Monday, May 16, 2016

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ESL Writing for STEM 3 - Process Writing

Process writing assignments

One of the rhetorical patterns in our textbook, but one which we had not previously used, is the process pattern. We had been focusing mainly on the summary/response and argument essays—again, which we thought would promote more critical thinking. However, I realized that the process essay might be more representative of some of the technical writing our students would be required to do in their STEM classes. For instance, writing lab reports would often require a section or two that describes what happened or how something works. In developing the process writing component, the main challenge was developing STEM-related prompts that did not require too much technical background information. Three of the most successful prompts were to describe a) the water cycle, b) the process of recycling plastics, and c) how a product gets to the consumer.

For the water cycle prompt, students were given a diagram which provided them with the most important vocabulary—precipitation, evaporation, runoff, water table, transpiration, and condensation (see Figure 1). From there, students were able to expand their ideas on each step, giving examples and detail. They also incorporated the transitions and signals that they had learned in earlier courses and reviewed here. Overall, the students did well with it and seemed to enjoy a fresh topic (ecology) to write about.

Figure 1. Sample prompt given.

Next, as an in-class writing assignment, students wrote a multi-paragraph essay describing how plastics are recycled. They based their essays on a three-step flow chart (see Figure 2), providing them with some key points. In this case, the aim was to assess their description skills, not their knowledge of recycling. But the students were able to use the understanding that they did have to build and develop the ideas in the prompt. Although the goal wasn’t to stimulate creative thinking, it was clear from their essays which students applied themselves to really build and develop their ideas and which students simply wrote about the basic points on the flowchart. The manufacturing prompt was of a similar nature and produced similar results in student writing.

Figure 2. Sample prompt given