Read, Research and Write: Academic Skills for ESL Students in Higher Education


Caroline Brandt

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    Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them.

    Truman Capote, Writers at Work

    To Tutors

    This book is based upon research into the needs of pre-sessional and in-sessional ESL students who are studying in a range of academic institutions around the world. These institutions have one feature in common – English is the language of instruction, while their students come from a different language background or backgrounds.

    The research addressed the issue of content on courses aimed at preparing ESL students for academic study in English-medium contexts. It was found that courses either adopt a discipline-specific approach or a general-interest approach to content selection, or a combination of the two. However, outcomes identified several problems with these approaches, and an alternative approach is suggested in response to these: the use of content about English for Academic Purposes (EAP), on the grounds that for the duration of their studies, at least, EAP is a subject that all ESL students are involved in, whether directly, through taking EAP courses, or indirectly, by studying another subject through the medium of English. The research outcomes suggested that the field of EAP itself can provide examples of academic writing that are at once relevant to students in terms of content and appropriate in terms of level of English language proficiency required of the reader.

    This book therefore takes an innovative approach to the development of academic skill for ESL students in higher education. As its content, 10 articles about aspects of EAP are provided. These have been selected (and abridged and edited in some cases) for the relevance of their content and the appropriacy of the language for pre-sessional and early in-sessional EAP students. Both the content and the language of these articles are systematically explored through a range of tasks provided at the end of each article.

    The book has a number of other features that may be unexpected in a book aimed at developing students’ skills in the area of EAP. Firstly, no space is provided for students to record their answers. Instead, students should be encouraged to take their own notes throughout. Research outcomes indicated that textbooks which provide space for ‘answers’ encourage a ‘complete the gap’ approach and remove the opportunity for students to develop the skills they need to make comprehensive and personally meaningful notes. The outcomes suggested that the process of taking such notes enhances learning, and that the product is much more useful to students at a later stage, for example, for revision purposes.

    Secondly, as EAP tutors are expected to be experienced teachers of students of English as a second or foreign language, few suggestions are provided for teaching from this book, and there is no teacher's book. It is understood instead that tutors have at their disposal a range of techniques and approaches that can be applied throughout. Likewise, no indication is provided of the amount of time that a tutor should spend on each section. Instead, it is recognized that tutors want to be able to respond to their students’ needs by paying greater attention to some areas than to others, and that this may be accomplished through the identification of the most useful tasks and activities for a particular group of students in their context.

    Thirdly, much of the material in this book relies upon student response and pair or group interaction and discussion. In such cases, there is no one right answer to be found. It is expected instead that ‘answers’ will be negotiated, a skill identified in the research as essential for students to develop. For this reason, the answers provided in the key (available on the companion website) are largely limited to the comparatively few cases where it is possible to identify ‘one right answer’ with a degree of certainty.

    Fourthly, all chapters have been piloted with classes of students drawn from the target population of this book. These students had a number of features in common. During the pilot phase, they were:

    • attending pre-sessional or first-year credit-bearing courses towards their majors
    • taking different majors at an English-medium tertiary level institution
    • learning English as a second or additional language.

    Examples of students’ work gathered during the piloting phase have been included throughout this book. A few quotes from the feedback received on each chapter have also been included. Students were also largely responsible for the answer key, and they also wrote the following section ‘To students’. In taking this approach, it is hoped that the involvement of students throughout this book may be experienced by the reader.

    Finally, there is a companion website which provides a scheme for annotating students’ writing, a collection of links to articles that relate to the content of the 10 chapters of this book, as well as an answer key for several of the tasks and activities. If a key is provided, the symbol “” appears next to the text.

    To Students

    We strongly recommend this book if you are in tertiary education. This book provides you with appropriate strategies in dealing with texts, new words and how to organize your thoughts, as well as many other academic issues that are discussed in detail within the covers of the book. It is particularly helpful for students in various majors because you will be learning new skills and applying them to your own context in every chapter, which gives you the opportunity to learn the theoretical and linguistic aspects of the topic as well as giving you opportunities to practise in your field. We believe that the best use of this book is accomplished in a university foundation programme or if you are a freshman/first-year student; however, we think it would be useful for all university levels as well. Since many academic institutions use English as the language of instruction worldwide, whether it is as a lingua franca or it is the mother language, this book will widen students’ access to tertiary level.

    What makes this book different from other books is that it can be approached in several ways, as described in the map in the first chapter. We recommend that you make sure you have a careful look at the map, decide in which way you will benefit most, and then go directly to the material you need. In this way you do not have to follow the same order as the material is presented in the book. Each chapter contains six focus points: reading, learning language, writing, researching, studying, and applying to your own subject. The transitions between these points are smooth and they are coherently related to the article in the chapter.

