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English for Academic Purposes

Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to: 1. Utilize appropriate approaches in the ESL academic writing classroom; 2. Integrate skills activities in the writing classroom; and 3. Engage in rhetorical problem-solving in a context of meaningful communication.





This chapter discusses the strategies of producing academic prose for discipline-specific discourse communities such as technical report, task analysis, and scientific-based term paper. Not many cultures appear to teach rhetorical patterns directly because there appear to be rhetorical rules or conventions that govern different categories of texts even within a particular language (Grabe and Kaplan, 1989; Sherman, 1992). Since the conventions of academic prose differ among cultures, students from different cultures often intuitively organize written material differently from native English speakers. Kaplan (1966:4) stipulates that ESL writers employ a rhetoric and sequence of thought which violate the expectations of the native reader. As such, students may have difficulties in understanding their academic written work because they are often unaware of the content expectations and of the rhetorical (or formal) problems in their prose. The approaches and activities in the subsequent sections represent the results of both research and experience that are implemented in many ESL academic writing classrooms (Reid, 1993).



Sequencing activities is essential to successful teaching; incremental assignment sequences, which often begin at a concrete level and then move to more complex and abstract concepts, help ESL writing students to develop critical thinking skills and experience success in learning (Knodt, 1991; Leki, 1991-1992). Although the sequencing of assignments begins during the first steps in syllabus development, students probably are not aware of the rationale behind disparate and possibly spiraling activities designed to review previous material. In order to give students responsibility for their own learning, teachers need to make the sequence clear. Integrating several activities into a series of classes, and making certain that students can see both the reason for and the links among the activities, can provide coherence in a class. At the beginning of a course, when many students felt that the responsibility for the class is the teachers, they may not understand the reasons for such explanations. But as the course progresses and students take more responsibility for their learning, they should expect- and even ask for- objectives. The three approaches described below have been separated and detailed for the purpose of explanation and differentiation, but in practice these sequences often overlap. (a) The writing process approach Although writing processes are not linear, as they write students will usually employ many of the same sequences: invention and prewriting during the early stages, shaping and organizing, and revising and editing. Classroom activities can, therefore, follow (or anticipate) such a progression. Examples: the teacher previews and then gives a writing assignment, explains the assignment, has students do some prewriting about possible topics in their journals, then has them work in small groups to discuss their topics. (b) The concept/application approach Lessons that relate concepts developed through class work to the students own writing form a time-honored learning sequence. For example, as students read and discuss professional or student essays, teachers can provide information concerning


rhetorical techniques, language, and audience relationships in the essay (showing students how the author of the professional essay employed evidence, transitions, and so on), and then have students discuss, perhaps in small groups, how they could use those techniques in their own writing. Students might then apply what they have learned in class to their notes, drafts, or revisions. (c) The individual/social approach Experienced ESL writing teachers alternate individual activities (such as reading essays, writing in journals, drafting) with social group activities (for example, annotation of texts, peer revision workshops, whole class discussion). Often, when individual work precedes group work and that individual work leads to class discussion, student resistance to group work is lowered and the group activity may be more successful. For example, a class may begin with an individual warm-up journal entry, followed by a teacher-centered presentation. Then the teacher may ask small groups to do an activity that follows from the lecture, and afterwards to report the results to the class. The individual-social-individual alternating pattern draws on the varied learning styles and coping strategies of the students. (courtesy of Stephen Reid) 7.1.1 SAMPLE SEQUENCES

Below are two series of lesson plans for sequenced writing classes. Each begins with the end of a previous class (prior class); at the end of each class, homework assignments are given. The minutes listed beside activities indicate the time spent in class on each activity. In this chapter, a cross (+) indicates activities more appropriate for students with intermediate or advanced language proficiency; an arrowhead (>) indicates activities especially appropriate for the less experienced teacher. Notice the ways in which skills and concepts that work toward the objective of the course are spiraled through several classes through the use of various activities and approaches (concepts are bold- faced). SEQUENCE 1: READING-WRITING LOW INTERMEDIATE TO ADVANCED LEVELS Prior Class: studying summary writing; completing another sequence Assignment: students choose and purchase a non-news popular magazine in an area of personal interest (such as Popular Mechanics, Seventeen, or Rolling Stone). (a) Class 1: journal entry: why I choose this magazine (5 min.) Mini-lecture on concept of audience (students take notes)(10 min.) Small group: share notes; write a collaborative summary (15min.) Share: why each magazine was chosen (5 min.) Individual worksheets: analysis of target audience from table of contents, advertisements, photographs (10 min.) Assignment: select one article; read and summarize (100 words)(5 min.)




