Teaching Introductions and Conclusions

I hate teaching introductions and conclusions! There, I said it. It’s so hard to define clearly what makes a good introduction!

  • A good introduction should make the topic interesting–but what’s interesting to you isn’t always interesting to me.
  • A good introduction should have enough background information to open the topic but not too much–and how much exactly is that?
  • We need a clear, strong thesis statement-but how manyexcellent pieces of writing do you read where the thesis statement is implied, or broken into two sentences, and those sentences are located far away from each other?
  • The introduction is the first paragraph–unless it’s the second because the first paragraph is an extended hook.

And conclusions?

  • A conclusion should sum up
  • Or make a recomendation
  • Or conclude the topic somehow
  • But it shouldn’t have new information.

And when we teach students to write by rote, let’s face it, the results are pretty boring. And while beginners may not have great English skills, your students may be sophisticated writers with excellent writing skills in their own language. We don’t want to stunt them with a school child level formula.

So how can we get students to write good introductions and good conclusions? By exposing them to as many examples as we can. To make that process easier. I developed these two worksheets–one is for beginners and the other is for more advanced students that provide fairly formulaic intros and conclusions with pretty basic problems. They serve as jumping off points to get students reading analytically to inform their own writing:

The Worksheets

Good and Bad Introductions for higher levels (with Good and Bad Introductions Suggested Answers)

Good intros and conclusions for lower levels (with Good intros and conclusions Suggested Answers)

I like to use them like this:

  1. Review what makes a good intro and/or conclusion as a class which shouldn’t take long.
  2. Break students into groups and give them each a worksheet. Let them discuss and evaluate for about 15-20 minutes. Remind them that there are good and bad points about every example.
  3. Break students into different groups and have them share ideas with new students for about 7 minutes.
  4. Come back together and go over the good, the bad, and the ugly about each one.
  5. For homework, send students to a news  opinions page (The New York Times is great or BBC Words in the News has articles written for ESL websites. Local papers are also a good resource). Have them pick an introduction and a conclusion and analyze what is good and bad about it.
  6. The next day, students present their introductions and conclusions  in groups.

Basically, I want to give students analytical skills that lets them write excellent introductions and conclusions.

Compare and Contrast Signal Words

One of my pet peeves when it comes to lists of helpful words or phrases for essay writing is that students often do not learn the grammar of these phrases. In other words, they learn that but and however are both contrast words. However, they do not learn that they can’t always be used interchangeably. So I made up this list of   Compare Contrast Signal Words  shown in grammatical context. They are divided by whether they talk about similarities or differences and by whether they connect clauses or start sentences or require parallel structure.

It’s very comprehensive and long. I certainly wouldn’t just give it to students. In fact, I initially designed it with a specific textbook in mind that had follow-up exercises.

Ways to use it in the classroom:

  • Give it to students as a reference when they write.
  • Give it to students for homework to review and come back with questions.
  • Have students write compare and contrast sentences using but, and, yet and however. Assign them a more interesting signal word (as well as, in addition to, by contrast, whereas) and have them rewrite the sentences, changing the grammar as necessary. This could be a chain activity where one student says a simple sentence and the next student has to use a different contrast word.
  • Put students in groups and assign them one signal word from each box. Have them write example sentences for each signal word using them grammatically correctly. Go over them as a class.
  • Put up pairs of words on the board, some obvious comparisons and some less so. Dogs and cats, cars and planes, rain and snow are obvious ones. Teacher and professor, child and adult, house and home, hero and role model and idol require some deeper thinking. In teams have students write as many sentences as they can using different signal words about one pair. Then as a class go over the sentences and edit them.
  • Write a paragraph, or have students write a paragraph with no compare and contrast signal words. Have students insert them, rewriting sentences as necessary.

Highlighting Essays: Compare and Contrast

I’ve posted before about highlighting essays to help students see the structure. It’s a great exercise to have students reverse outline an essay by highlighting key information like the thesis statement, topic sentences, examples and conclusions. Then the key structural elements of the essay will literally jump off the page at them.

Here’s an essay I wrote to show students the structure of a compare and contrast essay. I was getting tired of reading body paragraphs like this:

Dogs are more friendly than cats. Cats are very independent and they don’t need people. So they are not as friendly. On the other hand, dogs like people and always want to be around them. So I think friendly people like dogs and unfriendly people like cats.

I really wanted them to see how ideas connect to each other. And I wanted them to include evidence for their claims including sub-topics and examples. So the essay is a bit dense because it also serves as a model of how to develop strong supporting points and link paragraphs. So without further ado, a sample essay for your students perusal:

CC Essay Highlighting

The Great Turkish Owl

Hand drawn Owl
From http://thegraphicsfairy.com/

I’m a big fan of OWLs. Not the birds but the Online Writing Labs. Purdue has one of the more authoritative ones but I just found this one from a Turkish University: BOGAZICI UNIVERSITY ONLINE WRITING LAB.

I really like the way it breaks down the different essay types into rather comprehensive but easy to understand models. And I like that it’s written by someone from a different academic tradition because some of the things that we miss (we being those who have gone to school in the West and have written a million 5 paragraph essays) are picked up here–like what makes a good introduction for a cause and effect essay.

I know it’s the latest buzz but I do think the genre-based approach is going to change how essays are taught and this OWL really hits that approach by breaking down what different kinds of essays are for, what information they include, how they are organized, and how to put one together. And a lot of that process is so obvious to a Western educated teacher that we don’t notice what we don’t notice. I think students will really benefit from this site.

Noticing: An essay for my MA TESOL

textbookI have a class assignment to write a paper on a question that affects teaching and then review the theory and how the theory guides teaching. The question I investigated was how to help students notice or take in lessons–we’ve all had that student that at the end of class asks, “What’s the past perfect again?” and you repress the urge to say, “The thing we’ve studied all class long!” How do we avoid that?

Here’s my first draft about the Theory of Noticing

Honestly I would love comments, suggestions, criticisms. But feel free to do with it what you will.

English Comp Videos

Education Portal looks like a promising resource. It’s putting college lectures up online. The College Composition class looks like the one most obviously connected to ESL and the skills my students need. But the content course lectures could be great fodder for a listening lesson or a subject of conversation.

Apparently one can also get college credit for doing these courses online, so it might be your way to get enough credit to get out of your low-paying teaching job! Just kidding.

Process Essay Graphic Organizer

This is less of a proper activity and more just sharing a Process Essay Graphic Organizer that I made. These three were made for specific readings that students were to reverse outline, but they can easily be adapted to other readings. Or just used by students to write their own essays. They aren’t anything particularly fancy but they illustrate three different ways to put together a Process Essay.