It’s not just academic
Have you just been assigned to teach an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) class for the first time? Here are six ideas with which you can help your students achieve more.
1. Find out real needs
Try to find out exactly what your students will be expected to do in English — see Table 1: Needs analysis. Teach all and only the skills they actually need. If you are not in a position to find out actual needs, make sure your course covers a range of the academic purpose skills in Table 1, rather than falling back on general English items such as eavesdropping on a conversation or reading short grammar-led texts.
2. Teach useful vocabulary
Even if your students come to you with a wide general English vocabulary, they still need a functional command of common EAP words and phrases. In addition, they need to know many content words from their own disciplines and related ones, which brings us on to teach useful vocabulary.
3. Present useful content
Make sure you use content-rich texts with your students. Part of your job on an EAP course is to ensure that they are at first base with the language they need to discuss current views in their own field, future directions in the field and perhaps the historical background too. It is probably good to take texts from a range of disciplines. The Encyclopaedia Britannica divides human knowledge into ten broad areas — see Table 2: Areas of knowledge.
Table 2: Areas of knowledge
2. Psychology and sociology
3. Work and business
4. Science and nature
5. The physical world
6. Culture and civilization
7. Inventions and discoveries
8. Art and literature
9. Sports and leisure
10. Health and nutrition
4. Teach useful receptive skills
Be prepared to simplify material in the early stages of the course while at the same time teaching students coping strategies so that, as the texts get harder, they can still extract some, if not all of the communicative value. A typical coping strategy in the skill of academic listening would be “understanding signpost language in a lecture” so you can predict what is coming then.
5. Teach useful productive skills
In faculty work, students rarely have to give their own opinions or their own experiences. Most of the time they have to research facts and other people’s opinions and write or speak about them. In an EAP course, therefore, it is not particularly useful to get students speaking or writing about themselves, their family, their country, etc. If they have any level in general English when they come to you, they will have done that to death anyway. On the other hand, it is pointless to ask students to write about global warming or nuclear power with no input texts, when the chances of them knowing anything academic about the subject are very low. It is better to give students research information and ask them to choose relevant sections and organize them into a talk or a written text. If you have given the research information you can ensure that it contains target points you want students to cope with. Finally, students can compare work and see what points they missed.
6. Teach useful structure
Hopefully, students who are about to enter a tertiary course in English medium will have a good level of general English so they will not need grammar work on basic tenses. Many writers on structure have pointed out that the real structural problems for EAP students do not lie in the verb phrase but in:
* the noun phrase, with pre- and post-modification of the head word.
* complex sentence patterns, with leading prepositional and adverbial phrases, clause joining and embedding.
* use of stance adverbials which encode the writer’s or speaker’s opinion or attitude to a piece of information.
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