Teaching Writing to Multilingual International Students in a Small Liberal Arts Setting: An Annotated Bibliography

Lynn Ishikawa, Assistant Professor of English and Director of English for Academic Purposes, DePauw University. Contact at: lynnishikawa@depauw.edu

Tamara Stasik, Assistant Professor of English and English for Academic Purposes Specialist, DePauw University. Contact at: tamarastasik@depauw.edu

Alexis Hart, Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing, Allegheny College. Contact at: ahart@allegheny.edu

Jennifer Franz, Learning Specialist/TESOL Instructor, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Allegheny College. Contact at: jfranz@allegheny.edu

Carla Reyes, Assistant Director, Learning Center, The College of Wooster. Contact at: creyes@wooster.edu

Note: This resource is organized into five broad (but interrelated) categories: inclusive classrooms and student agency; instructor and peer feedback; vocabulary development and mini grammar lessons; assignment design and scaffolding; and essay structure and thesis development.


Colleges and universities across the US admit international students who are still developing their English proficiency. Indeed, internationalization and global diversity are stated strategic initiatives at many GLCA campuses. On these campuses, targeted support may be available for international students in the form of courses, workshops, writing centers, summer programs, language labs, peer tutors, and professional one-on-one consultations with multilingual writing specialists, yet the reality is that even when students take advantage of this support, it represents only a small part of their academic lives. Without faculty development related to best practices for teaching these students, such support only goes halfway toward the goal of creating inclusive classrooms.

One example of this relates to language. When working with multilingual writers, faculty members may focus writing instruction and feedback primarily on sentence-level concerns. While the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) specialist can help develop a student’s awareness of error patterns in order to improve accuracy and introduce strategies for finding and correcting these errors, without changes in faculty expectations about accuracy and correctness, the writing process will likely be somewhat frustrating for both students and faculty. If, on the other hand, faculty have a sense of how a multilingual student’s native language might be used strategically in the writing process, as well as when it makes sense to attend to sentence-level errors and which errors deserve the most concern given the genre and purpose of the writing, students are more likely to feel that their ideas are being valued and that they are making progress in conveying those ideas. An international student’s struggle with writing assignments, in other words, may be partly a result of English proficiency, but it may also be the result of the faculty member’s pedagogical choices related to assignment format and evaluation. Therefore, faculty across the disciplines are likely to benefit from the pedagogical insights about multilingual writing classroom practices contained in this annotated bibliography.

Through our collaborative research and discussions, we came to recognize that meeting the needs of multilingual writers at GLCA institutions that value writing across the curriculum must include faculty development regarding the needs of multilingual international students. As we admit international students to our campuses in greater numbers, we cannot simply rely on multilingual writing specialists and EAP/ESOL faculty to provide support for these students; instead, all faculty must be committed to inclusive pedagogy. The references provided below are informed by universal design and best practices and are meant to serve as resources for faculty in making all classrooms inclusive spaces for students.

List of acronyms:

EAP= English for Academic Purposes
EFL= English as a Foreign Language
ESOL = English for Speakers of Other Languages
L1= First Language
L2= Second Language
SAAE = Standard American Academic English
WPA = Writing Program Administrator


Inclusive Classrooms and Student Agency

Canagarajah, S. (2002). Multilingual writers and the academic community: Towards a critical relationship. Journal of English for Academic Purposes I(2002) 29-44.

Target Audience: Faculty, ESOL/EAP coordinators

Purpose: To examine how ESOL pedagogical approaches position multilingual writers in relationship to their vernacular community and the academic audience in order to help students develop agency and a challenging and creative writing practice.

This article begins with the widely accepted notion of writing as a social activity and the growing difficulty of identifying and participating within the cultural assumptions, social practices and linguistic usages of disciplinary communities.  Canagarajah regrets that multilingual students, already members in other communities of practice, are especially challenged to relate the discourses and cultural practices of their vernacular community to those of academic communities: Should they give up one in preference of the other? Should they embrace inherent potential power differentials, endure stresses of shuttling between discourses, or import their vernacular discourses into academe?  Recognizing that communities can be hybrid and heterogenous and that memberships and identities are also diverse, fluid or decentered, Canagarajah emphasizes how empowering or limiting this multiplicity can be on the writing practices of multilingual students depending on the ways writing theory positions them.

The majority of the article focuses on concisely examining and critiquing five dominant theories of ESOL academic writing and their stance towards discourse community boundaries:   

  • English for academic purposes (EAP): Asserting boundaries
  • Contrastive rhetoric (CR): Respecting boundaries
  • Social process (SP): Crossing boundaries
  • Transculturation model (TM): Merging boundaries
  • Contact zones (CZ): Appropriating boundaries.

Canagarajah concludes that each approach has value and has contributed to our understanding of academic literacy, pedagogical practices and the challenges for multilinguals.  However, several of them treat discourses as normative, unique, or ignore issues of power. SP and TM allow for more student agency and identity in negotiating discourse communities, and CZ especially embraces the conflict and struggle of negotiating dominant conventions discourse that encourages students to construct their own oppositional forms of knowledge and discourses.  Students can engage with academic discourse while maintaining a critical consciousness drawn from their own identities based on their vernacular communities, discourses, values and experiences. This activity provides a “relative detachment” which empowers students and produces creative and critical texts.

Coady, M., Hamann, E., Harrington, M., Pacheco, M., Pho, Samboen., & Yedlin, J. (2008). Successful schooling for ELLs: Principles for Building Responsive Learning Environments. In L.S. Verplaetse, L.S., & Migliacci,N. (Eds.), Inclusive pedagogy for English language learners: a Handbook of research-informed practices(245-255). New York: Routledge.

Target Audience: Faculty, WPA, ESOL/EAP coordinators, FYW administrators

Purpose: To outline major principles of successful ELL education, defined as “the academic and social development of each student is supported in culturally and linguistically responsive ways” (246).

Though this chapter is targeted to secondary schooling, the set of principles developed from research-based practices by educators and researchers for building an ELL-responsive learning environment apply almost equally to higher education in fostering inclusivity and student agency.  The authors foreground their nine principles by defining the multiple criteria for ELL success, noting that scholars have explained success in terms of students’ capability to negotiate multiple cultures rather than assimilate, and that first-language, literacy, cultural identity and self-esteem all contribute to effective learning environments.  They also recognize that scores on standardized tests of subject knowledge are often invalid, and that “every assessment is an assessment of language” (from the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, 1985) which thus often limit ELLs ability to fully demonstrate their content knowledge or their incremental gains in English language acquisition. Acknowledging this latter fact, educators need to allow ELLs more time to meet standards, to develop additional benchmarks for assessing progress.

Despite these variances, the principles below identify common practices that complete the statement “ELLs are most successful when…” :

Principle 1: School leaders, administrators and educators recognize that educating ELLs is the responsibility of the entire school staff.

Principle 2: Educators recognize the heterogeneity of the student population that is collectively labeled as “ELL” and are able to vary their responses to the needs of different learners.

Principle 3: The school climate and general practice reinforce the principle that students’ languages and cultures are resources for further learning.

Principle 4: There are strong and seamless links connecting home, school and community.

Principle 5: ELLs have equitable access to all school resources and programs.

Principle 6: Teachers have high expectations for ELLs.

Principle 7: Teachers are properly prepared and willing to teach ELLs.

Principle 8: Language and literacy are infused through the educational process, including curriculum and instruction.

Principle 9: Assessment is authentic, credible to learners and instructors, and takes into account first-and second-language literacy development.

Any faculty member or administrator would benefit from from reading these principles, whether they are new or advanced in the field.  In addition to further research underpinning each principle, an extensive bulleted list provides examples and details supporting diversity, equity, and inclusive attitudes towards students, faculty and staff.

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Intercultural Communication Center. (2010). Teaching in an increasingly multi-cultural setting. A guide for faculty. Recognizing and addressing cultural variations in the classroom. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University. 1-26.

Target Audience: Faculty

Purpose: By raising awareness, understanding and appreciation for the extent of differences in cultures, faculty can better address these differences in the classroom and provide better instruction.

