Ilse Fouché
Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree
MA Applied Language Studies
In the Unit for Academic Literacy
Faculty of Humanities
University of Pretoria
Supervisor: Dr H.G. Butler
November 2009
© University of Pretoria
I hereby declare that this study is my own, original work and that all sources and references
have, to the best of my knowledge, been accurately acknowledged. This document has not
previously in its entirety or in part been submitted at any academic institution in order to
obtain an academic qualification.
Ilse Fouche
November 2009
I would like to express my gratitude to:
Dr Gustav Butler, my supervisor, for guiding me through this process, providing
unyielding academic support, as well as meticulous attention to detail.
My friends and family, for their unconditional belief in me, as well as bearing with my
occasional bad moods during the writing process.
Mr Mike Schutte, my statistical consultant, for the analysis of my data.
All the students who participated in this study, for their enthusiasm and willingness to
God Almighty, for carrying me through difficult times.
Over the past years, there has been a consistent call from Government and industry for South
African tertiary institutions to deliver more graduates in the fields of science and technology.
This, however, is no mean feat for universities, as the pool of prospective candidates delivers
very few students with the necessary academic literacy abilities, and very few students who
passed mathematics and science at the right levels to succeed in science higher education.
This puts tertiary institutions under mounting pressure to accept students who are underprepared and to support these students appropriately.
The plight of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institutions like the University of South
Africa (UNISA) is even more desperate, as they are often left with those students who are
either unable to gain entrance into, or to afford the study fees of, residential universities.
These students are often in greater need for face-to-face interaction than are their counterparts
at residential universities, yet they generally receive very little of this.
The intervention examined and critiqued in this study is an attempt at raising the academic
literacy levels of first-year students at UNISA in the fields of science and technology by
means of a 60-hour face-to-face workshop programme. As its foundation, it uses the
principles of collaborative learning and authentic material design. It also treats academic
literacy abilities as interdependent and holistic.
This study starts with a broad overview of the context. This is followed by a review of the
literature. This review focuses on concepts such as collaborative learning, academic literacy,
English for academic purposes, English for specific purposes and English for science and
technology. Thereafter, a needs analysis is done in which students’ Test for Academic
Literacy Levels (TALL) pre-test results, as well as a sample of their assignments, are
examined. In addition, the workshops in this intervention programme are analysed
individually. To determine the effectiveness of the academic literacy intervention, students’
pre- and post-TALL results are scrutinised, and a feedback questionnaire filled in at the end
of the year is analysed. Subsequently, recommendations are made as to how the workshop
programme could be improved.
Findings show that the academic literacy intervention did improve students’ academic
literacy levels significantly, though the improvement is not enough to elevate students from
being considered at-risk. However, with fine-tuning the existing programme, the possibility
exists that students’ academic literacy levels might be further improved. This calls for a
careful examination of the areas in which students’ performance did not improve
Student feedback indicated a positive attitude towards the entire intervention programme, as
well as a marked preference for collaborative learning and face-to-face interaction. In the
redevelopment of the current workshop programme, such preferences would have to receive
attention, so as to integrate students’ wants, together with what they lack and what they need,
in subsequent interventions.
In conclusion, the limitations of this study are discussed, and recommendations are made for
future research, as the current study must be seen as only the beginning of a process of action
research that could lead to a sustainable intervention programme in future.
Key terms:
academic literacy; authentic materials; collaborative learning; English for academic purposes
(EAP); English for science and technology (EST); English for specific purposes (ESP);
language support; open and distance learning (ODL); tertiary education;
undergraduate reading and writing; writing course design.
Background and purpose of the study
Background........................................................................................... 1
Context.................................................................................................. 1
Open and distance learning (ODL)....................................................... 4
The University of South Africa (UNISA) as an open and distance
learning institution................................................................................ 7
Justifying contact classes at an ODL institution such as UNISA......... 8
Initiatives at the UNISA Reading and Writing Centre regarding the
academic literacy of ODL students....................................................... 13
Definition of terms................................................................................ 14
Problem statement and objectives of the study..................................... 16
Methodology......................................................................................... 17
Literature review................................................................................... 17
Empirical study..................................................................................... 17
Overview of the study........................................................................... 18
Literature review
Academic literacy................................................................................. 20
Academic literacy at tertiary level........................................................ 20
Academic literacy for speakers of English as an additional language
at tertiary level in South Africa............................................................
The difficulty of teaching academic literacy at an ODL institution..... 31
Collaborative learning..........................................................................
Defining collaborative learning............................................................ 32
Learning styles.....................................................................................
The benefits of collaborative learning with regard to language
English for Academic Purposes (EAP)................................................
English for Specific Purposes (ESP)....................................................
A justification for ESP.........................................................................
Different ESP models...........................................................................
Elements of an ESP course................................................................... 55
English for Science and Technology (EST).........................................
Science and English.............................................................................. 63
Characteristics of scientific discourse..................................................
Essential skills for science students...................................................... 68
Conclusion............................................................................................ 77
Needs analysis
An analysis of student needs................................................................
Target group analysis...........................................................................
The demographics of the target group.................................................. 85
The language needs of the target group................................................ 87
Analysis of the TALL........................................................................... 89
Analysis of assignments.......................................................................
Science Foundation Programme (SFP) assignments analysed
according to Bloom’s taxonomy..........................................................
Knowledge............................................................................................ 96
Comprehension..................................................................................... 97
Synthesis and evaluation......................................................................
Conclusion............................................................................................ 101
Description of workshop material
Description of the workshop programme outline................................. 104
Analysis of workshops.........................................................................
Workshop 1: Improving your vocabulary............................................
Workshop 2: Writing good sentences..................................................
Workshop 3: Using scientific words and concepts in context.............. 110
Workshop 4: Reading in the sciences (1).............................................
Workshops 5 and 6: Writing good paragraphs.....................................
Workshop 7: Paraphrasing...................................................................
Workshop 8: Summarising...................................................................
Workshops 9 and 10: Visual literacy...................................................
Workshop 11: Distinguishing between essential and non-essential
Workshop 12: Note-taking strategies...................................................
Workshops 13 and 14: Referencing.....................................................
Workshop 15: Revision – Parts of speech and paragraph writing.......
Workshop 16: Reading in the sciences (2)...........................................
Workshop 17: Writing about facts in the sciences (expository
Workshop 18: Arguing in the sciences (argumentative writing).........
Workshop 19: Synthesising information..............................................
Workshop 20: Writing a laboratory report...........................................
Conclusion............................................................................................ 128
Data analysis
Statistical analysis of the TALL...........................................................
Qualitative analysis of feedback questionnaire....................................
Students’ perception of important abilities gained............................... 134
Aspects of workshops most enjoyed by students.................................
Aspects of workshops least enjoyed by students.................................. 136
Workshops topics to be included in future...........................................
Abilities students need to practise more............................................... 138
Further improvement of workshops.....................................................
Transference of abilities to students’ studies.......................................
Students’ rating of workshops’ usefulness...........................................
Conclusion............................................................................................ 142
Critique of workshop programme
The principles of collaborative learning and the use of authentic
Critique of elements of the intervention............................................... 146
Grammar............................................................................................... 146
Visual literacy....................................................................................... 148
Speaking and listening.......................................................................... 149
Reading................................................................................................. 150
Writing.................................................................................................. 153
Number of workshops..........................................................................
Recommendations for the redevelopment of the intervention.............
Conclusion............................................................................................ 167
Chapter 7
Research questions...............................................................................
Research question 1.............................................................................. 170
Research question 2.............................................................................. 171
Research question 3.............................................................................. 172
Implications of the current research.....................................................
Limitations............................................................................................ 174
Recommendations for future research.................................................. 175
Conclusion............................................................................................ 177
Addendum A
Improving your vocabulary..................................................................
Addendum B
Writing good sentences........................................................................
Addendum C
Using scientific words and concepts in context...................................
Addendum D
Reading skills (1).................................................................................. 202
Addendum E
Writing good paragraphs (1)................................................................
Addendum F
Writing good paragraphs (2)................................................................
Addendum G
Addendum H
Summarising......................................................................................... 214
Addendum I
Visual literacy (1).................................................................................
Addendum J
Visual literacy (2).................................................................................
Addendum K
Distinguishing between essential and non-essential information......... 224
Addendum L
Note-taking strategies........................................................................... 227
Addendum M
Introduction to referencing...................................................................
Addendum N
Addendum O
Revision - parts of speech and paragraph writing................................
Addendum P
Reading Skills (2).................................................................................
Addendum Q
Expository writing................................................................................
Addendum R
Argumentative writing.........................................................................
Addendum S
Synthesising information...................................................................... 251
Addendum T
Writing a laboratory report................................................................... 256
Addendum U
Feedback form: Science Foundation Programme workshops..............
Addendum V
Informed consent form.........................................................................
Figure 3.1
Bloom’s taxonomy...............................................................................
Figure 4.1
Factors affecting ESP course design....................................................
Table 3.1
Academic literacy abilities tested by the TALL................................... 90
Table 3.2
Results of target group’s academic literacy abilities............................ 91
Table 5.1
Average improvement between pre- and post-test results in various
sections of the TALL............................................................................ 131
Table 5.2
Statistical significance of average improvement between pre- and
Table 5.3
Results divided into sessions attended (1-7 and 8-20 sessions)...........
