View Full Version : Writing Supplement for SHS

March 19th, 2014, 10:33
Hey guys,

So over the past year I've been working on an (admittedly simple) writing supplement for my 1st and 2nd year SHS students. I've trial ran it with both years, at two different speeds, and this is the result so far.

It's designed to do the following:
- Give students the opportunity to write
- Show students an overly structured question response (which is appropriate to university entrance and STEP eiken interviews)
- Expand to basic 5 paragraph essay structures (did the final two lessons with 2nd years)

The most important part of this is getting them aware of the structure. It gives them some scaffolding to help them get their ideas out in an organized manner. You can customize this however you want, and I hope that you do. The topics for the essay were local to my area, and the questions I used throughout were copied from university entrance tests. Finding things which are relevant to your students will help.

Also, while I make this for SHS, I have also done it with a 2nd year JHS student. They have "most" of the English they need to do basic writing, and with the support images attached they can actually do a "half decent" job.

Until I get a hold of BeerBaron, I'm putting links to a dropbox here:
Dropbox - English Writing Supplement.zip (https://www.dropbox.com/s/n4l24dz208gcht2/English%20Writing%20Supplement.zip) (Full sized pictures)
Dropbox - English Writing Supplment - Half Size JPG.zip (https://www.dropbox.com/s/coxrkkexl3hpm59/English%20Writing%20Supplment%20-%20Half%20Size%20JPG.zip) (Half sized pictures)

I'd really appreciate any constructive criticism for it, as I'm much more used to taking students from the END of this to university level writing. I think I've managed to get the basics across, but there are sure to be better ways to do it.

I will add this, which I was particularly proud of, doing this with the first years resulted in the highest writing mark on the Benessa mock test that our school has had in 10 years. I said it was all thanks to the teachers, but they actually are more sure it was the writing (and feedback on it) that helped them work through things.

March 19th, 2014, 16:24
Interesting. I did a similar thing with my class though it wasn't as thoroughly structured as this. I also spent a lot of time focusing on the whole "explain your reason" thing and I'd agree with you that their weak point is developing their answers beyond "statement because opinion".

However I'm not sure if I can agree with the whole "difference between Japanese and English expression/communication" and I feel making assertions like that comes across as kind of dumb and simplistic to students. I don't want to tell them that in English we speak like this "I like cats because they are cute. This is because they are fluffy and have big eyes. My friend's cat blablabla" in normal conversation. Or that in an English conversation we would ask "why? give me an example" if someone said they like cats. That seems like a false thing to tell them. Maybe they would nod and go "ohhh naruhodo gaijin omoshiroi" but that's just giving them misinformation. Maybe you know more about it than I do but it feels like needless "日本人論" to me.

I just tell them frankly that what they're doing is a precursor to writing academically and that the reason they have to give a reason and example to "why do you like cats" is because it's an easy way to learn the basics. The cultural difference as I see it is that Japanese schools don't place any importance on this kind of writing/critical thinking activity. It's not like English speakers are painstakingly explaining obvious things in everyday conversation (frankly I've experienced a lot more Japanese doing this...) it's just that in western school we focus on teaching kids to think critically and to express and support their ideas in a structural and comprehensible way because those are the skill they'll need for college. My JTE actually told our students that when he got to college he used to have a lot of trouble writing essays because his professors would always right "so what?" over all his statements that he didn't think needed to be explained. There's probably a fair argument that Japanese college is fairly "westernised" but still. I'd prefer to tell kids that the reason they learn to develop their ideas (explain your reasons) about simple stuff is that it's basic essay writing. That writing about their opinion requires that they are able to understand how to explain and support their arguments rather than just claim it's some mystical property of English. And that they'll need this for writing essays in college or whatever.

Apart from that everything seems pretty good.

March 19th, 2014, 16:53
Right, you're spot on. Completely and utterly spot on. I'm gonna write quite a bit below, feel free to skip it as much of it is justification, but I would like help with the question at the bottom.

