In addition to having logical organization, the other two aspects of good academic writing are connecting ideas and having control of grammar.
A problem we sometimes see with ESL writing is that their paragraphs look like just a list of ideas. In other words, their writing lacks coherence.
As writing instructors, we can teach them techniques for bridging sentences within a paragraph to show the reader how they are connected. Two important techniques for doing this are:
Subordinators & Transitional Expressions
1) Use subordinators. These are words like when, after, while, if, although, because.
For example, a student writes: We decided to visit Thailand. We didn’t know much about that culture.
To make the connection between these two sentences clearer to the reader and the point s/he is trying to make, the writer could write:
We decided to visit Thailand because we didn’t know much about that culture.
We decided to visit Thailand even though we didn’t know much about that culture.
2) Use transitional expressions. These are words that usually come at the start of sentence, for example, However, Therefore, As a result, In addition.
We didn’t know much about Thai culture. As a result, we decided to visit Thailand.
We didn’t know much about Thai culture. However, we decided to visit Thailand.
Control of Grammar
You don’t need to be an expert in grammar to help your students with their writing. But, without a doubt, your students will ask you to help them with this. The more you know, the more credibility you will have in the eyes of your students.
Before teaching my first ESL class for the Peace Corps in Niger, I was given only a brief introduction to grammar so much of the grammar that I know today was learned on the job. When a student asked me about a grammar point which I didn’t know the answer to (and this happened almost every day at the start), I told them that I’d tell them the next day. After class I would consult with an experienced teacher or a grammar book. And I made sure to follow up with the student.
Fortunately, if you are a writing teacher, you can “get by” at first if you understand a few basic grammar terms. I.e., you don’t need to explain the rules, just know the terms. Some of these terms are: subject, verb, verb tense, conjunction, clauses, prepositions, participle and gerunds.
Most of the time, when you are working with students’ writing assignments, you are helping them identify their mistakes and leading them to correct them. For example, you might point out that they have a verb tense mistake in a sentence. Usually, you won’t need to explain what “verb tense” means.
For more information about grammar terms and how to help students with the grammar in their writing, see my Dec. 5th post: “Teacher/Tutor Training: How to lead ESL Students to Discover their Grammar Mistakes on Writing Assignments.”