Table 5.4
Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) for sessions attended, age and sex...
Table 5.5
Students’ rating of usefulness of workshops........................................
Background and purpose of the study
1.1.1 Context
In 2007, 65.2% of the 564 775 students who sat for the Grade 12 examinations passed. Only
25 415 (4.5%) passed mathematics at higher grade, and 28 122 (5%) passed science at higher
grade (Pandor, 2007). Although the pass rate has increased in the past decade (the pass rate in
1998 was 50%, with 3.6% of students passing mathematics at higher grade, and 4% passing
science at higher grade [Collings, 2000]), it is still alarmingly low, especially in subjects such
as mathematics and science, which are in high demand in a country where there is a skills
shortage in the fields of science and technology (see, for example, Department of Science and
Technology [2007] and National Research Foundation [2009]). According to Phillips (2004),
one of the reasons for this poor pass rate is that many science and mathematics teachers in
South Africa are English additional language (EAL) speakers themselves, with inadequate
language abilities. Since science and mathematics are often taught through the medium of
English in previously disadvantaged schools, difficult subjects become even more difficult
due to the teacher having to teach, and the learner having to learn these subjects in a language
neither is fully proficient in. Phillips (2004:3) states that the only way many of these students
learn “is by rote memorisation of concepts they barely understand”. According to Phillips
(2004:108), statistics indicate that “South Africa seems to be producing a frightening number
of largely illiterate matriculants”, especially in black schools, where “[l]ittle practice in
reading and writing takes place” (McCallum, 2000:4). This perpetuates a cycle of inadequate
literacy, especially for students from previously disadvantaged areas, since they acquire poor
language abilities from their teachers (and often develop a negative attitude towards
language, since little or no value is given to adequate language abilities in subjects such as
science), which then does a disservice to the fortunate few who do make it to university.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education and the private sector want increasing numbers of
students to be qualified in the sciences, and in response to such appeals, the number of
students registering for science-related courses at tertiary level is escalating (Phillips, 2004).
Already, the pool of students with the necessary secondary school subjects and marks to
ultimately succeed at university is very small. The fact that increased numbers of students
enrol in science-related courses at the Department of Education‟s insistence does not mean
that more students are able to successfully complete their studies. The increase of students
enrolling for science and mathematics related courses at tertiary level is thus not a reflection
of an increased quality of matriculants. Rather, students who do not have the necessary
language, academic and cognitive abilities to succeed at tertiary level are accepted by
universities. “[T]o further complicate the situation, [these students] (...) are seldom
adequately prepared for the demands of tertiary institutions with regard to language ability in
Science/Maths and they consequently fail or drop out” (Phillips, 2004:4).
In spite of increasing enrolments in science-related courses, “fewer Science students are
graduating and the pool of qualified Science personnel is dwindling in an expanding
economy” (Phillips, 2004:100) – surely never a good sign for any country. The problem of
too small a number of students graduating seems to be specifically pronounced in South
Africa. According to a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (Unesco) (2001), South Africa had 633 918 tertiary students in 1998 – the
highest number of students in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, the “graduation rate of these students
was only 15%, compared to the ideal graduation rate of 33%” (Cape Times, 2003:5).
Particularly natural sciences departments at universities currently have a considerable
problem with student throughput (Council on Higher Education, 2004). In 1999, the national
throughput rate (i.e. the number of graduates in any year as a percentage of total enrolment)
for students of science, engineering, technology, commerce and business was only 16%
(Collings, 2000). One study cites completion rates at UNISA for science as low as 5%
(Collett, 2002). One of the reasons for the low graduation rate, according to Phillips (2004),
is poor reading and writing abilities. As will be argued in Section 2.5, to succeed in a sciencerelated course, competency in reading and writing is of the utmost importance.
The Department of Education has made it clear that it expects universities to take measures
(such as institutionalised academic development programmes) to improve the current
situation (Ministry of Education, 2001). Many South African universities have started
initiatives aimed at improving throughput rates for students studying science-related subjects.
Poor academic literacy has often been cited as a contributing factor to poor throughput rates
(discussed further in Chapter 2) – therefore academic literacy is addressed in many
interventions to improve throughput rates. Language proficiency might be argued to be the
most important aspect of academic literacy, though it cannot be separated from visual
literacy, information literacy and numerical literacy (see Section 2.1.1).
In 2006, UNISA for the first time launched a foundation course for students studying sciencerelated subjects, called the Science Foundation Programme (SFP). The SFP is not an access
course, as students in the foundation programme have already obtained access to the
University. The aim of the SFP is to give students a thorough foundation in the subject matter
of science-related subjects, from the fields of “engineering”, “mathematical sciences and
statistics”, “chemistry and physics”, “computing”, and “mathematics, science and technology
education” (UNISA, 2006). This is done by means of a three-legged approach: extra tutorial
classes in the 18 identified high-risk subjects, Peer Collaborative Learning (PCL) classes, and
reading and writing assistance (facilitated by the Reading and Writing Centres). This study
focuses specifically on the additional reading and writing assistance.
It has long been accepted that the nature of additional language support for the natural
sciences must be different from language support given to students of the social sciences
(Bazerman, 1988; Becher, 1989). Students studying natural sciences must learn to use
language in an objective, precise and structured way – often to a greater extent than students
in other faculties. The texts that these students deal with are also generally written in a very
different (and less reader-friendly) style than texts encountered in other fields of study.
Perhaps this difference in the type of language needs has caused students of the natural
sciences to be hesitant to join traditional, generic language support programmes (see, for
example, Phillips & Shettlesworth [1988], Hyland [2002] and Kavaliauskiene [2004]). It is,
therefore, very important to develop a language support programme that specifically focuses
on the needs of students in the natural sciences. Students involved in the present study mainly
come from the fields of science and engineering. Braine (1995:114) argues that the natural
sciences and engineering “share sufficient characteristics to be considered a single discourse
community”, for example, the type of writing activities expected as well as their shared
“basic knowledge of mathematics and science” (also see Braine, 1989). The importance of
developing a language support programme for specific disciplines is explored in Section 2.4.
1.1.2 Open and distance learning (ODL)
Traditionally, distance education has automatically implied a distance between student and
instructor, as this definition by Holmberg (1977:9) indicates:
The term „distance education‟ (...) covers the various forms of study at all levels which are not
under the continuous, immediate supervision of tutors present with their students in lecture
rooms or on the same premises, but which, nevertheless, benefit from the planning, guidance
and tuition of a tutorial organization.
UNISA‟s definition of distance education also stresses the importance of distance: “In
distance education there is a distance – a separation, whether of time or space or something
else – between the student and the institution, their teachers and their peers” (UNISA,
2006:6). Keegan (1980:33) adds characteristics such as “the influence of an educational
organisation which distinguishes it from private study”, “the use of technical media, usually
print, to unite teacher and learner and carry the educational content”, “the provision of twoway communication so that the student may benefit from or even initiate dialogue”, and “the
possibility of occasional meetings for both didactic and socialisation purposes”.
According to Richards (1994:10), the term „correspondence education‟ has often been used as
an umbrella term. However, this term does not encapsulate distance education. On the
contrary, this is only one method of distance education, and arguably one that does not at all
realise the potential that distance education has, since it focuses mainly on print-based
education. Although it is true that distance education could, to a large extent, be described as
correspondence education before 1969, it has developed in a very different direction (and has
gone through various stages) since then, with the founding of the Open University in the
United Kingdom (Richards, 1994).
At the start of this “second phase in the history of distance education (...) technological
intoxication caused some temporary blurring of vision” (Richards, 1994:12). It might be
argued that there was an overemphasis on technological media, such as telephone-, satelliteand videoconferencing. Once this initial intoxication wore off though, the Open University,
and many other traditional distance education institutions, moved towards what is now
generally known as „open learning‟.
Escotet (1980:264) explains the difference between open learning and distance learning:
Open education is particularly characterized by the removal of restrictions, exclusions and
privileges; by the accreditation of students‟ previous experience; by the flexibility of the
management of the time available; and by substantial changes in the traditional relationship
between professors and students. On the other hand, distance education is a modality which
permits the delivery of a group of didactic media without the necessity of regular class
participation, where the individual is responsible for his [sic] own learning.
The two are thus not in any way mutually exclusive. It is possible to combine both distance
education and traditional contact education within a philosophy of open education. The
international trend, however, seems to be to rather use open learning in combination with
distance learning. Internationally, the term „open‟ often “means access for equity, and the
„distance‟ is the ways in which the education is delivered. So „open‟ has to do with a
paradigm or philosophical underpinning while „distance‟ has to do with methods of delivery”
(UNISA, 2006:8). Collett (2002:31) comprehensively sums up the interrelatedness between
open and distance learning:
The term open learning is commonly used to describe a mode of education which places a
high value on flexibility in a range of areas: the recognition of prior learning (...); the mode
and pace of learning; and forms and timing of assessment (...). Open education is concerned
primarily with facilitating students‟ achievement of exit standards by removing obstacles to
this achievement. (...) The terms open and distance are often used together to designate a class
of non-traditional learning methods usually characterised by being managed by the learner
rather than by the teacher.
