This post is the second in a series of blogs I’m writing with an introduction to genre-based writing instruction to coincide with the launch of Oxford’s new writing textbook series, Inside Writing. Last time, I talked about how to shift your focus from a rhetorical view of writing 5-paragraph essays to a genre-based concern with how language is used in different social contexts, including the context of schooling.
In this post, I’d like to move into classroom practice: how do you help students learn to write in your target genre? The method I use is a well-developed technique that originated in Australian middle schools called the “Teaching-Learning Cycle” (Rothery, 1996)*. Typically, this starts with an activity they call “Deconstruction,” which is basically a teacher-led analysis of several writing models to help students deduce staging (the typical structure of information) and features of the language used (especially for ESL or other linguistic minority populations). I happened to hear a great example of this on NPR recently about a 6th-grade English class in Chicago. One of the merits of the new Common Core State Standards in both English Language Arts and other disciplines is a great deal of interest in genres of writing. Notice that the students already have a pretty sophisticated understanding of genre — they know that argument is different from persuasion. Now, they look at examples of arguments about about banning cell phones in school (I used almost exactly the same topic, except set at a university, for a unit in Inside Writing!)
To mark the publication of Inside Writing, a series of genre-based writing textbooks from Oxford University Press, I’m writing a series of blog posts about my understanding of genre-based writing pedagogy. Today’s post is inspired by a conversation I had in the faculty lounge yesterday. A colleague told me he was interested in breaking away from (your friend and mine) the five-paragraph essay, but he wasn’t sure where to start. After the break, I’ll tell you …
My latest textbook project, Inside Writing from Oxford University Press has just been published. I helped design the pedagogy for this innovative writing textbook series, and I co-authored books 2 and 4 with the fabulous Jenny Bixby. The books look amazing (we love our editors and designers!), and we have exciting plans to launch the series in the fall, so stay tuned. I’ve put up a page with more details, or you can see the whole series on OUP’s website.
Inside Writing takes a genre-based approach to teaching ESL writing, rather than the usual sentence–paragraph—short essay–5-paragraph essay progression, and is full of useful vocabulary and grammar. Each unit teaches a different genre, so students learn to use and manipulate the rhetorical modes (narrative, description, explanation, comparison, argumentation, etc.) in realistic contexts and in multiple formats (essays, letters, web pages, discussion boards, test questions, etc.). We’re really excited to see this series in print — take a look and let me know what you think!
In my column in this month’s Cambridge Grammar Newsletter, I argue that the magic number is 3.
OK, so I know I’m playing fast and loose with the word tense, and many linguists would argue that there are only two (past and present), possibly three if you allow the future to squeak in. But I’m using tense in the way most teachers and students (and textbooks!) understand it, as time + aspect (so present simple, past simple, present perfect, and … well that’s all you need anyway).
Any suggestions for future columns?
For the past few years, a growing group of teachers and administrators have gathered at TESOL around sessions presented by Chris Feak and/or me, and we’ve bemoaned the lack of time and space to discuss teaching written and oral communication skills to (post-)graduate students.* This year, we have decided to take the next step and create a new professional community, the Consortium on Graduate Communication. Our group will provide online and face-to-face opportunities to share resources, investigate program models, and collaborate on research into this vital area of higher education.
Membership is free for now. Anyone who works with graduate students is welcome to join by completing this survey. The middle part of the survey doubles as a research project to create a database of graduate support programs around the world, which we will publish and present in the future.
Stay tuned for a website, listserv, Facebook page (maybe!), and details about meetings and a colloquium next March!
* Graduate students in North America are post-graduate students in the UK/Europe and some other countries. We mean here support services for students in master’s and doctoral program(me)s. By bi-varietalism comes in handy sometimes.
I’ve been invited to contribute articles to Cambridge University Press’s Grammar Teaching Newsletter, which is linked to their series Grammar and Beyond. (I had nothing to do with the series, although I rather like the textbooks: good, solid, corpus-informed grammar). You can read my first two posts on teaching count/non-count nouns and parallel forms, or subscribe to the newsletter. Now, the real question is which Toy Story character should I use as my avatar on the site …
Suggestions for future columns would be very much appreciated. So far, I’ve used the last tricky question my students asked me. What questions would you like me to take a shot at?
TESOL 2014 handouts and references are now online here!
- EAP Support for Graduate Students: Challenges and Successes (discussion group with Chris Feak). Friday 2:00-2:45pm
- What Graduate Writers Really Need (invited session, with Chris Feak); Saturday 9:30-10:45am
- Disciplinary Differences, Disciplinary Genres (colloquium, with Silvia Pessoa, Ryan Miller, and Kyung-Hee Bae). Saturday 1:00-2:45pm
Do you teach or advise (post-)graduate students? Join the Graduate Educators Roundtable discussion list!
I’ve posted the slides for my presentations at WRAB III in Paris la belle here. Bonne lecture (happy reading?)!
Here’s my answer to a question submitted to Oxford University Press as part of their series of videos by authors of the Q: Skills for Success series.
Thanks to everyone who came to my presentation at Penn-TESOL East today. As promised, here is my PowerPoint with all the information and references.You might also be interested in the article I wrote recently on this topic (“From Generic Writing to Writing Genres”) in SLW News.
The textbook series I mentioned will be called Inside Writing and will be available in spring/summer 2014 from Oxford University Press. It takes a genre-based approach to teaching writing, from beginner to advanced (academic preparation) levels. I’ll post more details as production continues!