Research Bites: A Pedagogical Approach to Note-Taking Instruction

Most teachers and students would agree that note-taking is an essential skill for academic success. Note-taking is so important that there is quite a bit of research on it in both L1 and L2 domains. While note-taking is considered to be a complicated process that requires the coordination of cognitive and physical abilities, it is even more complicated for taking notes in an L2, which adds in extra layers of difficulties. A number of coursebooks and teachers have been working to address this challenge. Yet, as Siegel argues below, few offer a systematic and scaffolded approach to learning note-taking. Often, the only instruction is “take notes”. The study below, by Joseph Siegel, offers one such approach and gives us insights into its effectiveness. Continue reading


Research Bites: Speech Perception, Speech Production, and Corrective Feedback

Among the numerous factors that influence pronunciation, many have argued that listening – in particular, listening discrimination, plays an important role.

Lee and Lyster (2016) explore this connect between how listening – namely, speech perception, influences speech production. This idea, known as the perception-first view, is well-supported by empirical studies, though it is not without some contention. Lee and Lyster in particular focus on speech perception training and its effect on phonological production (pronunciation). Reviewing a number of studies, the authors indicated that a common training element was corrective feedback. Their study presented below looks at the possible role corrective feedback (CF) may play in moving from accurate speech perception to accurate speech production.

Lee, A. H., & Lyster, R. (2016). Can corrective feedback on second language speech perception errors affect production accuracy?. Applied Psycholinguistics, 1-23. Retrieved from

They conducted their research with 100 Korean learners of English. They divided them into five groups, each of which underwent speech perception training for eight sessions during two weeks through specially designed software. The training included listening to various words that represented words with trouble vowels for Koreans: /i/–/ɪ/ and /ɛ/–/æ/. They were able to listen to each word as many times as they wanted and then they had to choose the word orally represented. For example, they heard /ʃɪp/ and had to choose between “ship” and “sheep”. Based on their answer and the group they were in, they received the following corrective feedback:

Target Group “No, s/he said ‘ship’.” Yes
Nontarget Group “No, not ‘sheep’.” Yes
Combination Group No, s/he said ‘ship’ not ‘sheep’.” Yes
Wrong Group Wrong Right
Control Group None None

The participants were audiorecorded three times (pre, post, delayed post). They had to produce sentences that included the trained words, as well as some untrained words. Analysis of these recordings was done using native English speakers and acoustic analysis software.

Lee and Lyster found the following:

  • Target Group:
    • Production accuracy was significantly higher for trained words at both the post- and delayed posttest;
    • Production accuracy for /ɛ/–/æ/ untrained words was higher at both posttests;
    • Production accuracy for /i/–/ɪ/ untrained words was higher for the immediate posttest only.
  • Nontarget Group:
    • No significant changes for /i/–/ɪ/
    • Production accuracy was higher for /ɛ/–/æ/ trained words at both postests
    • Production accuracy was higher for /i/–/ɪ/ and /ɛ/–/æ/ untrained words at the immediate posttest
  • Combination, Wrong, Control:
    • No significant changes

Overall, they reinforced the idea in the relationship between speech perception and speech production, but CF type was a major factor. They found that providing target feedback (which is akin to a ‘recast’) is more effective than providing negative feedback (which is akin to prompts). That is, giving the target form in response to incorrect perception was better than simply telling them which sound was wrong.

How does this influence improved speech production? The researchers noticed that both target and nontarget groups would verbally respond to CF by trying to produce the correct utterances. The target groups did this more often than the nontarget group, and the other three groups, by the nature of the CF type, did not engage in this behavior. Therefore, speech perception alone is important, but “opportunities for noticing, awareness, and practice, in addition to CF” might be necessary (p. 18).

Research Bites: The Cognitive Linguistic Approach to Teaching Phrasal Verbs


Over the past few days, I have been working my way through several articles on cognitive linguistics. In particular, I have been focusing on applied cognitive linguistics.and the way this discipline looks at phrasal verbs.  That is, how to take cognitive conceptualizations of phrasal verbs and apply those to instruction.

The basis for many applied cognitive linguistic approaches come from Lakoff and Johnson (1980), Tyler and Evans (2003), Kurtyka (2001), and Rudzka-Ostyn (2003). (Full disclosure: I have not read the former two references.)


Cognitive linguists argue that phrasal verbs are not as arbitrary as they might seem. Instead, they are grounded in perceptual experience, from which their metaphorical meanings extend. One common conceptualization of phrasal verbs is as interaction with a container (Kurtyka). For example, in the sentence “Please throw out some ideas,” the container is the place in which ideas are held (i.e. the mind). Out represents the movement from the inside of the container to the outsider. Throw also has an important role in establishing meaning, as it represents the manner by which the ideas leave the container. Together, they build semantic meaning that is quite clearly cognitively represented (Mahpeykar and Tyler, 2014). Most, if not all phrasal verbs can be described using a container. This container can be visualized as a simple box container, a mouth, a body, an area, etc.


Container conceptualizations of (7)a. Peter got on the bus. (8)a. Mother sent the boy out to buy something to eat. (9)a. After years of discipline and hard work he turned into a capable manager. (Kurtyka, 2001, p. 40).