Richards (1994:16) adds further characteristics of open learning such as accessibility (related
to academic background, age, financial constraints or physical location) and the need for a
“range of options [to be] available in terms of means of study and methods of support”.
It must be remembered that open learning is not an absolute term. An institution can rarely be
described as being „open‟ or „not open‟. Instead, “there are varying degrees of openness”
(Richards, 1994:16). However, if open learning (in its ideal state) had to be defined by one
term, it would probably be „flexibility‟. Collett (2002:221) states that such flexibility should
ideally give students the choice between “a mix of contact and self-study options as their
individual needs dictate.” (Collett, 2002:221). Lewis (1990) also argues that open learning
offers the student a wider choice with regard to content and modes of delivery. Such modes
of delivery should give students a choice between traditional print-based material,
telephone-, satellite- or videoconferencing, or contact classes.
In line with the international move of distance education towards open learning, several
models have been proposed, such as Rumble‟s (1986) transactional model, which describes
the transactions of learners with materials, with the institution and with intermediaries such as
counsellors and tutors. It is these intermediaries who are of particular interest for this study,
since they are the ones who bridge the gap between student and institution, are often the only
„face‟ of the institution that students ever experience, and are more often than not the ones
who provide the option of contact classes in an ODL institution. As Richards (1994:15)
argues, failing to take into consideration the “crucial balance between independence and
support is a recipe for failure”.
Paul (1990:85-86) points out that learner independence (often seen as the basis of distance
education) cannot be accepted as a given – in fact, “large numbers of students (...) do not
cope effectively with the demands for independence, time management and self-direction
posed by open learning”. Paul (1990:83) argues that for open-learning institutions to reach
the ideal of breaking down barriers to access education, they “must improve their capacity to
develop independent learners”. Richards (1994:17-18) argues that this is often only
achievable by means of a “process of negotiation and dialogue (however mediated) between
tutor and student” - a process during which students are guided from the point of entry, where
they are often still completely dependant on tutor guidance, towards a point where the student
can consciously decide what media of study are most effective. According to Richards
(1994:18), “[t]he potency of language in the process of empowerment is self-evident, and the
implications of open access for language learning need not be spelt out”.
Of course, an open approach to learning also implies greater costs, since various modes of
learning have to be available to students. Richards, however, stresses that if educational
institutions allow finances to determine their response to students‟ needs, they should not
pretend that their stance is an educational one (Richards, 1994). The needs of the student
must always be paramount.
1.1.3 The University of South Africa (UNISA) as an ODL institution
In 2000, almost 30% of all South African higher education enrolments were at distance
education institutions (Collett, 2002). Distance education thus plays a vital role in the South
African higher education arena.
UNISA is by far South Africa‟s biggest distance education provider (even more so since its
merger with the former Technikon South Africa). It can be described as an open and distance
learning (ODL) institution (although, as mentioned before, this should be seen as a point on a
continuum rather than an absolute). It does, as definitions in the previous section imply,
recognise students‟ previous learning experiences1, change the traditional relationship
between student and lecturer, make possible flexible management of time (in terms of pace of
learning, though not presently in terms of form or timing of assessment) and flexible
utilisation of modes of learning (be that via print-based materials, on-line learning, satelliteor video conferencing, or face-to-face learning). In addition to providing “open access in
order to redress inequalities” (as described in Escotet‟s definition), open learning in South
Africa “also includes concepts such as active learning [and] critical thinking” (UNISA,
Internationally, the trend for ODL institutions is to rely mainly on computer technology to
decrease the distance between student and institution (Keegan, 1986; UNISA, 2006). Such
technology can include „chat rooms‟, online learning, video conferencing, etc. (UNISA,
2006). Although UNISA is broadening its use of such technologies, the majority of
undergraduate students do not have access to the Internet (in fact, many of the students I see
have never worked on a computer before). Therefore, UNISA still to a large extent has to rely
on print-based materials as a main method of communication and education. In addition,
UNISA relies on face-to-face tutorials and Peer Collaborative Learning (PCL) to bridge the
gap between student and institution.
Face-to-face tutorials at UNISA are usually facilitated by someone who already has a degree
in the relevant field of study. Research has proven that face-to-face tutorials “at intervals in
the learning cycle add tremendous value to the students‟ learning-at-a-distance” (UNISA,
This is accomplished mainly through the Department for the Recognition of Prior Learning, which assesses
and acknowledges such learning experiences.
2006:7). PCL “refers to small-group learning that is managed and run by students themselves
with the purpose of improving their chances of academic success” (UNISA, 2006:11). In
PCL groups, learning occurs by means of collaboration, where knowledge, experience, skills,
competence and feelings are shared by groups of students (UNISA, 2006).
Intermediaries such as tutors or PCL leaders play an invaluable role at UNISA, since,
according to research done by Collett (2002:227), “[c]onstructive contact between lecturers
and students and between students themselves appears (...) to be relatively rare, with many
students experiencing isolation in their studies”. Contact facilitated by such intermediaries
has the potential of taking the risk of isolation out of distance learning.
1.1.4 Justifying contact classes at an ODL institution such as UNISA
In the past, communication in distance education has been mostly mediated through
technology, consisting mainly of satellite broadcasting, audio-conferencing, telephone, e-mail
and other Internet-based communication (Schrum & Ohler, 2005). In the past few decades,
online learning has taken precedence over all other technology-based communication
methods (Berge, 2004; Wheeler, 2004; Oravec, 2005; Schrum & Ohler, 2005). Whilst
technology-based communication is often seen as a viable replacement for face-to-face
contact, several objections can be raised against this.
Firstly, a vast number of South African first-year students making use of distance education
do not have access to the Internet (or are not computer literate). This often immediately
excludes students who need additional support the most – especially in the South African
context where students who never had the opportunity to become computer literate are those
who consequently cannot access most of the technological communication methods provided
for distance learners.
Secondly, much of the depth associated with face-to-face contact is often lost when
communication has to occur through technology. For example, in a study by Kanuka and
Anderson (1998), it was found that in an on-line conference, much of the interaction was
limited by relatively superficial sharing and comparing of information, with little in-depth
engagement with issues. George (1994:84) describes communication via phone, though
instant, interactive and quick, as “only the skeleton of our normal communication; the bare
bones, stripped of the visual padding (...) [which strips] the communication of all the comfort
and personal warmth of visual contact”.
This over-dependence on technology at the expense of face-to-face contact has always been
one of the greatest disadvantages of traditional correspondence distance education, since
students are forced to study in a way that they often do not like, isolated from peers and
teachers. Since students often have no choice but to study in isolation, they usually do not
have any indication of how their current level (be that knowledge of a subject or the level of
their academic literacy) compares to that of their peers. According to Walandouw and
Penrose (1994), this is precisely what a move towards open learning should redress. Students
should be able to choose from a variety of learning modes, and should be able to measure
themselves, and specifically their language ability, against their peers. It is often only when
one does this that one realises that more work in certain areas might be needed in order to
succeed at tertiary level. Walandouw and Penrose (1994:71) suggest that “the time is not yet
right, in distance language learning, to look for complex electronic solutions to what is still
an issue of human environments”.
This „issue of human environments‟ is illustrated vividly by George (1994:85) when he
describes face-to-face teaching as an ideally rich and satisfying medium, “with the possibility
of effective interaction within all the domains – psycho-motor, cognitive, affective and
interpersonal”. He describes the factors that make this such a rich medium of communication:
The welcoming smile or glance, the body language of attention and interest, the eye contact to
maintain engagement, the feedback both ways on the rightness of the pacing and structure of
what is happening, the evidence of the students‟ understanding and involvement, of the tutor‟s
enthusiasm for the subject and for what is being created in the class – all of these are
communicated largely by visual means. Subtle visual language builds the atmosphere of a
class, and sharpens its effectiveness. You can so easily take the edge off a critical comment
by a smile, welcome a latecomer into discussion with a friendly nod, raise an eyebrow to steer
a speaker to think more carefully about what she is saying, or pick up the contradiction
between what is being said and how it is being said – and spot the underlying uncertainty
which needs addressing before you all move on (George, 1994:85).
The concept of distance education changing to facilitate more personal contact between
student and institution is a recurring theme in the literature, and is thus not important only in
the South African setting, but also internationally2.
[T]here is a progressive convergence between [contact and distance education] (...) which is
being hastened by increasing needs for flexibility in the delivery of courses and by
developments in information and communications technology (...). So, for example, distance
education, as it is implemented in many institutions, now typically includes activities which
are usually associated with traditional „contact‟ education – lectures, tutorials, practicals and
cooperative learning opportunities (Collett, 2002:37-38).
Wheeler (2004:15) notes that “the successful university of the future will go to the students”.
