Monday 8 December 2014


Nowadays, the issue of _______________ is extremely controversial. It is a double-edged sword with both positive and negative sides. In this essay, I will examine this subject and offer my own opinion.

If you have ever taught an IELTS class, then you've probably seen an introduction that looks somewhat similar to the one above. I know introductions are not all that important really, but there is something depressing about these copy and paste style introductions.  

I have done some small experiments in class where I give students two introductions and ask them to choose the one they think is best. Below are two samples in response to a question about whether rich nations should be obliged to help developing countries (just to mention, I wrote both in case it seems like I was trying to shame a particular student):
  1. Nowadays, rich nations should be required to share wealth is a controversial issue. This is a double edged sword and has both positive and negative aspects. This essay will look at both sides of this controversial issue.
  2. Many countries have more money than other countries. In rich countries, people worry about mobile phones while in other countries, there is not enough food. In this essay, I will argue that rich countries have to help poor countries. 
Invariably, the majority of the students will say that (1) is better. There are no obvious grammar or vocabulary problems. They like the double edged sword phrase. And it starts with nowadays. Nowadays. :( 

There is some resistance to the idea that (2) is better. The language is more simple, less academic. Even the ideas seem simple. But I think this is the key - the ideas may be simple, but at least there are ideas. In (1), there are no ideas whatsoever. There is no interaction with the question, no evidence of any sort of thought. It is a collection of memorised phrases with the topic shoehorned in. 

I understand why students like these introductions. They make it easy to get started. They offer a form that you can rely on, that you know is correct. But I have a worry that if there is so little thinking going on in the introduction, then there may be a similar lack throughout the rest of the essay. 

One thing I have started doing is to build planning time into in-class exams. I work with Biology, Physics and Chemistry teachers. I noticed that in their exams (which are more UK style), the students are given 10 minutes at the start to read the questions. They cannot start writing until that ten minutes is up. Now, when we do in-class writing exams, ten minutes for planning is built into the exam. They can think, plan, muse - whatever, just as long as there is a delay that might stop them charging into a copy/paste intro.

I know they can't do this in the IELTS exam, but it seems to work better than just recommending that they plan. I should know in a few months how successful it has been and will repost on the topic. 

For now, here is a short little class, the main focus of which is a question analysis, trying to think a good bit before writing. Again, it is very IELTSy, but this time writing part 2. 

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