(b) Class 2: small group discussion: share summaries orally; answer questions about article from group members; indicate difficulties with writing summaries (20 min.) Class discussion: summary- writing techniques, problems (10 min.) mini-lecture: advertising in the U.S. (students take notes)(10 min.) Brief class discussion: describe advertising in their magazines: techniques, success/failure for target audience (5 min.) Assignment: notes in journal: create criteria for a successful advertisement (5 min.) (c) Class 3: small groups: share criteria; select and prioritize by consensus (15 min.) Groups recorders put criteria on board; class discussion, decision about class consensus concerning criteria (10 min.) Individual work: apply criteria to three ads in chosen magazine; identify successful, unsuccessful advertisements (10 min.) Small groups: discuss selected ads from different magazines; feedback from group concerning applied criteria (10 min.) Assignment: first draft, written analysis of magazines target audience (5 min.) (d) Class 4: teacher models, prepares, facilitates workshop for analysis essay bout magazines target audience (10 min.) Peer response groups: read drafts, give and get feedback possible worksheet (teacher mini-conferences, answer questions) (25 min.) Journal entry: analysis of peer responses; plans for revision (10 min.) Assignment: second draft, written analysis (5 min.) (e) Class 5: peer review: read 2 analysis essays by peers; be prepared to comment on the one you preferred (and why) (15 min.) List on board why student readers liked essays (10 min.) Review concept of audience (5 min.) Journal entry: what was easy and difficult about writing this essay? Why? what problems did you encounter? how did you solve them? What did you learn about writing? (10 min.) Assignment: final draft, written analysis (5 min.)



Writing and reading research points to the necessity of integrating reading into the writing classroom. For ESL classes, however, some serious implementation problems arise. Christina Haas and Linda Flower (1988) explain, for example, that teaching even NESs to read and write rhetorically is difficult. Teaching ESL writing students to step outside themselves, imagine audience response, identify and acknowledge the context for writing, and set purposeful mat go beyond their language and writing abilities. Similarly, teaching ESL students to read rhetorically, to take into account that the next text is the product of a writers intention and is designed to produce an effect on a specific audience (ibid, p. 182), is a challenge. Finally it is difficult to find appropriately simple (but not simplistic) authentic reading material for basic and intermediate level ESL students (Trimble, 1985); while much adapted (that is, rewritten, reorganized, re presented) material is available; it usually alters the fundamental nature of discourse in order to


provide workable comprehension exercises. At worst, the students learn reading techniques that simply do not work authentic material; at the best, the skills they learn do not transfer with ease to authentic material. It is fortunate that the ESL writing classroom can provide many opportunities for integrating authentic reading and writing material. The four areas detailed below explain ways in which the complex interaction of reading and writing can be integrated in the ESL writing class. 7.2.1 JOURNAL WRITING AND READING

JOURNAL (DAYBOOK, LEARNING LOG) WRITING AND READING (a) Informal, writer-based prose in journals allows students to respond to reading and evaluate those responses, individualizes instruction, and reinforces learning experiences (Fulwiler, 1987). (b) Writing in learning logs can help students make sense of writing assignments and tasks; early in the process, they can: Describe their audience and purpose(s); Summarize reading they are using as sources; Defend decisions they have made; Anticipate problems; and Analyze solutions. (c) Pre-reading writing about texts (that is, having students write about a topic before they read about it) serves to explore topics and ideas that can trigger associations and raise students awareness of those associations; subsequent class discussion can identify an authors ideas and biases. (d) Analyzing supporting detail and relevant evidence in both professional and student text will help writing students read-and write-to learn. (e) The ESL writing class can incorporate lessons which assist students in preparing academic assignments, by using readings as a basis to practice such skills as summarizing, paraphrasing, interpreting, and synthesizing concepts (Krill, 1991, p. 254). 7.2.2 READING AND SELF-WRITING

