Faculty Resources: Tools and Resources for Teaching Non-native English Speakers


Understanding and responding to NNES students' writing

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Non-native English speaking (NNES) students at CUNY
Tips for teaching NNES students
Understanding and responding to NNES students' writing
Using the Student E-Resource Center

Foreign Students

Recent Immigrant Students

Long-term U.S. Resident English Language Learners

Foreign Students

Foreign students arrive in the U.S. after completing high school, and often some college, in their home countries, where they also received formal English language instruction. They are "eye learners" of English and as such are quite well-informed about the overall grammar and structure of the English language.  They lack fluency, however, and may not be familiar with American culture and the academic setting. Foreign students come equipped with academic skills such as analytical thinking and general knowledge, but their limited oral and written fluency in English prevents them from fully demonstrating their academic capabilities. Their desire to produce academic-level writing may compel them to use complex sentence structures and sophisticated formal language, which can result in frequent errors.

  Foreign Student Writing Sample

In the sample below, the writer demonstrates familiarity with grammar rules. He shows academic literacy as indicated by his understanding of the subject matter, as well as his ability to analyze it in a focused and coherent manner. If the mistakes were corrected, the reader would have no trouble following the logic in the student’s ideas. The clarity and fluency of the passage are, however, disrupted by poor choice of words and uneven language. Some phrases have been copied from the text and unsuccessfully integrated into the writer’s own sentence structure.

Before one can define a problem they must make sure that the problem at hand can be structured for action by policy institution (Guess and Famham, 9). According to Guess and Farnham policy problems fall into three categories. The first is well structured, the second is moderately structured and the third ill structured, based on their degree of complexity and interdependence is the most common and potentially dangerous situation. Once you suppose out with category your problems fall into you can start to analyze the problem. Welsh and Harris begin analyzing the problem by investigating knowledge about this problem.


  Tips for Helping Foreign Students with Their Writing
  • Explain the rhetorical style you expect them to follow. Since many foreign students are new to English rhetorical patterns, they need explicit instructions. Conventions, such as the formula “Tell them what you will say, say it, and tell them what you have just said,” may be unfamiliar or even considered overly blunt in the rhetorical organization of the student’s home language.
  • Be specific in your comments. Since foreign students are new to receiving feedback on their writing in English, they might not fully benefit from "shorthand" comments such as "unclear" or "irrelevant." Instead, try referring to something specific in their writing: "What is the main idea of this paragraph? You need to state the main idea first and then proceed to develop your paragraph so that it follows up on that idea."
  • Point out patterns of grammar errors which the student should edit, such as word forms or subject-verb agreement. Since foreign students are familiar with English grammar conventions, they have the ability to correct their own mistakes.
  • Rewrite, rather than mark, unnatural-sounding phrases, idioms, word choices, and synonyms. Foreign students might not be able to correct these errors on their own since the ability to recognize and correct this type of error comes with extensive exposure to English. If these mistakes occur frequently in the student’s writing, you can refer her/him to a tutoring center for English learners or the writing center at your college.

Recent Immigrant Students

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Funded by the U.S. Department of Education (Title V) and the
New York State Education Department (Perkins III)

E-Resource Center: John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York