Tuesday, March 20, 2018

B2 Writing: The Basics

This overview gives you the basics to letter and essay writing primarily required for the Examination for the Certificate in Competency in English (ECCE) awarded by the University of Michigan but can, nonetheless, be used for writing at B2 level for other ESL assessments as well.


This blog post is a starting point to help teach candidates the tricks to passing a test at B2 level and a springboard for writing tasks at subsequent levels (C1 and C2). 

In any case, some of the pointers mentioned herein are so crucial to writing in an academic environment that if you grasp them, then you can transfer them onto any type of writing you may be asked to produce, no matter the level or context.


The first main area to cover has to do with general pointers:


  1. Learn to use set phrases from sample essays provided in self-study textbooks or found here (look under the B2 or ECCE labels or follow the link from the key words category under 'letter', 'essay' or 'writing' on the blog's home page)
    • examples of these could be 
      • Having read your article in [name of newspaper], as a 14-year-old junior high school student 
      • It is my firm belief that
      • All things considered
      • it is highly unlikely that
      • there is little doubt in one's mind that
      • the great majority 
      • a considerable amount 
  2. Memorize through practice the frameworks/outlines of letters and essays
    • Letters: textbooks and teachers have different ways of categorizing these, but over the years I've found that narrowing down the categories down to 4 simplifies things for students
      • Opinion letters
        • these are the ones where the rubric (or question) asks you to say what you and you alone think about a specific topic
      • For & Against letters
        • state both sides of the topic in these types of letters before mentioning your opinion in the conclusion (which will either be one-sided or balanced, meaning you'll either support only one side of the argument or can't decide which side has the strongest arguments and therefore say both sides are equally convincing)
      • Problem-Solution letters
        • such letters tell you to discuss a) the problem and give solutions or b) mainly focus on the solutions 
      • Recommendation letters 
        • these types of letters are not as common as the other three types but do pop up from time to time. In them you are supposed to recommend someone for a position or award (for instance, who would you recommend for class president, or who is the best person to head the debate club in an upcoming national forensic tournament)
    • Essays 
      •  the first three types mentioned for letters apply to this category as well. Essay questions usually revolve around opinion, for & against or problem-solution essays
      • the only possible variation concerns a mixture of two of these essays, in which case candidates should view the rubric as requiring them to write a discursive essay. In other words, the question may ask students to give their opinion but also offer some solutions, or it might mention a process that is both beneficial and detrimental so two paragraphs should deal with the benefit and harm this process does, but also state what could be done to minimize the negative effects (namely, it is asking students to come up with solutions).
    3. A third point to keep in mind is what examiners are looking for when grading papers. No matter the exam and how many marking sub-divisions each awarding body has decided to base grading on, a candidate who writes needs to satisfy the following requirements so that he or she is confident of getting a pass.
    • discussion of the topic
      • some examinations classify this under the title "Task Fulfillment". Whatever the name, the examiner will check to see if all parts of the question have been answered satisfactorily in a way that doesn't create confusion in the reader's mind and leaves them with an overall positive impression.
    •  organization 
      • this category can be summarized into two words: cohesion and coherence. The following questions should be asked by students and (in order for the odds to be in their favor) should be answered with a resounding "Yes".
        • Do I have paragraphs? 
        • Are my paragraphs organized in a logical, sequential manner, starting with an introduction, followed by the main body paragraphs and then a final conclusion? 
        • Does each paragraph focus on one aspect of the topic I need to deal with? 
        • Within each paragraph, do I have a topic sentence at the start telling the reader what I plan to discuss in that paragraph? 
        • Are the arguments, explanations, examples which follow my topic sentence relevant to the topic of the paragraph they are in and relevant to its topic sentence?
        • If I have a complicated paragraph, do I offer a brief concluding sentence in that paragraph to sum things up for my reader?
        • In the introduction, do I state the direction I plan to take the topic found in the rubric? In other words, do I clarify whether what I'm writing is going to be my opinion, a discussion of both sides of the topic or a discussion of the problem with solutions I've come up with?
        • Does the conclusion restate the main points of the main body paragraphs epigrammatically to briefly remind the reader of my main arguments?
        • Does the concluding paragraph wrap up the topic with my opinion and/or leave the reader with an idea to ponder (a thought-provoking idea)?
    •  grammar
      • examiners are looking for variety in structures and grammatical units studied at B2 level.
      • it goes without saying that such grammar structures must be used correctly.
    •  vocabulary
      • the same applies to vocabulary. Examiners want a variety of words to be used correctly.
    •  mechanics
      • this marking category includes punctuation and spelling even though I tell students to include style and register