Even at the lowest level of language proficiency, students can read (and reread) their own authentic writing and the writing of others in the class. Writing about that reading provides students with ways to respond to writing (their own or others) and eventually, to elabora te, clarify, and illustrate their responses by references to associations and prior knowledge (Bliech, 1986; Carson and Kuehn, 1992; Eisnberg, 1986). Asking students to reread their own writing enables them to invent, plan, draft, and troubleshoot (Grant-Davie, 1989, p. 4). Less experienced writers should be taught the strategies of rereading and given opportunities to read the writing of




peers and respond to that writing, sharing relevant feelings and attitudes, interpreting, questioning, and evaluating. Because student writing is inherently interesting to student writers (particularly if the student choose their own topics and/or write collaboratively), students are providing their own reality, their own authenticity; the classroom has become not only a community but a real-world community. As students in ESL writing classes work with authentic text, reading and analyzing ideas, structure and style, and also analyzing purpose and audience texts (Campbell, 1990; Subbiah, 1992).



Although the use of authentic materials introduces the problem of level of difficulty, students who encounter authentic, relatively short essays about topics they understand (that is, topics about which they have prior knowledge) are willing to work to comprehend the material (E. Bernhardt, 1991). Moreover, the teacher can intervene with various activities that will assist the students in their comprehension of the material. The beginning of one general sequence for reading and writing about nonfiction essays follows. Archeology is used as a sample content topic, but other topics (in a textbook essay, newspaper, or journal) can be substituted. Approximate times for each activity are indicated; complex tasks have a cross (+), and activities especially appropriate for less experienced teachers are indicated by (>). 7.3.1 NONFICTION READING AND WRITING SEQUENCE

Prior Class: discussion of and practice annotation of a text (a) Class 1: pre-reading writing (about the topic: a cross-cultural issue like proxemics or the U.S. dedication to the household pets, the Olympics, sibling rivalry, archeology, etc.)(10 min.) Vocabulary preparation: half a dozen words on a transparency, preferably in the context of a sentence from the reading so that students can guess the meaning (perhaps with help) (10 min.) Individual work (or teacher reads aloud): reading the title and the first and last sentences of each paragraph quickly (15 min.) Journal entry: students predict what the article will be about (5 min.)

Assignment: read the article; annotate in the margins (5 min.) (b) Class 2: warm- up: use annotation to write 3 questions about the essay (5 min.) Small group or class discussion based on the questions (20 min.) Mini-lecture on some cultural or +rhetorical aspect of the essay (10 min.) Small group discussion about the mini- lecture (10 min.)

Assignment: reread and summarize article (25- 100 words); bring an artifact from your country to class (5 min.)


(c) Class 3: warm- up: discuss one idea in the article +or give an opinion supported by examples about one idea in the essay (10 min.) Small groups: share artifact; answer questions from group (what is it? what is it used for? who uses it? when? does it come in different sizes?) (20 min.) Essay assignment: write a description of your artifact that will be put in a time capsule and buried for 100 years. Think about your audience! (5 min) Journal entry: notes about describing artifact for essay (10 min.)

Assignment: prewrite and begin drafting paragraph/ +essay (5 min.) (d) Class 4: warm- up: problems (or successes) with the writing assignment (5 min.) Mini-lecture: organizational form of description essay (10 min.) Small group writing workshop (structured, worksheet); teacher mini- conferences (25 min.) Journal entry: revision and notes based on workshop feedback (10 min.)

Assignment: rough draft, artifact essay (5 min.)