Written as a response to faculty requests for information and suggestions in teaching more inclusively, this document draws upon educational research, center information and teachers perceptions from working with international students.  The first section is a concise yet insightful consideration of the background issues that influence an international student’s understanding of higher education, many of which a professor unused to working with international students may not be aware: how decisions are made to attend school and for what purposes, how education is financed, how different cultures prepare students for college, and different college expectations.  The second section examines particular cultural variations against U.S. norms that impact teaching and learning. These range from classroom culture, roles of the professor and student, class discussions, reading and research, writing, academic integrity, seeking help and grading. For example, helpful explanations articulate cultural, rather than comparative or judgmental, reasons why students might prefer the formal English to lecture over the colloquial English of discussion, use non-required readings in class, avoid taking notes during lecture, misunderstand when it is appropriate to help a peer on homework, or why students don’t make appointments to consult one-on-one.

Writing on the premise that developing the awareness, understanding and sympathy described in the former sections allows faculty to avoid making assumptions about student behavior–without sacrificing standards or altering performance criteria–the third section then offers suggestions for addressing issues of cultural variation.  Valuable advice and concrete examples are provided for making teacher expectations more explicit, modeling required work, representing material in multiple ways, giving students ample chance to practice application of knowledge, and providing feedback and a variety of opportunities for peer to peer and student to faculty interaction.  As an introduction to international student backgrounds, differences from US cultural expectations, and methods to address them in the classroom, this text is one of the clearest and most accessible starting points to the inclusive classroom freely available.

Nielsen, K. (2014). Chapter 5. On Class, Race, and Dynamics of Privilege: Supporting Generation 1.5 Writers Across the Curriculum.  In T. Myers Zawacki and M. Cox (Eds.), WAC and second-language writers: Research towards linguistically and culturally inclusive programs and practices (pp. 183-210). Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse.

Target Audience: Faculty

Purpose:  To present and understand Generation 1.5 student perceptions of their writing experiences in the context of a predominantly white, monolingual college classroom.

Nielsen’s small study on immigrant multilingual writers (Gen 1.5) contributes to a newer area of second language writing and WAC research into issues of equity, where voices of students help determine goals for inclusive classrooms.  Through two interviews of five Dominican students who participated in an introductory college writing course and a writing-intensive course in the discipline, Nielsen determined two themes: how students perceive they are viewed by faculty and how they are viewed by white native English speakers (NES) in the classroom.

Findings include “participants feeling valued for their diversity of thought and experience in the classroom by their writing and writing intensive instructors; the pedagogical practices that signaled inclusive attitudes from their instructors and which served to better support their writing and learning, and, conversely, discriminatory behaviors and practices from instructors and peers that served to distance them from their writing and campus learning experiences” (p. 136). Students felt especially valued for their diverse interests and perspectives in choice of research topic, peer review, and classroom activities.  Faculty were accommodating in providing individualized meetings and modifying assignments to address specific writing needs; but students also expressed not completely understanding faculty assessment practices. For example, “despite meeting with their professors and despite expressing feeling that their writing was improving, all participants shared frustration at seldom earning a higher grade than a B on most assignments” (p. 139).

Students also enjoyed the competitive measurement of their language skills against NES’s writing, though at times they were discouraged by the comparative number of grammar mistakes they made, or frustrated with NES lack of response to their content in the papers. Nielsen also reports that students often experienced microaggressions “particularly in relation to their written accent, from peers and instructors, in relation to peer review and group work, assessment practices, and in the social dynamics of the classroom” (p. 145).  All students called for faculty to raise majority students’ cultural awareness in the classroom and highly valued open discussions of their culture. Nielsen concludes that our writing classrooms must address how issues of class and race affect multilingual writers, and offers suggestions from the generation 1.5 student responses as places to begin (p. 146):

  1.  Ask about student literacy histories in writing and writing-intensive classrooms.
  2.  Develop ways to individualize course curricula, assignments, and pedagogical practices based on these histories.
  3.  Frame peer review practices to include discussions of accented voice (both oral and written), appropriation, and the cultures of silence.
  4.   Embed one-to-one conferencing time into the syllabus or semester planning in order to individually talk about current writing experiences.
  5.  Develop assessment practices that acknowledge cultural and linguistic diversity.
  6.  Commit to understanding the cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic climate on campus as well as increasing personal cultural awareness, especially as it applies to one’s own institutional context.

Shapiro, S., Cox, M., Shuck, G., & Simnitt, E. (2016). Teaching for agency: From appreciating linguistic diversity to empowering student writers. Composition Studies 44(1) 31-52.

Target Audience: Faculty, WPA

Purpose: To provide a teaching framework that empowers multilingual writers through clarifying what agency means in composition studies and the “conditions, pedagogies, and institutional practices” that make it possible.

Arguing that the translingual approach to linguistic diversity (see Canagarajah above, and additional reading below) already compels more inclusive and equitable classroom practices and institutional policies, Shapiro, Cox, Shuck and Simnitt advance the idea that we should not only appreciate this diversity, but regard it as an asset or resource for pedagogy.  The authors identify one such resource in multilingual students’ own English language goals, and develop a pedagogical framework to empower students as agents to achieve these objectives. This framework uses three critical and interrelated components of agency (action, awareness and optimal conditions) set out below:

  1. Students as agents have a degree of control over their own acts related to writing and writing development.
  1. In order to have greater control over these acts, students need to notice that an action needs to be taken, understand the range of possible actions, be aware of the context of the action, and be able to evaluate the possible effects of a given action.
  2. In order to help student writers develop greater awareness, writing instructors and program administrators need to create optimal conditions— from classroom activities and assignments that help students to notice and utilize particular rhetorical and linguistic practices, to program structures that help writers make informed choices about their academic lives.

The authors then share specific assignments, courses, and curriculum design with these goals in mind.  Activities range from an optional low-stakes analysis of and micro-composing in a Twitter chat; to a scaffolded non-normative writing project in a genre, register and outside audience of choice; to a term-long film project applying knowledge of issues related to multilingualism and L2 writing to their college campus audience.  All three activities involved careful attention and negotiation not only of writing conventions of genre and audience but also of personal identity, seeking to create their own representations and sometimes even advocacy for themselves.

Similarly, creating optimal conditions for students to decide among multiple curricular opportunities honors students’ ability to make informed choices. The example provided explains the pilot of an accelerated first year writing course for multilinguals that provides a small class size, an extra three hours of class time per week, and allows students to bypass one required ESL course.  Adding this course to the other available writing and ESL courses gives students more options and agency over how they wish to develop their English learning. Some selected the slower ESL sequences because they want the time, support, and opportunity to take low-risk but credit bearing courses with multilingual peers. Others wished to complete the requirement more quickly to accommodate other courses, scholarship requirements, financial concerns or avoid the stigma of “remedial courses.”  An additional finding was that the higher stakes of the pilot program (6 vs 3 credits) might encourage students to be more engaged and invest in their own success. The authors see value in these examples as illustrations of building student options and raising student awareness so they can make informed decisions in navigating their assignments, courses, programs and continuing English language development.

Further Reading:

Considine, J., Mihalick, J. E., Mogi-Hein, Y., Penick-Parks, M., Van auken, P. (2017).  How do you achieve inclusive excellence in the classroom? New directions for teaching and learning. 151(171-187). Doi: 10.1002/tl

Harklau, L. (2008). Chapter 9. Through and Beyond High School: Academic Challenges and Opportunities for College-Bound Immigrant Youth.  In L.S. Verplaetse, L.S., & Migliacci,N. (Eds.), Inclusive pedagogy for English language learners: a Handbook of research-informed practices(181-196). New York: Routledge.

McCardle, P., Mele-McCarthy, J., Cutting, L., Leos, K., D’Emilio, T. (2005). Learning disabilities in English language learners: Identifying the issues.  Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 20(1), 1–5.

Salazar, M., Norton, A., & Tuitt, F. (2009). Weaving promising practices for inclusive excellence into the higher education classroom. In L.B. Nilson and J.E. Miller (Eds.) To improve the academy. (pp. 208-226). Jossey-Bass.


Instructor and Peer Feedback

Chang, C. Y. H. (2015). Teacher modeling on EFL reviewers’ audience-aware feedback and affectivity in L2 peer review. Assessing Writing, 25, 2-21.

Target audience: WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator, faculty

Purpose: Provide evidence of the effectiveness of training and modeling to improve peer review

Chang studied teacher modeling of peer feedback and found that “EFL student reviewers can learn peer review skills through observation of their teachers and use of complementary tools such as checklists” (p. 2).  Chang reminds readers that “peer review itself, in its own right, is an absolutely legitimate and authentic writing practice that can reap educational benefits” and that written peer feedback “is equally beneficial to the feedback recipients and providers” (p. 3). Such reminders are helpful for faculty working with student writers in general, and therefore the strategies discussed in this article could potentially improve the design and implementation of peer review assignments more broadly. Chang emphasizes the importance of “audience-aware reviewers” who are trained to find “a balance between proofreading and reviewing for content and organization, knowing that writers need more assistance with global writing issues that define essay quality” (p. 6). Chang offers several ways to approach such training, including “video watching, role play, teacher modeling in front of the whole class or teacher-student conferencing” (p. 7). The appendix includes some of the checklists the author used in her own research.

