Writing Outstanding First Sentences on Essays (Applying Critical Think Techniques)

critical thinking

Critical Thinking

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

“I change my nickname each time I start a new term.”

“They live in the second poorest country in the world and have one of the shortest life-expectancy, but they rarely suffer from depression.”

“One night, while reading a book on his couch in the living room, James felt a sudden chill running through his bones.”

Needless to say, a unique first sentence in an essay like those above (which were written by my students) will not only make readers feel intrigued and interested in continuing to read, but it also can affect the impression that the readers will have about the writer’s skills.

Writing interesting first sentences is a technique that most writing teachers present to their students.  However, there are effective and ineffect approaches to doing this.

First, here is a common, ineffective approach.  In some writing books, students are shown several examples of remarkable first sentences.  Often these are at a level that is beyond most ESL students; sometimes they even come from professional writers.  Then they are told to try to write an interesting first sentence on their next essay.  Or, the more “enlightened” books include an exercise in which students are given some topics and directed to write interesting first sentences for practice.

There are some reasons why those are ineffective, especially with lower-level students.  First, students seem unable to apply the examples to their own writing.  And second, when they write a rather dry or uninteresting first sentence on an essay, they don’t realize it.

There is a proven, effective approach to helping students learn the technique of writing exceptional first sentences.  (Included is a handout that you can try out with your students, even lower-level ones.)

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Advice to a Student Who Needs to Repeat a Course (Using Peer Examples)

Advice

Peer advice

He was making bad decisions all term long, which resulted in failing the course.  In order for Edward to pass my advanced academic ESL course and move on to English Comp, he would need to repeat the course.  He would also need to change his habits such as coming late and forgetting assignments or doing them with little effort.

After he found out that he failed, I emailed him to let him know that I could give him advice about how he could pass next time.  To my surprise, he asked for it.

My first impulse was to make a list of all the things that he needed to change in his study habits.  Then I realized that there was a more positive approach that I could take to giving this advice.

I have found that students seem to be more affected by what other students do in a class than what an instructor tells them to do.

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Fun & Student-Centered  Speaking/Listening Activity: Truth or Lie

owl and hat

The owl and the hat

One of my students, Sebastian, told our Conversation class this experience: “I was on a hike in the Hundred Acre Woods (a forest near campus).  It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was shining through the tree branches.  Suddenly, I heard a wooshing sound near my head.  Something attacked my head.  And then my hat was gone.  I looked up and notice an owl flying away with my hat.

The Sebastian left the room, and Kenji came in and told this experience:  “One day, I was walking in the Hundred Acre Woods.  I had a small backpack with my lunch in it.  I was wearing a jacket and a baseball hat.  All of a sudden, I heard a sound near my head, and before I could look up, an owl took my hat and flew away with it.”

Which of these students, Sebastian or Kenji actually had this experience?  Finding this out is the goal of this “Truth or Lie” game.  The students love it.

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Approaching Grammar with Generation 1.5 Students and Other Ear-Learners

Gen 1.5

Generation 1.5

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

In our college, there was a category of ESL students who stymied the instructors.  They were fluent speakers but continually struggled with basic the grammar on writing tasks.  Any ESL program that has immigrant students will probably have these types of students described as “ear-learners” or Generation 1.5.

Gen 1.5 students are sort of between first generation and second generation immigrant.  They immigrated with their family when they were elementary or high school age.

A growing number of these students indicate a goal of obtaining a college degree.  However, unfortunately, many of them struggle to make the transition from studying basic English skills in ESL courses to taking academic ESL and mainstream academic courses.

Among those who do apply to colleges, a considerable number do not meet the minimum standards for writing and are thus not accepted.

I, along with two colleagues, were able to get a grant a few years ago to study these students and to develop an approach to helping them learn grammar for writing by taking into consideration their special learning styles.

In this posting, I’ll describe these students and their learning styles.  I’ll also explain the type of materials and include examples that we used with them.  And finally, I’ll summarize the very positive results that we got from the study.

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Argumentation Essay: Tapping into Creativity

creativity in argumentation

Opportunity for creativity

(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!

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Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Parts 3 & 4: Discussion and Writing aspects)

discussion abc

Discussion and Writing Skills

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

It may surprise some how closely discussions and writing assignments are intertwined in an academic integrated-skills course.  The writing assignments are often related to the readings in the course, and the students are required to summarize and paraphrase from the passages.  One of the best ways to helps students do this is if they’ve had a chance to talk about the ideas in the passages.  In other words, they “orally paraphrased” the readings before they are asked to paraphrase from them in writing tasks.

To illustrate how reading, discussion and writing can be integrated to help students develop each skill, we’ll follow up to the reading passage about why Asians often seem so shy in social situations compared to westerners from Part 1. Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Part 1 Overview) I’ll include some specific activities:

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Best Subject for an ESL Integrated-Skills Class (Part 2 of 4: Reading aspect)

party shy

Feeling shy in social situations

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Why do Asians often seem so shy in social situations compared to westerners?

To illustrate how the subject of cultural differences is the best subject, I’ll include a reading passage about this followed by discussion and writing activities related to this.

This “shyness” topic is an effective one for demonstrating the important aspects of this “best” subject:

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