Pronunciation/Listening: http://international.ouc.bc.ca/pronunciation/

BOOKS

Bell, D., Passport to Academic Presentations (Garnet 2008)

Cottrell, S., Critical Thinking Skills (Palgrave, 2005)

Cottrell, S., Skills for Success (Palgrave, 2010)

Cottrell, S., The Study Skills Handbook (Palgrave, 2008)

Grussendorf, M., English for Presentations (OUP, 2007)

James,K., Jordan,R.R., Matthews,A. & O’Brien,J.P., Listening Comprehension and Note-Taking Course (London: Collins/Nelson, 1991).

McWhorter, K., Study & Critical Thinking Skills in College (New York: HarperCollins, 1996)