For this to happen, the gap between institution and student must be bridged; a feat which,
according to Wheeler, can be accomplished by developing the human infrastructure of
universities. The Commonwealth of Learning‟s (COL) first strategic plan (described in
Lockwood & Latchem, 2004:160) states that the “artificial and counterproductive distinction”
between distance and traditional residential education is weakening due to the continuing
“global process of educational reform”. Collett (2002) agrees, and states that distance
education has moved towards a more learner-centred style of learning which encourages
more and better quality contact between the learner on the one hand, and the teacher,
institution, learning material and fellow learners on the other. However, despite the
convergence between distance and residential institutions, Collett (2002) states that one can
still distinguish between institutions whose academic programmes are organised around a
schedule of classes, and institutions whose focus is on the production and distribution of
learning materials and assessment instruments that students mostly work on independently, in
addition to using whatever resources and schedules that fit their particular circumstances best.
The reasons for giving students the opportunity of interacting with each other and with
teachers is well documented in the literature. According to Cross and Steadman (1996), one
of the basic principles of good educational practice is quality contact between learners and
teachers – this seems to be advantageous to both students and teachers. Collett‟s (2002) study
also clearly shows that South African distance learners have a patent need for personal
contact. He argues that “only the very mature student with a high degree of academic literacy
(...) is able to study effectively in complete independence”, but even in such a case “social
constructivist theorists [would argue] that learning is a socially mediated process. Isolated,
It must be noted that the converse is also true. Traditional „residential‟ universities are increasingly
supplementing their teaching approaches with distance learning strategies.
independent learning (...) could be considered incomplete or alienating, as learning is
dependent on the interchange between people” (Collett, 2002:43-44). In addition to students
having little or no contact with peers, it also seems as though very few students have regular
contact with lecturers – at least as far as in-depth engagement with subject matter is
concerned (Collett, 2002).
Moore (1993) categorises interaction in an educational context into learner-content
interaction, learner-instructor interaction, and learner-learner interaction. In distance
education, there has traditionally been an overemphasis on learner-content interaction. Moore
(1993) argues that distance education should redress this overemphasis, and make available a
greater variety of methods which students can use to enhance meaningful interaction. A lack
of human interaction in distance education could be a major contributing factor to students
not finishing their distance education courses. In fact, some of the reasons Collett (2002) cites
for low completion rates of distance education courses include not engaging sufficiently with
the learning process and students not interacting adequately with staff.
Collett (2002) also points out that students entering the distance education system on average
have lower matric results than students entering residential institutions. This, according to
him, often has the following consequences: “less well developed schemas of the academic
disciplines which they have studied”; “poorer cognitive skills”; “under-developed
metacognitive skills”; and “weaker academic skills such as reading and writing” (Collett,
2002:231). Whilst such inadequacies would become apparent fairly quickly at a residential
university with regular face-to-face contact, they are much more difficult to identify in a
distance education setting where most students never or rarely see tutors or lecturers. If such
inadequacies are identified in a distance education setting, this often only happens by the time
the final examination is written, and it is too late to do much about it at that stage (Collett,
2002). Having more contact classes in an institution such as UNISA could identify problem
areas in students that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. At-risk students could then be
referred to the appropriate learner support section, and consequently retention and throughput
could be improved. A further advantage of contact sessions, according to Randell (1998), is
that these can encourage students to study independently, if structured carefully. Contact
classes can achieve this by motivating and supporting learners – “[a]s students gain more
confidence, they will be able to drive their own learning process” (Randell, 1998:15).
Although contact classes have many advantages for (arguably) the majority of students, one
must remember that not all students have the same learning style. For example, although the
majority of students in Collett‟s (2002) study felt that contact between student and lecturer is
very important, some felt that they did not need such contact. It does seem logical that certain
students choose distance education specifically because they do not need contact with others
for successful study – in fact, some learners might experience such contact as burdensome,
or, as Collett puts it, “a waste of time” (2002:193). However, those students who did have
regular contact with peers cited advantages such as that it “[b]reathes life and enjoyment into
learning”, “[c]ounters the isolation experienced by students in remote areas”, and “[e]nables
students to discuss study issues” (Collett, 2002:194).
In spite of the clear need for contact classes, as illustrated by the above arguments, distance
education institutions have been criticised for not providing enough support in the form of
contact classes. The National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) (1996:120), for
example, criticises distance education institutions when saying that “[t]utorials and other
forms of learner support are inadequate”. UNISA has shown its commitment toward bridging
the gap between student and institution by implementing learner support at several regional
offices, where students have access to libraries, counselling, tutorial classes, PCL sessions
and, most recently, academic literacy support (both reading and writing, and quantitative
numeracy). Most learner support initiatives (such as tutorial classes, PCL sessions, and
academic literacy facilitation) at UNISA use small-group learning to obtain their objectives.
The benefits of such an approach are further discussed in Section 2.2. However, it is useful to
note already that, according to Misselhorn (1997), it is important to have a teacher available
as facilitator in any effective small-group learning situation, who can give explicit
instructions and provide effective and focused feedback.
This section has argued for the importance of contact classes in open and distance learning
institutions such as UNISA, and though I believe these contact classes to be invaluable, they
cannot be made compulsory. Walandouw and Penrose (1994), for example, point out that
trying to make such activities compulsory can be very problematic, especially in an open and
distance learning situation where activities should not discriminate against students who are
not able to partake in them. Instead of trying to enforce contact classes, such support
activities should create a supporting environment that students can easily make use of
whenever they feel the need to do so. One impediment to this ideal situation is that students
might not be mature enough to realise the need for such support activities, and might
consequently not take advantage of these opportunities. This is a concern that falls outside the
boundaries of the current study, but which should certainly be researched in future.
1.1.5 Initiatives at the UNISA Reading and Writing Centre regarding the academic
literacy of ODL students
According to Hutchings (1998), many students experience difficulty with the transition from
secondary school to tertiary education. Students may have difficulty functioning
independently at a higher academic level, often away from their communities and family for
the first time3. Another difficulty that students face is having to function in an additional
language. In addition to this, once these students start their education as distance learners,
there is a “dearth of formal opportunities, such as assignments, for developing academic
literacy” (Collett, 2002:244). Although UNISA does offer various academic literacy courses
(presented by the Department of English) in order to address this problem, these courses are
not compulsory for all students. Furthermore, acquiring academic literacy solely by means of
printed text (without any collaborative learning) is a very difficult task. As is argued in
Section 2.2, language is a social construct, and is therefore best acquired in collaboration with
other people. Furthermore, developing language proficiency (or more specifically, academic
literacy ability), as a social activity, requires immediate and contextual feedback from other
language users – feedback which is taken into account with subsequent language usage
(although not always implemented immediately). In courses such as those offered by the
Department of English, such feedback is usually only received months after assignments
were submitted.
In 2004, the UNISA Reading and Writing Centres (as part of the Bureau for Counselling,
Career and Academic Development) were created to help students with reading, writing and
reasoning abilities. There is currently a Reading and Writing Centre at 13 different regional
offices (Pretoria Sunnyside, Pretoria Muckleneuk, Johannesburg Newtown, Johannesburg
Florida, Benoni, Polokwane, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, East London, Mthatha, Parow,
Although Hutchings refers to residential universities, the same can be said for UNISA. Even though it is an
Open and Distance Learning institution, many students move closer to the various regional centres, and form
learning communities similar to those at traditional residential universities.
Kimberley and Addis Ababa). These Reading and Writing Centres present various generic
and subject-specific workshop programmes (for undergraduate and postgraduate students),
offer individual consultations, and provide various self-study reading programmes. All
students can make use of any of these services. Most centres try to accommodate employed
students as much as possible by staying open after-hours and on Saturdays. All of the services
of the Reading and Writing Centres are free, so as not to discriminate against students who
cannot afford the services.
Two of these centres started presenting a series of 20 workshops, specifically aimed at the
students of the Science Foundation Programme (SFP), in 2006 and 2007. These workshops
(specifically the materials used in them and the impact they had on students‟ academic
literacy) are the focus of the present study.
Definition of terms
Academic literacy: A “specialized form of reading, writing, and thinking done in the
„academy‟” (Zamel, 1998:187).
Access course: A bridging course for students who do not yet have university access, but
who wish to obtain it.
Collaborative language learning: In this type of learning, students have a common goal
towards which an entire small group must work (Kohonen, 1992). It rests “on the
assumption that people essentially construct their own knowledge, and cast what they
learn into what makes sense within their own experience” (Salmon & Claire,
English as a foreign language (EFL): Describes English language learning in countries
where English is not an official language.
English as an additional language (EAL): Describes English language learning in countries
where English is an official language, but not the student‟s first language. For the
purposes of this study, the term English as a second language (ESL), which is used in
several quotations throughout this study, is classified under EAL.
English for specific purposes (ESP): “[T]his is a specialisation according to the use to be
made of the language by the learner. As an example, [ESP] courses have been
prepared for pilots, air-traffic controllers, doctors, scientists, secretaries and
businessmen” (Seaton, 1982).
Foundation programme: An extended first-year programme for students who already have
university access. Such a programme would include additional classes (either subject
related, or support courses such as academic literacy classes) to give the student a
thorough foundation in the course s/he intends to do.
Learner support: “[T]he collection of resources and procedures which enhance the learning
environment of the distance learner” (Collett, 2002:17).
Open and distance learning (ODL): Learning which allows students to learn without
having to attend regular classes. It aims at removing restrictions to learning, allowing
more flexibility of time for students, and drastically changes the traditional
relationship between lecturers and students (Escotet, 1980).