Advocates of reading literature in the ESL writing classroom indicate that literature provides content that heightens culture awareness and sensitivity (Gajdusek, 1988; Murdoch, 1992b), stimuli for writing (McGroarty and Galvan , 1985; Spack, 1985), and the opportunity for extended discussion and analysis of ideas and linguistic structures (McKay, 1982). Jean McConochie states that Writing assignments that prompt rereading and reflection help students to extend their understanding and thus their literary pleasure (1982, p. 125). Reading and then writing about literature offers students situations not only to analyze but to appreciate aesthetic quality and, more important, to relate to their own lives (Oster, 1989). Some teachers (Hurley and Sherman, 1990; Stroller, 1990) like a multimedia approach to the study of literature in the writing classroom: reading a short story and then watching a film of the story. The following sequence adapted from Jacqueline Costello (1990), which gives the teacher a more traditional role, is widely used for teaching and analyzing a short story, and it could be used to discuss poetry, folktales, orin a more expanded sequencenovels as well:






(a) Class 1: near the end of class, teacher reads aloud the beginning of a short story Individual journal entries: students write observation about what they heard: what can they infer about the characters, place, and style just from the beginning of the story? (15 min.)

ASSIGNMENT: Students read short story, write 4-5 questions about the work (5mins.) (b) Class 2: class discussion based on student questions about story; students participate in the discussion and takes notes (25 min.) Mini-lecture: some cultural aspect of the story (10 min.) Small group discussion concerning mini-lecture information (10 min.)

ASSIGNMENT: reread short story; write for ten minutes (focused free-writing) about ideas gained during class discussion (5 min.) (c) Class 3: small groups: share ideas from focused freewriting (15 min.) Mini-lecture and class discussion: some grammatical items from the short story (20 min.) Writing assignment: a personal narrative stimulated by the short story for a specific audience (classmate, sister, roommate); for example, reflect upon the impact of a single incident from the past on your present life (10 min.)

ASSIGNMENT: brainstorm/pre-write for the writing assignment (5 min.) (d) Class 4: class discussion: topics ideas for writing assignment (15 min.) Small group writing workshop: feedback from peers concerning topic (questions, areas of interest, etc.); teacher circulates, miniconferencing (20 min.) Journal entry: summarize best ideas receiving from group members; make notes about plan for writing the essay (10 min.)

ASSIGNMENT: rough draft, narrative essay (5 min.)




Performance-based activities that integrate all language skills and that are learning-centered, student-centered, and meaning-centered can only enhance students acquisition of skills (Dubin and Olshtain, 1986). Tasks that have unambiguous instructions and well-defined expectations, a clear and appropriate context, and a real-world focus that will allow students to transfer the skill to other situations lend authenticity to the writing class. Below are tasks that implement the characteristics of sequenced activities discussed above and integrate all language skills. 7.5.1 SURVEY

Teaching students how to design, administer, and interpret surveys fulfils many of the goals of the ESL writing teacher: clear objectives, integrating language skills, sequential lesson plans, authenticity, ease of materials, student attention to processes, and a viable product. Furthermore, student-designed surveys integrate all language skills: discussion and analysis of topics and appropriate survey questions/statements; development of vocabulary and critical thinking skills while writing the questionnaire; social interaction and problem-solving with real-world participants in the administration of the survey; collaborative tabulation and interpretation of the results; delivery and/or publication of the results; individual written metacognitive analysis of the processes. Teachers who decide to use a survey for a sequence of classes must know something about formulating surveys and should communicate that information to their students.




Survey questions should be simply stated and have only one point each.

Valid survey questions are relatively free of value words and are written to elicit responses without biasing the respondents.

Demographic information about respondents is necessary (age, gender, native country/language, level of education. etc.) both for interpretation and to establish a comfort-level.

The surveys that are easiest to administer and tabulate ask respondents for a yes/no or a scaled response (strongly agree, agree, dont know/neutral, disagree, strongly disagree).

A more complex essay task involves questions that function as interview, in which the students take notes based on responses.

Tabulation of survey results is time-consuming, and interpretation of the results requires an objective approach (and, in any cases of group work, negotiation).

There should be am authentic, real-world product at the end of a survey sequence.


The following are suggestions for information-gathering surveys, with possibilities for authentic reporting and/or use:

Food, music entertainment preferences of ESL students in program. Use the results to plan a program party. Ways students spend money (food, hobbies, entertainment, books, sports, etc.). Post the results on the program bulletin board. Student study habits (time, place, food, rewards, etc.) or writing rituals. Report results in the student newspaper/newsletter. Amount and type of homework given in writing classes (or all intensive language program classes), including level of difficulty, time spent doing homework, and comments about the importance in the learning process to students doing the homework. Deliver results to program administrators. Hobbies/leisure time activities of students. Report results on fliers given to student participants. The best eating places (or restaurants) in the local area. Print results on the student newspaper/newsletter.

