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Monday, August 17, 2015

STEPS TO TEACHING PERFECT WRITING

With the rapid expansion of the Internet, it is clear that the quality of English writing—both American and British—has taken a dive for the worst. “Netspeak” is obtrusively taking over most electronic communications, making good writing practices increasingly scarce. With such a strong influence the Internet has over the world today, it is no wonder so few children can write. Even the most intelligent and successful business leaders seem small and insignificant when they distribute e-mails full of spelling errors and non-capitalized sentences. Therefore, it is more vital than ever to teach our children to write well before they are released into a relentless and competitive world.
The best way to learn to write is to practice. People learn best by making mistakes and correcting them for themselves. The following method of teaching writing enforces that very concept. It will work for established writers who need to polish their skills, and it will work for the struggling student who was absent the day they taught grammar. Whether you are a teacher, a homeschooling mom, or a tutor, you can teach anyone to be a better writer with a little patience and a lot of persistence.
With this writing technique, you as the teacher will act as an editor. You will give out the assignment, give the writers the freedom to write in their own style, edit their work, and return the work to the writers for revisions. You will edit the revisions, return the work, and await another revision. This will go on, back and forth, until the writing is flawless. Be consistent and unyielding in your editing process, and soon you will have a perfect writer (or a class full of perfect writers) on your hands.
Step One: Assign the Writing Task.
Have the student (or students) write something at least a page long—a story, a biography, a TV review, or a book report. For more advanced writers, assign a research paper or longer story. For students who hate to write, don’t pressure them into writing something massive, just whatever comes to mind. If it’s only two paragraphs, that’s still a good start. Depending on the student’s skill, this may be the only assignment he or she gets for the entire school year. But it will last the entire school year. Explain to the students that they will revise their writing assignments over and over until they are perfect, even if it takes all year. They need to understand this ongoing process or they might feel like each edit is a rejection.
Step Two: Assign a Deadline for the First Draft.
For the first draft, one week should be enough. You may have students (or if you are a mom, your one child) who will hand in nothing or just a sentence. Do not be discouraged by this. Chances are, the child is self-conscious about his or her writing and is reluctant to show you. It is vital that you address these students individually. Question each one until you find something he or she is interested in. That will be the topic you will assign. If they are still reluctant, have them start with one paragraph. Accept that paragraph as the first draft with the intention of building it up.
Step Three: Mark It Up
Edit each paper meticulously, using red pen or, if the paper was submitted electronically, the word processor’s markup feature. For every markup, however, you must include an explanation. If the error lies with subject/verb agreement, for example, explain what that means or refer the student to a page in his or her grammar book. Mark every missing punctuation and cross out unnecessary capital letters.
Step Four: Be the Editor
In addition to simply proofreading a paper, offer suggestions to the writer. Tell the writer to write more details about a specific subject. Request more adjectives or less repetition of the same words. Ask questions in your editing to prompt the student to clarify. Return the paper to the student to revise.
Step Five: Set Another Deadline
If necessary, allow the students to work on their revisions in class so they can ask questions if they need to. If you make them revise their work at home, you may never get it back. In class, as long as they know exactly what to change, the task should be easy for them.
Step Six: Editing with Praise
In this next edit, be sure to note how well the writing is coming along. Comments like “Did that really happen?” or “That’s funny!” will go a long way to boost your student’s confidence. Make more suggestions to improve the readability of the piece.
Step Seven: Don’t Give Up
After three revisions, you might be tempted to say, “This is good enough.” But remember that you are not looking for “good enough.” You are looking for perfect. The students may groan and complain, but you are doing the best thing in the world for them. Don’t give up now. Mark it up, send it back, set another deadline.
Step Eight: Get Picky
The student has done everything you’ve asked. It is time to nitpick, to find the most common and almost unnoticeable errors. Find errors that adults or even businesses commonly make. Make sure the paper has a good introduction and a satisfying conclusion. Make sure the title is catchy and the student’s name and headings are exactly as instructed. What about content? Is the story interesting enough?
Step Nine: Have the Student Read Aloud
When you think all the revisions are complete, have each student read his or her paper out loud, either in front of you or in front of the class. Make notes where the student stammers or hesitates. This might indicate a section where the sentence flow is poor. Your critique of their readings will mark the final edit of the piece.
Step Ten: Finalize and Congratulate
After the students read their papers aloud, have them make last minute revisions based on your critique and hand in the final copy. By this time, every paper, whether it is one page or twenty, should be nearly professional in quality. Congratulate each student, and congratulate yourself.
This hands on method of teaching students to write will stay with them throughout each of their lives. Each time they read a business letter or log onto the Internet, they will subconsciously mimic you in picking out mistakes.
Writing is a skill that takes practice. But that practice sometimes needs a little guidance. If you guide your students through one single writing assignment and stay with them from beginning to end, you will be giving them the gift of a lifetime. Not only will you improve the writing skills of a group of young students, but you will be contributing to the literary betterment of the world.