Throughput rate: “[M]easures the proportion of enrolments graduating in a given year”
(Department of Education, 1996:12).
Tutorial letter: Information booklet sent to all students of a specific course, including
information regarding assignments, due dates, and other departmental information.
Often, several tutorial letters are sent for each course.
Problem statement and objectives of the study
Ample research has been conducted overseas (especially in the United States of America) on
English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses, but comparatively little research has been done
in South Africa, especially in the natural sciences. Since there is a serious developmental
backlog in educating and training people for science-related occupations in South Africa
(Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, 1996; National Advisory Council on
Innovation, 2002; Phillips, 2004; Department of Science and Technology, 2007), an attempt
has to be made to rectify this situation. Improving students‟ literacy abilities by means of ESP
courses could be an important contributing factor in this process. According to Collett
(2002:259), “on-going research is needed on appropriate methods of inducting students into
academic cultures and how these methods can be integrated into the study of a particular
discipline. It would be important to monitor the effects of such courses.” The objective of this
study is exactly that, to examine the effects of a subject-specific academic literacy course on
the academic literacy levels of science students at an open and distance learning tertiary
The aim of the study is to investigate how the academic literacy levels of science students
may be improved by means of a reading, writing and reasoning intervention (tested by means
of the Test of Academic Literacy Levels [TALL]). This study focuses on students who have
been identified for the Science Foundation Programme. It uses the conceptual and theoretical
frameworks of collaborative language learning and English for Specific Purposes (ESP).
The research questions are as follows:
1. Can an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) intervention improve the academic literacy
levels of first-year open and distance learning students studying science-related courses?
2. What areas of academic literacy have been improved most after the ESP intervention?
3. How can the ESP intervention be adapted to further develop students‟ academic literacy
This study is structured as follows:
1.4.1 Literature review
A literature review is conducted, examining concepts such as „academic literacy‟, „English
for specific purposes‟ (ESP) and „English for science and technology‟ (EST). The elements
necessary in an EST course are also discussed.
1.4.2 Empirical study
a) A standardised academic literacy test (the Test for Academic Literacy Levels [TALL]) is
administered as both a pre- and a post-test, to determine the target group‟s academic
literacy level before and after the intervention.
b) Student records (available from the UNISA student information system) are used to
gather descriptive statistics, for example, students‟ age and sex.
c) An intervention consisting of ten three-hour workshops is completed with a group of
UNISA SFP students.
d) The workshops are critically assessed, based on their appropriateness when compared to
the findings of the literature review as well as the TALL.
e) A feedback questionnaire, including both open and closed ended questions, is distributed
to students at the end of the intervention programme to determine their opinions of the
This study uses a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research to ensure that feedback is as
rich as possible. Since the researcher also facilitated the intervention, this study involves
aspects of ethnographic research (in the sense of a lived through, richly experienced
involvement [Butler, 2007]), as well as action research, as findings in this study will be used
to improve the intervention in subsequent years.
Overview of the study
Chapter 1 has provided a brief overview of the context for this study. It has focused on the
concept of ODL, with specific reference to UNISA as an ODL institution. It has subsequently
justified why contact classes (specifically in academic literacy) are vital at an ODL institution
like UNISA. The initiatives implemented by the UNISA Reading and Writing Centre were
discussed. Some terms specifically relevant to this study were defined. This was followed by
a description of the problem statement and the objectives. Finally, the methodology used in
this study was summarised.
Chapter 2 provides a literature review for this study, and is divided into three sections. The
first section starts by discussing the need for academic literacy at tertiary level. It examines
the difficulty that South African speakers of English as an additional language have with
regard to academic literacy, and discusses current initiatives at South African universities to
address this issue. The second section focuses on the theory of collaborative learning. It
examines the benefits of collaborative learning, firstly with regard to language acquisition,
and secondly with regard to learning at a South African ODL institution. The third section
gives a brief overview of the importance of ESP, firstly in general, and then specifically in
the fields of science and technology.
In Chapter 3, students‟ needs are analysed in two ways. First, an analysis is done of the types
of assignments that natural sciences students at UNISA need to complete in their first year. It
focuses specifically on applicable subjects in the Science Foundation Programme. Certain
categories of language and reasoning abilities required for assignments are identified, which
are subsequently considered in the development of a relevant intervention. In addition,
students‟ results on the TALL are analysed, and the areas in which students need to improve
most are identified.
Chapter 4 describes the intervention programme that is used for the SFP academic literacy
workshops. The syllabus is discussed, and the types of materials and exercises used are
examined, keeping in mind the literature review in Chapter 2 and the needs analysis in
Chapter 3.
Chapter 5 aims to determine which aspects of the intervention discussed in the current study
were most, and which least, successful. This is done by examining students‟ TALL results, as
well as questionnaires completed by students. Firstly, the results of the post-test are compared
to those of the pre-test. The chapter examines the improvement in marks of various TALL
sections between pre- and post-test, and discusses the connection between students‟ TALL
results and the intervention. Secondly, this chapter looks at questionnaires that students
completed at the end of the workshop programme. Here, students commented on what topics
and abilities they believed to be of most value to them, remarked on strong and weak points
in the workshop series, and made recommendations towards the improvement of the
workshop series.
Chapter 6 critiques various aspects of the workshop series. This includes the principles of
collaborative learning and the use of authentic materials, both of which permeate the
workshop series. The extent to which the students‟ abilities in relation to grammar,
vocabulary, visual literacy, speaking, listening, reading and writing were addressed in the
intervention, and can be improved further in future, is also examined. Throughout, strong
points of this workshop programme are highlighted, and extensive recommendations are
made for the redevelopment of this intervention.
Chapter 7 concludes the study by summarising the main findings. This is done by revisiting
the original research questions. Several implications of this research study are discussed, and
limitations are identified. Finally, recommendations for future research are made.
Literature review
Academic literacy
2.1.1 Academic literacy at tertiary level
Academic literacy can be defined as “a specialized form of reading, writing, and thinking
done in the „academy‟” (Zamel,1998:187).
[A] definition of academic literacy must necessarily include a belief in critical thinking; the
value placed on reading and writing to do the work of the university, the emphasis placed on
independence, self-reliance, and responsibility; and the close relationship between the work
done and the ideas debated [...] and a person‟s ability to perform a job later on (Boiarsky,
Hagemann & Burdan, 2003).
Taylor, Ballard, Beasley, Bock, Clanchy and Nightingale (1988:5) argue for a more
discipline-specific view of academic literacy. They state that language must be firmly set “in
the context if its users (…) and in the contexts of culture, meaning and knowledge”. They
further argue that “language learning should be allowed to develop as part of the learning of
all other subjects. That means placing language much closer to the centre of learning than
most universities nowadays even dream of contemplating” (Taylor et al., 1988:5). They go so
far as stating that “there can be no meaning to the term „academic literacy‟ outside the quite
particular culture and cultures of the university” (Taylor et al., 1988:5). Academic discourse
is, on the one hand, a new discourse that students need to appropriate to be accepted into this
unfamiliar culture in which they wish to succeed, but it is also a new way of thinking about
knowledge and the world that students should acquire.
Limiting academic literacy to reading, writing and thinking (specifically the type of cognition
that is necessary for successful communication through the medium of language) might
arguably be too narrow a definition, since an ever-increasing number of abilities are also
being defined as „literacies‟ that are necessary to succeed in the academy, for example
computer literacy, numerical literacy and information literacy. Although the arguments to
include these abilities as „academic literacies‟ might be strong, in the context of this study the
term „academic literacy‟ will be confined to those aspects related to language and its usage. I
agree with Street (2004:12) when he says that should a wider variety of skills be classified as
„academic literacy‟, “then we struggle to differentiate the reading and writing dimensions of a
semiotic practice from say the oral or the symbolic dimensions”. He argues that “[k]eeping
the labels conceptually separate enables us to describe the nature of the overlaps and the
particular hybridity” which are found in various situations, for example the mathematics
classroom. Snow and Brinton (1988:555) also point out that “a focus on critical writing and
thinking skills appears to be a top (if not the top) priority in the university language
curriculum”. Thus, for the purposes of the current study, the term „academic literacy‟ will
refer almost exclusively to the reading, writing and thinking abilities (with some reference to
speaking and listening abilities) necessary to succeed in a tertiary environment.
Students entering tertiary institutions without the necessary academic literacy abilities to
succeed in their studies is a problem not only in South Africa, but also internationally.
According to Raphan and Moser (1993/1994), many students in the United States of America
do not have the necessary reading, writing, speaking and listening abilities to succeed in a
tertiary environment. Nevertheless, they state that American universities are still accepting
these students, even though this lack of academic literacy abilities might well doom such
students to failure. Once these under-prepared students are accepted into tertiary institutions,
lecturers are often horrified to find that their students never learned at secondary school how
to write expository texts – the genre that is used most often in an academic environment
(Martin, Peters, Clyne, Borel de Bitche, Eagleson, Maclean, Nelson & Smith, 1985). Thus,
lecturers seem to expect that students at secondary school level are exposed to and have
mastered the kind of writing that they would have to engage in at tertiary level. However, this
is unfortunately not the case, as most of the writing practised at secondary school often
consists of genres such as creative writing – genres that are seldom used at tertiary level.
