(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)*
A student of mine once wrote an essay about requiring parenting courses for future parents. In her essay, she mentioned her husband and 2-year-old child, which made for powerful support. I was quite surprised because, up until then, I had no idea that she was married, much less a mother. While conferencing with her, I told her about my surprise; she smiled and said that it was not true; she had just made it up.
Wow! What a clever idea!
At that moment, I realized the huge potential this held for encouraging students to use their creativity. Since one of the goals of assigning an argumentation essay in an ESL writing class is to encourage students to practice using a variety of techniques to support their opinions, it makes perfect sense to let them use their imaginations. Because we are just practicing in preparation for academic class assignments, it shouldn’t matter whether or not the source information, whether its news, personal experience or others’ experiences, is actually true. As long as they understand that making up information is only acceptable for our ESL class, there is no harm, but rather, it’s liberating. Instead of spending time trying to find support online and worrying about plagiarism, students can focus on the real purpose of the assignment: organizing the essay, introducing their support with natural expressions, introducing the other side’s support and refutation with common academic expression and supporting their opinion with a variety of techniques.
Some expressions that we’d like them to “try out” are:
Expressions that we’d like them to try to incorporate are:
According to a news report, …
A news story told about, …
For example, I heard about a man who …
Some people disagree with my opinion. They think …
In response, I would say …
Beside the creativity involved, students tend to be more willing to choose challenging topics because they are liberated from the idea that they need research to find support. For example, a student recently wrote an essay in which he argued against mandatory military service. He wrote, “According to the New York World News, 70% of former soldiers who had been forced to join the military had major challenges when trying to adjust to their former lives.” I knew that the source and information was totally fabricated, but he presented it logically and in an academic style. The logic and style is what will transfer to his writing in future academic classes.
To practice support techniques, I give my students the attached activity. Argumentation types of support HO
In it, they are introduced to four types of support:
____ Personal experience
____ Others’ experience
____ Hypothetical situation
____ Common knowledge
For more, similar writing techniques, see Writing Strategies
*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.