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Approaches to writing in EAP

Louis Rogers, part of the writing team of the new Oxford EAP series, looks at the challenges and practicalities of teaching writing on an academic English (EAP) course. Louis hosted a webinar entitled ‘Approaches to Teaching Academic Writing‘ on the 26th and 28th September 2012.

Since the rise of the communicative approach, writing has probably been the skill given the least time in classroom. In many general English courses writing would often simply be a simple output task in the final rubric, or consigned to further practice in a writing bank at the back of the book. Arguably, this is changing today as more and more mainstream courses are starting to acknowledge and reflect the amount of communication that occurs in written form. However, when students and teachers move into an EAP environment they notice a number of changes in the approach to writing.

One of the most obvious changes people are confronted with, when moving from general English to Academic English context, is the dominant role that writing begins to play. My own personal shift as a teacher was from Business English to Academic English and the main difference that jumped out was the change in how writing is taught. Of course a variety of genres might be taught in Business English but the one that tends to dominate most classes and published materials is the writing of emails. In a Business English context the focus is very much on the end product and materials tend to focus on the use and manipulation of standard phrases that learners can recycle in their own emails. When writing is short and brief in nature then arguably the product approach meets the needs of learners best. Equally it could be said that learners, to a certain extent, apply parts of a process naturally in the planning and redrafting of their own work, however, in the classroom it is the product that is the focus above and beyond the process.

There are commonly claimed to be three main approaches to teaching writing; product, process and genre, which I will be giving more details about in the webinar. Academic writing tends to lean heavily on the process approach to writing, but to what extent does it need to use the ideas of a product and genre approach? So often when students are given feedback the focus is on the mark and the feedback is rarely used as part of the process in improving future writing. If students are so focused on grades and the final product how can we convince them of the benefits of the process approach to academic writing?

The upcoming webinar will focus on approaches to writing in EAP. The talk will look at the different approaches of product, process and genre and how the best features of each have been used in the Oxford EAP series.

You can view the webinar here.

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Text selection for in-work and pre-work learners

How important is text selection in business English? Louis Rogers, co-author of Skills for Business Studies, discusses the challenge of choosing the right texts for pre-work and in-work learners.

Choosing a topic or a text for a lesson is a challenging task. It is especially difficult to strike a balance between the ‘needs’ and ‘interests’ of the students. This can be particularly true when dealing with two apparently similar groups such as in-work and pre-work learners. There are topic areas that quite clearly and seamlessly cross the boundary between pre-work and in-work learners, such as Marketing or Management. However, other topics, such as Logistics or Takeovers and Mergers tend to be much less accessible and of more limited use to a pre-work learner in an academic environment. So what makes these seemingly obvious business topics more or less accessible to each sector?

Essentially, it comes down to the sphere of influence surrounding the individual or group of individuals. A sphere of influence can be used to analyse many different concepts from politics, to market reach, through to leadership. For example, a shop’s physical sphere of influence would simply be how far are people prepared to travel to reach that shop. Factors such as reputation, price, location and competition all have an impact on a business’s physical sphere of influence. Or consider a country’s political sphere of influence which can be determined by factors such as economic, historical or military power. But how are students’ spheres of influence relevant to text selection in different teaching contexts?

If we reverse the scenario and place the learner at the centre of the sphere we need to consider the influence relationship from a different perspective. In other words, to look at not what they have an influence on but at what influences them. If we place the learner at the centre of a series of concentric rings, with each ring further from the centre considered to have less influence on the individual and therefore be of less interest and relevance, we can build a model for text and topic selection. In both the pre-work learner environment and the in-work learner environment, and arguably in any teaching situation, it is vital that texts are both relevant to the learner’s needs but are also of a broader generic interest and appeal.

Take the topics at the start of this post as an example. Successful Logistics is a key element to so many parts of a business. It impacts on the finance department in terms of costing, it influences the marketing department in terms of getting the product to market on time in order to run an effective marketing campaign, and it affects the customer relations department in terms of maintaining customer satisfaction. Yet for the pre-work learner the significance and influence of Logistics dramatically diminishes. It may have an impact on this kind of learner as an end consumer of a product, but the very process of logistics is an abstract notion that is happening behind the scenes in a company and does not touch on their daily lives.

So a new take on the topic or an entirely new topic needs to be found to engage the pre-work learner. Without a tangible relevance to the learner’s environment it is likely that motivation will dramatically diminish and ultimately impact on the success of achieving the course’s intended learning outcomes. As teachers we need to think carefully about our learners’ spheres of influence and ensure that we choose topics that will engage and motivate them, particularly if the text types are likely to be linguistically challenging.

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Meeting the needs of Business Studies students

Business meetingLouis Rogers is co-author of Skills for Business Studies Intermediate and Upper-intermediate. Ahead of his talk at BESIG on 19th November, he discusses the challenges of meeting the needs of Business Studies students.

At a recent conference, ‘Engaging and Motivating Students in the EAP Classroom‘, a number of the presenters reached the conclusion that the more a specific course is tailored to student needs, the greater the level of motivation and engagement. To a Business English tutor who has conducted numerous needs analyses, and consequently chosen a book or written materials on this basis, this is perhaps hardly surprising. However, when teaching English to Business Studies students, what are the needs of these learners? How can we best use the Business English materials that are already on the market, and what gaps need to be filled?

Although Business English course books do not necessarily address all of the needs of a Business Studies student, they are certainly valuable. Presentations are to a large extent the same whether in an academic or professional situation. The language required to successfully participate in meetings and seminars is also similar. Both of these genres can quite clearly occur in both settings.

There are also similarities in vocabulary, especially in terms of subject-specific vocabulary. So if there are so many similarities between the two, can we not simply walk in with our favourite Business English course book and get on with it? Whilst there are clearly similarities between the two areas, and a normal Business English course book is still of great value, there is a need to supplement in order to meet the slightly differing needs of academic students.

Firstly, there is a need for a shift in balance between lexical aims and grammatical aims of a course. In spoken discourse a much wider range of grammatical tenses are used than in written academic English. According to Biber et al (1999) 90% of an academic text is written using just two tenses: the past simple and the present simple. So the teaching of tenses takes on a lesser role in this setting.

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