(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
A frequent type comment by teachers, “I always look forward to reading these essays. They often give me new insights into my students and their cultures.”
A frequent type comment by students, “When I heard that we would write a complete essay about one word, I thought it would be impossible. But after I chose a good word, I really enjoyed writing this.”
Another frequent type comment by students, “This was the most challenging essay for me, but in the end, it was the most rewarding.”
Many ESL Writing books and instructors overlook this essay mode because they don’t realize its secret potential. It’s the Definition Essay. The potential lies in the type of words that the students write about.
Traditional Definition essays can be very unstimulating for the students to write and for the teachers to read. There are two major reasons for this:
(1) The category of topics from which to choose provides little opportunity for ESL students to feel truly invested in it.
(2) The students are given few specific or poorly designed techniques which they can use.
The Dynamic Definition Essay: Category of Topics and Specific Techniques
In general, teachers can lose credibility in the eyes of their students by asking them what they want to learn. The teacher is the professional in the room and should know what the students should study.
However, there are situations in which former students’ insights can be valuable. Surveying these students about what would have been helpful for them to have learned in our classes from their new perspective can give us an awareness of students’ needs beyond our classrooms.
Example of needs-analysis surveys of former students
1 Sixty-five percent of men who take jeans into a fitting room of a store will buy them, but only 25% of women will do that.
2 Four percent of people shopping for computers on a Saturday morning will buy one, compared to 21% who will buy one after 5 p.m.
3 Eight percent of shoppers in a store that sells houseware use shopping baskets. Also, 75% of the people who use a basket will, in fact, buy something, as opposed to 34% of the shoppers who don’t use a basket.
4 Information about customers’ shopping patterns like those that are described above can help store owners make decisions that improve the sales in their stores.
(This posting includes handouts which you are welcome to use with your students.)
See Reading Units: Reading for Insights (Introduction)for an introduction to these reading units.
Article & Study Guide for Science of Shopping (and excerpts)