The idea of journals is not new in EFL, but within EAP, is getting your students to do journal writing a good or a bad idea? Students attending English for Academic Purposes courses already have a heavy workload, so why add extra work? I was first introduced to journal writing for EAP students on the Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies (CELFs – University of Bristol) pre-sessional EAP course. I have seen the difference journals can make, therefore, I definitely suggest using them with your international EAP students. Here are a few ideas about when and how to use journals in an EAP context.
Which notebook or journal?
You can get your learners to use a notebook of their own choice. Why? It is something in hard copy, something that is easy to carry around the house and put in their bag. It is also private, only you and your learner have access to it. If the university you work for has notebooks with the university logo on them your students could use those. Of course, if you prefer using technology, your students can create a blog and write on there instead.
When do the students write and what should they write about?
Ask your learners on a weekly basis to write about anything they wish, academic and non-academic. You could even tell your learners to have two sections in their notebook. One section of the journal can be devoted to their everyday life, and the other section to their academic life where they document and reflect on things occurring in their student life. It is also be a good idea to give them a minimum word limit and give them some ideas on what to write about. Topics for the ‘everyday life’ section could include what they did that day, or a trip to the supermarket. Then topics for the ‘academic’ section could include writing a paragraph on plagiarism, steps to planning a research project or paraphrasing a source and documenting how this was done.
Why two sections?
Students attending pre-sessional EAP courses are usually international students who have difficulty, not only with their academic English, but also their general English. Also, keep in mind that on these courses your learners are probably living in the UK or other English speaking countries for the first time, so they are experiencing not only a different educational environment but also a new lifestyle. So, they have a lot to write about!
Well, firstly, they need as much writing practice as they can get. Although academic writing is more important for them, I find that students lack knowledge of everyday English which is why I suggest having two sections in their journals. Another reason worth mentioning, is that they can see how their writing has improved. They can look back at their first entries and see if and how their writing has changed and even self-assess their entries.
When should the teacher collect the journals and what kind of feedback is given to the learners?
I collect my students’ journals twice a month and my feedback varies. I correct some of their mistakes and I sometimes use an error code as well. I also ask questions about some of the things they write in their journals. So, if my student mentions, for example, that they went to the cinema, I then ask, ‘What did you see?’ After having a look at their journals, I give them back to them and then my students can correct any errors and answer any questions I have asked them. If I see general errors occurring in most of the students’ journals, like for example, a problem with using the present perfect versus the simple past, I then include this grammar structure in my next lesson or give them links for self-study tasks.
Do the learners enjoy writing in journals?
In the beginning due to the heavy workload they already have, some like the idea, others feel a bit unmotivated, but later on, they (really) enjoy it, especially when they see something come out of the whole journal writing process, their writing does improve. Journal writing can be a fun writing task for your learners. The more opportunities they get to write, the more they improve. So, try this out and see how it works with your learners.