Snow and Brinton (1988:553) also highlight the escalating problem that American colleges
and universities face due to underprepared students entering tertiary institutions. According to
these authors, students are entering higher education without vital skills such as being able to
synthesise oral and written material, and without being able to express themselves clearly in
writing. Ostler (1980) mentions other weaknesses that students have at university level such
as inefficient note-taking skills and poor performance when writing certain types of
examinations. The above difficulties are often experienced by both first-language and secondlanguage speakers. Second-language speakers usually have to struggle with additional
difficulties. For example, second-language speakers of English generally struggle with being
concise in their writing, often over-specify their theses, and have limited abilities when it
comes to using “linguistic devices to engage their readers‟ attention and help their readers
identify the participants, objects, and events about which they write” (Scarcella, 1984:671).
Johns (1991) mentions several reasons for the difficulties EAL students experience, such as
students choosing fields of study that require little writing and having had little writing
practice in EAL classes focused on grammar acquisition. Furthermore, poor language
proficiency in additional languages used as languages of instruction can influence academic
success. South African lecturers experience the same phenomenon, but as is the case with
their international counterparts, usually do not have the time, energy or language background
to try to rectify (or alleviate) this problem. In addition, lecturers may see academic literacy as
a „gift‟ – a talent that a student has, or will never have, and which therefore cannot
significantly be changed positively by means of an intervention by educators. Others believe
that the language and writing abilities needed by students are developed sufficiently at
school, and hold the consequent belief that if this was not done, it is due to “a failure of the
schooling system, and is not a legitimate concern of the academe” (Moore, 1998:84). It is
therefore seen as a passing crisis that, at worst, requires some sort of temporary remediation.
Furthermore, lecturers are usually not equipped to deal with inadequate language abilities,
since the characteristics of academic discourse are seen as being self-evident (Misselhorn,
1997). Thus, lecturers often do not understand why students have difficulties with academic
discourse, and consequently do not know how to help them. Although it might be true that
each person has a certain potential, and that not all people will be able to achieve the same
level of academic success, Rosenthal (1996) points out that proficiency in a language is not
always measured by intelligence, academic ability or motivation. Rather, it is something that
can be practised and improved over time. Eskey (1983) also points out that although some
students will naturally acquire the abilities they need to succeed at tertiary level, lecturers
cannot assume that this will always be the case. The majority of learners still need guidance,
and even explicit instruction, in acquiring the academic literacy abilities necessary to succeed
in their studies.
Academic literacy is certainly not confined to adequate oral communication. In fact, there is
often a misconception that if students understand a language and can communicate orally in
that language, it is enough for them to succeed in their studies. Therefore, the perception
might exist that oral proficiency translates naturally into the ability to read and write at an
advanced level. Sometimes faculties do require their students to attend a short English or
academic literacy course, and feel that this should be enough to enable students to succeed in
their studies. However, as Eskey (1983:319) points out, “acquiring a minimum
communicative competence is not the be-all and end-all of [additional] language learning.
That‟s only the beginning of many of our problems”. Another common misconception is that
only students who speak English as an additional language (mainly black students, in the
South African context) struggle with the academic literacy demands of higher education.
Again, this is not true – as Snow and Brinton (1988) point out, both language minority and
language majority students enter American universities without the necessary academic
literacy abilities to succeed in their studies. Although it is dangerous to make the assumption
that what is valid for one context might be true for another (in this case, the United States of
America and South Africa), personal experience indicates that the same problem (of first and
additional language speakers being unprepared for the academic literacy demands of tertiary
education) exists in South African universities (see also, for instance, van Rensburg &
Weideman [2002] and Weideman [2003b]).
Snow and Brinton (1988:554) point out the low retention rates of specifically language
minority students4 at university level. Retention rates refer to “whether a student continues in
study until completion, and includes those who have successfully completed a tertiary
qualification” (Ministry of Education, undated). One way that retention rates might be
increased is by improving students‟ academic literacy levels. Due to the vast numbers of
underprepared minority and majority language speakers entering universities, the existence of
academic literacy courses has become a necessity, not only in South Africa, but also
internationally. The existence of many such courses at universities clearly indicates that
universities see them as having the potential to contribute to a solution that could address low
retention and throughput rates. Pretorius and Bohlmann (2003) also argue that students‟
reading abilities, for example, benefit from explicit instruction. Thus, if students are explicitly
taught abilities such as reading in an academic literacy course, and such explicit teaching
improves students‟ academic literacy, the hope is that such abilities would transfer to other
subjects, which would ultimately improve students‟ performance in other subjects as well.
For the purposes of the current study, all EAL speakers are seen to fall under this category, even though they
might be part of a language majority group. Although English is a minority language in South Africa, it is the
principal language of education, since it is regarded by many as South Africa‟s lingua franca.
This is unfortunately not always the case with generic academic literacy courses (due to
reasons such as lack of student motivation and unclear relevance to other courses, as is
argued in Section 2.4.1), and consequently this study argues for English for Specific Purposes
(ESP) courses, which are discussed in Section 2.4.
The question that now arises is what exactly should be taught in academic literacy courses.
Eskey (1983:322) states that “[e]ven in this age of facilitating learning, humanistic
interacting, and coexisting with error, giving students what they need is still what good
teaching is all about.” He further describes the debate regarding formalist and activist
positions in language learning; formalist focusing on the forms of language – essentially the
grammar, and activist focusing on the activity of language – how learners meaningfully use a
language. Eskey (1983:319) points out that “[w]e used to believe that if students learned the
forms, communication would somehow take care of itself. Now we seem to believe that if
students somehow learn to communicate, mastery of the forms will take care of itself”. I
suggest that for true fluency as well as accuracy, formalist and activist positions of language
must be combined – learners must be both fluent and accurate to finally succeed in the very
demanding tertiary academic environment. Taylor (1990), for example, suggests a variety of
abilities that readers of texts in almost any subject field need to acquire to be successful: they
need to identify the discourse topic; distinguish between important and unimportant ideas;
follow a sequence of directions or logical ideas; draw inferences and conclusions; and finally,
extract the gist of a passage. Horowitz (1986) cites some of the most frequent writing tasks at
university level, including synthesising multiple sources, connecting theory and data,
summarising or reacting to a text, and reporting on a participatory experience. Neither mere
fluency nor mere accuracy could, independently, be enough to help students succeed at these
tasks. How, for example, can a student follow a sequence of logical ideas if that student does
not understand the specialized vocabulary often used to indicate such sequences, and the
correct way of using such vocabulary? Furthermore, how can a student synthesise multiple
sources without fluency of language in addition to a control of the grammatical structures
used to combine and show relations between information? This implies that academic literacy
courses must strive to improve both fluency and accuracy. By emphasising both of these,
many more students are likely to receive from the course „what they need‟ (cf. Eskey, 1983),
and the course is also much more likely to be varied enough not to become repetitive, and to
stay interesting.
Thus far, I have indicated that a large number of students enter higher education without
sufficiently developed academic literacy abilities to succeed in this environment. I have not,
however, made explicit the influence that the abilities focused on in typical academic literacy
courses might have on improving students‟ throughput in other subjects – especially subjects
that are not usually seen to be connected with language, such as science, mathematics, and
business related subjects.
Reading seems to be the ability that has the greatest direct influence on students‟ success in
other subjects. However, Phillips (2004) states that many science or mathematics teachers
feel that reading is not really valuable in their subjects. “They treat with disbelief the notion
that without the necessary reading skills, the students cannot cope with the demands of their
subjects” (Phillips, 2004:6). In a study by Pretorius and Bohlmann (2003:234), the authors
argue that:
[m]athematical discourse is characterised by a high level of abstraction and conceptual
density (...), as well as by precision, conciseness and lack of ambiguity. Mathematics texts are
also hierarchical and cumulative. (...) A mathematics reader needs to interact with the text, be
alert and attentive, integrate information across the text, be sensitive to comprehension failure
as soon as it happens, and know what to do when it occurs.
Phillips (2004) also cites studies which indicate that there is a positive correlation between a
knowledge of low frequency words and academic success. These studies (and others, such as
those described in Pretorius and Bohlmann [2003]) show that students who do not read a lot
have lower vocabulary levels since they hardly ever come in contact with low frequency
words. This consequently makes them weaker students than their counterparts who read more
frequently (Phillips, 2004). According to Ulijn and Salager-Meyer (1998), many researchers
argue that the development of reading ability cannot be accomplished without vocabulary
strategy training, since vocabulary knowledge is an essential component of reading
Pretorius and Bohlmann (2003) show the broader implications of poor reading. According to
them, “[p]oor reading leads to a cycle of failed outcomes, poor marks, low self-esteem and
high drop-out and failure rates” (Pretorius & Bohlmann, 2003:235). They emphasise the
importance of drawing students who come from backgrounds with minimal literacy practices
into the world of reading, and teaching them how to construct meaning from textual clues.
The difficulty is that most weak readers believe that they are, in fact, average readers
(Pretorius & Bohlmann, 2003). In exposing weak readers to the world of reading, one would
have to be careful not to demotivate students even further. A course in which students are
taught to read would have to be enjoyable and relevant to their needs of accessing
information – the focus would have to be less on „learning to read‟, and more on information
gathering and processing. It seems as though this would be easiest to achieve if the reading
material used in the course were relevant to students‟ fields of study.
