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.
Discussion and Writing Skills
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:
An important ingredient for making pair work activities successful learning experiences would seem to be active involvement on the part of both members; and it seems obvious that certain tasks would produce more involvement than others. In fact, research has been conducted on the type of communication present when pairs are involved in one-way and two-way tasks.
Integrating the four skills
This is the perfect activity for integrating four skills into one activity. And it culminates in a writing task in which students focus on controlling their grammar and on their sentence style. It’s also one in which students can practice those two aspects of writing without having to spend time thinking about what to write.
These fluency activities can be used throughout a term when instructors would like to have students work on their grammar in a writing context and/or when they would like to add some group work in their writing classes. Also, it’s a good lead-in to teaching paraphrasing skills.
Engaging group work
Group work in a grammar class can be a powerful learning tool if it is carefully structured. The format for the activities that I’ll present here has been effectively used with students from lower level to advanced. And the structure of these activities makes it easy for even the most passive students to be active; in fact, many times, the normally quiet students seem to shine while doing these. Another positive aspect of these is that they are non-threatening for students to engage in.
A teacher once said that she avoided pair work during conversation lessons because she wouldn’t be able to monitor all the students to catch their grammar mistakes. Is this a legitimate reason? Researchers have studied what, in fact, happens when students work in pairs with other students and when they work with non-native speakers which can dispel some of the mis-assumptions about the drawbacks to pair work.