Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Advanced Writing: Reflections from My Students

At the end of my summer writing course, I asked my students to write a short essay about how their English writing skills had improved. Here are a few excerpts from what they wrote:
  • I have learned to summarize any kind of source, using only the main ideas. Then, I learned how to do good quotations and paraphrases to support my ideas in the body paragraphs. Finally, improved my argumentative writing by learning how to properly use opposing viewpoints and rebuttals with meaningful and relevant details.
  • Another point that I want to mention is the correction that my teacher wrote in my drafts because those comments have helped me to recognize when I make mistakes like fragments or word choices.
  • I used to struggle while doing an essay, but now, it is easy for me to face with it. Furthermore, I am capable of doing a lab report and an academic essay. It will be very important to me in my academic classes and in my whole life.
  • For me writing class is very important because I have to write my dissertation, so it needs accurate and perfect grammar. Fortunately, this writing class has learned me a lot. Commonly, I had problem with making summary, thesis sentence, and topic sentence; fortunately, homework, short and long assignments, grammar practices have made clear and easy for me.
  • Before joining this program, I had many grammatical errors and text organization problems in my writing. Moreover, I had no idea how to join my sentences using FANBOYS or other connectors, and how to have the variety of sentences in my essay. In addition, in my essay or writing I had been using “and” or “but” and the same kinds of structures over and over.
  • When I started my ELP classes, I was not confident about my writing skills. However, this has changed because of four main reasons. First, I have learned how to write a strong introduction, or a summary to my essays. Second, I have learned how to use different clauses. Moreover, now I can use punctuation correctly, which makes my ideas more clear. In addition, I noticed that while I’m writing, the words come more easily in my mind, so I can write faster in comparison to the beginning of the semester.
  • I learned much more by doing 8 weeks of ELP classes than in five years of English courses in Brazil.
  • I have learned some grammar tools, such as noun clauses, adjective clauses, and passive voice, which helped me to write structured sentences. The grades of my essays, if compared with each other, not changed too much, but is possible to realize that my way to write had an expressive evolution.
  • I have never been a good writer in Portuguese; however, I find myself using these skills when I am writing something important and big in Portuguese. There are similar structures between English and Portuguese, so what I have learned has helped both languages. To conclude, even though it was not too long, my time in ELP improved me more than I could expect.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Lab Reports: Practice with Passives

I told my students: "Did you know that lab reports should be written in the passive? This is because the focus is on your experiment, not on you." So I told them to do a little experiment to find the answer to this question: How much liquid can be absorbed by a diaper?

Here is an example lab report one of the groups did:

Title: Liquid Amount Absorbed By a Diaper

Introduction: This report shows an experiment to demonstrate the amount of liquid that a diaper can hold. For this experiment, the diaper capacity was hypothesized to be 375 mL of liquid.

Materials: A plastic bag was used to avoid leaking of the diaper. The water was provided from a drinking fountain. A blue color was mixed with the water to see how the diaper’s material absorbed the liquid. The diaper was the principal material for the test.

Methods: In this experiment, the diaper was inserted inside the plastic bag to avoid any leaking. The water was mixed with the colorant to show the liquid in the diaper. Then, the water was poured on the diaper too see how much liquid it could stand. The diaper was cut with a pair of scissors to allow the water to pour into the absorbing material. The water was poured until the diaper was saturated.

Results: The diaper reached its limit of liquid capacity when the fourth glass of water was poured. The water started leaking because the diaper was saturated. At the beginning of the experiment, the amount of water was expected to be 375 mL, but at the end of the test, the diaper reached 875 mL.

 



Monday, March 11, 2013

Poster Sessions

I remember going to a presentation at a conference several years ago on poster presentations as a low-tech, but engaging activity. My coworker, Katy, came up with the idea of doing posters as a way for students to share a book that they had read. This is my second semester doing this, and it turned out well. I asked me students to include the following information on their posters:
  1. Book title and author
  2. Setting - 2-3 sentences
  3. Plot summary - 4-5 sentences
  4. Main characters - list of characters, a phrase telling who each person is, and 3 adjectives 
  5. Favorite passage - 2-3 sentences telling why they liked the passage
  6. 3 new vocabulary words - context sentences, part of speech, and meaning
  7. Pictures to illustrate and make the poster look attractive
I invited another class to come and see the posters, talk to the students. It was a great English-use activity, as they had to explain their book again and again for each student who passed by! Repetition always helps. 