Cox, M. (2014). In response to today’s “felt need”: WAC, faculty development, and second language writers. In T. Myers Zawacki and M. Cox (Ed.), WAC and second-language writers: Research towards linguistically and culturally inclusive programs and practices (299-326). Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse.

Target audience: WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: Faculty Development

In this chapter, Cox provides a framework for faculty development that seeks to shift “faculty perspectives on L2 writing from a difference-as-deficit stance to a difference-accommodated stance, and ultimately, a difference-as-resource stance” (p. 299). Cox defines a difference-accommodated stance as one in which “faculty understand that there will be syntactic, rhetorical, and cultural differences in L2 writing, but seek to accommodate L2 students in some way” (p. 304). In a difference-as-resource stance, “the focus shifts from deficits to strengths, emphasizing what L2 students can do with language rather than what they cannot” (p. 304). Some of the strategies for faculty development related to empathy that Cox discusses are putting faculty members in an L2 writer’s shoes and sharing voices of L2 writers. With regard to faculty development topics related to assisting faculty to make accommodations to their pedagogy to support L2 writers, Cox suggests sessions on assignment design, feedback on drafts, peer review, and evaluation. Throughout the chapter, Cox offers concrete examples and references to other materials that WPAs can adapt for faculty development on their own campuses.

Ferris, D. (2011). Responding to student errors: Issues and strategies. In D. Ferris Treatment of error in second language student writing. 2nd ed. University of Michigan Press.

Target audience: Faculty, WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: Provides guidance for how to make choices about what kind of feedback to provide L2 writers and provides helpful strategies for managing feedback and avoiding burnout. Provides concrete examples that can be used for faculty development or by individual faculty as they prepare course materials. Applicable to both L2 writing courses and mixed L1/L2 courses.

Ferris begins this chapter with the “assumption that teacher-supplied error feedback has the potential to be extremely beneficial to ESL student writers” (p. 78). Ferris recommends against teachers focusing too much time and attention on correcting stylistic errors in L2 writing and argues that “teachers’ energies are usually better spent on more explicit issues about which rules can be taught and learned” (p. 81). She explains that when providing error feedback teachers should consider their goals for marking errors and the stage of the students’ text production when deciding whether to mark errors comprehensively or selectively. Ferris then provides some criteria and options for selective error feedback to help guide teachers and includes some examples of various types of teacher feedback on student texts and analyses of the students’ responses to the various feedback approaches. She concludes the chapter with a summary of strategies teachers should use to prepare themselves and students for error feedback at the planning stage (before giving feedback), the execution phase (while giving feedback), and the follow-up phase (after giving feedback).

Hedgcock, J., & Ferris, D. R. (2013). Response to student writing: Issues and options for giving and facilitating feedback. In J. Hedgcock and D.R. Ferris (Ed.), Teaching L2 composition: Purpose, process, and practice. Routledge.

Target audience: Faculty, WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: Provides guidance for how to design and approach various types of feedback to student writing and provides concrete examples that can be used for faculty development or by individual faculty as they prepare course materials. Applicable to both L2 writing courses and mixed L1/L2 courses

Hedgcock and Ferris begin this chapter with an assertion that “teachers should and do provide feedback at various stages of the writing process (not just at the end) and about a range of issues (not just grammar)” (p. 239). The chapter is divided into subsections focused on:

  • student views of teacher feedback: students appreciate teacher feedback that “serves multiple purposes–not just word- and sentence-level errors” and contains “a blend of encouragement and constructive criticism” and get frustrated with feedback that “is illegible, cryptic, and confusing” (p. 240)
  • principles for effective feedback: the feedback should come from multiple responders, should not be limited to written formats, should selectively focus on the most important issues for a particular assignment, should not take over or “appropriate” the student’s writing, and should include a “judicious mix” of praise and criticism (p. 242)
  • guidelines for written teacher commentary:
    • a rubric or checklist can help to “articulate questions that [teachers] might ask [themselves] as [they] read [their] students’ work”
    • teachers should strive to prioritize “textual features that have been covered in classroom instruction”
    • “a range of two to four feedback points per assignment is optimal”
    • teachers should “develop a philosophy of commentary and a strategy for commentary,” should “strive to be consistent in adhering to their philosophies and strategies,” and should “explain their approach to students”
    • feedback “is most effective and most likely to be utilized by students when it is provided on preliminary drafts that can be revised”
    • a combination of marginal comments and end comments is the “ideal” and these comments should be text-specific “in contrast to annotations that are merely generic”
    • teachers should follow up on feedback in order to “[make] sure that students understand the feedback, [to help] them with revisions strategies after receiving feedback, and [to hold] students accountable through the writing process for responding productively to feedback” (pp. 243-252)
  • teacher-student writing conferences: apply the same principles for written commentary to oral feedback– “prioritize, avoid taking an overly directive position, be clear and encouraging, and expect the student to apply ideas and suggestions from the conference to his or her future writing” (p. 254).
  • implementing peer response: Hedgcock and Ferris “strongly encourage all teachers to go through some form of ‘light’ training process [a discussion of students’ prior experiences with peer review, a whole class review of a writing sample using the same instructions they will use in their small groups, role modeling] the first time the class does extensive peer review” (p. 257). They also found that if “students are provided with guiding questions to consider as they read and specific review tasks to complete, they tend to produce more useful feedback and to enjoy the process more themselves” (p. 259).
  • self-reflection and critical analysis: an “often overlooked source a feedback,” guided self-assessment helps “students become better readers and editors of their own writing; such work builds confidence as students become more aware of their own strengths and their abilities to help themselves” (p. 262).

The appendices include a number of activities, sample student papers with teacher commentary, and sample assignments.

Ives, L., Leahy E., Leming A., Pierce T., & Schwartz M. (2014).  “I don’t know if that was the right thing to do”: Cross-disciplinary/cross-institutional faculty response to L2 writing. In T. Myers Zawacki and M. Cox (Ed.), WAC and second-language writers: Research towards linguistically and culturally inclusive programs and practices (211-232). Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse.

Target audience: WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: Faculty Development

Like Myers Zawacki and Habib (see below), the authors of this chapter found that faculty “don’t know how to address [linguistic] diversity,” which results in “continued insistence on writing that meets a monolingual ideal, however this is interpreted” (p. 213). In addition, the authors discovered that when faculty encounter “markers of nonnative speaker status or any features that depart from SAAE [Standard American Academic English]” their perception of the student writing is negatively affected and is likely to “discourage or even preclude… engagement with higher order concerns like ideas and argument” (p. 217). The result is faculty feedback that is focused on grammar and mechanics. The authors call for faculty development and cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional conversations focused on how to “be fair and ethical in working with linguistically diverse students” while also adhering to “commonly held standards for writing in their disciplines” (p. 226), including articulating “which sentence-level features require the most attention when writing in that discipline” (p. 229). This chapter is helpful for faculty at small liberal arts colleges, as faculty in all disciplines respond to student writing and should be able to articulate to students the generic features and audience expectations of writing in their specific disciplines.

Mahfoodh, O. H. A. (2017). “I feel disappointed”: EFL university students’ emotional responses towards teacher written feedback. Assessing Writing, 31, 53-72.