Another way to conceptualize phrasal verbs is by thinking of them in terms of a landmark (LM) and trajector (TR). For example, in the sentence “He turned into a good student.”, “He” is the trajector, “good student” is the landmark, and this relationship is defined in terms of the phrasal verb turn into. Due to the abstract nature of the LM-TR conceptualization, the container metaphor seems to be much more common in the literature.

White (2012) looked at much of the previous research on cognitive linguistic approaches to phrasal verbs and designed an instructional approach, which they then tested in an EAP classroom. The following summary looks at the approach, the experiment, and the findings.

White, B. J. (2012). A conceptual approach to the instruction of phrasal verbs. The Modern Language Journal, 96(3), 419-438.

White reviews a number of articles on cognitive linguistics and phrasal verbs, basing their approach on a synthesis of ideas and focusing on the container, which they call “zone of activity”. White presents 5 stages of phrasal verb instruction, all grounded in previous research and theories. They argue that this approach enables “deeper encoding and longer retention” (p. 425).

  1. Orientation – This stage is meant to reorient students to phrasal verbs, teaching them that they are now random but rather meaning is formed through interaction between the verb and particle. This interaction occurs in the container, or what White refers to as a “zone of activity.”Using the sentence “Throw out the trash,” White explains that “The zone of activity in (3) can be interpreted as immediately surrounding the person holding the trash (i.e., the trashcan is outside of the zone)” (p. 423). In the more metaphorical sentence, “Now that my father is getting older, he put
    up his golf clubs,” White says “the clubs begin in the zone of activity because the father presumably played golf on a regular basis. They are then placed out of the zone; in a metaphorical sense, they are put up on an out-of-reach shelf” (p. 423).
  2. Collection – This stage requires students to “hunt” for phrasal verbs in various sources, building up a collection for analysis.
  3. Meaning Discussion – The third stage requires the creation of an “exploration worksheet” based on phrasal verbs in context selected from the student collection. Students discuss the meaning and then the teacher gives feedback and appropriate definitions of the verbs.
  4. Drawing – Students choose phrasal verbs to draw, incorporating the zone of activity/container imagery in order to explain how phrasal verbs are represented.
  5. Sharing – Finally, students share their drawings, explaining their representations of the phrasal verbs. White writes that this approach places emphasis on inferring meaning from figurative language rather than simple memorization
Author illustrations of phrasal verbs which include a zone of activity. (White, 2012, p. 424)

Author illustrations of phrasal verbs which include a zone of activity. (White, 2012, p. 424)

The Study

This instructional approach was tested in two university-level EAP courses taught by two different instructors. These courses had a combined population of 30 students. Students were given pre- and post- dialogue-based instructional tasks consisting of phrasal verbs with up, out, through, off, down, and in. For these tasks, students were required to explain the meaning of underlined phrasal verbs. A subsection of these tasks recycled up and out phrasal verbs in both the pre- and post- tasks and thus became pre- and posttests. The study was conducted over 7 weeks. Each week, students work through the 5 stages outlined above. Each exploration worksheet consisted of 4 phrasal verbs. Student feedback was also collected.

Results, Discussion, Adaptation

The average increase for all from pre- to post-task for all phrasal verbs was not significant. However, for the pre- and posttest up and out phrasal verbs, the increase was significant with a “modest” gain in scores (p. 429). Fourteen students improved, two remained the same, and six students’ scores fell. The analysis found examples of post-task explanations incorporating the new perspective and zones of activity, even if they did not lead to correct answers.

The author recommends adapting this approach by giving more conceptual information, focusing more on the particles, and giving more feedback on drawings – especially regarding the zone of activity. This can also be extended to not just phrasal verbs but prepositions in general (see Tyler, Mueller, and Ho, 2011).


As the author admits, this is not a “silver bullet” to learning phrasal verbs (p. 430). However, building mental models of representation in order to understand figurative language such as phrasal verbs is based on grounded cognitive linguistics theory. The challenge is to find instructional approaches that make these models salient to students while improving their ability to inference, hopefully in real-time. The research is relatively new in this area and it is hoped that more work is done to help find ways to better learn English’s complicated phrasal verb system.



Kurtyka, A. (2001). Teaching English phrasal verbs: A cognitive approach. In M. Putz, S. Niemeir, & R. Dirven (Eds). Applied Cognitive Linguistics II: Language Pedagogy (pp. 29-54). Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago/ London : University of Chicago Press

Mahpeykar, N., & Tyler, A. (2015). A principled cognitive linguistics account of English phrasal verbs with up and out. Language and Cognition, 7(01), 1-35.

Rudzka-Ostyn, B . (2003). Word power: Phrasal verbs and compounds (a cognitive approach). Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tyler, A., & Evans, V. ( 2003 ). The semantics of English prepositions: spatial scenes, embodied meaning and cognition. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press .

Tyler, A., Mueller, C., & Ho, V. (2011). Applying cognitive linguistics to learning the semantics of English to, for and at: An experimental investigation. Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 8, 181-205.



Reading with a Purpose: Practical Ideas for Connecting Reading and Writing

There have been a number of scholars who have not only called on pursuing a more connected relationship between reading and writing, but facilitating this through reading with a purpose. If you assign reading, especially if you teach classes that focus on reading (I teach reading-only classes, you may have noticed that often the only purpose of reading is to read, maybe answer a few questions (multiple choice, true false), and maybe use the text as a springboard for related discussion or writing.