ESSAY WRITING - VARIETY AND COHERENCE


Essay writing - variety and coherence

Variety
Use different sentence patterns in your essay. Variety is essential to retain the reader’s interest. If you write too many sentences of the same pattern, your writing may sound dull and monotonous and the reader may lose interest. To avoid this, use all kinds of sentences in your essay. There should be long and short sentences, simple and complex, straight forward and inverted. Note that a good knowledge of the different techniques of sentence synthesis is essential to add variety and sophistication to your writing.
Variety is necessary; however, it must not be overdone. The idea is to make your essay interesting to read. This is possible only by having a simple and direct approach.
Coherence
Linking words are essential to achieve the effect of unbroken continuity of thought. Most linking words are conjunctions. When used correctly, words like hence, so, therefore, but, or, then etc will connect the sentences up and make the paragraph a well-knit whole.
If ideas have to be contrasted, you can use expressions like on the other hand, on the contrary, however, nevertheless, yet and still. There are also several discourse markers that usually go at the beginning of a clause.

ESSAYS: HISTORY AND DEFINITION


Essays: history and definition

History of essays
The first man who used the term essai was a Frenchman called Michel de Montaigne. He wrote about his feelings on certain ideas like idleness, agony etc in the late 1500s. The first English essayist was Sir Francis Bacon who wrote on subjects like death, fear, friendship, studies etc in the early 1600s.
What is an essay?
An essay is a short piece of composition that expresses the writer’s opinion on a particular subject. It is a major form of literature that includes many types of writings such as magazine articles and newspaper editorials.
Structure
An essay has a loose structure. According to Samuel Johnson an essay is ‘an irregular, indigested piece of writing’. However, well-structured essays also exist. Academic essays, for example, follow a well-structured pattern. In any case, structure or its absence doesn’t seem to matter much in the case of essays.
Generally speaking, an essay has an introduction and a conclusion. You can find several paragraphs between the introductory and the ending paragraph.
Type
There are several different types of essays. An essay can be formal or informal, impersonal or familiar. Formal essays tend to have a rigid structure. They are also more expository and systematic. Informal essays, on the other hand, have a personal, intimate and often humorous style. They could even be written in conversational language.

Common mistakes in ESL writing


Common writing mistakes

Change of narrative
Sometimes students often start writing in the first person and change to the third person. This can cause a lot of confusion. While writing a piece of academic text, it is always a good idea to use the third person narrative. This is an unwritten rule that exists in academia. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to totally eliminate the pronouns I and we from your writing. Sometimes it is not possible; sometimes it just doesn’t make much sense. However, as far as possible, try to use the impersonal pronoun it instead of the first person pronouns or we. Of course, it will also mean some changes in the tense and voice. Note that if you use personal pronouns throughout your term paper or essay, it could result in poor grading.
Run-on sentences
This is a very common mistake. If a sentence contains two or more main clauses, they have to be properly connected using a coordinating conjunction. If you do not want to use a conjunction, you have to use an appropriate punctuation mark like semicolon. Alternatively you can split the two clauses using a full-stop.
Improper capitalization
Rules of capitalization are relatively easy to follow. Nonetheless, ESL students sometimes get them wrong.
Always begin a sentence with a capital letter. Capitalize the first letters of proper nouns. Examples are: John, Rahul, Mary, Microsoftetc. Do not capitalize the first letters of common nouns. Examples are: boy, girl, computer etc. The personal pronoun ‘I’ should always be capitalized.

UK vs. US Spelling

British and American spellings are different in many ways. It doesn’t really matter which spelling you use while writing. However, you have to remain consistent throughout your writing. So for example, if you intend to use American spelling, stick to it. Do not use American spellings for some words and British spellings for other words.
Avoid excessively long sentences
In a bid to impress the examiner, students often try to write excessively long sentences that contain numerous main and subordinate clauses. Unfortunately, this is not a good practice. When your sentences are too long, your chances of making mistakes are pretty high. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to write only simple sentences. Actually, that is not recommended either. If all of your sentences are of the same length, they will make your text boring. Therefore, it is always a good idea to strike a balance between simple and complex sentences. Use them both in your writing, but make sure that your complex sentences are of a manageable length. Although there are no hard and fast rules regarding the length of a sentence, it is always a good idea to limit the number of subordinate clauses to two or three. And at the same time, do not use more than two main clauses in a sentence. By using different sentence patterns, you can add variety and sophistication to your writing.
Bottom-line: Do not use too many conjunctions in a sentence. If you feel that your sentences are too long, re-read them to see if they can be broken up. Your readers will also like shorter sentences because they are easier to understand.
Avoid excessively long paragraphs
Pay attention to the size of your paragraphs. They should be neither too long, nor too short. If you are writing an essay, you can try paragraphs of different lengths. For example, you can write a short paragraph after a long one or vice-versa. This will add variety. Avoid excessively long paragraphs at any cost. For one thing, they will immediately put off the reader. Studies have proved that people are more likely to read shorter pieces of text. They wouldn’t mind reading a long essay or document if it is neatly broken into paragraphs of reasonable length. But if your paragraphs are too long, few people will bother to read in the first place.
In general, you can include three to five paragraphs on an A4 paper. Also make sure that only one main idea or topic is discussed in each paragraph.