    Don't be discouraged if you have to read a paragraph more than once in order to understand it. You might encounter a little difficulty when reading the articles in each chapter but this should not be discouraging because ‘life is a journey of learning which never stops’. You should have pencil and paper at hand and make the best use of the tables provided in the book such as the vocabulary record and the related words record. For example, the article in Chapter 3 is quite long – but it is very readable. Try to read ahead and prepare for your next class, and, especially, consider reading the articles before coming to class. This will allow you to save your class time for discussion with your instructor. We think that this book provides interesting articles with just the right level of challenge. The articles are neither very difficult nor they are too easy to handle.

    Another remarkable feature of the book is that there are recommended websites to be used in order to improve and expand readers’ vocabulary knowledge. For example, there is a website to familiarize the reader with many academic words: the ‘Academic word list’. There are also websites to translate from English to many other languages and a website to check collocations entitled ‘just the word’. There are many such helpful websites suggested in this book.

    Finally, the book is provided with priceless information that captured our attention; these are the ‘strategies for success’ which appear throughout the chapters. These strategies provide you with powerful methods to ease the very many academic tasks required of a typical university student. There is also a companion website with many additional links and resources to help you –

    We wish you ‘good luck’ with your studies.

    Moutaz BassamFalih Saleh, Saoud AliAbdulla Fadhel Al Maamari, (first-year students at the Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), July 2007


    The research for, and development of, this book was undertaken with the support of a grant awarded by the Research and Graduate Studies Committee of the Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2007.

    I would like to thank in particular my colleagues at the Petroleum Institute: Robert Craig, Roger Nunn and Matthew J. Webb for their support and contributions.

    Many students volunteered to pilot the material. I would like to thank the following in particular for their participation and feedback: Ibrahim Ali Al Kodssi; Karam Abdollmnem Khatib; Marwan Mohsin Al Haj Atalla Hasan Abu Aasi; Mohamed Saeed Mohamed S. M. Al Khanbooli Al Shehhi; Moutaz Bassam Falih Saleh; Saif Ali Mohamed Saeed Al Mesaabi; Saoud Ali Abdulla Fadhel Al Maamari; Tariq Ibrahim Abdul Rahim Al Jallad; Fatima Al Zaabi; Sara Ali Al Abadi; Khawla Abdulla Al Manthari;Yasmine Guefrachi; Tuka Al Hanai; Reem Mohammed Nasser; Basma Ali Abdulkareem Ahmed; Meera Al Marzouqi, Mariam Tareq Ahmed Khalil and Emina Taher Helja.

    The following articles have been reprinted and in some cases abridged with permission:

    Chapter 2

    Gillett, A. (1996, updated 2007, personal communication). ‘What is EAP?’

    Reprinted with permission of the author.

    Chapter 3

    Beder, S. (1997). ‘Addressing the issues of social and academic integration for first-year students: a discussion paper’.

    Reprinted with permission of the author.

    Chapter 4

    Coxhead, A. (2005). Reviewed work: Upton, T. A. ‘Reading Skills for Success: A Guide to Academic Texts’ (2004).

    Reprinted with permission of the Assistant Editor of Reading in a Foreign Language, published by the University of Hawaii.

    Chapter 5

    Spack, R. (1998). ‘Initiating ESL students into the Academic Discourse Community: how far should we go?’ by Spack, R. and Zamel, V.

    Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group LLC., a division of Informa plc.

    Chapter 6

    Sutherland-Smith, W. (2005). ‘Pandora's box: academic perceptions of student plagiarism in writing.’

    Reprinted with kind permission of Elsevier.

    Chapter 7

    Brandt, C. (2007). ‘Material matters: the case for EAP as subject matter of EAP courses.’ Reprinted with permission of David Palfreyman, Editor of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Gulf Perspectives. Vol. 5, Issue 1, January 2008.

    Chapter 8

    Nunn, R. (2007). ‘Making reasonable claims.’

    Reprinted with permission of the author.

    Chapter 9

    Thompson, C. (1999). ‘Critical thinking: what is it and how do we teach it in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs?’

    Reprinted with permission of the Manager, Administration, Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia.

    Chapter 10

    Cioffi, F. L. (2005). The Imaginative Argument. Princeton University Press.

    Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.

  • References

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    Thompson, C. (1999) Critical thinking: what is it and how do we teach it in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs? Proceedings of the HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, 12–15 July 1999, University of Melbourne, Australia: Centre for Communication Skills and English as a Second Language.
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