Target audience: Faculty, WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: Provides faculty with some insight on the relationship between types and timing of written comments and the likelihood of students’ successful revision

Mahfoodh studied students’ emotional responses toward teacher written feedback on a series of drafts of written assignments. Some of his most relevant findings were:

  • “The majority of the students accepted teacher written feedback because they found teacher feedback useful for developing their writing skills and improving their written texts” (p. 62). “This can be attributed to the dependence of EFL students on their teachers as the main source of feedback” (p. 67).
  • Students “revealed that they liked written feedback which praised their writing. Although teacher written feedback that praised students’ written texts did not help the students to revise their essays, comments praising students’ work encouraged them to revise their essays” (p. 61).
  • “The students showed rejection of feedback and expressed also dissatisfaction to some written feedback that they did not understand. The students did not like written comments in which their teachers used codes and correction symbols such as ‘VF’ (verb form), ‘PL’ (plural), and ‘CS’ (comma splice)” (p. 62).
  • “In some situations, the students explained that their rejection of particular written feedback was due to the issue that the teachers did not understand what the students conveyed in their texts…. Rejection of feedback shows that the students gained enough confidence as writers and intellectuals to make judgments about rhetorical choices that contradict the teacher’s instruction” (pp. 62-63).
  • “The emotional response of acceptance of feedback was reflected in 95.2% of successful revisions. On the other hand, the emotional response of rejection of feedback was largely reflected in two categories in the analytical scheme: not revised (84.9%) and unsuccessful revision (15.1%)” (p. 65).
  • “There is a relationship between negative emotional responses (such as rejection of feedback, surprise, and dissatisfaction) and direct coded, making requests, and grammar/editing types of teacher written feedback. These negative emotional responses can be attributed to students’ lack of understanding teacher written feedback and miscommunication between the students and their teachers” (p. 66).
  • “EFL university students expressed that they felt frustrated when they saw their drafts full of written comments. Although the students wanted to have written feedback, they felt frustrated when they struggled to understand teacher feedback…. [T]raining students on how to use feedback can be regarded as initial ‘feedback preparation activities’ [and] could be arranged for the benefit of preparing students for receiving feedback…. (pp. 69-70). In other words, helping students to understand how to interpret and respond to teacher feedback will decrease their frustration and help them to revise more effectively.
  • In addition, Mafoodh recommends that teachers focus their feedback on organization and content “on the early drafts so as to assist students [to] produce good essays with good and acceptable content. Comments on grammar and other surface changes can wait until further drafts” (pp. 69-70).

This chapter is helpful for considering how to prepare faculty to articulate their feedback practices to students and to prepare students to respond to that feedback.

McMartin-Miller, C. (2014). How much feedback is enough?: Instructor practices and student attitudes toward error treatment in second language writing. Assessing Writing, 19, 24-35.

Target audience: Faculty, WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: Provide strategies for clarifying instructors’ error treatment practices and the instructors’ expectations for students’ role in identifying and editing errors

McMartin-Miller studied the error treatment practices of three graduate instructors to try to discern whether they were following “best practices” of taking a “selective approach” to marking student writing. In a selective approach, “instructors do not mark every grammatical, vocabulary, or mechanical error that occurs throughout the entirety of a student paper; rather, they identify a limited number of error types and mark only those” (p. 25). The challenges of selective error treatment include: “difficulty of choosing which error types to mark, worry that not marking an error would lead to its retention, and concern that students would perceive [instructors] as lazy or incompetent if errors were left unmarked” (p. 26). After interviewing the three graduate students about their error treatment practices and then interviewing students about their perceptions of these practices, McMartin-Miller determined her results had several pedagogical implications:

  • “First, instructors should ensure that their students fully understand how and why they treat errors as they do.” Therefore, McMartin-Miller recommends that “in addition to orally describing error treatment practices to students in class or conferences, a clearly written policy of instructor practices could be included in course materials” (p. 33).
  • Students might have a greater understanding and acceptance of the way instructors mark errors if they “participate in the design of the [error treatment] approach” (p. 33).
  • Instructors could involve students more in “the process of identifying and then addressing patterns of errors in their writing” by requiring students to “keep error logs on which they tally how many errors of each type are marked in a given assignment” (p. 33).
  • Student awareness of patterns of errors could be raised by requiring them to engage in reflective writing “as part of a pre-writing activity or as a piece accompanying the final draft” in which they are “asked to look at the comments, marked errors, and where they missed points on previous assignments and describe what measures they will take or took to avoid those errors on the current assignment” (p. 33).
  • Students would benefit from “being explicitly taught how to use self-editing strategies” (p. 33; cf Ferris 1995 “Teaching students to self-edit”).

Again, these recommendations, if followed by faculty, are likely to benefit not only L2 writers but other student writers as well.

Myers Zawacki, T., & Habib, S.(2014). Negotiating “errors” in L2 writing: Faculty dispositions and language difference. In T. Myers Zawacki and M. Cox (Ed.), WAC and second-language writers: Research towards linguistically and culturally inclusive programs and practices (183-210). Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse.

Target audience: Faculty, WPA, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: To “help teachers value the diverse written accents they [encounter] in their students’ papers and to see their L2 students as language resources rather than as writing challenges” (p. 186).

After conducting a number of interviews with faculty and L2 writers, Myers Zawacki and Habib found that errors are typically the focus of both L2 writers and the faculty who respond to that writing. They also discovered that many faculty “either do not know how to help [L2 writers] or do not have the time to work with them individually” (p. 191), and thus they send L2 writers to the writing center or the ESL specialist to get their errors “fixed.” The authors acknowledge “the dilemma faculty face in deciding what constitutes an error and when and in what contexts it should be ‘counted’ in evaluating an L2 student’s communicative competence” (p. 185). During their interviews, they found that concerns about comprehension and the sense of obligation to prepare students for future classes and the workplace were often the primary concerns of faculty when responding to and grading L2 student writing. The goal of the chapter is to “help teachers value the diverse written accents they [encounter] in their students’ papers and to see their L2 students as language resources rather than as writing challenges” (p. 186). Myers Zawacki and Habib call on writing program administrators (WPAs) to help faculty “learn how to read with patience, respect for language difference, and a deliberative attitude that seeks to understand the causes for perceived error and is open to the possibility of negotiation” (p. 201). They also urge institutions to reward faculty who are willing to take the time to do so.

Further reading:

Ruegg, R. (2015). The relative effects of peer and teacher feedback on improvement in EFL students’ writing ability. Linguistics and Education, 29, 73-82.

Yu, S., & Hu, G. (2017). Understanding university students’ peer feedback practices in EFL writing: Insights from a case study. Assessing Writing, 33, 25-35.

The Dangling Modifier, special issue: http://sites.psu.edu/thedanglingmodifier/?page_id=3825


Vocabulary Development and Mini Grammar Lessons

Cortes, V. (2004). Lexical bundles in published and student disciplinary writing: Examples from history and biology. English for Specific Purposes, 23, 397-423. ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/j.esp.2003.12.001

Target audience: Faculty

Purpose: To introduce the importance of lexical bundles in academic writing and how to encourage their use

Lexical bundles, defined in the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English as a sequence of three or more words that co-occur frequently in a particular register, are important for the insight they provide into how language is used. Examples include referential bundles such as “in the course of” or “a wide range of”; text organizers such as “as a result of” or “in the absence of”; and stance bundles such as “it is likely that” or “have been shown to” (p. 409). In this study, Cortes compared the use of lexical bundles in the writing of undergraduate and graduate university students in history and biology with that of scholarly writing in the same disciplines. Lexical bundles that appeared often in the published work of scholars writing in journals deemed by professors in the study to represent “model writing” were selected to form a corpus of “target bundles,” (p. 398) after which the writing of lower division, upper division, and graduate student writing was analyzed in search of these bundles (p. 403). Results showed that students at all levels “rarely or never used” lexical bundles in either discipline, although student writing showed some development in biology in the use of text organizers (p. 415). Students did use bundles in their writing, but they were not the target bundles, and students tended to repeat the bundles they did use, such as “one of the most” or “at the same time” (p. 412).

Cortes acknowledges various reasons why students may not be using lexical bundles in their writing, such as the possibility that assignments do not require them as in the case of quantifying bundles that usually appear in results sections of academic papers (p. 415). However, there are also relevant pedagogical-related reasons, such as that students are not familiar with the phrases or are afraid to risk using them incorrectly in graded writing (p. 421). In any case, as Cortes points out, despite the fact that students are encountering the target lexical bundles in their reading, they are not using them in their writing. To remedy this, she reiterates the importance of the work of Schmidt (1990) in helping students “notice” the frequency and use of target bundles. Indeed, she argues that teachers of writing must recognize the importance of these bundles in academic writing and actively encourage all students to use them. She writes, “Native and non-native speakers of English would benefit from increased awareness of the functions performed by lexical bundles when used by published authors” (p. 420).

Ferris, D. R. (2011). Beyond error correction: Teaching grammar and self-editing strategies to L2 student writers and Beyond error treatment: Academic language development for L2 writers . In Treatment of error in second language student writing (pp. 122-191). University of Michigan Press.