Clearly, adequate reading abilities are vital for success in any subject. Reading, however, is
only one part of academic literacy. Students are, ultimately, expected to display their
knowledge by means of writing. The causal relationship between reading and writing is a
very strong one. Pretorius and Bohlmann (2003:229) argue that “[p]roblems experienced at
the receptive level ([e.g.] the reading of mathematics) will affect the productive level ([e.g.]
writing, discussing)”. Thus, if a student is weak at the receptive level, the productive level
will most probably suffer. White (1988) cites an example of students who had to write down
only the relevant aspects of a certain scientific specimen. This implies that students first had
to identify what was relevant (by means of reading), and subsequently had to produce this
understanding by writing a summary. These students were not sure how to organise their
writing effectively, which was consequently reflected in the stylistic coherence of their
writing (White, 1988). One reason for their difficulty in writing the summary was probably
because they did not understand the original information. Had they understood this
information, they could have used the organisational structure of the text as a template for
their own summaries. Most subjects require students to take from a plethora of information
only the relevant, and to produce this in a structured manner in either an assignment or
examination. However, if students already struggle at the receptive level, the productive level
is very likely to be typical of the incoherent written texts that many lecturers are faced with
daily. In addition, there is strong evidence that reading for pleasure “increases general
knowledge and conceptual development, improves syntactic knowledge and deepens readers‟
awareness of text structure and the conventions of written language” (Pretorius & Bohlman,
Of course, if writing is seen as merely instrumental, and students‟ writing difficulties are
simply defined “in terms of errors of grammar and syntax, which can be solved by closer
attention to the relevant rules” (Moore, 1998:84), few lecturers outside of English
departments are likely to see writing as a vital part of academic literacy. However, if writing
is seen as a process “which consolidates – and even advances – thought and learning in
unique ways” (Moore, 1998:85), then this ability becomes much more important in an
academic literacy context. Odell (1992:86) also stresses that “writing is not only a means of
articulating existing ideas (...) but also a process of formulating those ideas, constructing
meaning, [and] discovering what one wishes to say” which is done “by critically interpreting,
modifying, synthesising and communicating the information available in appropriate ways”
(Kuanda, Allie, Buffler & Inglis, 1998:180). It becomes an instrument to guide and focus
thought and learning, even “a vehicle for advanced learning” in addition to being “the means
by which students are assessed, and the principal medium by which the discipline is
constituted” (Moore, 1998:100). It is therefore important that lecturers understand the
importance of writing, and use it optimally as a teaching tool.
2.1.2 Academic literacy for speakers of English as an additional language at tertiary
level in South Africa
Rosenthal (1996:11) describes the United States of America‟s challenges regarding
immigrants and refugees who need to learn English for university purposes. South Africa has
a similar problem, but here, immigrants and refugees represent a very small fraction of
students who are not sufficiently proficient in English to succeed in their studies. In South
Africa, it is the overarching majority of native South Africans who speak English as a second,
third, or fourth language who have to study in this lingua franca. In many cases, students‟
poor level of proficiency in this additional language of instruction influences their academic
The situation in South Africa is often more problematic than in countries like the United
States of America, where the international students (who need EAP courses the most) can be
described as the “crème de la crème of their countries” (Holden, 1993:1770). These students
are often well supported financially (be it by means of bursaries or own finances), tend to be
very hard working, and have a strong academic foundation (Rosenthal, 1996:17). In South
Africa, the typical student in need of academic literacy support has a different profile. The
student is likely to come from a poor economic background, and is even more likely to come
from a poor literacy background (especially in terms of a reading culture). A South African
student might come from a language majority group, but still have to study in a minority
language in his/her own country. Having to acquire academic discourse at Anglophone
institutions can make non-native speakers feel very marginalised (Belcher & Braine, 1995),
regardless of how representative they might be of the entire student population5. South
African students, more often than not, have the additional barrier of inadequate finances,
often with entire families contributing so that a student can study at university. In addition to
the above difficulties, ODL students are not always the top students in the country – at best,
they might have been the „crème de la crème‟ of a small rural village, and come to university
with unrealistic expectations of their abilities when compared to the expectations of
universities. Often, these students have a very weak academic foundation, and lack the basic
knowledge and abilities lecturers would expect of university students. Collett (2002:17)
confirms that students coming from “relatively deprived secondary school [environments are]
more likely to be poorly prepared for higher education studies, and to lack adequate learning
and self management skills”.
The reasons for students having a weak academic foundation by the time they get to
university are numerous. The greatest reason might be that most students are educated in
English from an early age, even though the majority of these students use English as an
additional language. This is despite the supposed „right‟ that students have to be educated in
any official South African language – a „right‟ which is rarely realised due to the lack of
schools teaching through the medium of black African languages. Even if students do have
access to schools where teaching occurs in their mother tongues, non-English parents often
want their children to be educated in English (De Klerk, 1999). According to Delpit (1995),
parents often believe that their children need to be educated in the majority language or
dialect of a country, since this would help their children to succeed in such a society. In the
case of South Africa, parents often want their children to be educated in English, since this is
the language of power in the current South African society. Unfortunately, rather than
guaranteeing their children‟s success, parents might disempower their children by insisting on
them being educated in an additional language. Research has shown that it is much more
difficult to acquire an additional language at a sophisticated level (i.e. the level necessary for
tertiary education) if one is not completely proficient in one‟s first language (Cummins, 1979;
Cummins & Swain, 1986; Bennett, 1999). Thus, if a child is not educated in his/her mother
It should be noted that this study does not suggest that the multilingual nature of many students in South Africa
is a hindrance to academic success. Although it is true that students can feel marginalised at Anglophone
universities, being multilingual could also be considered to be a great strength, as it empowers students to
function within different contexts.
tongue, it becomes much more difficult for that child later on to become a fluent and
proficient additional language user. In addition, the South African secondary school system
has been widely accused of not developing the language and reasoning abilities that students
need to succeed beyond secondary level. Moyo, Donn and Hounsell (1997) believe that the
increase of academic development programmes (such as tutorial support, access courses and
foundation courses) are indicative of how educationally disadvantaged students are due to
derisory secondary schooling.
Universities cannot afford to use inadequate secondary schooling as an excuse for a reduced
number of graduates. On the contrary, it is vital that the number of young South African
graduates be increased (as is the case world-wide), since the demand for graduates is greater
than ever before in today‟s knowledge-based society, where socio-cultural and economic
development are vital (Unesco, 1998). “[K]nowledge and the processing of information will
be the key driving forces for wealth creation and thus social and economic development”
(Ministry of Education, 2001). Currently, there are widespread shortages in South Africa “in
the science and economic-based fields, and especially in information technology,
engineering, technological and technical occupations” (Ministry of Education, 2001). Also,
graduation rates across all fields remain at an unacceptably low level (Pityana, 2002:4).
Since there are too few graduates (especially from previously disadvantaged backgrounds) in
these fields, the Government is willing to invest considerable amounts of money into
programmes aimed at increasing throughput rates in such fields. These programmes would,
however, have to be aimed at raising the actual performance of graduates, and not just serve
as a front whilst standards are being dropped. The Department of Education has made it clear
that universities may not drop their standards. Support programmes have to be put in place to
address inequalities in another way (Ministry of Education, 2001).
There is furthermore a clear shift in employment patterns in South Africa, which will have to
be addressed by universities, “as this is the sector responsible for producing professionals
with high level qualifications. The implications for student learning are clear. Those
occupations which require higher order intellectual and personal skills are going to be
increasingly in demand” (Collett, 2002:19). If South African higher education can cater for
developing such higher order intellectual and personal skills, it will be able to better
contribute to meeting the country‟s human resource needs (Collett, 2002). Obviously, the
economy of the country will benefit if universities can produce graduates with the necessary
skills and knowledge to contribute to this knowledge-based society. In addition to the
economic gain caused by a higher throughput rate, universities would also gain financially,
since 20% of all students drop out of the higher education system annually, representing a
loss of R1.3 billion in government subsidy (Ministry of Education, 2001).
The higher order skills which students need to control in a knowledge-based society cannot
be attained without a high level of academic literacy, and academic literacy cannot be
attained without adequate language proficiency. In fact, Collett (2002) argues that language is
the most basic tool for building academic literacy, and that lacking “basic formal language
knowledge and competencies necessarily precludes students from engaging meaningfully in
academic discourse” (Collett, 2002:103).
Although it is vital that South African students attain an acceptable level of academic
literacy, it must be remembered that not even the most comprehensive EAP programme can
ensure that students will be fully prepared for the academic classroom (Rosenthal, 1996).
According to Rosenthal (1996), several studies show that the academic language proficiency
needed to be successful in the classroom (see the discussion of Cognitive Academic
Language Proficiency [CALP] in Section 2.3) can take anything from five to seven years to
develop. Therefore, although academic literacy courses are clearly necessary in the current
South African situation for a majority of students with inadequate language abilities, these
courses cannot be expected to rectify all problems that students experience. Rather, these
courses should support students in acquiring the strategies to further develop their own
academic literacy as they continue with their studies. The courses can also serve as a safe
environment to empower students who need to study in an additional language at tertiary
level (one factor which, according to Hutchings [1998], makes their adaptation to the tertiary
environment very difficult). The most that an academic literacy course can aim to achieve is
to make students aware of their own reading, writing and thinking habits, and thereby change
literacy practices.
