In a new term with a new group of EAP students eager to get things going, I’ve always found it a little jarring to jump right into course content (my course is Critical Reading & Writing) even though time is of the essence. Also, I understand the value of community-building activities early on, so I could do the usual type of warmer activity–like Find Someone Who (sidenote: I feel a guttural shudder at the thought)–to have new students get to know each other, but no thanks. While rapport is important, I’m not a fan of activities that don’t connect pretty clearly to EAP reading and writing. I also bore myself to tears when going over a syllabus on the first day. Instead, this year I tried to combine a first-day warmer with a preview of skills that will be introduced and practiced throughout the course.
My main consideration was to simplify a variety of academic reading and writing tasks that students new to academia may not really have been exposed to so that without too many barriers, they could complete them, take a peak at what the course is about, all while getting to know each other. I settled on an identity task in a series of interdependent steps.
Step 1: Name tags
Previewed skills: following instructions carefully / brainstorming
I gave out coloured paper to students, enough so that there were the same number of colours (e.g. 16 students = 4 green, 4 red, 4 blue, 4 purple) and had them select which colour they wanted. I gave them these instructions:
This illuminated a series of issues immediately. Can students follow instructions carefully? Do they understand basic grammatical metalanguage that we need to use throughout the course? Are they able to summarise their thoughts very concisely into just three words? Will they bring in notions of their own pluralingualism (I wasn’t too hopeful here…)?
I then modeled one myself in case they had done so incorrectly. Asking for a new paper ensued in many cases. This very briefly demonstrated that if you don’t understand meaning or read too quickly, you may need to start a task from the beginning again: a very impactful lesson in doing any assignment.
Step 2: Reading
Previewed skills: doing background research, word family/contextualised vocabulary, cohesive devices
Next, I wrote out a small sample text about my own identity. I asked students to read it and ask me any questions they had about the content.
Primarily, I used this as a glimpse into the research process in that one needs to do background research to see what others have already said about a topic before producing one’s own ideas. Sure, it’s not especially academic or representative of varying arguments, but it serves the purpose: giving some existing ideas around identity.
A secondary goal included demonstrating vocabulary-building strategies we’d cover throughout the term. For example, concretise: word families e.g. how -ise/-ize can sometimes be used to make a noun into a verb; subscribe: the use of contextualised vocabulary i.e. known vocabulary may be used in different disciplines in ways that alter meaning from what’s familiar; ‘science’: how punctuation can add tone; currently or on a more personal level or otherwise: cohesive devices indicate relationships between ideas and increase flow; Not only… but also or although + dependent clause: grammatical constructions that might be unfamiliar. We discussed these as a class before moving on.
Finally, we also examined the structure here, noticing that there was a general statement first, then a bit about the past, then present, and finally a mini-conclusion. This previewed how to notice how authors organise their content.
Step 3: Writing
Previewed skills: writing a first draft, making connections to outside sources, referencing ideas from outside sources
In this step, I wanted to preview the writing process insofar as they draft ideas and attempt to incorporate ideas from outside sources. I gave students these instructions:
Many have little understanding of expectations regarding the inclusion of outside sources, but academic integrity is a point of quite some importance throughout any EAP course. So this instruction raised awareness of their own gaps in knowledge of how to do so, but also about creating connections with other’s ideas. My expectations on how well this was done or how academically authentic the connections could be were low because APA accuracy was not the point.
Step 4: Review & editing
Previewed skills: explaining ideas to a non-specialist audience, pair work, peer editing, …getting over being shy about others reading your work
I wanted to push the idea that writing involves drafts. So I had them pair up with someone who had the same colour name tag (sidenote: a useful, equitable way to mix up pairs), and first chat about themselves less formally through introduction and talking about their identities. Doing so before reading each other’s work is a nod to explaining discipline-specific knowledge to a non-specialist audience: they didn’t have to be too concerned with language in speaking, and it gave their partner an easy-to-understand preview of what they’d read.
After that, we moved on to peer editing and how they can value each other in catching errors and confusing notions. At this point, I tried to keep it simple and within everyone’s ability:
A bit of discussion arose–along with mild gasps–from the last bullet point.
Step 5: Revising
Previewed skills: incorporating feedback, revising into final version
You can likely guess where this ended. At this point, I did give a few brief examples of how a writer might reference the author of the quote or paraphrased idea. I didn’t go over this in detail, but just a quick head’s up so they could try to attribute my ideas/words to me. It was interesting to see their first attempts, even if not so accurate or pretty forced. Finally, this wrapped up with revision:
I collected all these name tags so that I could read about each of my new students and see what they consider important parts of their identities. This entire activity took around 60 minutes of class time. It did accomplish my initial goals:
- getting to know you activity between students and between them and me
- a meatier on-topic use of time than some other warmers
- a preview into some of the skills and strategies we’d be using throughout the term in this course (and that I could refer to when we looked more deeply at any one in particular later in the term)
The goal wasn’t to go deeply into any one of these nods at future EAP lessons, so I only briefly pointed out the aims of each of these steps. I answered any questions they had concisely without really allowing for too much rabbit-hole discussion on any one of them. Boredom and full-on overwhelming skills lesson averted!
Plus, it helped me learn their names…the continued struggle of any teacher in the first week of classes.