Target Audience: Faculty, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: To help faculty teach key grammar and vocabulary

In Treatment of Error in Second Language Student Writing Dana Ferris provides a comprehensive examination of written corrective feedback as well as strategies for working with sentence-level language in any writing classroom. Chapter 5, “Beyond Error Correction: Teaching Grammar and Self-Editing Strategies to L2 Student Writers,” contains lesson plans, sample error logs, instructional strategies, resources for students, and exercises for use in introducing key grammar points to students in the form of “mini-lessons” that relate directly to assignments for the course. As the title suggests, the book is primarily geared toward second language writers; however, much of the material is adaptable for a variety of contexts. As Ferris writes, “The principles and suggestions in this chapter should be equally appropriate for specialized L2 writing courses and mainstream (mixed L1/L2) composition courses” (p. 123). Indeed, Ferris argues that the distinction between “content” and “form” is a “false dichotomy” (p. 124) and makes the case for not only correcting students’ incorrect language use, but also conveying the essential role of editing in the writing process, instilling confidence in their ability to find and correct mistakes, and introducing them to strategies for independent identification and correction of error.

Chapter 6, “Beyond Error Treatment: Academic Language Development for L2 Writers” presents useful ways for instructors to think about courses as opportunities for students to expand their vocabulary and examine models of authentic discourse. In addition to selecting texts based on connection to a theme, for example, Ferris argues that “teachers should also be proactively helping students to analyze language, acquire or improve control of specific lexical and syntactic forms, and apply their knowledge to their ongoing writing projects” (p. 160). Pedagogical tools for achieving this in the classroom include assessing the difficulty of a text based on vocabulary and structure and guiding students through a text with tasks requiring analysis of specific language features. As Ferris points out, reading and writing are intricately connected, and encouraging students to notice certain features of a text can help them develop both their language and their writing. Similarly, she makes a strong case for the explicit teaching of vocabulary as well as syntax and provides helpful sample exercises to help students see how to apply this knowledge. One of the key benefits of such exercises is that they encourage students in their journey as independent writers and editors. At the end of the chapter Ferris acknowledges the challenge of this “bottom up” approach to instruction but emphasizes the importance of not only teaching how to compose but also “helping students develop the linguistic repertoire they will need to complete their writing tasks successfully” (p. 189).

Folse, K.S. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Target audience: Faculty, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: As the subtitle suggests, to apply “second language research to classroom teaching”

One only has to read as far as the introduction of this book to gain a deeper sense of the nuances of language and the challenges for learners as well as implications for the classroom. In explaining variable phrases in English, for example, Folse offers the example of the phrase “It has come to our attention that …,” pointing out the meaning that this phrase conveys: seriousness, formality, and even a sense of unease (p. 5). Anyone who appreciates language will marvel at the mastery of language required to function in an academic environment.

When it comes to helping students acquire the vocabulary of a particular discipline, Folse’s advice seems to be: whatever you do, do something. Each chapter aims to dispel a myth about vocabulary instruction and contains three sections: In the Real World, What the Research Says, and What You Can Do. This last section offers practical advice for faculty interested in adding vocabulary instruction to their course. Chapter 2, for example, highlights the uses of simple lists as a way to introduce key words. Faculty may assume that such insights relate predominantly to reading, and certainly this is one function. However, as Folse points out, “knowing” a word involves much more than simply being able to recall its definition (p. 10). Faculty could, for example, make a list of incorrect word choices in student essays, and ask students to check the usage of the words in a textbook, corpus, glossary, or other text. While designed for ESL teachers, the suggestions in Vocabulary Myths provide useful strategies that can be applied in any discipline.

Hinkel, E., & Fotos, S. (Eds.). 2002. New perspectives on grammar teaching in second language classrooms. New York, NY: Routledge.

Target audience: Faculty, EAP/ESOL Coordinator

Purpose: To provide best practices for incorporating grammar instruction into class work

Teaching grammar – even in ESL and EFL classrooms – remains somewhat controversial in discussions of language acquisition pedagogy. Given this reality, Hinkel and Fotos begin with a brief but thorough review of the history behind the theory of second language learning as well as the pedagogical trends that followed these theories in an effort to frame the need for explicit grammar instruction as part of a research-based second language curriculum. In Chapter 2, “The Place of Grammar Instruction in the Second/Foreign Language Curriculum” Rod Ellis provides additional support for this argument, focusing more on when and how grammar can be incorporated into a curriculum. One of the most challenging assertions in this regard – especially for EAP and other university writing faculty – is that the goal of such instruction is not necessarily “complete accuracy,” or even the avoidance of errors, but rather to enhance awareness of particular structures at a developmentally appropriate time (p. 24). With this in mind, Ellis proposes separate grammar-based units that lead learners through the processes of noticing the error and discovering the grammar point, finding such errors in a text, and finally engaging with the grammar point in a brief production activity (p. 30). While intended for the ESL classroom, it is possible to envision such activities being used in mainstream writing classrooms, particularly when the instructor has identified a common error in student texts.

In many ways, the book is arguing for a reassessment of how we think about grammar as well as its role in the classroom. In Chapter 6, “The Grammar of Choice,” Diane Larsen-Freeman continues this process by encouraging a reevaluation of grammar as “a linguistic straitjacket” (p. 103). Instead, she points out, while there are indeed various rules in English grammar that must be adhered to, there are also many times when speakers and writers have a choice about how to express themselves. While Larsen-Freeman focuses chiefly on structures that convey subtle differences in meaning, this notion of making choices is especially valuable when thinking about errors in writing. Rethinking is also necessary when considering grammar instruction. Most people might assume that grammar must be learned in decontextualized, rule-based lessons, yet this is not the case, as Marianne Celce-Murcia argues in Chapter 7, “Why It Makes Sense to Teach Grammar in Context and Through Discourse.” In fact, accurate use of many grammar points depends on context, a finding which supports the teaching of grammar “through exposure to and engagement with appropriate authentic texts” (p. 128). This might involve asking students to identify a particular grammatical structure and its function in an assigned text and then requiring them to write their own short paragraph using the structure to convey a similar meaning (p. 131). As already mentioned, such exercises could be easily adapted to the mainstream writing classroom by encouraging a focus on the structures necessary to complete particular assignments such as writing about texts (highlighting tense and using present tense to talk about texts), interviews (the use of that-clauses), or the use of passive in science and social science writing.

Schmidt, R. W. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11 (2), 129-158.

Target audience: Faculty

Purpose: To introduce the concept of “noticing” and its relationship to language acquisition

In this classic article – commonly referenced in discussions of second language acquisition, particularly grammar – Schmidt examines research on consciousness as it relates to memory, attention, and learning and concludes that not only is subliminal perception insufficient for learning generally but also that consciousness at the level of noticing plays an essential role in the process of second language acquisition. He writes, “Paying attention to language form is hypothesized to be facilitative in all cases, and may be necessary for adult acquisition of redundant grammatical features” (p. 149). Part of the article documents his own experience learning Brazilian Portuguese. This research (Schmidt and Frota, 1986) recounts the relationship between what was taught and what Schmidt as the learner noticed and wrote down in his diary, providing support for the hypothesis that the grammatical forms he ultimately produced were the ones he noticed. Pedagogically, the significance of his theory about noticing is its implication for “the role of instruction in making formal features of the target language more salient” (149); or, in other words, facilitating awareness and noticing. While there may be many ways to do this, some that relate to grammar and vocabulary instruction include asking students to underline particular words or word forms, assigning language reflection journals, and leading students through a reading with the goal of examining choices made by the author in terms of vocabulary and structure.

Further reading:

Behrens, S.J. (2014). Understanding language use in the classroom: A linguistic guide for          college educators. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters.

Hinkel, E. (2009). Teaching academic ESL writing: Practical techniques in vocabulary and           grammar. New York, NY: Routledge.

Roberge, M., Losey, K.M., & Wald, M. (Eds.). (2015). Teaching US-educated multilingual writers: Pedagogical practices from and for the classroom. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan                    Press.

Schleppergrell, M.J. (2004). The Language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective.      Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Assignment Design and Scaffolding

Cotterall, S. & Cohen, R. (2003). Scaffolding for second language writers: Producing an academic essay. ELT Journal, 57(2), 158-166.

