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Teach English Writing: Summarize and Analyze

ESL Teaching Materials

Does money buy happiness? That’s the question to be answered in this ESL writing assignment which involves concept definition, data analysis and critical thinking.

This writing lesson was developed for students learning English in South Korea. However, these ESL teaching materials and lesson flow can be adapted for almost any country. They can even be used for an ESL conversation class.

Lesson Flow

Step 1. Introduce Assignment

The writing task requires students to perform two tasks: summarize and analyze several data sets. Plus, they need to answer a key question: does money buy happiness?

Step 2. Review OECD Data

Students look at a chart that shows country rankings for life satisfaction in 2013. I ask the class to quickly describe South Korea’s position in the chart.

The main idea here is that Korea ranks relatively low compared to other countries in terms of Life Satisfaction. Data source: OECD Better Life Index.

Step 3. Review OECD Data

Students look at this long chart from a 2013 report. It shows country rankings based on a happiness scale. I ask students to quickly note South Korea’s position on the chart (41 out of 156 countries). Data source: World Happiness Report 2013.

Then I show this more recent chart from a 2016 report. This chart shows Korea’s happiness rank dropped to 58th out of 157 countries. Data source: World Happiness Report 2016.

Step 3. A Quick Look for Patterns

Now I display the first page of the chart from the 2016 report. Focus on top 10 to 20 countries. I ask students to look at the data and identity any patterns. Typical answers might include:

  • mostly European
  • mostly advanced industrial economies
  • mostly rich
  • several Latin American countries
  • no Asian countries in the top 20

Step 4. Introduce New Data

Next, display a table with OECD GDP data (per capita USD).

I focus on South Korea and ask students to describe the pattern of change since the 1970s. I point out that on a per capita basis, South Korea ranks 20th in 2015, making it one of the world’s richest countries.

Step 5. Make Connections and Start Writing

Now bring the two data sets together and ask a question.

South Korea is a rich country, so why does it rank so low on the happiness scale?

The writing assignment has several different parts:

  1. state the question
  2. describe the basic pattern (i.e. the happiest countries are also the wealthiest, but not exclusively; there are outliers)
  3. define happiness, provide examples
  4. ponder the reasons why South Korea is a comparatively unhappy country
  5. consider this question: does money correlate with happiness or is money a cause of happiness?
  6. connect the reasons in #4 with the definition of happiness outlined in #3

The end result should be a thoughtful text, about 1 to 2 pages in length.

Like any good summary, it should tell a story, which means there is a beginning middle and end (i.e. good organisation and flow). Like any good analysis, it should connect a summary of the most important facts to the main question.


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