The problem here is that this approach neither represents academic reading nor serious or critical engagement with the text. Academic reading rarely approaches reading from a comprehension-check point of vue. Instead, it requires serious engagement with the text in order to learn knowledge, apply knowledge, or critically evaluate related content. In addition, academic reading is often intimately connected with writing.

Even if you do not teach English for academic purposes, our everyday purposes for reading are typically are also not represented by the coursebook. Rarely do we read to check our comprehension. We always read for a purpose: learn something new, support or refute and opinion, apply something we read to a new situation or solve a problem, and even write a blog post about what we read.

Therefore, I’ve made a more focused goal of giving as much purpose as possible to the readings we do in class. For this post, I’m going to focus on an intermediate and advanced reading classes to exemplify some of the assignments I have given and the purposes they fulfill.

Summary – Prove your understanding

Have you ever read an interesting article and then told your friend about it? Have you ever read an anger-inducing article and then wrote about it, but had to boil down the main ideas before you could pick them apart? That is summary at work. It is a very basic writing (and speaking) skill that is applicable in all sorts of situations, especially academic ones.

I make it an effort to stress summary writing for many of our readings. I tell students the purpose of their reading is to explain the article or arguments to another person using their own words and through writing. Summary writing is a very general assignment and, while it may seem like a very didactic and teacher-focused assignment (which, to a large extent it is) it is still a base skill that is needed for many other types of writing. And, it is a gentle way to introduce students to reading with a purpose.

I like to teach summarizing by having students take notes on what they are reading, and reconfigure those notes into bullet-point summaries. Once they have bullet-point summaries down, I show how they can transform those summaries into paragraph summaries. This can further be trimmed to three sentence, one sentence, and Twitter summaries!

Evaluation – Prove your point

Getting students to read and then state their opinion is nice, but it really is not making them responsible for the text. It is simply using the text as an inspiration, or what Leki and Carson (1997) call “non-text responsible writing” – something that serves “to infantilize our students, denying them a stance of engagement with serious and compelling subject matter”.

Instead of offering their opinion of a text, idea, or argument, what students can do is critically evaluate that text, or the idea from another text. For example, students in my intermediate reading class read a bland article about fast food that you could find in pretty much any coursebook. One of the paragraphs focused on the negative health effects of fast food and contained a single sentence that stated fast food restaurants are trying to address these effects by introducing healthier food. My students also read this LA Times article (from Newsela, at a slightly lower level) that presented research which claimed “that the location where foods are obtained may not be as important as the nutritional quality of the foods consumed;” in other words, overall diet played a more important role than fast food restaurants, and in fact, often influenced a person’s choice about eating fast food.

I didn’t assign any questions or quizzes about this article. I simply told students we are going to use this research-based argue to evaluate whether fast food restaurants offering healthy choices would be effective for reducing obesity. Students had to write a paragraph explaining their evaluation of this move, and support their evaluation with evidence from the reading. Some students struggled because they did not know how to use an article as support (another crucial skill). Others simply wanted to give their opinion unrelated to the article. But, after working with students, there were many successful assignments completed.

Student Example

Almost all the customers tend to choose meals that are include a lot of fats, sugar, and salt if the restaurants offer fruits, salad, and yogurt. In addition, we don’t gain weight or become obese just because we eat fast-food. According to the research, people who eat non-fast food are also overweight or obese. Therefore, fast-food restaurants that offer healthy meals would not be effective for avoiding overweight and obese. Because not only fast-foods but also other high calorie foods are the reason why we become overweight or obese.


Comparison – Show the connection

Being able to compare and contrast two arguments, two ideas, or two texts gives student great practice in summary, evaluation, and explanation. However, trying to find a text that is similar to the generic ones in most coursebooks is often difficult, but not impossible. In one of my advanced reading classes, the coursebook an excerpt from two books: Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman and The Struggle to Be an All-American Girl by Elizabeth Wong. These excerpts focused on students adapting to different cultures and gave my readers a great chance to explore comparison and contrast. They read both articles with the purpose of comparing the authors’ experiences. Not only did this give them a realistic purpose for reading, but it also helped them focus their reading skills, making them pay attention to things they could compare and contrast.

Student Example

Eva Hoffman and Elizabeth Wong have two similar and two different experiences with each other. The first similarity between them is adapting to a new language and culture. For example, just as  Eva became cold in her language and more careful in speaking, such as trying not to be direct and loud or using gestures closely as Canadians, so did Elizabeth. Chinese was embarrassing for her and “[her] favorite heroine never spoke Chinese”, so she probably did not like any Chinese heroines. The second similarity between Eva and Elizabeth is the loss of their mother’s authority over their children. In the same way that Eva’s mother lost her sureness of controlling her children and did not know the new rules to know what they were are doing, Elizabeth’s mother failed at in controlling her children to be Chinese and they felt more American and multicultural.


Students can also compare ideas within a text. Newsela offers a great number of PRO/CON articles that offer two expert perspectives on an issue. For an upcoming reading test in an advanced class, students will read this article about the $15 minimum wage controversy. Their purpose for reading this is to understand the two authors’ arguments and choose one to support based on which argument is presented the most persuasively. Their writing assignment requires them to summarize the main arguments by comparing and contrasting them, and then based on the arguments, explain which position they support.