Target audience: L2 writing instructors

Purpose: Model a scaffolded approach to writing instruction

Through instruction of 16 students in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) writing program, these authors establish the usefulness of building novice ESOL writers’ autonomy through structured, collaborative demonstrations of the writing assignment. Over the course of six weeks, students twice went through an assignment cycle that included extensive modelling through group construction of text in the classroom, followed by individual drafting of one particular section of the argumentative essay, followed by frequent and regular teacher and peer feedback.  The authors emphasize that through significant classroom discourse that mimics the type of independent carrying out of the task that learners will undergo, students will more accurately and autonomously complete writing assignments, as they “[gain] accesses to the inherently private process of composing” (p. 164).

The researchers conclude that classroom discourse must establish a rhetorical context for the writing task, considering purpose, audience, occasion, potential problems in composing and potential strategies for overcoming them. Moreover, they explain, scaffolded writing instruction should additionally include explicit discussion of the type of information and language typical of individual essay sections and an opportunity to experience expert reading-for-writing comprehension and synthesis strategies. Cotterall and Cohen argue that, because they learned how to “establish links between their beliefs, attitudes, and prior knowledge on the one hand, and the topic  they were writing about, on the other…out of this sense of ownership [they] developed a clear sense of why they were writing, who they were writing for, and what information they needed to include in their texts” (p. 165). In this study, students who received this type of scaffolded instruction were more autonomous participants in academic writing and therefore produced direct and obvious positive adaptations to their essays. The most important takeaway from this study may be that effective scaffolding for L2 writers is not a plug and play pedagogical implementation, and that the discussion, group modeling, and individual drafting accompanied by immediate and detailed feedback will take commitment on the part of the instructor.

Humphrey, S. L., & Economou, D. (2015). Peeling the onion – A textual model of critical analysis. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 17, 37-50.

Target Audience: English Composition Instructors

Purpose: Provide a model for scaffolding complex student writing

The authors of this article adopt an approach that holds that meaning is a social construct that is developed through systematic and predictable “moves” through elite-established structural norms. To elucidate what exactly these structures in writing are, they analyzed expert writing in the fields of biology and education and categorized the discourse features according to academic genre. In particular, they found four main stages that are present in highly-valued academic writing.

  • Description: Descriptive moves in a text report agreed upon knowledge and are demonstrated through the use of citation, first person usage (i.e., “we”), and the passive voice (i.e., “It is known that…”)
  • Analysis: Analytical features of writing involve categorization and labeling of facts and ideas in a way that shows logical relationships (comparison, contrast, additional support, extension). An analytical move necessarily is tied to descriptive sentences and phrases.
  • Persuasion: Persuasive moves are often made beyond the sentence level, and include claim-making verbs as well as the use of a claims-ground format of writing. Persuasion is possible through setting up the claim and then describing and analyzing the information that is to be debated.
  • Critique: These types of textual moves involve reporting a position, challenging that position generally, and then furthering that position with an obviously authorial claim. Critical writing builds upon all of the above“lesser-valued” modes of writing.

This study is helpful because it clearly outlines the often hard-to-distinguish differences between these frequently-occurring rhetorical structures, discusses the interrelated nature of these textual patterns within the broader context of an argumentative writing assignment, and gives both students and instructors the ability to reflect on what is actually expected and being demonstrated in a writing assignment. Additionally useful are the highlighted excerpts that the researchers provide to illustrate each one of these textual strategies, which can serve for students as well as writing instructors as a basis for explicit instruction on language options for realizing “good” academic writing. The framework of the “onion” that is presented here moreover is useful for considering how to scaffold elements of writing assignments within a content course so that writers understand clearly the often implicit expectations of academic writing and are able to implement them into their own writing. For example, the authors suggest it might be beneficial to begin moving students towards a critical essay by first having them begin with descriptive, analytical, and then persuasive writing activities.

Macbeth, K. P. (2006). Diverse, unforseen, and quaint difficulties: The sensible responses of novices learning to follow instructions in academic writing. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(2), 180-207.

Target Audience: EAP/Writing Instructors

Purpose: Analyze and reflect on non-target-like responses to prompts

This article is very identifiable for faculty, as it is an English for Academic Purposes instructor’s reflection on how her own design of instructions and pre-teaching/scaffolding of how to successfully address the prompt flopped. She comes to the conclusion that there is a paradox in providing interpretable instructions or “steps” to a writing task. The ability to follow instructions, she argues, is based in a familiarity with what the expected outcome is. In the absence of accumulated “collections of such circumstances…to come to share in the institutional tasks, histories, meanings, judgements, and practices of members of the academic community”(p. 199), students will make use of more vernacular and literal interpretations of the words in instructions, relying on them as a practical method of adding up sentences to produce a completed assignment by a deadline. Additionally, as Macbeth points out, these “novices” often learned English writing and reading in very specific genres and contexts: the 5-paragraph essay to argue, topic sentences for expressing main ideas, where “should” a title or author be, etc., and so, when faced with a barrage of “occult objects” (p. 189), students resort to applying the generic approaches they’ve already learned, often in the face of explicitly having been given the answer previously or to the point of ignoring other sections of the instructions.

Essentially, in this way, no set of instructions will ever be specific enough, but it is this very “problem” that is the actual basis for learning, and the process of coming to understand instructions involves ongoing “collecting” of likely contextualized interpretations. The major implication for instructors, then, would be, rather than listing ever-increasing rhetorical questions or even prescribed “template-like” instructions on prompts, to specifically model and discuss in class the inferring and judgement-making that they expect students to bring to bear upon a course text. Rather than pointing to the right places to look, effective scaffolding, paired with clear and specific instructions, could include a think-aloud of the judgement-making, searching, and inferring that they, as an expert do, and how they would translate that into a written product.

Macbeth, K. P. (2010). Deliberate false provisions: The use and usefulness of models in learning academic writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 19, 33-48.

Target audience: L2 writing instructors     

Purpose: Analyze the effectiveness of scaffolding via models for pedagogy

This article is a thoughtful consideration of the practicality of using models to teach academic writing to L2 students. The author is transparent about how her use of models was inappropriately understood by students as normative and as guaranteed to generate the “correct” object for the task, instead of as being a case-like jumping-off point that necessitated the implementation of risk-taking and judgement calls about extensions and insufficiencies of the models.

In her L2 writing course, she scaffolded the completion of a comparison/contrast essay over twelve class periods by beginning with reading and discussing as a class the articles to be written on, assigning student groups to discuss different possible points of similarity/contrast between the two articles (style, audience, thesis, etc.), examining three sample essays to give ideas for approaching the essay, and concluding with a lesson looking at a “skeleton” essay that was “meant to relieve students of content in order to enhance the visibility of organization and terms-in-use” (p. 39), such as general statements to introduce the topic, citation rules, thesis statements, and appropriate ways of supporting ideas.

Macbeth found that, despite specifically providing possible ways to fulfill each element of the skeleton essay, the majority of her students found it to be “an alluring template” whose promise that “if one wrote [that] way, a comparison/contrast essay would result” was “irresistible” (p. 40). She explains that, “whenever a pedagogy for novices is devoted to specifying procedures rather than providing opportunities for practice, the ‘specification of practice…is bound to result in the teaching of a misanalysis of practice’ (Lave 1990)” (p. 46).

Ultimately, she emphasizes, for models to be used as a means to scaffold an assignment, they must be accompanied by “contact and focused time with a competent practitioner” (p. 46), potentially through writing conferences in which the real work of becoming initiated participants in the academic community takes shape. It also would seem to be important that such dedicated practice to “discovering the insufficiencies of models” (p. 46) and to learning the norms and judgements common as members of an academic writing community be given sufficient (i.e,. extended) time within the content curriculum. This suggestion is not without its limitations, but it is not inconsistent with the type of mentored education that many small, liberal arts institutions hold forth in promise, and could easily fit within the learning objectives of any writing-intensive course.

Miller, R. T., Mitchell, T. D., & Pessoa, S. (2016). Impact of source texts and prompts on students’ genre uptake. Journal of Second Language Writing, 31, 11-24.

Target Audience: L2 Writing Instructors, Faculty with ELL students

Purpose: Discuss the effect of the specific language in prompts on the type and accuracy of the writing that  students produce in response

This article offers a very practical look into the direct consequences of assignment design on the quality and type of student writing submissions. As these authors explain, prompt language and source texts affect students’ assumptions of the expected genre/format of the final product. The researchers categorize two argumentative essay assignments written by students attending a foreign university and using English as a second language as either conducive to engendering argumentative writing or not facilitative. They similarly investigate whether the assignment-associated source texts are either eliciting argumentative writing or not. The results of their analysis indicate that source texts which, in and of themselves, contain interpretative arguments of facts or historical events are much less likely to be successfully argued about by students, regardless of the prompt language, compared to more “bare” source texts that are fact and information based and devoid of argument or interpretation. Additionally, it was found that the specific language features of prompts, including the use of direct address (“Imagine you…”), degree words (“to what degree does…”), and requests for opinion (“how compelling do you find…”) all engender argument essays, where as prompts using language that calls for facts, description, explanation, or discussion (“What does this tells us about…” or “What sort of things were important…”) inhibit the creation of argumentative responses.

