An American student writes in his essay, “Every morning, I eat corn flakes for breakfast.”
His English Comp instructor thinks, “Boring. Many Americans eat corn flakes.”
An ESL student from China writes on her essay, “Every morning, I eat corn flakes for breakfast.” Her English Comp instructor thinks, “Wow! That’s interesting! They eat corn flakes for breakfast in China too!”
Please note: I just discovered that there had been some formating problems with this post, so I’ve revised it.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
This posting is discussed on my YouTube video Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates—A Writing Technique
It can be liberating to ESL students to realize that almost anything that they can include in their essays/papers about their culture and country will probably be interesting to their American instructors. This is a great advantage that they have over their American classmates.
However, just encouraging them to include this kind of information in their essays often results in paragraphs like this one from an essay about raising children:
In addition to teaching skills, parents sometimes need to discipline a child who misbehaves. Some people will spank their children in order to get their attention and redirect them. However, in my country, parents very rarely do this.
The writer did include information from his country, but he missed an opportunity to exploit this information and make it more remarkable. After being asked for more details, the writer revised the end of the paragraph:
… However, in my country, parents very rarely do this. Instead, if a child refuses to listen to his mother or throws a tantrum, his mother will tell him to stand outside the house. The worse thing that can happen to someone in my culture is to be excluded from the group, so this type of punishment can be very effective.
An Inductive Approach to Teaching this Technique (and handout exercises)
Our challenge as ESL Writing instructors is to help students see that the details about their country/culture are what will be most stimulating to the readers. By using an inductive approach, we can effectively lead them to this awareness. This means that instead of just showing them some samples and expecting them to internalize the technique, we have them interact with samples. Though that process, they will formulate their own understanding of it.
For example, we can juxtapose two sample paragraphs and ask students to identify the one which includes details about the country.
To help students better internalize this technique, we can assign Exercise 2, in which they apply it in a writing task.
Needless to say, this technique will not be conducive to every topic that students write. However, if they are aware of this tool, they will be able to draw upon it in order to not only clarify their ideas but also engage and even entertain their readers.
If you would like to try out this technique with your students, you can download two exercises which use the inductive approach here. Giving information about your country.