Be Reasonable: How to Help Your Students Write Using Good Support

Be Reasonable
How to Help Your Students Write Using Good Support

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 16,171 views

ESL students have different reasons for staying the language.

Some are looking to further their careers and create business opportunities. Others are studying English to fulfill a language requirement or because their parents want them to. In my years as an ESL teacher, however, the most common reason for studying English among my students has been for academic advancement. Around 75% of my ESL students have gone on to attend universities in the United States. To help them prepare for their academic futures, we often talked about essay writing in class. Anyone who plans to attend college in the U.S. is bound to write an essay or two hundred, and one of the keys to writing a strong essay is having good support for your arguments. Here are some of the types of support I have taught my students to use in their writing.

How to Provide Adequate Support for Writing

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    What Is Good Support?

    Support is the evidence that a writer presents to prove her argument. I can say just about anything I want to in an essay, but if I don’t give proof along with my opinions, my readers aren’t likely to be convinced by what I am saying. So even though a writer’s arguments are the key to what their essay says, the support, or proof, is the key to making those arguments believable and convincing. Writers can use several types of support to prove their points. I have found that going through the types of good support with my students makes their writing better. So what types of support are there? I’m glad you asked.

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    The most straightforward of support is factual support. Facts are truths that are generally accepted. An example would be that the human body’s normal temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Facts are derived from scientific research and discovery. Researchers have proven that facts are true statements, and no one is going to argue with accurate facts. No matter what culture you call home, facts are accepted as truth. In addition to proven scientific facts, generally accepted truths also fall into this category of support. Most people would accept the assertion that too much junk food is bad for a person. I may not have scientific evidence to back this up, but very few people would say my statement if off base. When writing, scientifically proven truths and generally accepted truths are both strong types of support. A third type of factual support is statistics. Assuming the source of the statistic is reliable, statistics are a good empirical evidence to lend credibility to a written argument. They may come from scientific research, but they can also come from surveys or reliable second hand sources.

    Let’s say, for example, we are writing an essay on what qualities make a good student. Our first argument is that students who like to read do better in school and make better students. I can use statistical research that links a person’s love of reading with their academic success. This would be using facts to support my argument.

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    Though not as empirical as factual support, examples are another way to support your arguments in a convincing way. Are you writing about literature that has stood the test of time? Shakespeare’s Hamlet is an example of one such piece. Are you writing about ways to keep in good cardiovascular health? Running is an example of how to do that. These examples and others like them support reasoning and written argument. When my students use examples as support in their writing, I tell them a good example must meet two criteria. Examples must be well known (I wouldn’t cite a book no one has ever heard of as an example of great literature) and be a good representative of what I am writing about. For example, I wouldn’t cite the movie version of a novel as an example of literature that has endured.

    If I were to give an example of a student who loved to read and had academic success, I might write about my high school valedictorian who read books any chance she got.

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    Personal Experience

    Everyone, no matter how old or young, has a story. We meet people, have experiences and learn from our own mistakes. Sometimes, the best support for a written argument is a personal experience, that is, some event from your own life that proves your point. Personal experiences can make convincing support for written arguments. For any piece of writing, the personal experience should be directly tied to your argument; just any personal experience won’t have the impact that a good argument needs. If you can write your story briefly and make sure it is clearly tied into your argument, that personal experience may be just the support your students’ essays need.

    If we go back to our good student essay, I might share this personal example. I love to read literature. I have always performed well in English and literature classes. On the other hand, reading history is not something I would ever choose to do in my free time. In history classes, my performance has only ever been adequate. My experience linking reading to academic success in English and not in history might be a good personal experience to support my written argument.

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    Expert Opinions

    The final type of strong support I encourage my students to use in their writing is the opinion of an expert. Though the information I get from an expert may not be scientifically proven, someone who knows the subject on which I am writing may have ideas that are probably true. Citing the opinion of an expert has one extremely important element. The writer must establish that the person is an expert. In many cases, the expert will be a professional in a particular field, but a person doesn’t have to be a professional to be an expert. I could site my grandmother’s opinion on strawberry pie because she has won the state pie championship three years in a row. I can share my brother’s thoughts on classic cars since he has been restoring them as a hobby for twenty years. These people are also experts in their fields. Be careful not to cite expert opinions outside their fields of expertise. I would never ask my brother how to make a strawberry pie or my grandmother how to rebuild a carburetor.

    For my qualities of a great student essay, I could cite an expert’s opinion to support my argument. I might find an educational professional whose job it is to improve student performance and share her opinion. Or I might ask my high school English teacher who has been working with students for thirty-five years and who can tell me from his experience that reading makes a difference in how students perform.

Strong support is essential for successful academic writing. I find that giving my classes a list of the types of support that work in writing makes their writing stronger. Giving them these tools for support also makes them more comfortable with the writing process and with their final products, and I’m happy with the results, too.

What type of writing struggles do your academic English students have?

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