ESL and Non-Standard English Writing Instruction

ESL and Non-Standard English
Writing Instruction
Hiram College WAC
October 14, 2010
Two Primary Concerns
• How do we introduce the student to conventions
and styles of academic prose, BUT ALSO allow
them to maintain distinctive voice, idiom and
way of approaching writing
• How do we address the patterns of grammar and
usage problems, BUT ALSO teach students to
correct their own grammar issues.
Conventions of Academic Prose
and ESL Writers
• Student essays seem strange and unfocused
• Students seem unable or unwilling to make a
point or come to a conclusion
• Students shy from presenting their own ideas,
relying exclusively on sources.
Introduce Western Academic Prose
• Attempt to balance between teaching American
style of academic prose and working with them
to make their essays correct but still distinct.
• Probe students about their plan for writing an
essay. How do they organize? Why?
• Introduce the five paragraph essay format
stressing the importance of a straightforward
Play to their cultural strengths
• Encourage them to play upon their cultural
difference in their writing. They may or may not
realize the strength this gives them in details,
perspective, and cultural perspective
• Pick topics that relate to their experience. What
is new in their experience that will be interesting
to the reader?
• Teach them how to translate that experience to a
western academic audience.
Don’t eradicate cultural accents
• Idioms: How and why do they translate? How
can the writer use them in a way that is
interesting and informative to the reader?
• Strange, indirect, or odd sentence construction:
Does the student make choices that inform that
sentence construction, or are they flailing in an
attempt to write?
Teaching Patterns of Grammar
• Students use turns of phrase that seem almost
• Paper grading and comments devolve into
• You can tell students what is wrong, but not why
it is wrong
• You have trouble understanding student and
their accent
ESL/NSL Priorities
• ESL students do need more help with grammar,
but they often need help with higher order
concerns as well.
▫ Divide up time/comment space into percentage talking
about grammar, percentage talking about higher order
▫ Concentrate on only one to two grammar concerns,
not all of them
▫ Discuss the grammar concept in addition to the
sentence at hand.
Teach a man to fish
• Read the essay aloud with the ESL student, or
have the student read the essay aloud on their
• As you read over the essay, underline grammar
errors that you see, but do not correct them.
Ask students to make corrections.
• With ESL speakers, use the correct terminology.
• With NSE speakers, teach the correct
Common ESL Grammar Errors
Since there are so many possibilities for error, respond to:
▫ Stigmatizing errors are those that are most likely to annoy
or put off either native-English-speaking readers or expert
readers in the student's field. No matter the quality of the
writing otherwise, stigmatizing errors can turn readers off.
▫ Significant errors are those that may not necessarily
stigmatize but that may impede comprehension. While a
misplaced comma may not interfere with a text's readability
in many cases, problems with verb tense or idiom may
produce serious misunderstandings.
▫ Persistent errors are those that occur frequently and
appear to follow a pattern.
▫ (U of Utah’s ESL Writing Initiative)
Common ESL Grammar Errors
▫ Article use:
 Indefinite versus definite articles.
 Count versus non-count
 First mention versus subsequent mention
▫ Count versus Noncount Nouns:
 Count nouns can be counted,
 Non-count can’t (abstractions)
▫ Verb tenses you don’t usually get to:
 Past perfect , Present perfect
▫ Misuse of Vocabulary, especially synonyms.
Common NSE Style & Grammar Errors
• Transfer of spoken language directly to the page,
▫ Lack of punctuation or misuse of punctuation.
▫ Misuse of homophones: confusing terms and
words due to pronunciation rather than their
correct meaning.
▫ Overly conversational prose, including extensive
use of slang.
• Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL):
▫ Purdue OWL
• ESL Writing Initiative, University of Utah:
▫ ESL Writing Initiative

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