Best Practices for Teaching Academic Writing to ESL Students in the Mainstream

When it comes to building academic writing skills for ESL college students in the mainstream, teachers will be doing their college students a huge service when teachers are able to build literary connections to the writing skills and concepts they wish their students to learn.
Teachers cannot assume that their ESL students understand abstract concepts as well as their native English speaking peers due to the gap in their background knowledge.
Provide Engaging Beginnings
Engaging beginnings activate students’ prior knowledge. They make use of what students already know before any new knowledge is presented to them.
Many academic writing assignments are based on academic texts. The extent to which ESL students will succeed with mainstream academic writing assignments will depend on how well they are able to apply their understanding after reading an academic texts. Many academic texts assume students have the cultural, social and textual knowledge to understand the “gist” of the text. Teachers can facilitate this process for ESL students by first eliciting what students already know about a topic. This helps builds confidence A good way to engage students with the academic text is to provide brainstorming and prediction exercises, which is also a good thing for diverse classes.
Choose Texts And Writing Tasks With A Multi-Cultural Theme/Topic
In every mainstream class, there is plenty of room to explore topics of diversity and multiculturalism.
Not every writing assignment needs to fall under the “academic” style of writing. In fact, there are many academic multicultural and life-story theme topics, that are important for addressing issues of diversity, language and identity where teachers can explore different modes of writing such as a literary essay that is also based on personal experience.
Teach Strategic Writing
ESL students sometimes struggle with applying their knowledge of a thesis to academic writing. Using the “power of three,” teachers have a better chance of helping students understand how to write a thesis. In my classes, I teach my students “the rule of three” for strategic essay writing. A good thesis statement includes three “P’s.” It is a three-Pronged, Parallel, Preview of your essay. (Thinking in Threes, Brian Backman, 2005)
Example of strategic writing in action: “Television has a positive effect because it helps you learn; it gives you information from all over the world and it allows you to relax.”
The reason why many students hate academic writing is because they don’t feel they have something worth saying and writing and ESL students are no different. It’s not that they don’t have background knowledge to cope with academic ideas and concepts, they just have it in another language! As teachers and instructors, we need to bring the assignment closer to home!

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