ESL Lesson For Public School NETs in Hong Kong: Teaching Writing Skills to Advanced Students

Textbook Used: Longman Academic Writing Series

Authentic Material to Supplement Textbook: 15-minute Video Humans Need Not Apply

Mixed-level classes are the norm in East Asian high schools, and this is especially true in Hong Kong. Due to the prevalence of English content on the Internet, by FC6 Level (grade 12) some students attain native level fluency, and keeping them engaged and drawing on the advanced students as a resource can actually enhance the experience for the entire class and make for a dynamic and fruitful lesson.

When teaching high school students in Hong Kong the teacher needs to be able to devise a lesson plan that engages the fluent students without alienating the lower level students.

This lesson uses the video below to teach about argumentative essay writing, expose students to authentic listening material, and create interest for the writing assignment.

About the Author: Jacob Pejvack completed our 250-hour TESOL Diploma. Jacob has more than 20 years of experience as an ESL teacher, having spent the majority of time in East Asia. Teaching writing skills to advanced students is his preferred subject.

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Using Authentic Material

By grade 12, there is a heavy focus on analytical reading and writing skills; the expectation of the high-level students and school boards is for instructors to provide substantive reading content and writing practice to complement the academic reading/writing textbooks. Currently, the Longman Academic Writing Series is one of the most popular in East Asia. This series provides writing lessons to varying degrees of difficulty ranging from level 1 to 5. However, the format of the lessons are quite similar. The argumentative essay is the key lesson in these books and most grade 12 schools curricula. For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on chapter 8 in book 4 and provide a detailed Task Based Learning approach to the lesson that incorporates relevant authentic material as well. Due to the difficulty of the book and the limited vocabulary of some of the students, the students should be encouraged to read the book chapter before coming to class.

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An Intro to Analytical writing

A short dynamic lecture, no more than 5 minutes, explaining what an Argumentative Essay is can set the tone for the lesson. It is incumbent on the instructor to explain the difference between facts and opinions, and what it means to have warranted beliefs versus unfounded and irrational opinions. The students need to understand that not only do they have to provide factual support for their claim, but they also need to consider opposing views and examine the weaknesses of their argument. Of course, this intro should not be a one sided speech by the instructor; what is more effective is the Socratic approach where students are engaged and explain the above notions by answering the carefully worded questions of the teacher. By grade 12, many of the students have already been exposed to these ideas and through this question/answer process the instructor reviews key principles and empowers the students by allowing them to deepen their understanding. When students actively explain things to each other, they grasp the concepts much more effectively.

After the intro, the students should be placed in pairs and tasked with analyzing the sample essay, Replaced By a Robot, which is followed by essay analysis questions and a collocation exercise. Once the students have finished the exercise, the instructor takes up all of the questions and ensures that the key principles of the argumentative essay have become more salient for the students.

The next section of the lesson focuses on the organization of an argumentative lesson and compares the block pattern with the point-by-point pattern. While in the block pattern, the counter-argument to the thesis is presented first, followed by the positive account of the argument. This is especially effective when taking the conventional or generally accepted position. In the point-by-point pattern, each counter-argument is presented, followed by a rebuttal, which usually suits a more controversial thesis. The next practice requires students to complete an outline of the model essay, which follows the point-by-point pattern. Once students have completed the outline on their own, the teacher should review the answers and ensure that all pupils are grasping the key points.

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The Introductory Paragraph

In this section, not only does the book provide a detailed explanation of the structure of the introduction and thesis statement, it also explains the grammatical forms that best suit thesis statements. After having one of the students who has a clear reading voice or the instructor read this section allowed to the class, the instructor needs to provide ample time for questions and answers. When students ask questions, the instructor should always give other students a chance to answer or try to respond through a sequence of leading questions to encourage active learning at all times.

The instructor needs to emphasize on how contrasting transition signals can allow the writer to present their position against the opposing view. While the dependent clause presents the opposing view, the independent clause should state the main position of the writer:

Although some point out that climate conditions change due to a variety of natural factors, the recent century’s global warming is due to industrial activity and the rapid growth in human population.

Then, the instructor allows the students to complete practice three, which is forming thesis statements by adding an opposing view to a one sided statement. After that, The best 5 answers should be written on the board by the students.

Supporting Ideas, counter arguments and the assignment

The rest of the chapter, which is practicing thesis statements, should be assigned for homework as well as the section for supporting ideas. This section is primarily graph analysis and fill in the blank exercises; furthermore, it is is primarily a review of chapter three Using Outside Sources.

In the following class the instructor plays a YouTube Video, entitled Humans Need Not Apply, which further delves into the automation issue and provides much more information. First the students see the 15-minute video without subtitles. Then, especially if the class is on the lower end of the spectrum, the instructor should cover the key vocabulary on the board with the aid of the students. Then, the instructor plays the video a second time, and asks the students to write out an outline of the argument made in the clip.

The students should notice that although it is a video, it strictly follows an academic essay style and follows a point-by-point argument pattern. The instructor should carefully break up the pupils into teams where the more advanced students are evenly spread in the class to act as team leaders. After that, the outline is finalized by comparing the results of the different groups. Once again, the TBL approach can greatly improve active learning skills and address the language gap between the students. Once the students have compared the two arguments, the instructor can assign a research project where students are tasked with writing an essay evaluating the economic and social implications of automation and robotics.

By complementing the conventional textbook with dynamic and lively digital media content, the instructor is able to create a sense of pertinence and also humanize the analytical approach to writing. In addition, by using a modern and update work/textbook, the instructor can harness the full potential of the TBL approach.

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