Academic Writing: How to Teach Mechanics

(Continued from previous posting, “Academic Writing: When to Teach Mechanics”)

Structures used to express contrast or opposition often create a high degree of confusion among English language learners. But seems easy enough to master; it’s adverbs such as although, despite, and however that are commonly misused. Here are some ideas to help you build a lesson around this mechanic:

·      Limit the number of structures to be covered. Between 3-5 is realistic, especially if you present although, even though, and though together. Don’t overload the students. It’s better to master a few structures than gain a weak handle on a dozen.

·      Use real models if possible. Take lines from anonymous student compositions in which the structures were used both correctly and incorrectly. You can ask the class to identify the correct ones and then work together to edit the incorrect ones.

·      Consider using collaborative writing exercises. Here’s a fun one called “sentence chains”: Pass out strips of blank paper to the students. Each student must write the beginning of a sentence that includes one of the targeted adverbs. You need to prompt them, for example: “Write a short thought about our school and begin your sentence with even though.” Each student then passes his or her paper to the right for another student to finish. [See model below.] The results can be read aloud and commented on. You can choose one or two and write them on the board as models. Continue the exercise to practice the remaining adverbs.  For variation, you can ask students to pass their papers to the left, three times to the right, etc.

·      Let a short exercise become the springboard for a longer one. If you select a few good models from the previous activity “sentence chains”, you can then move into a longer composition. Ask students to choose one statement from the board and use it as the topic sentence of a paragraph.  Challenge them to include one more adverb in their composition to express contrast or opposition.



In “sentence chains” Student A writes: Even though our school is very big…


Student B continues the thought: Even though our school is very big, I feel very comfortable here.


Student C might later develop a composition based this statement:

Even though our school is very big, I feel very comfortable here. First of all, our classes aren’t too large. My biggest class is history, and there are only 30 students. The teacher does a good job, and we all get a chance to speak. Also, all students and teachers are friendly, so I don’t really feel like I’m with a lot of strangers. I know that some people may not like to be in a school with almost a thousand students. However, the number of students creates energy. It’s never boring. The size of our school is perfect for me.

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