Paths to Student Success: Crafting an Academic Essay

By: Andrew Turgeon, Enrollment Services Coordinator

A.C.E. Language Institutes focus on preparing students for success in American universities.  This week at the A.C.E. Language Institute at SPU, I visited Davey Young’s Level 5 Reading & Writing class in the thick of one of the most important, rewarding, and often frustrating, aspects of college life: writing the academic essay.

I had traveled back to freshman year and was scared to relive the experience.

Yet, this was no ordinary English 101 class.   Unlike my huge lecture hall of 200 students, my Level 5 class was made up of ten enthusiastic and bright classmates.  They thoughtfully discussed the principles of critical reading – how to skim passages for main points and scan for further details.  Our teacher, Davey, also asked us great questions about what makes information sources credible.  I wasn’t sitting through a lecture but taking part in an academic conversation in which students brought a lot of knowledge and opinions to the table.

The conversation continued when we broke into small groups to examine two sources discussing the same news item.  My group picked up on the red flags quickly; our source had no official author, was written with an informal tone, had no citations, and appeared on a popular blog site.  Meanwhile, the other group’s source appeared in a well-known newspaper, focused on facts and events, and included a number of sources.  This interactive exercise pushed my classmates to pick up on the signs of credible sources quickly.  They would not spend long and fruitless nights on reading like I had, but would instead focus their energies on strengthening their academic writing with solid sources.

Students investigated this style of writing through our final hands-on activity. Each group raced to triage a fragmented paragraph sentence-by-sentence using the classic verbal surgeon procedure: topic sentence, supporting points, and concluding sentence. In the process, students learned the importance of transitional phrases, citing sources, and a direct writing style.  Plus the winning team got some cookies from my lunchbox!

With a developed arsenal of tools, Level 5 students are more than prepared to write an essay discussing The Psychopath Test, a fascinating book about the industry of mental illness that they have been obsessively reading throughout the session.  This will be no piece on Jane Austen or American climates, for that I am certain (and glad).  They will be informed, well-sourced, and curious: three qualities that all successful college students possess and our students have in spades.

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