Christina Cavage is an ESL academic and author. As an expert in blended learning, she has hosted Critical thinking webinars Skills and Assessment in the ESL Classroom and authored a number of blog posts on critical thinking in language teaching. In this post, she explores how you can prepare your ESL students for the rigors of academic studies.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses prepare students for an English-language university education. Students are expected to compete in a class with native speakers. So it is important that students have language skills, but the academic and social skills that higher education requires today. And it’s up to the teachers to make sure our students develop these skills – but that takes a balancing act.

Many EAP courses lack the authenticity of the college class experience. The lectures are usually quite short, only 5-10 minutes long. Reading is scaffolded and the content is very structured, even over-structured. Then our students move into their academic courses, where they encounter two-hour lectures, more than 50 reading pages and content that is anything but scaffolded. So how do we bridge these academic, linguistic and social gaps? Let’s take a look at some techniques that can help students achieve success in higher education.

Bridging the linguistic gap

Linguistic gaps can concern the content-specific language, or the informal language students encounter while working with other students, or the connotative and denotative meaning and context of a word. In order to fill this gap, we need to develop in-depth conceptual knowledge of the vocabulary. We don’t want students to only have label knowledge. Label knowledge enables a student to pass a vocabulary text that has matching or multiple choice. But that’s not enough in an academic environment. Deep conceptual knowledge means really knowing a word.

So what does it mean to know a word? Well, according to Paul Nation, A student needs to know: the spoken and written form, the meaningful parts of the word, the word forms and their meanings, the concepts and vocabulary associated with the word, the grammatical function, any collocations, and the index and frequency of the world. That’s quite a lot!

In order to build up this vast knowledge, we really need to do it consciously. We need to build a variety of activities that develop and encourage critical thinking but also involve students.

Here is an example from University Success:

The terms mixed and community are in bold. You can use a simple observational activity to get students to understand how these words are used, what forms they take, the words around them, their collocations, and the concepts associated with those words. An activity like this will help students develop a deep understanding of these words. And this deep understanding enables students to make connections and draw conclusions about these terms.

Bridging the academic gap

EAP students move from very well armed EAP courses to courses where they have to listen and take notes for 50 minutes or read more than 50 pages before class. In addition, their professors often fail to build background knowledge or build scaffolding as they expect students to enter their classrooms with that understanding. And that can create an academic gap.

When it comes to bridging this gap, content can be the vehicle for teaching. The early exposure to the language of the academic disciplines can build background knowledge and be very motivating for students who long for more than just memorized language lessons.

Bringing the social divide

When students enter their university courses, they are expected to collaborate with their peers, engage in group activities, negotiate, to take turns and bring their own ideas to a dialogue. These social skills require a language to be developed and practiced in their EAP courses.

You can do this by creating classroom activities and learning how to develop and practice critical thinking. Consider introducing project-based learning in your class. In project-based learning, students must job With and learn how to prioritize, negotiate, and assign responsibility. Bringing in these types of assignments and activities helps develop soft skills in addition to critical thinking skills.

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Learn how to teach critical thinking, and how are you? assess critical thinking skills. Building critical thinking skills will help your students fill the linguistic, academic, and social gaps they may encounter and ensure they are equipped to face the challenges of higher education.


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