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Writing - Major Assignments

Here is are a few of the major writing assignments that I have developed and used in my classes. 

1. (Beginning Writing) List-Order Paragraph Assignment: Describe the characteristics or abilities needed for the job you would like to have in the future.
2. (Advanced Writing) Cause/Effect Essay: Describe the positive and negative effects of the strategies used by Walmart and other large retailers.
  • Assignment Description (pdf) - worksheet includes brainstorming activities, prompt, outline, a list of sources, and guidelines to using outside sources. In addition, I supplied them with handouts and worksheets to help them with incorporating paraphrases and direct quotes.
3. (Advanced Writing) Argument Essay: This assignment asks students to argue whether a developing country should invest in nuclear power, healthcare, or education.




Writing - Class Error Logs

After each in-class essay we do, I compose a list of grammar errors for my students to fix. Although it is anonymous, they seem to enjoy it if they recognize one of their own mistakes. I try to include at least one from each students' paper. Here is an example set:


Oops! Sheet

Run-on; Comma Splices – These are actually two sentences. 
Decide how to fix the problem.
1)    Use a period and make 2 sentences OR
2)     Add “AND, OR, BUT, SO”

Above the fireplace there is a small nature picture, that picture is mixed with green and brown colors.

The floor is made of wood, it is a classic color.

Many people want to get a living room like that, it is so beautiful and unique.

Two blue and two white pillows are on the couches, they are very soft and comfortable.

On the left, there is a fireplace on the wall, there is a panel.

Fragment (no verb or no subject)
In short, the living room very big and beautiful designs.

Combine sentences because they repeat information.
Near the lamp is a window.  There is a door next to the window.

Articles/Nouns – Need a / an OR the

I like classic living room better than modern living room.
Behind the couch, there is a long black stairs.
It is classic color.
The room is shallow color.
There is a bright glass door of balcony.




Email Writing Activity

Teaching students how important it is to stop and check before sending an email sometimes seems like banging my head against the wall. But I try. Here's an activity I did with my low-intermediate writing class on email writing. They were given a set of 4-5 sample emails to evaluate using the following checklist. Then, with a partner, they chose one to re-write and send to me.
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Email #1

Subject
(no subject)
Message
Dear Heather,
 
How are you today?
I am Johnny, and sorry about today that I no come to class.
 
When I can come talk to you about this?
If so, let know that I can come today. 

 
Thank you & have nice day,
 
Best Regards
Johnny.

Email #2

Subject
Hello
Message
Der. Torrie

I am Davy. I can not open my blackboard to do homework. Also, I 
sake 
ask my friend, and he has same my problem,so would you pleas give some instruction to open my blackboard.

Pleas let me know if you have idea about it.

thank you 
Davy

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Email Checklist

Subject
Yes
No
There is a subject


The subject tells the topic


The subject tells which class this is for (especially important emails at the beginning of the semester)


Greeting
Yes
No
Dear / Hi / Hello is spelled correctly and capitalized


The first letter of the name is capitalized (Heather, not heather)


The name is spelled correctly


Comma AFTER the name


The student’s name is ONLY at the bottom of the email (not in the middle, “I am Wang.”)


Message Body
Yes
No
No unnecessary sentences


Quickly and clearly tells the problem


Takes responsibility for the problem (offers to DO something—turn in the homework, take the test early, etc)


No inappropriate information (eg, details about sickness if it is gross)


Grammar/Mechanics
Yes
No
Good grammar with no mistakes
*If there are mistakes, fix them in the emails


Capital letters – first letter of each sentence; I (not i )


Space after the greeting, and after the message.


Font is professional looking




Practice with Paraphrasing with SafeAssign

I often use SafeAssign, a tool our university has to detect plagiarism in student papers. I use this as a learning tool in the classroom allowing my students to see how close their paraphrases are to the original quote. For practice, I give them a set of quotations from online sources and have them paraphch one. Then, the student can see the originality report, highlighting which parts are too similar to the original. See the snapshot below: