You’ve read the paragraph three times, and you still have no idea what’s going on. As this student is relatively articulate in class, the meandering of the paragraph has you stumped–why can’t she write a coherent paragraph?
Culture Dictates What is Good Writing
It’s not that you’re hangry and it’s not that your student is trying to confuse you. What we have here is the inevitable collision of one culture’s definition of good writing with another culture’s entirely different take on it.
Writing classes for ESL students is not just about how to write a sentence. It is also about how to tell a story, giving credit where due, and our version of logical order. The way we sequence our thoughts and ideas isn’t universal. That paragraph your student turned in that made zero sense to you just might be BRILLIANT in his culture. Instead of bemoaning your students “lack” of good writing skills, acknowledge that they have different writing skills just as they have a different language. You have a challenge you can meet, not an obstacle ruining your day.
Imagine grading essay after essay that just FLOWS
You can have that! You can go for the old reliable hamburger graphic organizer to drill home the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and conclusion. Use those inverted triangles to train them to start general and get specific. But, once your students know transition words that signal order and can use them, it’s like you’ve given them the key to a secret code. It won’t take long before they are skillfully using it to improve their writing skills.
Connectives and Transition Signals can be Guide Posts
Have you ever tried to recreate that delicious treat you saw on Pinterest and end up with something that could win an award as a “Pinterest-fail”? Having a model to work from can give you an end goal, but it’s not always within reach if you don’t practice first. So while a list of connectives and transition signals is certainly a handy tool to add to your students’ toolkits, be sure they get to practice using them.
In the end, we can all arrive smoothly at the same destination if we’ve got a map.
Meandering and rambling are such fun during a road trip, but with writing, we tend to want to have a good set of road maps and some planned stops for food and rest. Teach your students connectives and transition signals. It can be the difference between wandering in circles and leading the way.
Grab this page of connectives & transition signals
This quick reference sheet will also ensure your students aren’t using the same tired words over and over.