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domingo, 14 de octubre de 2012

Helping intermediate students structure a piece of academic writing

A piece of academic writing should present elaborate ideas while respecting certain conventions as regards its structure. Intermediate learners, who may be new to academic writing, may find this a daunting task. That  is why within the framework of process writing,  at the stage of structuring their work I invite my students to think metaphorically: I make them view the writing experience as an exciting round trip, on which they embark with a certain purpose, a clear destination and a well-planned itinerary in mind.

 What a trip and a piece of academic writing have in common is that they unfold in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a development and a conclusion.  Just like a traveller who announces their destination and tells us the purpose of their trip, the introduction of the essay is the stage in which the writer tells their readership what they are going to write about, provides relevant background information and presents the thesis statement.

The body of the piece is the part in which they actually start to move  forward on the road. Every paragraph can be viewed as subsequent legs of the journey, the topic sentences being the stopovers through which the composition advances. Topic sentences have a double function: to keep the text cohesive by establishing a semantic link to the  thesis statement, and to announce what the body paragraph they introduce is about.  We should not forget that in each stopover the traveller meets people, takes photographs and enjoys views; likewise, the initial announcement is expanded by supporting sentences through arguments, examples and details. Before returning to the road, they may look back at the place and recall their experiences there. This is equivalent to the concluding sentence in each body paragraph, in which the information that has been discussed in the paragraph may be summarized.

 Being a round trip, as their journey is coming to a close  I invite students to think what they do when they come back home. After having stopped at all the places they had planned to visit in their itinerary , they probably go over the pictures they took during their journey and recall the experiences they lived there.  Similarly, the conclusion looks back at the introduction, makes allusions to the development of the writing and the ideas displayed there, to finally come to a close.

As I said before, to structure a piece of academic writing in a foreign language may be an arduous task for some students, especially when writing in a foreign language.  I consider that making them approach this task in a metaphorical way, helps them apply a cognitive structure they are familiar with to a new one, which makes the task easier and more enjoyable. 

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