Tag: TLEAP

Writing EAP Materials: Keeping Academic English Lessons Engaging (Tania’s Tips)

Writing EAP Materials: Keeping Academic English Lessons Engaging (Tania’s Tips)

Back in May, I was lucky enough to attend Tania Pattison’s talk at the IATEFL conference in Belfast. The underlying message of her talk was that materials for teaching and learning academic English do not have to be as dry and dull as some people might have in mind. And I think that’s an important message to get out there! Tania’s talk presented some useful tips and reminders for those of us in EAP and materials writing fields, which I’d like to summarise in this post. 

TL;DR Summary

In order to be effective and engaging, EAP materials, especially at higher levels where students have done a lot of the same topics several times, need to be:

  • fresh,
  • relevant,
  • inspirational,
  • challenging,
  • and manageable.

FRESH Topics & Perspectives

Academic (and all?) English materials should include fresh or new topics so that they are engaging and interesting when students become engrossed in a topic and start exploring all the many directions that you can go with the information or perspectives on it. In this way, students are likely to want to discuss it, and thus use and practise useful language and skills to do so. Even if the topic isn’t entirely new, we might still be able to come up with fresh types of activities to get our students engaged in deep learning.

RELEVANT Input & Activities

The content topics, as well as the language and skills practised, need to be relevant to students’ current and or future academic concerns, as well as their lives and professions. In popular science and science journalism, for example, we might discover new innovations or specific topics that are related to our students’ academic subjects.

Tania’s examples here include looking at what happens in the body and brain when people use digital screens excessively, for example comparing the effects to coffee, or looking at symptoms such as insomnia and negative mental health. This is probably relevant to most students, and has a clear connection to biology as an academic subject. 

The activities we ask students to do of course also need to be relevant to their academic progress. So, it makes sense to be doing things like analysing and discussing commonly held beliefs to promote critical thinking, as well as applying concepts to their own everyday lives, professions or study subjects. As I have recently written elsewhere, even activities like comparing and contrasting near-synonyms’ meanings and usage patterns activates these kinds of thinking skills while helping with vocabulary learning. 

INSPIRATIONAL Ideas

It helps with learning if materials include inspirational content. When students are impressed by the idea, person or place that they are hearing about, it can stoke their ambitions and promote deeper engagement with the topic and thus with their learning.

Tania’s examples here include reading or hearing about explorers, researchers, successful sports people, and so on. To link this with academic language and skills, students could, for example, conduct a SWOT analysis of teams or projects, and evaluate the factors in their success. This kind of activity would not only engage higher order thinking skills and promote advanced level language use/practise, but may also function to inspire the students to adopt certain elements leading to success.

CHALLENGING Different Skills

I think that most of us would agree that language learning materials need to be linguistically challenging for the students, and not too easy. Ideally, we’d like them to be working in their zone of proximal development, so there is a motivating challenge to the work that we are asking them to do. In EAP, it’s also beneficial to include challenges on thinking critically, evaluating new angles, and/or responding appropriately following academic conventions.

Thus, materials could encourage students to think outside of the box, to give and justify a stance, or to provide a critical review of something. The input could also involve an academic expression of attitude or stance, perhaps in contrast to a less formal expression of opinion, so that students are challenged not only to engage with the content, but also to identify language features that may be useful for their own work.

MANAGEABLE Expectations

Nonetheless, the level of challenge in any learning materials needs to be manageable. In EAP, this means materials being targeted at an achievable level of difficulty, both linguistically and with regard to students’ academic career – so in their academic and critical thinking skills, too.

The aim of an EAP programme is to bridge the gap between the current level the students are working at and the “real” academic texts and input that they will need to deal with in their studies, by making the topics accessible and easier to process. This may include training generally useful and relevant academic vocabulary and language – not necessarily discipline-specific terminology –  or employing things like infographics and other visuals, plus training on study skills and elements of English that are specific to academic usages.

University students face high expectations in many different areas of life, so the EAP materials we design/use should help them to progress and manage the challenge, without adding to their overwhelm.  Tania’s idea here would be to find topics that are clearly connected to students’ academic study subjects, but approached from a more everyday life perspective.

SUMMARY

In conclusion, then, EAP materials should enable students to learn something new in terms of language, facts/content, skills and perspectives. They should be fresh, relevant, inspirational, challenging and manageable. Then, the materials are likely to be motivating and help students to develop their confidence, and their language and academic skills, to face the challenges of studying at university through the medium of English.

And finally, thank you to Tania for (yet another) interesting and inspiring talk, providing these tips and reminders for us!

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Introducing #tleap

Introducing #tleap

TLEAP: Teaching & Learning in EAP

Issues in EAP Discussion Group

tleap

#tleap is an active online community of EAP professionals who discuss issues and share ideas regarding English for academic purposes. The members are EAP teachers and others who are interested in this area of language teaching, from adjunct tutors to full-time lecturers, and even materials writers and policy makers. The purpose of the #tleap community is to discuss relevant pedagogical, logistical, and research-based issues with others, and to give those involved in EAP a voice that may otherwise go unheard.

#tleap evolved from the #EAPchat Twitter hashtag set up by Tyson Seburn, Adam Simpson, and Sharon Turner, and has now spread across a variety of social media platforms, also thanks to Kate Finegan, to enable and encourage wider participation. You can join in for free here:

Twitter: #tleap

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Google+https://plus.google.com/communities/114679086713772400315


#tleap hosts biweekly discussion on Facebook: A focussed discussion point is posted on the 1st and 15th of every month. Please feel free to add your ideas to it and share widely. If there’s something you’d like to discuss, please add to this list: http://bit.ly/1OnYoWM.

16831997_10154781603762489_7689240778587431825_n.jpg#tleap also hosts bimonthly discussion chats on Twitter- look out for the next one!

The chat and discussion archievs are freely available, along with more information on the #tleap community, here http://tiny.cc/tleap

#tleap thrives on the contributions of members! You can start a new post on any of the paltforms anytime you have a question or wish to share something relevant for the group. Comments are always welcome on all posts.  With any blog, research article, or question, you can also always add the #tleap hashtag to your tweets to get everyone in our community to notice and engage.

We would love to welcome new members to the #tleap community, so please join in and share #tleap with your colleagues!

We look forward to hearing from you!