by Karen Carlisi
to Get Help for Students Who Have Writing Problems
Writing Center, a service of the English and ESL departments
Learning Assistance Center (may have a different name on
your campus), where there are tutors available.
libraries often offer mini-courses on getting information,
which today involves far more than searching the library
continued enrollment in English or ESL classes for students
who are struggling with writing skills.
With Underprepared ESL Students
Be aware of the
difficulties that may arise in a writing-intensive class with
underprepared ESL students. (Some of these may also apply
to non-ESL students.) If an ESL student comes to you, this
is often a huge and difficult step. It is helpful to
identify where the difficulty may lie and then to consider
where or how best to direct the student.
You may also notice
some of these issues in the classroom. If you chose
to initiate the contact, do so with significant consideration
for cultural cues. Approach the student with kindness
and consideration for their efforts. Often these students
put enormous pressures on themselves and are doing the best
they can at the time. It is also common to have international
students or recent immigrants who have experienced or whose
families are currently experiencing war and other violence.
Often these students will not volunteer information about
the recent loss of close relative or the family home. Their
lack of attention on a particular day may be due to extenuating
circumstances many Americans cannot imagine.
to Expected Classroom Behavior (Culture)
may think that writing is a painful activity because they
have done poorly in the past and because they have "fossilized"
errors. They may think they donít fit in, or that only
certain things matter, such as work handed in. So, they
may not understand assignments (in this case, not an issue
of language skills) or come to class unprepared.
of Study Skills (Academic Culture)
notes, library use, and other issues related to study
skills may differ across cultures. Office hours are often
not an option in other cultures, so they may not know
how to use them Ė when they should go, or what actually
Language Skills (Language)
a few possible reasons for this situation, but the two
most frequent are:
- ESL students
who have not had enough ESL training
- ESL students
who never went through an ESL program
As a result,
they may have problems with grammar, essay form, vocabulary,
academic vocabulary, listening comprehension, and clarification
of Sociolinguistic Rules (Language/Culture)
students may not be familiar with differences in register
and may apply spoken forms and slang expression inappropriately
to written assignments.
many cultures, critical thinking is taboo and argumentation
can be a frightening prospect. Also, they may have been
taught not to go into details or to explore why and how.
For example, in Chinese culture, the writer insults the
reader by giving too many details.
Cultural Assumptions (Culture)
may be afraid to question instructors, ask for clarification,
or participate in class discussions. They may also be
afraid to question texts since what is said or written
by an authority is considered correct.
of Cultural Literacy (Culture)
students often donít have access to cultural references.
Many donít recognize references to popular culture, recent
events, historical events, cultural activities, official
procedures, literary allusions, and slang.
for Discrimination by Other Students and Instructors
students may resent ESL students for their weaknesses
or for their strengths. Instructors sometimes discriminate
against "quiet" or "passive" students
which may be a cultural trait, and are then surprised
to find that written work is actually at level.
Assessment of Their Own Skills (Culture/Psychological)
students are often very goal-oriented and sometimes ashamed
of their status, so they may idealize themselves to advance.
An ESL student may have been high in the ESL class, but
low in a mainstream class.
Expectations of the Course (Academic Culture)
students may have heard that a class is relatively easy
from an American friend, but find that the material is
unfamiliar and very complex.
Feelings of Dependency and Inadequacy (Psychological)
The following strategies can be helpful when addressing
the above ESL-related issues.
a diagnostic writing activity and identify language
weaknesses that threaten success in the class
students about the weaknesses in their writing skill
suggestions, e.g. tutoring, supplemental texts,
additional ESL class.
assignments at the beginning that will help weaker
students to understand the challenge ahead
peer interviews the first day of class with students
from different cultures - topic can be "content-based"
to address issues to be brought up in class later
the idea of critical thinking early in the course
and clarify expectations for student learning (e.g.
questioning what they read and what is said in class)
interpretive exercises early in the semester.
through the course:
specific language issues as they relate to individual
assignments. For example, if students have to write
a research paper, encourage them to plan ahead,
see a tutor, etc. Another example: for nursing reports
Ė do a very quick review of distinctions in verb
tenses that affect reporting.
instructors donít get enough feedback from ESL students,
so they donít know if they understand:
concrete examples to ensure comprehension of
students repeat directions for written assignments
or complicated or potentially dangerous in-class
students write the directions
directions on the board or an assignment sheet.
an anonymous learning evaluation survey 2-3 weeks
into the term.
call on shy students when all the good answers have
been given - call on them when they have a good
chance of success.
a variety of ways for students to participate -
"mix it up" - groups, pairs, whole class,
more praise discreetly to those students to encourage
choral responses occasionally.
students ask each other questions.
and act accordingly - remember a teacher that intimidated
work: give the more reticent student the chance to
be the "expert."
ESL students with students who donít speak their
language: set up peer groups with mixed native
languages to encourage bonding and cooperation
across language groups.
questions as a way to develop critical thinking.
to Keep in Mind:
aware of cross-cultural differences that may inhibit
students from arguing, questioning, criticizing,
engaging in debate.
be offended when they donít laugh at your jokes.
that "active" student doesnít necessarily
mean "good" student.
cultural diversity to enrich the class.
sensitive to specific aspects of American culture
of which ESL and other disadvantaged students
may not necessarily be knowledgeable.
studentsí language skills only as they affect
performance most relevant to expectations of the
class- at the same time don't be too forgiving
of their competency - strike a balance.
students opportunities for self-evaluation.
areas of language skills that are not as significant
or developmentally advanced. The following are
developmentally advanced grammatical skills for
which ESL students may need to seek continuous
in discreet pairs
of Passive Voice
Verbs followed by Gerunds and Infinitives
a more humorous note, here are some rules that are
based on the most consistent, persistent problems that students
have in their writing.
for Writing "Real Good"
use no double negatives.
each pronoun agree with their antecedents.
clauses good, like a conjunction should.
them sentence fragments.
dangling, watch your participles.
has got to agree with their subjects.
write run-on sentences they are hard to read.
use commas, which arenít necessary.
to not ever split infinitives. Perhaps the most famous is,
"To boldly go where no man has gone before" (from
Star Trek). In proper grammar it would be, "To go boldly..."
Infinitives are frequently split in advertising for emphasis.
is important to use your apostropheís correctly.
your writing to see if you any words out.
spelling is esential.
clichťs like the plague.
of the humor in the previous sentences? It may be helpful to
organize a workshop on common grammatical errors.