The findings of this study demonstrate the need for careful attention to prompt language and the need for faculty to become aware of the genre possibilities and their associated features that are possible and typical within source texts and writing assignments within their respective disciplines. They also hold important implications for the way that an instructor might approach scaffolding assignments throughout a semester. For example, the authors suggest, instructors may wish to begin with a more argumentative source text and employ prompt language that engenders lesser valued genres such as explanation or accounts, move toward more factual sources with prompts clearly soliciting argument, and finally assign an argumentative prompt in response to source text with a non-reciprocal genre. However, as it is cautioned here, it would be essential for instructors to spend time in class explaining clearly the differences between genres, discussing the challenges that students may face when attempting argumentative writing in response to such source texts and how such challenges may be dealt with, and modeling or unpacking correct and incorrect samples responses.

Mitchell, T. D., & Pessoa, S. (in press). A case study of teacher development through collaboration between writing faculty and a design professor to scaffold the writing of arguments. In L. Seloni & S. H. Lee (Eds.), Second Language Writing Instruction in International Contexts: Language Teacher Preparation and Development. Multilingual Matters.

Target Audience: L2 Writing experts and Faculty working with L2 English users

Purpose: Model interdisciplinary collaborative efforts that benefit discipline-specific writing

This chapter is an easy-to-read account of how one instructor went through the process of redesigning an assignment prompt based on extensive elaboration of his expectations of the output genre, which was undertaken in conjunction with writing faculty. It provides excellent insight into how a faculty member may be able to truly communicate expectations to non-native English speakers without compromising the rigor or goals of an assignment. Specifically, the disciplinary faculty member ended up realizing:

  • His stated instruction for where to place the main idea of the student’s essay (right at the beginning) was not really the basis upon which he graded an argument as “good” or not.
  • His instructions did not clearly communicate the extent to which he expected students to develop an overarching framework and continuously refer back to it.
  • His use of multiple idea-generating questions within the prompt did not communicate whether they (or which ones) were rhetorical, which ones needed to be specifically answered, whether he expected them to relate them to each other, and which ones were more valued.
  • He graded subtle and nuanced arguments more highly, but never stated that expectation.
  • He needed to define how locally or globally he expected concepts to be applied and analyzed.
  • Open-ended, “big-picture” style instructions resulted in more constrained creativity in responses compared to his revised, more detailed and nuanced instructions.

The researchers also provide a description of how they, as instructors of the English writing workshop, created and disseminated scaffolded materials through the workshops connected to the faculty member’s course. Perhaps the most helpful insight from this narrative is that the extent to which L2 writers need additional support via scaffolding and fully-developed prompts is extensive. The article also provides ideas for how to go about giving that support. This would be a useful read for any faculty member who is interested in redesigning prompts and/or rubrics.

Wette, R. (2015). Teacher-led collaborative modelling in academic L2 writing courses. ELT Journal, 69(1), 71-80.

Target Audience: Instructors with L2 English writers

Purpose: Argue for teacher-led modelling that explores the plurality of approaches within academic writing modes

This article gives a brief but helpful introduction of recent theoretical approaches to the teaching of academic writing in a second language. In particular, the author discusses a need to balance process and product via a blending of genre approaches that focus on creativity. In her view, excellent writing instruction gives students options within the valued rhetorical frameworks. Additionally, 3 different kinds of modelling are outlined: text modeling, cognitive modeling, and social modeling. It is within social modeling that teacher-led and peer-led modelling lie.  In the discussion of the different stages of teacher-led collaborative modelling, the author emphasizes that classroom discourse can and should include discussion of various alternative constructions, as well as the plurality of text types that can be encountered in a single text. Essentially, she argues, modelling must involve breaking the “model” in many miniscule ways to highlight the extent to which it can be bent and shaped for writers’ purposes, and to demonstrate which bending or shaping would be considered going “too far” outside of the academic/elite expectation. This has important implications for liberal arts colleges, as those hesitant about scaffolded design and instruction may view it as too prescriptivist or rigid. In fact, as this author argues, effective teacher-led collaborative modelling has the potential to be just the opposite, and to instead be an effective aid in the process of developing the cognitive processes essential in academic writing in the liberal arts.

Further reading:

Amerine, R., & Bilmes, J. (1988). Following instructions. Human Studies, 11, 327-339.

Kroll, B., & Reid, J. (1994). Guidelines for designing writing prompts: clarifications, caveats, and cautions. Journal of Second Language Writing, 3(3), 231-255.

Pessoa, S., Mitchell, T. D., & Miller, R. T. (2017). Emergent arguments: A functional approach to analyzing student challenges with the argument genre. Journal of Second Language Writing, 38, 42-55.

Pessoa, S., Mitchell, T. D., & Miller, R. T. (2018). Scaffolding the argument genre in a multilingual university history classroom: Tracking the writing development of novice and experienced writers. Journal of Second Language Writing, 50, 81-96.

Pessoa, S. Mitchell, T. D., & Miller, R. T. (2018). Scaffolding literacy at a branch campus of an American university in the Middle East: Interdisciplinary collaborations. In M. Rajakuma (Ed.), Western curricula in international contexts. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Reid, J., & Kroll, B. (1995). Designing and assessing effective classroom writing assignments for NES and ESL students. Journal of Second Language Writing, 4(1), 17-41.


Essay Structure and Thesis Development

Canagarajah, A. S. (2006). Toward a Writing Pedagogy of Shuttling between Languages: Learning from Multilingual Writers. College English, 68(6), 589-604. doi:https://www.jstor.org/stable/25472177.

Target Audience: L2 writing instructors

Purpose: Argue that textual differences in L2 writing aren’t always unconscious errors

Canagarajah challenges the assumption that a writer’s first language interferes with L2 writing. Instead, he believes multilingual writers bring unique resources to their text. Canagarajah finds it unsettling that monolinguals automatically connect the difficulties multilingual writers face when composing academic essays in English to the literacy background in their L1  – especially when considering the lack of research done by multilingual scholars studying the work of the same author in the same genre in both their L1 and English (L2) (p. 589-590). As a result of the lack of research of this kind, generalizations are made about a language – which are then used to explain differences (or what monolinguals believe to be errors) in multilingual texts. He proposes a new model, the Negotiation Model, which he believes best explains textual differences by focusing on a writer’s strategic choices as well as context and rhetorical objectives. According to Canajarah, textual differences must not be treated as unconscious error (p. 591). He analyzed writing samples of the same writer – a multilingual writer who is a senior scholar in Sri Lanka – in the same genre, in two different languages, in three rhetorical contexts. All three samples are written on the same topic and focus solely on the introduction (p. 591). Canagarajah examines the rhetorical moves the writer makes by noting differences in thesis, tone, structure, citations, and also points out examples in which the writer didn’t change his rhetorical style to suit his audience (p. 592-600). By sharing these examples and narratives, Canagarajah supports his belief that multilingual writers are using their knowledge of discourse conventions within their language communities and writing repertoires to express themselves in specific contexts to specific audiences as a way to embody who they are as writers (p. 597). According to Canagarajah, the pedagogical implications are as follows: treat a student’s first language and culture as a resource and not the source of a writer’s challenges in L2 writing; consider that not all textual or linguistic differences are errors; empower students by teaching them strategies of rhetorical negotiation so that they can modify, resist, or reorient themselves to the rules of the context in which they are writing; encourage students to see writing as an important social act as well as a representation of their identities, values, and interests; see our multilingual students as writers with multiple identities. By doing this, our multilingual students will become more than competent writers – they will become critical writers (p. 602 – 603).

Further reading:

Leonard, R. L. (2014). Multilingual Writing as Rhetorical Attunement. College English, 76(3), 227-247. Retrieved August 5, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/24238241.

Zawacki, T. M., & Habib, A. S. (june 2014). Internationalization, English L2 Writers, and the Writing Classroom: Implications for Teaching and Learning. National Council of Teachers of English,65(4), 650-658. doi:https://www.jstor.org/stable/43490878.