Application – Apply your understanding

These are often my most creative assignments in terms of academic writing. They ask students to take what they have read and learned and apply it to a new situation, often offering suggestions or recommendations. This works especially well for articles that discuss research. For example, intermediate level students just read an article on the different effects of music. Instead of simply answering questions about the article (which we did do for intensive reading practice), students also had to take the research in the books and apply it to our institute. I asked students to suggest how we could use music to improve student experiences. It was made explicit that they needed to use the article to support their suggestion. This require them to read the article with a view on what is practical and could potentially apply to their (student) lives. Here is a writing that I got:

Student Example

I think ELI could use music to improve students experiences. According to the reading passage, music can affect humans in different ways. Also, it can help students when they study and have to relieve stress. If students have problem about memorizing, music can help them. Because music has strong influence on memory. For example, if ELI teachers make songs that relate with English words, students who have hard time to remember English words can memorize that more easily. Also, listening to music is good way for releasing stress and relaxing body. Research in the article The Power of Music shows that lots of doctors utilize music to reduce stress. So it is useful to ELI students who are stressful because of studying or preparing exam. And if we find songs that make us relax and feel better, it will be good for students or teachers too.


These are but a few examples of the different ways we can transform generic readings, ones which often have a reading-only focus, into purpose-driven writing assignments that ask students to engage with the text. This approach to reading/writing gives students crucial practice in important skills and makes reading more authentic, and in my opinion, more enjoyable.

Leki, I., & Carson, J. (1997). “Completely different worlds”: EAP and the writing experiences of ESL students in university courses. TESOL quarterly,31(1), 39-69.

Great Reading Resources for Students and Teachers

This is just a quick post to share some of the great resources I use in my reading and writing classes. But, these resources are not just for teachers. Students interested in reading more in English, EAP students, and those preparing for TOEFL or IELTS will find the following sites both interesting and very useful!


Newsela is perhaps my favorite resource. It offers news stories on a range of issues at 5-levels of difficulty, including the original article. Beyond news, Newsela offers biographies, famous speeches, and primary source documents from American history. Sign-up for an account to give your students access to the articles. There are a lot more LMS-style options for paid accounts, but even the free basic access is great!


JSTOR is a major academic journal publisher and JSTOR Daily is its blog component. They offer engaging, short, research-based posts on really interesting topics. All posts include useful links to related articles and citations! Some of my recent favorites include:

Voices of America (VOA)

VOA is a news service sponsored by the US Government. It is broadcast via radio and TV to countries world-wide, and its website has very interesting content. Most of this content is written in Special English – a simplified English, which means it is highly accessible to most students. They have a very large site with many sections. Some of my favorites include the main news site and these:


Aeon has highly engaging essays. These essays are often long explorations into a subject and are great for EAP students and those wishing for a challenge. Here are some recent good ones:

What If? by XKCD

Ever wonder how many tea bags it would take to turn a lake into something that tasted like a regular cup of tea? Ever wondered how many seconds you could survive on the surface of the sun? How about how many humans a t-rex would need to eat to meet its daily caloric intake? What If? explores these and more in very scientific ways! This site is wonderful for many EAP students, especially prospective scientists.


I have written about the ways I use TED Talks on this blog in the past. TED is a great resource for engaging talks on a range of subjects. One of the benefits of the site is that they offer interactive transcripts. You get not only the text but the ability to click on any word and be shown that part of the video. However, you do not need to use the video to use TED. The texts themselves are interesting and make for great reading resources. Furthermore, most TED Talks are translated into multiple languages. For readers, this gives students the ability to read in English and do their own comprehension checking in their language. They can note differences in understanding, vocabulary, and so on.

(thanks to a reader for pointing out my oversight on not including this in the original post!)



Adapting Close Reading Questions for the ARC Highlighter Role

The Highlighter role of Academic Reading Circles is language focused. A great deal of research in academic reading and writing has stressed the need for building academic vocabulary (see my previous post for an example of this research). Academic vocabulary is not so easily defined, however. Academic vocabulary differs depending on genre, purpose, audience, and discipline among other factors. Still, there are some commonly used words that apply across most disciplines. Learning these is essential, but a good reader needs to also be able to grasp one-off discipline specific vocabulary. By doing so, it is hoped that they build not only the skills to handle this vocabulary, but actually add it to their own mental lexicon.

The Highlighter role for ARCs does a good job at addressing both types of vocabulary in learner-centered, intensive, and collaborative ways. Students discuss and explore both discipline-specific and academic or general vocabulary, looking at its meaning, usage, and related words. Through discussion, association, and repeated encounters, students are more likely to assimilate, remember, or recall the vocabulary.

However, there is a lot more to vocabulary than a word or phrase’s meaning. It’s usage in context at the sentence- and paragraph-level, its connotation, and the decision to use one word as opposed to another are also important. What’s more, a sentence or group of sentences can affect how a word’s meaning and purpose is understood and interpreted by a reader. While the Highlighter role does stress looking at context and even language usage (“tonal language”), I have found that this focus has either been too vague or too lexically/locally focused. This may not be true for ARC users, but in my experience, unless I am closely monitoring a group, even after much modelling, there still remains a superficial focus for most students.