Other, more controversial topics that may involve a yes/no response to one question followed by an interview concerning the answer include: 7.5.2 Keeping dogs in urban areas Banning bicyclist from roads Smoking in public places Parking problems at the university The ideal age for a drivers license GAMES, ROLE-PLAYING AND WRITING

Games and role-play in ESL writing classes can have several objectives. The simplest is a step outside the intricate sequencing process of lesson planning. Games can function simply as a student attention-getter, as a pleasant way to spend the last ten minutes of an otherwise dense class, as a Friday afternoon community builder (Crookall and Oxford, 1990). Role-play can be a hip pocket activity for the teacher to use when things go wrong, or in the middle of a difficult chapter to relieve tension. In some cases, both types of activities can become integral parts of larger sequences of learning. Each of the activities below furthers language skills, and each can become part of a series of sequenced lesson plans.




(a) Chain Stories On a single piece of paper (or an overhead transparency), each student writes the first sentence of a folktale, murder mystery, spy novel, romantic novel, or superhero story, then passes it on to another student in class (or in a group). Each student adds a sentence to each story (or, in the case of a small group, each student has two chances to add sentences as the papers are passed around), striving for coherence and fun. Stories are shared: On the overhead projector; Read aloud by the teacher or by a class member; and Passed from group to group for sharing.

(b) Wheel of Fortune Vocabulary Use vocabulary words from reading, from writing process terminology, from literature analysis, and so on. Divide class into teams (or have three students play the game each time). Put the number of spaces on the board that the word contains. Each group (or player) selects a letter in sequence; selections can continue until a letter is not part of the word. Students can guess what the word is before the letters are complete; following an incorrect guess, the next player has a turn (courtesy of Shelley Reid). (c) Strip Stories Helps students internalize the sequencing and the coherence devices used in U.S. academic writing. The teacher selects a paragraph that has clear cues (transitional phrases, chronology), then types the sentences, one to a line, and cuts the sentences apart. Each student receives one of the sentences. Students must share their sentences with others in order to put the paragraph back together. (d) Pair Process Description Pair students as they arrive for class. Ask each pair to write a paragraph describing a simple- sounding, relatively complex process. Then have two pairs of students, who wrote about different processes, share their processes; as one pair reads the process, the other pair role-plays that process. Suggestions: placing a long-distance call, buying popcorn at the movies, putting on a coat, tying a shoelace, braiding hair using chopsticks, dancing the salsa. 7.5.3 SITUATIONS AND WRITING

There are two kinds of situational writing. The first, often found in ESL writing textbooks, provides student writers with as much situational context as possible. Students then enter the completed situation, role-playing one of the characters in that situation and responding, usually in writing, to or about the situation. Particularly for students with lower levels of language proficiency, the more detail they are given, the more the writing exercise is guided by the vocabulary and sentences structures of the background information and the questions that follow.


