Helping students develop the building blocks of academic writing and inquiry

In post-secondary programs, strong academic writing skills are essential to success. Students need specific strategies to research and critically consider ideas, and additional skills to turn those ideas into effective written works that meet the standards of their discipline. For many English Language Learners, even those who enter post-secondary programs with strong language skills, there is often a need for support in academic writing.

As part of a new English for Academic Purposes writing textbook series called “Academic Inquiry,” International Foundations Program instructor Marcia Kim and Jennifer MacDonald, Head Teacher of ESL Programs at Dalhousie University, have written a textbook that focuses on sentences and paragraphs for academic assignments. This Level 1 book brings students from pre-writing to formulating sentences and sets the stage for the rest of the series, which guides students through the academic writing process to round out students’ skills and understandings.

Starting with a Question that Matters

The book is unique in its inquiry-based approach, which allows students to choose an interesting question and pursue it throughout each chapter. Unlike more traditional approaches, this style encourages curiosity and higher-order thinking to take students beyond yes-or-no answers and drilling exercises. Importantly, it also reflects assignments the students will undertake in their programs.

Divided into 6 units, each section of the book presents different activities to scaffold student development. Each chapter introduces common patterns, vocabulary, grammar, and composition tips to help students understand and apply what they have learned. The sections also centre on a different field of study – such as engineering, sociology, or business – and introduces key ideas and readings similar to those found in university and college settings.

In addition to the focus on writing, the book introduces critical thinking and learning strategies to support students’ success beyond their written work. For example, the final assignment in each unit is based on the students’ personal inquiry questions and the skills explored in the chapter. A rubric and student self-assessment are also included to promote understanding.

Student-Focused Texts

Preparing students who speak English as an additional language for the academic writing demands of university is part of Marcia’s daily work in Werklund’s International Foundations Program. When asked to contribute to the book series, Marcia was keen to provide students with a more engaging approach to writing assignments, and a resource with a Canadian perspective.

The authors are currently in the process of writing the online Teacher’s Resource, which includes additional practice activities, sample paragraphs, midterm and final exams for each of the six units. These offer a model and sample for instructors when using the book, and flexible support beyond the classroom for students.

See more from Marcia Kim on her profile

Connected Citations

Kim, M., & MacDonald, J. (2018). Academic Inquiry: Sentences and Paragraphs. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.