To address vocabulary and meaning from a difference perspective, I recently experimented with integrating strategies of close reading into the Highlighter role, with great success. I had students keep their focus on topical vocabulary and keywords. However, instead of the “tonal language,” I had students apply close reading questions for specific words, sentences, or passages of the text. These questions were adapted from a close reading guide discussed in a previous post. Each question starts with “Look at ______”, in which line numbers would be written. I asked students to choose three interesting phrases, sentences, quotes, or passages, and apply the questions to them. The questions I adapted are:

  • Quotes or citations: What is their purpose? Are they credible?
  • Language Usage: Look at ______. Why has the author used one word rather than another? How could change the words change the sentence’s meaning?
  • Transitions: Look at ______. What connections do the transitions words or phrases represent?
  • Statements: Look at ______. When you read a particular statement, how does its meaning change? What can you infer from the statement?
  • Background: Look at ______. What are the author’s beliefs or assumptions? How do you know this?
  • Organization: Look at ______. How has the author organized their points?
  • Numerical Data: Why is this data here? Could it be understood differently? Is it believable?

Questions such as these gave students a greater focus on trying to understand how and why language was used – important skills for developing academic reading. I also found that by having students ask these questions, the discussions became a bit more interesting, and involved students really working with the language to try to interpret the author’s meaning. To me, it revealed those who are still struggling with superficial reading based on mental translation or very shallow processing of a passage.

My first few attempts at using these have convinced me that they are worth exploring further. I am wondering what other questions and what other ways would be useful to build a stronger focus on language usage during independent intensive reading and group discussion. In what other ways can the Highlighter role be strengthened?


Research Bites: Implications from Research on Writing from Reading

Grabe, W., & Zhang, C. (2013). Reading and writing together: A critical component of English for academic purposes teaching and learning. TESOL Journal, 4(1), 9-24.

That integrating reading and writing is an essential academic school has been well-documented (and well-discussed on my blog). Grabe and Zhang (2013) explore the research on reading/writing integration and derive a number of important pedagogical implications all EAP and ESL writing instructors should be aware of.

Integrating reading and writing is a skill that is difficult for native English speakers, and particularly difficult for EAP students. According to the research, factors that make this type of writing difficult for EAP students include lack of practice opportunities, weaker reading skills, limited experience integrating reading and writing, poor grammar and vocabulary, motivation, lack of knowledge of organizational patterns, poor writing fluency, less background to use.

Students are likely to encounter a number of different writing tasks at the university level, and it is likely they will not be prepared for them. All of these tasks require text-responsible writing from reading (p. 12):

  1. Taking notes from a text (both at home and in class)
  2. Summarizing text information
  3. Paraphrasing textual resources
  4. Combining information from multiple text sources in a synthesis task
  5. Comparing multiple points of view from written texts and producing a critical synthesis
  6. Answering essay exam questions in writing (both at home and in class)
  7. Writing an extended research paper or literature review
  8. Responding to assigned texts (summary and then critique)

Grabe and Zhang’s article focuses on summarizing and synthesizing skills. The ability to summarize has been shown to be related to reading proficiency and vocabulary. In addition, ESL students struggle with paraphrasing, especially less proficient students, leading to many problems of plagiarism. Limited research on synthesis writing suggests stronger students mine texts more. Research on argument writing showed that stronger readers often include counterarguments and refutations in their writing. All of this research indicated better reading proficiency is related to better integrative writing.

Like summarizing, a key issue of synthesis writing is plagiarism, often due to not knowing how to use source texts correctly in western universities rather than deceitfulness. The authors, citing research, warn against blanket accusations of plagiarism without explicit instruction in not only how to avoid it but correct usage of source texts.

An experimental study by Zhang looked at the effectiveness of explicit synthesis writing instruction, which was found to outperform the control group in quality, organization, and text-usage.

Implications from Research

  • Students need more practice opportunities to integrate reading and writing, and to build confidence and fluency in this skill
  • Students need a large academic vocabulary
  • Students need explicit reading comprehension activities
  • Students need more explicit instruction for integrated writing tasks
  • Teachers should raise student awareness of tasks and expectations
  • Teachers should include more models of writing that can be analyzed.
  • The entire reading/writing process (reading, evaluation, source selection, citation, etc.) should be modelled and scaffolded
  • Models should put emphasis on text responsibility rather than opinion writing
  • Students should write summaries together
  • Teachers should try to develop more background knowledge
  • Teachers should teach students to “ask about cultural and topical information and reading/writing assumptions hidden in the task and texts” (p. 18)
  • Addressing plagiarism should be proactive
  • There needs to be an explicit focus on organization, including rhetorical signals
  • Teachers can use reading guides or reading journals to help students explore texts in more depth

The authors state that “The best general approach to instruction, therefore, is to begin instruction on reading/writing tasks much earlier, much more explicitly, and with much more iterative practice. Such thinking requires some creativity on the parts of teachers, curriculum developers, and materials writers” (p. 19).

Two practical projects that can help realize implications come to mind. One is a project that is mentioned in the text: learning reading/writing integration from writing and editing Wikipedia projects. This is an especially creative idea, and it is quite useful. For lower-levels, one can even write/edit Simple English pages!

The other idea is an oft-promoted one on this blog: Academic Reading Circles. This project addresses many of the implications mentioned in this article. It is a great place to work with not only academic readings, but integrated reading and writing skills.

