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Developing Academic Writing Fluency Using Corpus-Based Resources Colloquium: Designing Academic Writing Tasks Using Corpus Findings TESOL, New York, April.

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Presentation on theme: "Developing Academic Writing Fluency Using Corpus-Based Resources Colloquium: Designing Academic Writing Tasks Using Corpus Findings TESOL, New York, April."— Presentation transcript:

1 Developing Academic Writing Fluency Using Corpus-Based Resources Colloquium: Designing Academic Writing Tasks Using Corpus Findings TESOL, New York, April 4, 2008 Jan Frodesen University of California, Santa Barbara

2 What is writing fluency? Among other things, fluency in academic writing involves the following abilities: Focusing information appropriately through subordination and embedding Creating discourse flow across sentences through cohesive devices such as the reference system Expressing ideas idiomatically through collocations common to academic register

3 How can we help writers develop fluency? Consciousness raising and noticing activities Recent SLA research advocates developing explicit knowledge through activities that draw learners’ attention to how language is used in texts

4 How can we help writers develop fluency? Guided practice in producing embedded structures appropriately and accurately Structures that writers need to use for a variety of rhetorical tasks and that have been identified as difficult for them to produce appropriately Structures used in academic texts that developing writers tend not to use (or may even avoid) due to unfamiliarity with how they are used in writing

5 How can we help writers develop fluency? Activities that encourage students to develop academic grammar and vocabulary resources for expressing ideas idiomatically and with some degree of automaticity

6 How can we help writers develop fluency? Revision tasks that ask writers to apply what they have learned to work-in- progress and to report on their efforts

7 Why use corpus-based resources? Corpus-based resources can show us: How grammatical structures in academic registers pattern differently from other registers such as conversation How structures within a system are used to accomplish discourse functions (e.g., how a variety of reference forms are used for cohesion at different points in developing a text)

8 Why use corpus-based resources? They can also tell us: How the types of vocabulary that “go with” (collocate with) grammar structures in academic registers differ from vocabulary used with these structures in other registers such as journalism, fiction, or conversation

9 Focus of fluency activities What follows are noticing and production activities that illustrate the following: Structures identified as fairly common in academic writing but rare in conversation Structures in academic writing that co-occur with vocabulary different from that in other registers Structures this presenter has identified as ones that student writers either do not use (avoid) or often use incorrectly Structures that play important discourse roles in creating cohesion and coherence in academic text

10 Embedding Activity 1: Information in identifying clauses Purpose: To give writers practice producing relative (adjective) clauses that identify noun referents using information about prior events or circumstances. Rationale: This structure is fairly common in academic writing The verb tense focused on occurs frequently in this structure in academic writing but much less so in other registers

11 Embedding Activity 1: Relevant (and sometimes surprising!) corpus findings Which and that clauses: Restrictive (identifying) relative clauses are very common in academic prose and occur much more frequently than non- restrictive relative clauses Even which clauses are more often restrictive than non-restrictive.

12 Embedding Activity 1: Additional relevant corpus findings Past perfect verbs In fiction past perfect verbs are most common in adverbial clauses: When everyone had drunk two or three hours, Nwakibie sent for his wives. However, in academic registers, the past perfect is most often used in relative clauses encoding background information: The 245-year old was a remnant of the old-growth lodge- pole pint that had originally covered the area of all three stands. Examples from Biber et al. 1999

13 Embedding Activity 1: Task 1 Noticing exercise For each of the following sentences: Put brackets around the relative clause Underline the past perfect verbs Circle the noun that the clause modifies

14 Activity 1: Task 1 continued 1. From 1974 to 1975 we studied three populations of male ground squirrels [that had emigrated from their birthplaces near Yosemite National Park]. 2. Dispersal behavior [that had been observed previously] indicated that the sister squirrels acted differently.

15 Embedding Activity 1: Task 2 Guided practice exercise: Combine the information in Columns A and B by writing a sentence that uses an identifying relative clause with a past perfect verb.

16 Activity 1: Task 2 continued COLUMN A 1. Tensions developed before the first primary contest. 2. The research group finally rejected the hypothesis. COLUMN B 1. The tensions increased with each subsequent election. 2. Earlier, the hypothesis appeared to account for the skewed results.

17 Activity 1: Task 2 continued Examples of combined sentences: 1. The tensions that had developed before the first primary contest increased with each subsequent election. 2. The research group finally rejected the hypothesis that earlier had appeared to account for the skewed results.

18 Embedding Activity 2: Sentence combining with relativizer whose Purpose: To raise consciousness about the use of whose in academic writing to refer to inanimate nouns, not people; to provide practice embedding identifying information in whose clauses Rationale: This is a structure: that is not often used in conversation that developing writers tend not to use or use incorrectly that patterns differently in academic writing than in other written registers

19 Embedding Activity 2: Relevant (and again surprising!) corpus findings In newspaper register, whose modifies human head nouns about 70% of the time: He was only eight when Bruce Lee, whose 1973 film Enter the Dragon made him an international star, died mysteriously. (Biber et al., 1999)

20 Activity 2: Relevant corpus findings, continued However, in academic writing, whose modifies inanimate nouns about 75% of the time: A crystal is a piece of matter whose boundaries are naturally formed plane surfaces. ( Biber et al, 1999) Note how this academic text example is a restrictive defining clause in contrast to the newspaper example, which gave additional information.