Ferris, D. R., & Hedgcock, J. S. (2005). Teaching ESL composition: Purpose, process, and practice. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Target Audience: L2 writing instructors

Purpose: Argue that reading and writing skills are strongly linked and present reasons why writing courses should include reading and how that can be useful for all developing writers – including L2 writers

In chapter 2, Ferris and Hedgcock provide research to highlight the strong connection between reading and writing skills. The authors assert that in order for students to become effective writers, they must be purposeful and efficient readers. L2 literacy development is not as straightforward as it might be for monolingual students; Ferris and Hedgcock include research that supports the idea that while L1 literacy skills can be a positive factor in the development of L2 literacy, the “transfer” of knowledge from L1 to L2 is a complex process. In addition to the possibility of transfer between L1 and L2 literacy skills, the authors argue that writing instructors working with multilingual students must also take into consideration that these students are still learning about structure and use of written English.  Although it seems easy to make the argument that good writers are avid readers, Ferris and Hedgcock specify that L2 writers will benefit from “purposeful interaction with authentic texts” as they are exposed to effective models of the target language for a specific purpose within a specific context. The authors caution against the idea that extensive reading, on its own, will result in dramatic and immediate progress for L2 writers. Instead, Ferris and Hedgcock propose a balanced approach that includes both reading and thoughtfully structured writing assignments. They also believe in “cultivating ESL learners’ awareness of formal (i.e., rhetorical and linguistic) conventions of written genres to promote the comprehension, analysis, reproduction, and critique of texts associated with those genres.” By helping L2 writers notice and learn the written conventions of specific genre or type of text, writing instructors enable students to actively participate within that community of writers. Ferris and Hedgcock believe a writing instructor is responsible for motivating L2 writers to develop literacy skills and as well as teaching them conventions of specific genres. The chapter includes helpful lists of literacy skills and elements of genre, guidelines for curricular planning and classroom activities, chapter summaries, reflection questions, and sample activities.

Fox, H. (1994). Listening to the world: Cultural issues in academic writing. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English.

Target Audience: Instructors working with multilingual writers

Purpose: Identify ways in which writing structure is culturally informed and the differences in the responsibilities of the writer and reader within cultures

Through interviews and discussions with faculty members and multilingual students, Helen Fox encourages her reader to consider a different perspective: the American way of explicitly structuring argument is not the only way – and is actually not the chosen rhetorical style of most cultures in the world (p. 14). Fox challenges American faculty to rethink their assumptions about what makes for a good argument and contemplate the idea that the rhetorical styles of world-majority students bring their own richness to text through subtlety, digression, and implicitness (p. 20). The majority of the multilingual writers that Fox includes in this chapter seem to agree that the writing style valued in the U.S. seems juvenile and simplistic (p. 21). This style of writing, which is based on a straightforward argument that connects all the dots for the reader, lest the reader do any heavy lifting, only makes sense in a culture that thinks of time as money. Fox points out that communication styles are very cultural, and that writing as a mode of communication is also culturally influenced (p. 20). Fox uses anecdotal evidence to show her readers how frustrating it can be for multilingual students to change their style of writing to suit the expectations of an American audience because, in short, these students feel like they have to change their entire way of thinking about the world. By sharing vignettes of conversations with students, Fox makes the case for a different approach to writing instruction – one that is more inclusive and allows for more diverse styles of writing. Fox believes that this would empower multilingual writers by enabling them to tap into the strengths of the rhetorical style in which they have been trained (p. 17). Fox acknowledges that multilingual writers often feel as if they are being forced to think about their audience and their needs in a radically different way, but also refrains from leaning on culture too much to explain stylistic differences of these writers, which are often seen as problematic by their writing instructors (p. 14). She reminds writing instructors that multilingual students share some of the same shortcomings as students who have received writing instruction entirely in the U.S. – not fully understanding the assignment, failing to do adequate research, waiting until the last minute to complete the assignment, or just lacking experience in academic writing, in general (p. 14).  

Further reading:

Belknap, J. (2016, December 5). Chapter 1: Our Students: Learning to Listen to Multilingual Student Voices [Web log post]. Retrieved August 18, 2018.

Leki, I. (1991). Twenty-Five Years of Contrastive Rhetoric: Text Analysis and Writing Pedagogies. TESOL Quarterly,25(1), 123-143. doi:10.2307/3587031.

Target Audience: Instructors working with multilingual writers

Purpose: Give historical background of contrastive rhetoric and examines how it can be beneficial in L2 writing classrooms.

In this important essay on L2 writing, published almost 30 years ago, Leki makes the case for the benefits of contrastive rhetoric – despite its obvious flaws – and claims that it has the potential to greatly impact L2 writing instruction. Much of what Leki examines is still relevant in today’s L2 writing classrooms. Leki gives a fully-detailed historical account of contrastive rhetoric, including the critiques made by process-oriented researchers. She skillfully addresses objections made by those who found contrastive rhetoric to be problematic at the core, but also acknowledges some of the shortcomings of early research in the field. Leki believes it is a reasonable assumption that different cultures have their own textual orientation and follow their own writing conventions, which reflect the culture of the school system and preferred discourse styles within a community (p. 124). Leki understands the challenges in making generalizations about writing instruction and rhetorical traditions in other cultures (p. 127). However, she finds specific areas of research promising: classifying discourse features found in L1 writing, comparing reader-responsible versus writer-responsible rhetorics (whose job is it to do the hard work of making meaning of the text?), as well as the possibility of a universal argumentation style (p. 133). Even though Leki spends a significant portion of her essay responding to process-oriented researchers’ criticism of contrastive rhetoric, she asserts that both process-oriented and textual-oriented pedagogies benefit an L2 writer in different ways, and so one shouldn’t exclude the other (p. 134). While the immediate practical pedagogical implications for contrastive rhetoric in the L2 writing classroom were unclear in Leki’s view, she points to the potential of a deeper understanding of writing styles preferences across cultures, which might prompt teachers and students to analyze texts in search for effective qualities in L2 texts. Leki believes writing instructors should teach L2 writers the expectations of an American audience. If multilingual writers have more awareness of audience, they might be able to anticipate the needs of that audience more accurately (one benefit being multilingual students earning better grades from their professors). Leki points to research showing that readers better understand information presented in familiar rhetorical patterns to highlight the importance of structure and a reader’s expectations (p. 138). Most importantly, Leki believes that students could benefit from contrastive rhetoric research because awareness of different rhetorical styles in various cultures allows students to see writing differences not as inadequacies, but as a result of training in a particular rhetorical tradition (p. 138).

Further reading:

Connor, U. (2002). New Directions in Contrastive Rhetoric. TESOL Quarterly, 36(4), 493-510. doi:10.2307/3588238.

Spack, R. (1997). The Rhetorical Construction of Multilingual Students. TESOL Quarterly, 31(4), 765-774. doi:10.2307/3587759.

Chu, H. J., Swaffar, J., & Charney, D. H. (2002). Cultural Representations of Rhetorical Conventions: The Effects on Reading Recall. TESOL Quarterly, 36(4), 511-541. Retrieved August 11, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3588239.

Target Audience: L2 writing instructors

Purpose: Analyze the effects of culture-specific rhetorical conventions on reading recall

Chu, Swaffar, & Charney explore the idea that differences in textual organization and rhetorical conventions – especially those that are culturally-learned – can cause a reader to have a negative view of a text and also negatively affect a reader’s understanding even when there is no difference in content (p. 514). The authors of this study conclude that while students were unable to recognize differences in rhetorical conventions in the passages they read, these differences significantly impacted their immediate comprehension of the text as well as delayed recall. The study’s findings indicated that the amount of exposure a reader has had to the rhetorical conventions of a second language (in this case, English) did not necessarily result in increased comprehension of a text following those conventions (p. 529). Furthermore, the participants in this study were able to recall much more from passages that followed the rhetorical conventions of their L1. The results of this study seem to support the theory that passages that follow rhetorical conventions and textual organization different from a reader’s L1 will negatively impact their comprehension of the text (p. 530). The study’s findings suggest that a difference in rhetorical conventions will have an even greater impact on comprehension if the content is also unfamiliar and uninteresting to the reader (p. 531). The authors support the claim that cultural expectations in rhetorical conventions and text structure are key in terms of a reader’s understanding of a text and argue for explicit teaching of cultural expectations of rhetorical structures.

Written by