All in all, teaching reading from writing is an essential skills, one that clearly needs to be done more carefully, explicitly, and often. The ideas in the article hopefully inspire or reaffirm the need for this type of writing and lead to students who are better prepared for academic study and beyond.

Research Bites: Using Close Reading for Academic Texts and Writing

Freedman, L. (2015). Using close reading as a course theme in a multilingual disciplinary classroom. Reading in a Foreign Language, 27(2), 262. [link]

Leora Freedman, from the University of Toronto, describes a 300-level university Asian Studies class (taught by Janet Poole), consisting of domestic and international students and their approach to reading academic texts, especially theoretical texts from authors such as Foucault, de Certeau, and others. This course was organized around close reading, “a simplified method of reading, sections of a text iteratively and critically” (p. 263). It was argued that such an approach would benefit all students, and both L1 and L2 readers have difficulties with academic texts.

The approach in this course relied heavily on modeling, paraphrase, thinking aloud, and questioning. The course instructor would choose sections of the text that contained key ideas. She would then paraphrase the section, helping students understand the academic vocabulary and expressions. She would analyze statements, look at ambiguities, look at author purpose or perspective, or contrast a statement with something earlier or by another author. In addition, individual words and phrases were analyzed for how nuances of meaning depending on context, purpose, or perspective. After students were familiar with this process, the instructor gave students a worksheet to help them approach texts in the same way, following ideas of close reading:

  1. Organization of points: What seems to be the author’s persuasive strategy? Is it convincing?
  2. Author’s theoretical tendency: Is it stated or unstated? What are the author’s underlying assumptions? What evidence do you see for this?
  3. Quotations: What is their purpose? Are these sources credible? 
  4. Comparisons: How is this idea treated in other texts on this subject?
  5. Diction: Why has the author used one word rather than another? How would changing the diction of a sentence change its meaning?
  6. Terminology: What disciplinary vocabulary is used here? How are these words used differently in other texts?
  7. Details: What is the significance of this detail? How does it relate to the larger purpose of the text?
  8. Numerical data: Why is it here? Could it be interpreted differently? Is it believable? 
  9. Transitions: Where do you see transitional words or phrases? What logical connections do they suggest?
  10. Relationship of parts to whole: How does this passage relate to the overarching purpose of the text or its overall argument?
  11. Further implications: When you reflect on a particular statement, how does its meaning change? What can you infer, even if it’s not directly stated?
  12. Remaining questions: What questions are not answered by this passage or text? Did the author intend to answer them?

(Reproduced from Freedman, 2015)

The instructor moved from reading to writing by explaining (through think aloud) how students can use concepts and readings in their own writings. This part of the course focused on critical thinking and reflection, which was seen as an important starting place for writing.

The author offers anecdotal evidence that this approach does in fact improve students’ reading and writing abilities. This evidence comes from other colleagues in the department who have these students after completing Poole’s course.


In a previous Research Bites post of mine, Leki argued that reading does not have to be an individual activity. Rather, there is more benefit to the social (de)construction of texts. By working together to read, paraphrase, and question key aspects of a text (following some of the principles of close reading) we are more likely to engender really good critical reading behavior in students who typically do not read at a critical or academic level. He approach to dissecting a text, paraphrasing, looking at context, looking at the polysemy of vocabulary – all of these are critical skills. This article shows how they can be tied together in a way that is scaffolded and which easily transfers to writing.

(Academic Reading Circles is another great method that employs many of these close reading strategies.)


Close Reading Resources




Integrating Reading and Writing At Lower Levels

In my last few posts on Research Bites, I have focused on the integration of reading and writing. Few would probably argue against this. Writing based on reading is a vital skill, especially in EAP. However, I have heard concerns that this cannot be done at lower levels because students are still working with the basic language and mechanics of writing in English, academic or otherwise.

However, unless they are writing entirely based on their personal experiences and histories, they are likely already using reading to influence their writing. In other words, they are already doing research. The problem, however, is that this research often enters their writing either as plagiarism or as ideas without veracity. Let me explain:

Even at low levels where students are just learning to write paragraphs, students turn to the internet for ideas. While they could generate their own ideas through discussion and conversation, using the internet for research is a fundamental skill and is therefore not necessarily bad. However, it’s the type of sites they use that poses the problem.

A students who is writing about the advantages or disadvantages of social media may brainstorm their own ideas, but they are also just as likely to google it, finding pages from sites like, Quora, and even Yahoo! Answers. Without a framework for both generating their own ideas and evaluating ideas they find on the internet, students are treading dangerous territory. Even if they paraphrase the material, they are reinforcing poor habits of integrating reading with writing.

The good news is that there is at least a framework to start from, even if is not one of citation and attribution as is common in Western academia. This is the place to start, even at lower levels. Because they are already in the habit of doing this, it provides us an opportunity to instill a tradition of evaluating sources, paraphrasing, and eventually acknowledgment. The key, I think, to integrating reading, at any level, is scaffolding.

I have just begun to do this in my own classes and will continue to develop a method to ease students into the habit of properly using reading for writing. Below is a rough outline of what such a method could look like.


1. Choosing the topic

First, students need to choose a broad topic to write about. They might be chosen by a coursebook, the teacher, students, etc. For example, the 2016 Olympics might be an interesting topic to write about.

