Monday, August 11, 2014

Journals in EAP

I caught the end of Sandy Millin's presentation at the TOBELTA Reading and Writing web conference on Saturday.  She had been talking about how she uses journals in her classes which gave me the idea for this post. So, today I will talk about using journals with your EAP students. Is it a Do or a Don't? Students attending English for academic courses already have a heavy workload, so why add some more work? After using journals with my students at the University of Bristol last year, I firmly believe it is a DO. So, let's see the How, the Why and the What happens after.......
The Notebooks/journals
Get your learners to use a notebook. It is more... let's say romantic, a reminder of the good old days when everybody used notebooks and not tablets and lap tops. On a more serious note, it is better if they have something in hard copy, something that is easy to carry around the house, put in their bag. Last year, when I worked at the University of Bristol, the notebooks were given to the students and it had the uni's logo, which gave a fine touch to the whole journal writing process. If this is not possible in your case, your learners can choose their own notebooks and you will get to see what they choose (I do see  a couple of notebooks with hello kitty on your desk : )).
What should the students write about?
On a weekly basis ask your learners to write about anything, academic and non academic . You could tell your learners to have two sections in their notebook. One section of the journal can be devoted to their everyday life, and the other section to their academic life where they document, reflect on things occurring in their student life. It wold also be a good idea to give them a minimum word limit and give them some ideas on what to write about.
Suggested topics for the everyday life section:
Write about what you did today.
Write about going to the supermarket.
Describe your room.
Write about your plans for the weekend.
Write about something interesting you saw, experienced.
Describe a building you saw .. and so on.
Suggested topics for the Academic section:
Write a paragraph about what plagiarism is.
Write about ways you can avoid plagiarising.
Write down the steps you will take to plan your project.
Paraphrase a source and write down how you did this.
Make notes of the parts of the sources you will be using in your research project ... and so on.
Why two sections?
Well, students attending EAP courses are usually international students who have difficulty, not only with their academic English, but also their general English. Also, keep in mind that it is usually their first time in the UK or other English speaking countries, so they are experiencing a different educational environment as well as a new lifestyle. Writing about everyday life will enrich their everyday vocabulary, writing about their studies will boost their academic English.
Which brings me to the next question.
Why should my EAP students write in a journal?
Well, firstly, they need as much writing practice as they can get. Although academic writing is more important for them, I do find that they lack knowledge of everyday simple English which is why I suggest having two sections in their journals.Another great reason, worth mentioning, is that they can see how their writing has improved. A journal also allows them to see if they are repeating the same errors over and over (maybe next time they will be more careful when using the structure they struggle with).
When do I collect the journals and what kind of feedback do I give the learners?
I collect my students' journals twice a month and my feedback varies. I correct some mistakes, I use an error code and I also ask questions about some of the things they write in their journals. Something like content feedback questions. So, if my student mentions, for example, that he went to the cinema, I then ask, ''What did you see?'' I also use smiley faces  : ) or sad faces : ( depending on what they have written. After having a look at their journals, I give them back to them and then my students can correct any errors and answer any questions I have asked them. If I see general errors occurring in most of the students' journals, like for example, a problem with using the present perfect vs the simple past, I then include this grammar structure in my next lesson or give them links for self study tasks.
Do the learners enjoy writing in journals?
In the beginning due to the heavy workload they already have, some like the idea, others are a bit reluctant whilst a few can't be bothered, but later on, they really get into it, especially when they see something come out of the whole journal writing process. Icing on the cake: It is interesting to see the written dialogue that develops among my students and me in regards to the content questions I ask them.
Bottom line
This can be a fun writing task for your learners. It also gives them the opportunity to reflect on some of the things they are asked to do in the EAP classroom. Sometimes writing down a plan of a project makes it less daunting, making comments about a source can help them be more organised and so on.
give it a try with your EAP learners. There is nothing to lose. Worst case scenario is that they stop writing. best case scenario, some of your learners will really enjoy it and will become slightly better writers because of it.

Final thoughts....
At the moment I am in an EAP state of mind, most of my posts are related to English for academic purposes because, well, that is what I am teaching. I will soon be back with other types of wordy rambles! I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know if you have used journals with your EAP students and how this worked for you.

Till next time........
A pic of a rainy Sunday in the UK : )

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience of using journals. I like the idea of having two sections, because I agree that they have trouble with both areas of English. It's also an interesting thing for them to take back home with them to remind them of their experience in the UK.