The reason I presented it the way I do, is grammatically, Japanese is way less specific about certain information than English. It actually requires thinking more... concretely just to produce accurate English sentences with all of the agents in the right places (the excess of dropped and non-mentioned subjects + extensive use of subordinate phrases). This means we end up saying a bunch of stuff that a Japanese person often wouldn't consider necessary in the answer. You're totally right that the way I've presented the answers in there are utter rubbish, but they are meant to be a starting point to something more. The biggest reason I teach it like that is due to contrasts. I find it's easier to teach it as a "stupid English thing" first, as something genuinely strange and different, and let it settle back down to normal on it's own, rather than try and get "slightly" more expression out of kids. Kinda like teaching R and L, easier to teach it WAY past their production values and let the user figure out the balance on their own, vs trying to get a subtle expression difference.

The reason my JTEs were happy to let me do this in class is very much the same reason your JTE complained about college. How a western idea is expressed and supported is very different from a Japanese way, which is actually a linguistic cultural difference. (proof and explanation as an extensive event versus a conclusive event). They end up reading a lot of those "write a japanese essay for uni entrance" crap and complain constantly that the kids are shit at it (having given them SOOOO much time to practice ... ie none).

Funny enough, the teacher's actually didn't want to use the ninhonjinron crap at first. It wasn't expressed quite like that in my first version, I added it in in round 2 as I didn't have as much space between SPA and LPA to practice idea development. When we had more time to focus on idea development vs English development, especially on what is and is not a quality idea, it was easier to drag the kids into it... but I will be honest the 2nd years got to the point a lot faster than the first years.

How would you present the idea of a supported idea vs a non-supported idea in a way which made it... necessary for the student to do it? I tried the "because academics" reason before with the first years, but it wasn't sufficient motivation for them to change their thinking. I tried thinking of a concrete example in English that wouldn't make sense without explanation/exploration sentences, IE a simple Opinion+Reason+Example which is illogical without the intermediate leap, but I couldn't come up with one that is relatively simple. The students didn't get that you need to support an idea, and even some of the teachers didn't really get the idea of a fully realized answer as beyond opinion and reason. To be honest this is the hardest part for me, trying to justify our model as more than "it's not how you do it", in a way which makes it important to the kids to do it like that.

March 19th, 2014, 19:21
I see what you mean, I'm just reluctant to wave it away like that. I just kind of explain it to them really sarcastically (heavy use of ”それ...で?”) and getting the JTE to back me up works okish... I kind of make a point of noting how because they very rarely practice this kind of writing that they needed to start at the beginning and that if they learn the basics now they'll be able to do much more in the future much more easily. I pulled out a TOEIC essay and showed them how it broke down basically the same structure as the one in Vision quest.

TBH I had some trouble motivating a lot of the students to do it. I kind of take the view that they should do it because I tell them to do it; because this is a lesson the same as any other. I explain why we're doing an exercise but I'm not that interested into playing mindgames to get them to do their work. I'm probably too much of a cynic but in my view if I explain it to them well enough and give them enough opportunities and time to understand and they still won't bother to do it out of sheer pigheadedness I don't particularly care. Kids who just don't care don't really bother me me so long as they don't disrupt the other students. I'd say in my classes maybe 60-70% got it, 20% were too lazy and the rest for some reason managed to fail to listen to the excessive explanation because they were thinking about Arashi's abs or whatever.

But if I'm going to be motivating them I'd much rather tell them truthfully that this is how you structure an essay. I'd rather the 10% of kids who might benefit from it and use it in the future do so than pandering to the other 90% with a cop-out. I am however, as I'm sure BJ would be quick to point out, an elitist prick.

One motivator though is simply to lengthen their essays. Mine are set writing tasks fairly regularly (at least they used to be) and they struggle to fill up the word count. It's kind of missing the point but if you point out how easy it is to reach 100 words using this method then they might well see the immediate reward of it as opposed to the distant reward of "in university in 2 years time maybe"

March 19th, 2014, 19:38
Ya. Many of the kids struggled with my overly high 100-150 word LPA, but were very surprised when their essays were all atleast 300 words and many were much closer to 450 like my example

For me, the reason I like to lie and add the stupid extra value is because sometimes you need to mind fuck em a bit. I mean when I was in school I remember being lied to constantly then being told the "correct" way later when the structures were mastered.

I don't think you're an elitist prick for thinking like that. It also works well in the japanese system. My motivation was to show the bott 20% they CAN do it if they try and have a framework where good kids could excel.

I really wish we set these types of activities more regularly and we might next year now that I've shown they actually work. Gotta love having to prove your idea first before a teacher will listen though....