2. Doing basic research

There are a lot of places to find research, but for lower level students, I’d start with a source such as Newsela, which offers news articles and reports at multiple different levels, including very easily levels that are accessible to beginning learners. My search for “Olympics” turned up these articles related to the 2016 games:

Before reading, students can brainstorm a list of places to find information. Here, you can help students understand what is a good source and what is a poor source and why. It is a chance to teach the basics of source evaluation, which will hopefully help them avoid using sites like and its ilk. In fact, I’d explicitly bring such websites up and explain why and how to avoid them.

3. Reading and discussion

Students should read the articles (here’s an opportunity to teach summary writing if you’d like). and discuss their articles with a partner or group. In this way, they can talk about their topic and set their sights on something interesting within their topic.

4. Questioning

Have students write questions about their topic. The readings should have already influenced their thinking and their questions will likely reflect both the topic and the readings. Here, you can help students write questions and draw the connections between the questions and the organization of their writing (and even the language required for each question). For example, I might want to focus on the negative effects of the 2016 Olympic games. I could ask: “What are the negative effects of the 2016 Olympic games?” This type of question calls for a cause-effect focus, which will require words such as “cause,” “effect,” “As a result,” and so on – language related to that particular rhetorical function.

5. Brainstorming and outlining

Have students put their readings away. This is very important because you do not their readings to be the main influence on their writing. If they focus too much on the readings, their writing will become a summary instead of a well-thought out cause-effect argument. With their articles away, students should start brainstorming any ideas related to the topic. You should stress that they do not have to focus on the articles but instead make their own ideas. Once they have enough ideas, you can help them outline their writing. This can be done however you usually do it. You could read a model and outline that, or you could write one together as a class – however you see fit.

6. Integration

This is where scaffolding and feedback will be very important. You will have to help students determine the best places to integrate the ideas they read about. It will be important for them to understand right away that the ideas they read are not the main ideas of their writing but rather support. This will be easier if students already understand the basic organizational structure of writing (e.g. topic sentence, major support, minor support for a paragraph – evidence often appears as minor support, but works well as major support in an essay or longer writing). This is a good time to teach phrases like “for example” or “for instance”. The point here is students should see where and where not to use their readings in the outline, before writing.

7. Scaffolding citation

It should be made clear that all writing should be students’ own words. Simple paraphrasing activities could help them avoid copy and pasting phrases or sentences into the article. Quoting can also be taught. Because students are still learning basic English writing skills, the idea of citation should be scaffolded so as to not overburden students with work. The way I would start is to have students simply supply the links for any ideas used for the articles. They can do so on those parts using the comment feature in Word or Google Docs or make a simple not of it on paper. After students are used to providing links and paraphrasing, you can teach attribution phrases like “According to person” or “In ‘Article Title’, Author says…”. Phrases that help link using evidence to their sources. As students’ writing abilities progress and as their work becomes longer, more advanced citation skills can be taught.

Method to Practice

In this example, I had students in a high-beginner/lower-intermediate writing course do readings first before picking a topic. I asked students to search Newsela for an article that showed cause, effect, or both. They had to read the article, summarize it, and then discuss it with a partner in class. One student read about the causes of an epidemic of star fish deaths on the West coast. Another student read about invasive rats in Australia. I had students think about their topic in a broader way: the death of coral reefs, invasive species. Students came up with their own ideas about their topics. Others did more research on Newsela to find articles that could help them generate ideas. Students outlined their essays and wrote about their topics. When they outlined their essays, I helped them see (through whole-class modeling and one on one feedback) where and how they could use evidence. The student writing about coral reefs discussed the effects of dying coral on tourism, sea life, and the world. She was able to use the star fish article to add examples of the negative effects on sea life. The student writing about invasive species used the article on rats both in the introduction to provide an example of invasive species and in a paragraph about invasive animals, using rats as one example. These essays turned out quite well, especially being one of the first times integrating reading with their writing. In fact, it was the first time I experimented with the method above.

The method outlined above can be changed and modified in many ways. The goal of this method is simply to find an easy way to scaffold the proper use of sources and help students learn the vital skill of integrating reading with writing. It will definitely help if you model this process with them, reading, brainstorming, outlining, and writing an example together. This way, your expectations are clear. At any step along the way, there are numerous different linguistic, mechanical, and rhetorical skills that can be taught, so there are a lot of ways to expand on the basic method I have outlined.

I hope it is clear that integrating writing with reading at lower levels is not only a good idea, but is feasible. As I continue to work with my lower-level writing classes, I will apply, tweak, and refine the method. Students are already wanting to use the internet to help them write their essays. I want to make sure that they do so in a way that is conducive to good writing and helps them avoid engendering bad habits. In this way, I hope to make their through the complex world of EAP writing a little bit easier.


7 Techniques for Mining Vocabulary

Selecting vocabulary to focus on from a text is not always as simple as reading the text and picking out words. It’s hard to determine the frequencies and relevance of words just from reading. So, I’d like to share several methods I use – often in conjunction – to decide what vocabulary I want my students to focus on.

To Pre-Teach or Not To Pre-Teach?