A variation of situational writing provides students with the skeleton of a situation and asks them to supply the necessary detail before they enter the situation and respond to it. This kind of situational writing activity allows student writers to develop description, either by gathering authentic information or by creating it, preferably in collaboration with others. Then, the students enter or immerse themselves in that situation and respond to it in whatever role(s) they choose for themselves. The opportunity to be creative in the development of detail, and then to role-play in the response, can be both appealing and successful, especially for students with at least an intermediate level of language proficiency. The following exercises are the latter kind; each asks the students to work cooperatively to develop a writing situation and then to respond, as a particular kind of writer, for an articulated purpose, and for specified audience. (a) Accident Reports The students create the specifics for a two-car, non-fatal accident; salient facts are put on the board. Each small group is assigned a single personality who will write a (formal or informal) collaborative report: A police officer writes for the Police Department; Driver A, who was at fault, writes a report for his insurance company; Driver B writes for his insurance company; Driver A writes to his mother (friend, brother). (adapted from Hedge, 1988) (b) Persuasion A student returning to school at the beginning of the semester stopped off in Las Vegas (or Atlantic City) and in the gambling casinos lost all his/her money for school tuition. Now the student must write a letter to persuade someone to give him/her the necessary tuition money. Divide the students into groups. Have each group write a persuasive letter to one of the following: the President of the United States, the director of the university Student Financial Aid Office, his/her grandmother, a best friend. It is important that the letter embroider the facts and not to be strictly truthful. (c) Writing a Commercial The students work in pairs or small groups. The situation: you work for an advertising agency. Your task is to write a commercial that will appear in a newspaper (or in a magazine or on television). You must identify the target market: who is the audience for this commercial? Then you must design an advertisement that will successfully sell the product. Suggestions: an automobile (such as Honda, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz), a food product (Ben and Jerrys Ice Cream, Skippy Peanut Butter, Pizza Hut Pizza). The groups might add art work, but they must write copy of the advertisement.





(d) Community Advocacy Students in groups can identify a school or community issue and respond to it: With letters to the editor of the student/community newspaper; By designing and reporting on a survey concerning the issues; and/or By gathering and organizing materials to present at a student leadership meeting or a city council. Topics might include the renovation of student dormitories, building bike paths, the need for a new park.

(e) News Articles The teacher brings in two newspaper articles from two very different sources (for example, from a tabloid and U.S. News and World Report, or from the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine) about a single feature story (such as a Grateful Dead concert, a football game, a strange human interest story). The stories should be of approximate length; make enough copies of each story to give to half the class. Also give each student a worksheet with questions about the story. Example: What sort of event was it? Where did it take place? When? Who was involved? What happened to each of the participants? What was the outcome? How did people feel? Each student will read his/her article, take notes, and complete the worksheet. Then students in pairs (one who read article A and one who read article B) compare notes, share extra details, and analyze the audience for each of the news articles. Class discussion follows, and then all students will write a journal entry analyzing which article was personally preferable (adapted from Hedge, 1988). (f) Situational Letters The situations below allow students to write for a specific purpose and a specific audience; in some cases, the audience is familiar so that the writers and the readers will have shared experiences. In others, students will need to identify and analyze the audience, then learn to choose appropriate vocabulary and tone in achieving the proper voice for an unknown audience. (i) You are planning to take a vacation in the U.S. Choose a state and write the state tourism bureau for information concerning that state: a highway map, motels and hotels, historic and tourist areas, and so on. Sample address: North Carolina Travel Development Section, Raleigh, NC 27611 New York Travel Bureau, 99 Washington Ave. Albany, NY 12245 Oregon Travel Information Section, Rm. 105, State Highway Bldg., Salem, OR 97310 Texas Travel and Information Division, Austin, TX 78701 Utah Travel Dept., Council Hall, Capitol Hill, Salt Lake City, UT 84114 Vermont Information - Travel Development, 61 Elm St., Montpelier, VT 05602


Washington Travel Development Division, 101 General Administration Bldg., Olympia, WA 98504


You have a problem with your apartment, such as insufficient heat, noisy neighbors, or a leaky faucet. Write your landlord; without being offensive, briefly describe the problem and suggest a solution. Choose someone who has helped you (the mail delivery person, your host family, a bus driver, your best friend) and write a letter of appreciation to them, telling them how much you value them and why. The U.S. Consumer Information Service has hundreds of free brochures of information; write for the free Consumer Information Catalog, Pueblo, CO 81009. You have bought a product at a local store (perhaps a television, a camera, or a washing machine), but the product is defective. Write a letter to the store manager, describing the problem and suggesting a remedy. Choose an issue of importance such as gun control, civil rights, or funding for medical research. Research the issue. Write your opinion about the topic to the U.S. Congressman from your district; support your opinion with your research. Your class chooses to invite a famous person to speak to the class. Write a letter of invitation to that person and a letter of thanks after s/he has spoken.