21 Activity 2: Getting Whose concordancing data

22 Embedding Activity 2: Task 1 Noticing exercise For each of the following data samples: Put brackets [ ] around the whose clause. Circle the noun or noun phrase that is modified. State whether the head noun is (a) animate or (b) inanimate.

23 Embedding Activity 2: Task 1, continued 1. … the graph of f has at least one component [whose support is the entire interval] 2. …plus a new one called Lingo, a pidgin [whose vocabulary was derived from the other six]… 3. …he quotes passages of some writers [whose views seem to corroborate his own], and all those who… 4. …going to the opposite extremes of selecting items [whose forms are the most unstable]… 5. … now chipped and tarnished, some odd pieces [whose history no one remembers] … 6. If we have five problems [whose solution we seek in relatively united fashion]…

24 Embedding Activity 2: Task 2 Guided practice exercise: Match the information in Column B with the terms in Column A. Then combine sentences, provide definitions and descriptions using whose clauses.

25 Embedding Activity 2: Task 2 continued Column A 1. Locoweed is a plant. 2. Urban renewal is state-sponsored destruction. 3. A printed circuit is an electric circuit. Column B a. A conducting metal, such as copper, is deposited to form its conductivity connections. b. Cattle who eat its leaves get severe poisoning c. Construction of new housing is its purpose.

26 Embedding Activity 2: Task 2 continued Example of combined sentences: Locoweed is plant whose leaves can severely poison cattle who eat them. A printed circuit is a circuit whose conducting metal, such as copper, is deposited to form its conductivity connections. Urban renewal is state-sponsored destruction whose purpose is to construct new neighborhoods.

27 Other relative clause structures for fluency work Findings from corpus analyses also reveal patterns of usage for common preposition + which structures such as in which, to which, from which. Student writers are often not sure how to use them (sometimes using them where only which is needed), so noticing and combining practice can be helpful. See Biber et al, 1999, p. 625 for information about these forms in academic registers. Concordancers offer good data showing vocabulary that frequently occurs with these forms.

28 Cohesion Activity: Noun reference Purpose: To create awareness of the ways in which writers use reference chains in academic writing Rationale: An essential element in creating discourse cohesion Developing writers often do not use the full range of reference forms available or use them inappropriately

29 Nominals and cohesive reference: Corpus findings (from Biber et al., 1999) Nominals make up 75% of academic text! (Compared to 55% of conversation) Conversation: Mostly single pronouns Academic text: Longer, more complex structures

30 Reference: More corpus findings Anaphoric reference (referring to previously mentioned NPs) Conversation: 95% of anaphoric reference is personal pronouns Academic text: Definite article the + repeated nouns are very common

31 Reference: Patterns in academic writing Although it is by no means an absolute rule, repeated references to an entity [in academic prose] tend to follow the same progression of noun phrase types across texts: N + postmodifier > premodifier + N > simple noun > pronoun (Biber et al. p. 586)

32 Example of reference patterning Deterministic dynamical systems of three or more dimensions can exhibit behaviors of the type generated by the rotating taffy machine. Despite their determinism, the behaviors generated look extremely random. This is what it means to say that such systems are effective mixing devices. The discovery of chaos suggests that the question of whether a given random appearing behavior is at base probabilistic…

33 Cohesive Reference Activity: Task 1 Noticing exercise Have students work with an assigned reading. Select a key noun phrase that is referred to at least several times in the text (or ask them to select the phrases). Have students track the references and identify the forms: N + postmodifier, N + premodifier, simple noun, pronoun. Compare reference forms here with the findings from Biber et al. Does this text follow the typical patterns? If not, how does it differ? Ask students to discuss why the writer chose different forms at different stages of text development.

34 Cohesive Reference Activity: Task 2 Revision Activity Ask students to look at the ways in which they have used reference forms to refer to central topics in their drafts and to consider the following questions: Do you think you have used reference forms appropriately, moving from more elaborated to reduced forms of reference? Do your patterns seem similar to the trends noted in the corpus analyses? Are there any words or phrases that you think could be revised to improve flow or make reference more clear?

35 A final note… Most activities for developing fluency involve focused pre-writing (noticing, guided practice) and revision. The explicit knowledge that students get from such fluency activities may take a long time to become implicit knowledge that they can use in initial drafting.

36 References and Resources Biber, D., Leech, G. Johansson, S. Conrad, S. & Finegan, E. (2000) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Longman Publications Group Frodesen, J. (2006). Corpus grammar applications to sentence combining in the composition classroom. Applied Linguistics Forum, =2857 The Compleat Lexical Tutor:


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