Whether or not to pre-teach vocabulary is a somewhat contentious issue. I leave it up to the teacher and their context to decide what is right. In my own context, and in my own view, I mostly pre-teach, or pre-expose students to vocabulary. This is because I deal with intensive reading which involves challenging texts that include difficult vocabulary. I want my students to go into their readings armed with enough vocabulary so that they do not feel completely overwhelmed. In addition, since these are challenging texts, and being able to guess words from their context requires knowing 95% of the surrounding words, relying solely on context is not a sound strategy. In addition, vocabulary is learned through multiple exposures. I believe that pre-teaching counts as an exposure. Working with the vocabulary first is likely to lead to greater recognition and internalization than other techniques. Finally, I do not rely on pre-teaching all the time, especially if it is a word that I know they can get from context, inference, or because they know related words. However, pre-teaching works for us most of the time.

1. Starting At the Source

This may seem obvious, but the best thing to do when choosing vocabulary is have a manipulable text. If your text is digital, you are already ahead of the game. All you have to do now is copy and paste. But if you are working with textbooks (readings or transcripts of lectures or conversations), a clean scan is required, followed by an OCR rendering. OCR makes the scanned “picture” readable by making the text recognizable by computers. If you have Adobe Acrobat, there is a built-in function for this. If not, you can use a free online service such as Free Online OCR. With OCR, it is not always 100% accurate. It depends on the scan quality, really. I still get things such as “are” rendered as “arc” or “history” as “h!story” but for the most part this is not a problem, and it is easily fixed in Word.

Starting at the source in Acrobat

Starting at the source in Acrobat

Copying to a text file is essential for some of the tools below.

Copying to a text file is essential for some of the tools below.


How to OCR in Acrobat Pro

2. Word Lists

Because I deal with academic texts, I use the Academic Word List (AWL) and the Academic Vocabulary List (AVL) to find words in the text that are important for academia. I have just started using Lauren Anthony’s free AntWordProfiler to compare target texts against lists. It’s quite simple to use and already comes preloaded with the AWL.

Download and run it (no installation necessary). There are three panes. The top pane is your target text(s). The bottom pane are your word lists. The right pane is the output, which includes the words in the text that are found on the word list, their frequencies in the text, and other pertinent information.

It’s quite simple to use. First, clear out the GSL lists in the bottom pane. That will leave you with only the AWL. You can add the AVL by first downloading it my very simple version of it here, then clicking “Choose” to add it. Click “Choose” in the top pane and select your text (which should be in a .txt file). Click “Start” at the bottom and the results will be printed on the right. Here are two examples:


My text compared against the Academic Vocabulary List. Words such as research, change, following, increase, system, and term have a frequency greater than 1 and appear on the Academic Vocabulary List.

AWL results

My text compared against the Academic Word List. Words such as research, consist, psychology, aware, estimate, function, benefit, etc. have a frequency greater than 1 and appear on the Academic Word List.

Having this information helps me quickly sort through what students likely need to know, what they can figure out, and what they already know.

3. Highlighter

An online tool that is related to the above word lists is the AWL Highlighter. Input text (up to 2400 characters) and select what level of sublist you’d like to search (there are 10, with the first having the most common words) and then hit submit. The website will bold the academic vocabulary. You can also select the gap-fill option to make the academic vocabulary disappear! The AWL Highlighter is a pretty good tool for quickly noticing academic vocabulary in context.

...text comes out

Text goes in…

...text comes out

…text comes out

4. Vocab Grabber

Another one of my favorite vocabulary mining tools is Visual Thesaurus’ Vocab Grabber. Paste in your text and click “Grab!”. It compares the text against its own word lists and then presents the text to you either as a cloud or a sorted list, which can then be filtered by subject and by list level. I typically arrange it as a list by frequency, and then look at each level individually. Levels 1 and 2 are the most common words. Relevant vocabulary typically appears in lists 3, 4, and 5.

What’s more, Vocab Grabber allows you to quickly get the definition of the word, see the word in its contexts in the text, and, being visual thesaurus, get a visual word association map of the text.


Unorganized Text from Vocab Grabber


Sorted by frequency, words from list 4


How words can be viewed: mind map, definition, examples from text

5. Word Clouds

I use word clouds more as an embellishment on my PPT slides, or as a warmer activity, than for actually mining vocabulary. However, visually displaying a text as a word cloud sometimes reveals vocabulary you may have otherwise missed. Tagxedo is the best world cloud generator I have found, especially as it allows you to organize your clouds into different shapes, and it has loads of customization features. Unfortunately, it doesn’t run on Chrome, but Firefox and IE work well.

The article's theme was about sleep, so I made the word cloiud into a "dream cloud".

The article’s theme was about sleep, so I made the word cloud into a “dream cloud”.

6. Manual Mining

Using the above resources is great. However, most of the time, manual mining of a text through skimming, scanning, or reading, is useful. This is especially true for various multi-word phrases that the automatic mining tools may miss. For example, the phrase “sleep debt” appears several times in the article but never appeared in any of the lists as a chunk. I wouldn’t actually define this phrase, as it deciding on the meaning of the phrase would be done via discussion. However, other phrases like sleep deprivation, fight off, cut short, wreak havoc, long haul, etc.

7. Student Mining

Getting the students themselves to do the mining is always a great way to work with the vocabulary they want, as well as giving them valuable pre-exposure too. You can have students scan for new or unfamiliar words (and phrases) and build a list. Then, they can work with another student to discuss unfamiliar words and come up with a list of words neither can define. I also get students to add words to a Google Form (a simple paragraph text input box) so that I can see the most common unknown words and work from there.