Writing assignments can have a profound effect on students, so they should be as fair and as carefully designed as possible; therefore, designing writing tasks for an ESL writing class requires careful thought and preparation (Cumming, 1991 1b; Hayward, 1990). Successful writing tasks bias for the best. That is, they offer the writers the best possible chance to demonstrate their strengths and to improve their writing.





Effective writing assignments (sometimes called prompts because they prompt the student to write): Interest both the writer and the reader. Are accessible to all the writers. Involve the writers in the topic. Are comprehensible to the writers. Are unbiased with regard to the cultures of the students. Are not cultural bound (that is, they do not require intimate knowledge of U.S. culture). Allow students to learn as they write.

Research is cognitive psychology (Bereiter and Scardamalia, 1987a) and in reading and writing has shown that student writers perform most successfully when the writing topic taps into their background knowledge - that is, they write best around subjects they know (see Carrell, 1984c, 1992; Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983; Cheskey and Hiebert, 1987; McKay, 1989; Newell and MacAdam, 1987; Tedick, 1990). The production of successful prose is thus at least partially dependent on the students prior knowledge, not only of the subject matter but also of the cultural context in which the assignment will be written. Teachers designing writing assignments should therefore consider the prior knowledge of their students as well as other topic variables: the wording, the mode of discourse, the rhetorical specifications, and the subject matter (Hamp-Lyons, 1992; Johns, 1990; Peyton et al., 1990; Tedick, 1990). In addition, teachers designing writing assignments or explaining writing activities should make certain that they state explicitly their expectations and their criteria for evaluation. Similarly, when students choose their own writing topics, they should consider what they know: they should write about what they know about (and read about what they dont know). As teachers begin designing writing tasks, there are political considerations. As Ilona Leki (1992) and Robin Scarcella (1990) point out, the learning of language and culture almost certainly changes students. It may be presumptuous, for example, to require writing assignments that ask ESL students to practice self-exploration and discovery of self through writing because that imposes tasks that reflect our North American culture fascination with self. Instead, many ESL students have a different objective: to use written English only in the most utilitarian and pragmatic ways that will enable them to function satisfactorily in an academic work, ESL students may have little, or perhaps no need to write English. With these issues in mind, the teacher can first evaluate the purpose and audience for each assigned task.



Researches have begun to investigate the organizational structures and content presentations expected by the academic audience by (a) surveying academic faculty (Bridgeman and Carlson, 1984; Canesco and P. Byrd, 1989; Horowitz, 1986; Kroll, 1979; Ostler, 1988; Swales, 1990a). In order to better design authentic, academically oriented ESL writing classes, teachers are developing writing assignments that have as their objective real-world products. Daniel Horowitz (1992) suggested selecting content that is based on a body of knowledge to which all writers have had equal access, and then phrasing the prompt in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) frame, such as the following: Describe the functions of (Example: letter grades); What purpose does (Example: technologies associated with horticulture) serve? Explain the purpose of (Example: volunteerism)

Other EAP frames might include: Identify and describe (Ex.: the target market for a consumer product). Determine (Ex.: the availability of handicap- accessible buildings on the campus). Evaluate (Ex.: the environmental policy of an organization). Give an overview of (Ex.: the use of illegal drugs in Europe) (examples mine).

As teachers develop and assign writing tasks or class activities, they might use the following evaluation criteria. Is the task: Too broad or too narrow to be accomplished within the assignment parameters? Too simple or too complex in terms of syntax or background knowledge? Culture specific or culture bound? Too abstract or philosophical? Too unacademic or otherwise inappropriate?

Finally, students should have the opportunity to give feedback to the teacher concerning the success of assigned topics. A journal assignment that evaluates the topic (What did you like about this topic?) or a postscript at the end of the final draft of the paper (What was the most successful part of this paper? What did you know about the topic? What was interesting for you/your reader about this topic? What would you change if you had more time?) will allow the teacher to see the topic from the students perspectives.




Duane Roen (1989) suggests that teachers constructing ESL writing assignments should focus in three objectives: (a) (b) To guide students to address authentic audiences, purposes, and topics; To use process approaches to help students define and solve the rhetorical problems that writing entails; and many


To make it possible for students to receive appropriate feedback or evaluation as they write. The writing tasks that follow attempt to fulfill those criteria.