By Olga Makinina, Contract Instructor, School of Linguistics and Language Studies

ESLA credit courses are designed to help students whose first language is not English prepare for writing, reading, listening to lectures, and participating in discussions in their university classes. These courses go beyond a regular English as a Second Language (ESL) program since they are targeted at enhancing academic English skills.

The challenge that every instructor in the ESLA program is aware of is student motivation. How do we engage students who come from different undergraduate and graduate majors? How do we respond to a student who says their major is math or engineering and they will never need to write an essay? How do we make them see this course as an opportunity rather than a requirement?

In my ESLA section, the answer is challenge. By challenging my students, I break their stereotypes about an ESLA course as a class in which they need to write endless five-paragraph essays and drill grammar. I show them how to implement the skills they are learning in their other courses.

People are driven by their natural desire to create/design/produce something of their own. ESL students in particular experience this drive, since they often perceive their language skills as limited, and have a need to re-assert themselves in an English-speaking community. So, throughout the course, I engage students in purposeful research. They develop a business project proposal that is targeted at a current socio-cultural problem relevant to their major and identify possible solutions for this problem. The choices are limitless, from the issues that new immigrants face in Canada and international business communication to Internet security and technological unemployment. The problem-solution-based research and the opportunity to make decisions stimulates students’ critical thinking, and, consequently, their motivation to read, evaluate, synthesize, and discuss academic sources.

As they prepare their draft, we analyze successful proposal samples from different majors and students come to realize that the way they write is no less important than what they write. A clear rhetorical structure and word choice ensures that more people will buy their idea and the synthesis of academic sources actually serves to support their argument.

The next step is to identify potential sponsors and advertise their plan of action. Students are free to choose the advertisement’s format and work on creating websites, videos, or a poster series. During the last class, we have a showcase session, and students evaluate each other’s final products according to the appeal strategies and the overall logic and effectiveness of the message.

Besides being engaging, interactive and thought stimulating, these activities help my students learn academic English conventions and acquire a set of research, reading, writing and speaking skills that will be an asset in other classes. Students begin to understand that what they learn can be applicable for a variety of academic and professional purposes. They are no longer simply fulfilling the course requirement. They gradually become inquisitive creators taking responsibility for their learning.