General writing tips for TOEFL and IELTS


General writing tips for TOEFL and IELTS

Instead use the vocabulary you would normally use. During the preparation stage itself try to incorporate new words into your writing. Make it a habit so that you learn their correct usage. You can then use these words while writing your TOEFL essays. However, avoid the temptation to use unfamiliar words on the actual TOEFL test. Remember that to add variety and sophistication to your writing you don’t have to use long, obscure words. In fact, most ideas can be expressed using more common words. You must still make a conscious effort to use precise vocabulary. For example, some English words are used to express a large number of ideas. A common example is the word ‘get’. It can be used to express ideas such as ‘acquire’, ‘catch, ‘earn’, ‘coax’, ‘become’, ‘score’ and so on.
While writing your TOEFL essay, try to use words that express the idea more precisely.
Correct: While holidaying in London, Susie acquired a strong British accent.
Incorrect: While holidaying in London, Susie got a strong British accent.
If you use so many general words, the examiner will not be too happy with your essay.
Use familiar and natural sentence structures
While evaluating your essay, the examiner will pay close attention to your grammatical range and accuracy. That means you will not get a good score if you only write short and simple sentences of the same pattern. If you repeat the same sentence patterns, it will make your writing boring. To avoid this try to use different sentence structures. Also write sentences of various lengths. For example, by writing a long sentence after one or two short sentences you can add variety to your writing. However, you must not use different sentence structures just for the sake of adding variety. Avoid unfamiliar sentence patterns because you are more likely to make grammar mistakes while writing them. Also avoid extremely long sentences. Instead, keep your sentences relatively short.

TOEFL essay writing tips

TOEFL essay writing tips

The second writing task is an independent essay. You have to write an essay of at least 300 words on a given topic. You will have to write on the topic you are given. No choice is available. TOEFL iBT is a computerized test. You have to type both essays on a computer. If you do not know typewriting well, you must practice on a keyboard before your test.
You can cut, copy and paste as you type your essays, but remember that the computer will not check your spelling or grammar. That means you have to do your homework. Learn the spellings of all words you tend to misspell.

General writing strategies

The TOEFL writing section has two tasks. It takes about 50 minutes. Here are a few tips for success on the Writing section.

Organize your thoughts first

Do not start writing as soon the section begins. Instead, use one or two minutes for organizing your ideas. This is very important, because few people are capable of organizing their thoughts in their mind as they write. As a result they will have to edit more.
By organizing your ideas in the beginning itself, you will get an outline for your essay. Once you have got the outline ready, you only need to develop the ideas into paragraphs. However, do not spend more than 2 or 3 minutes on an outline. Remember that you will not get any marks for the outline.

Use familiar vocabulary

Some students try to impress the examiner with complex vocabulary. You must not try this stunt if you are not familiar with these words. Of course, you have to use academic words in your essay. However, they needn’t necessarily be obscure.

ing - form as gerund and present participle

Image result for gerund

ing - form as gerund and present participle

When the –ing form is used as a present participle, it helps make continuous tense forms. Study the examples given below:
  • I am writing an email. (Here the present participle ‘writing’ helps form the present continuous tense verb ‘am writing’.)
  • They are playing. (Here the present participle ‘playing’ helps form the present continuous verb ‘are playing’.)
  • We have been waiting for them. (Here the present participle ‘waiting’ helps form the present perfect continuous tense form ‘have been waiting’.)
The present participle can also be used as an adjective. In this case, it goes before nouns.
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss. (Here the present participle ‘rolling’ modifies the noun ‘stone’.)
  • Barking dogs seldom bite. (Here the present participle ‘barking’ modifies the noun ‘dogs’.)
When the –ing form is used as a gerund, it serves the same purpose as a noun. That means, it can be used as the subject or object of the verb. It can also be used as the object of prepositions. Study the examples given below.
  • Reading is my favorite pastime. (Here the –ing form ‘reading’ acts as the subject of the verb ‘is’.)
  • She enjoys dancing. (Here the –ing form ‘dancing’ acts as the object of the verb ‘enjoys’.)
  • There is no point in waiting for her. (Here the –ing form ‘waiting’ acts as the object of the preposition ‘in’.)