Teach Reasoning in the EFL Writing Class?
Teachers sometimes lament the fact that EFL students can’t seem to write well-reasoned, logical arguments in English.
The underlying socio-linguistic factors thought to influence higher order cognition of that kind are plentiful. For example, some people suggest the way we talk affects our thinking, or the way we write script gives people from some cultures an analytical advantage. Or, it might simply be that people from different cultures see the world differently, as suggested by the Michigan Fish test, and therefore cannot write about experience in the same way.
Here’s another idea.
Perhaps EFL instructors have not found an effective teaching technique to help non-native speakers organize ideas in a logically coherent fashion or even the language they need to represent complex ideas on paper.
Put Away the Five-Paragraph Essay
Some English teachers believe well-reasoned arguments can be constructed inside a five-paragraph essay template. A thesis sentence (i.e. the main idea) backed up by supporting evidence in three paragraphs, each carefully crafted with cookie cutter precision and topped off with a topic sentence, constitutes persuasion. In other words, the way we organize ideas is the way to we create reasoning. Seemingly, what happens inside or between paragraphs is not so important.
I understand the appeal of the five-paragraph essay. It’s easy to teach. It’s mental Lego with a manual that tells everyone how the pieces should be assembled. It’s also easy to grade, especially for high-risk test readers who spend a minute or so skimming a student’s written work.
While it’s hard to argue against organisation, one of the problems with the way the five-paragraph is taught is oversimplification. The five-paragraph essay, some say, is a building block, but that misses the point. What’s really important is the mortar, the hard stuff in the middle that cements ideas together.
An Inquiry-based Approach to Reasoning