All the above can be summarized in the following notes which is a brief outline of the writing. More blog articles are to follow on separate points dealt with in the outline below but with in greater depth with concrete examples.


Above all, remember: transactional/argumentative writing is part sport, part mathematics. It needs practice to learn the ropes and arithmetical precision when developing your argument and unfurling your thoughts.







ECCE Writing Outline

1)     General Points

o Learn set phrases + words
        • Connectors / connectives / linking phrases
o Learn frameworks for letters and essays
o When you write, think about what the examiner is grading
o The weekend before the exam study your mistakes from your past writing tasks


2)     Grading

o Discussion: development of argument, explanation and examples given
o Organization
o Grammar + vocabulary: variety, correctness, degree of difficulty
o Style / register / overall effect on the reader: Would the reader get all the information they need from your text?

3)     Letters

    • All letters have an introduction, main body, conclusion
    • All introductions must say who you are and/or state the reason for writing
    • You should aim at having 4 – 5 paragraphs
    • The only differences in organization are found in the main body of each type of letter:

o Opinion letter:
Main body paragraph 1: argument supporting your opinion
Main body paragraph 2: argument supporting your opinion
Main body paragraph 3: argument supporting the opposite side + then kill it
Conclusion: summarize general points from each main body paragraph + clearly state your opinion

o Problem – solution letter:
Main body paragraph 1: discussion of problem
Main body paragraph 2: discussion of solutions
or
Main body paragraph 1: discussion of problem 1 with its solution
Main body paragraph 2: discussion of problem 2 with its solution

Conclusion: summarize general points from main body paragraph + look towards the future

o For + against letter:
Main body paragraph 1: arguments stating advantages
Main body paragraph 2: arguments stating disadvantages
Conclusion: summarize general points from main body paragraphs saying which side outweighs the other + give your opinion or give a balanced opinion

o Recommendations:
Main body paragraph 1: give reason 1 for recommendation with examples
Main body paragraph 2: give reason 2 for recommendation with examples
Conclusion: summarize main recommendations and give your opinion (feelings)


4)     Essays

    • All essays have an introduction, main body, conclusion
    • You should aim at having 4 – 5 paragraphs
    • Step 1 for essays is to read the rubric, underline key words
    • Step 2: find the topic and direction
    • Step 3: do the brainstorming
    • All introductions must have 3 sentences: general statement, bridge (topic), thesis statement (direction)
    • The only differences in organization are found in the main body of each type of essay:
o Opinion essay:
Main body paragraph 1: argument supporting your opinion
Main body paragraph 2: argument supporting your opinion
Main body paragraph 3: argument supporting the opposite side + then kill it
Conclusion: summarize general points from each main body paragraph + clearly state your opinion

o Problem – solution essay:
Main body paragraph 1: discussion of problem
Main body paragraph 2: discussion of solutions
or
Main body paragraph 1: discussion of problem 1 with its solution
Main body paragraph 2: discussion of problem 2 with its solution

Conclusion: summarize general points from main body paragraph + look towards the future

o For + against essay:
Main body paragraph 1: arguments stating advantages
Main body paragraph 2: arguments stating disadvantages
Conclusion: summarize general points from main body paragraphs saying which side outweighs the other + give your opinion or give a balanced opinion

o Discursive essay:
Discursive essays may combine any or all of the above 3 essays. Just answer the questions in the rubric in separate paragraphs.

eg: A question can ask for the advantages and disadvantages of an issue as well as ask for solutions

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