2.1.3 The difficulty of teaching academic literacy at an ODL institution
Generally, the word that stands out most in the term „open and distance learning‟ is
„distance‟. This distance, and its accompanying isolation, have often been thought to be
definitive of studying at an institution like UNISA. Yet, “from a social constructivist point of
view, learning is mediated by interaction between learners and between learner and teacher”
(Collett, 2002:31). Holmberg (1986) also stresses how important a personal approach to
communication is in distance education. Specifically language proficiency is very difficult to
acquire in isolation, since language is such a socially mediated process. Although UNISA, as
an ODL institution, does offer language courses, contact with tutors and other learners is
scarce, and it could be argued that this would seriously impede the acquisition of language,
since there is no (or very little) immediate feedback from which the learner can learn.
It would then seem as though personal contact between teacher (or in the case of UNISA,
tutor) and learner, and between learner and learner is the ideal way of acquiring language,
and ultimately academic literacy. The UNISA Academic Literacies Centres are an excellent
platform for students who wish to improve their academic literacy, since several workshops
are held each week where academic literacy can be acquired in a social context, with
immediate feedback from a tutor. One stumbling block is that, although this is a free service,
it is also a voluntary service. In a study by Collett (2002), the majority of the participants
believed that their academic reading and writing abilities were adequate for them to succeed
at tertiary level (whilst in fact, the results indicated that EFL students were generally better
equipped to succeed at higher education than EAL learners) (also see Coetzee-Van Rooy and
Verhoef [2000] for a discussion on students‟ perceptions of their English proficiency,
specifically the discrepancy between students‟ perceived and actual reading abilities). As
long as students believe their language abilities to be of an acceptable standard, they will
probably not seek help offered to them. Collett‟s (2002) study also indicates that students do
not engage deeply with the learning process, which according to him weakens their claims
that their academic literacy is at an acceptable level. The superficial view that students often
have of language and its necessity to succeed in higher education might be their greatest
barrier in improving in this field, especially because distance learners have so little contact
with lecturers, tutors and fellow students, and are therefore rarely able to measure themselves
against their peers, or receive feedback from teachers.
Other obstacles for teaching academic literacy in a distance education setting include what
Keegan (1986:44) calls the “quasi-permanent absence of the learning group”, meaning that
the group of students one works with never remains constant. This makes it difficult to work
on larger themes within a series of academic literacy workshops, such as those presented by
UNISA‟s Reading and Writing Centres, and thus becomes a challenge when certain abilities
need to build upon each other.
Another difficulty is that many students entering distance education come from a deprived
economic background, which almost always goes hand in hand with deprived secondary
educational experiences. These students often do not have the finances and/or the necessary
entrance marks to be accepted at residential institutions, and thus by necessity choose
distance education. While many students at residential universities already have difficulties
with learning and self management skills, this becomes even more difficult for the distance
learner due to “the increased onus on students to manage their own studies in this mode of
study” (Collett, 2002:17).
Collett‟s study shows that although UNISA appears to be an „open‟ educational institution at
surface level, there seems to be very little true engagement between student, lecturer and
institution at a deeper level – a necessity for true „open‟ education. To transcend this
superficial engagement, contact between student, teacher and institution has to be established
in some way – preferably by means of contact classes. Although such classes in a distance
education environment bring along their own set of obstacles, they still seem necessary for
meaningful engagement with a subject, and specifically with academic literacy.
Collaborative learning
2.2.1 Defining collaborative learning
The formal lecture has almost always been the hallmark of the type of teaching provided by
universities. In fact, an over-reliance on this method of teaching has been one of the most
constant criticisms against the quality of teaching at tertiary institutions (Stewart &
McCormack, 1997). It is possibly as a response to such criticisms that universities have used
group discussion for a long time in the form of tutorial classes that form part of courses
(Misselhorn, 1997). These classes are usually meant to supplement and improve students‟
learning in a subject, and are generally voluntary. The purpose of such classes is normally to
give students a platform to discuss matters freely with each other and with a tutor, and to take
ownership of their own learning. Unfortunately, tutorial classes often revert to a lecturing
mode, which may inhibit students from true participation (Misselhorn, 1997), and may thus
fail their original purpose, namely to give students the opportunity to collaborate in their own
Kohonen (1992) distinguishes between individual, competitive, and collaborative work. In
individual work, learners must achieve a pre-set criterion of learning, and can work at their
own pace and space. In competitive work, students still work individually, but in relation to
others to see who is best. In collaborative work, learners have a common goal towards which
an entire small group must work (Kohonen, 1992). Thier and Daviss (2002:75) state that
“successful group work is at least as important as individual performance” in the current
society and economy.
Salmon and Claire (1984:238) define collaborative learning modes more specifically when
stating that these “rest on the assumption that people essentially construct their own
knowledge, and cast what they learn into what makes sense within their own experience”.
This implies that the learner must participate in the learning, not as a passive onlooker, but
actively contributing to, questioning, challenging and ultimately, constructing knowledge.
The best way of doing this is in collaboration with fellow students, as knowledge is always
constructed socially. Biggs (1989) agrees that deep learning is most likely to take place when
there is a lot of learner activity and interaction with other students. This is not only the case
with learning in a general sense, but also with specific skills. For example, research has
shown that writing is not a solitary endeavour in the real world (Murray, 1992). Rather, it is a
social act, where writers ask advice and speak to others about their writing, where managers
and colleagues comment on, add to and change each other‟s reports, letters, etc. all the time.
Collaborative learning should ideally be a form of experiential learning.
[In experiential learning], [i]mmediate personal experience is the focal point for learning,
giving life, texture, and subjective personal meaning to abstract concepts and at the same time
providing a concrete, publicly shared reference point for testing the implications and validity
of ideas created during the learning process (Kolb, 1984:21).
Littlejohn and Windeatt (1989) also suggest that experiential learning (learning through
doing) might exert a more powerful influence than referential learning (learning from
content). If a student is to collaborate in the construction of his/her own knowledge, surely
this would best be done if the student feels as though the knowledge is closely related to
him/her or to his/her world, that it personally impacts on the student. An ideal way of doing
this seems to be exploring the knowledge in the social environment of a small group, where
one can actively engage with the knowledge as one would in the „real world‟, thus in
collaboration with others. Kohonen (1992) also points out that such experience would
ultimately have to be reflected upon, and once again, this is a much easier task if one has the
immediate feedback of other students who are also in the process of reflecting and
internalising the same knowledge. It must be kept in mind though that not all students
function well in groups, and although collaborative learning has great potential in helping
students engage more actively with subject matter, all students‟ learning style preferences
must be kept in mind when developing material for any subject. As Felder and Silverman
(1988:675) note, “[t]he addition of a relatively small number of teaching techniques to an
instructor‟s repertoire should (...) suffice to accommodate the learning styles of every student
in the class”).
Academic literacy is generally seen as comprising a complex mixture of reading, listening,
writing and speaking. It is unlikely that any of these abilities could ever be taught or learnt in
isolation from the others – rather, these abilities can all be integrated effectively by means of
collaborative learning. For example, students collaborating on a written text need to employ
several abilities at once. The process usually starts through oral discussion (Murray, 1992).
At this stage, meaning is negotiated. Students utilise both their listening and speaking
abilities by determining the point of view of fellow students, stating their own viewpoints,
and at the same time reflecting on all viewpoints to decide whether these are valid (DohenyFarina, 1986). Pre-writing and organising abilities can then be developed with a group
deciding on how to best organise information. Although the final written product is often
individual work (Murray, 1992), even this can be done successfully in small groups. More
general language issues such as providing sound arguments and structuring of the text, as
well as surface editing (Murray, 1992) can then be improved by having students with
different strengths work on a text. Such „editing‟ can occur either orally or in written form. If
the text is to be presented to a larger group, more formal oral and listening abilities can also
be developed. Certainly, this is a much richer experience than one student writing a text, or a
lecturer providing a few hasty comments. Reading and comprehension skills can also be
improved significantly if students analyse a text in a group context. Each student will use
his/her own background knowledge and individually acquired skills when reading a text, but
when this is done in collaboration with others, students can practically acquire a range of new
abilities when it comes to reading a text. From personal experience, students in groups have
been observed managing what few would think possible, and what would have been very
difficult to achieve alone, thanks to the process of negotiating meaning and exploring a topic
with others.
Clearly, students can learn a lot from each other. Does this mean that students should be left
to their own devices in such a context? It certainly seems as though a group can construct
more knowledge in a collaborative setting than would be possible in student-teacher
interaction alone. I do however believe that a teacher should be present to guide students and
facilitate the process, if necessary. Misselhorn (1997) has shown that students prefer the
presence of an authority figure, be it tutor or lecturer (also see McAllister [1995] and Stewart
and McCormack [1997]). This not only helps in regulating the interactional aspects of
groups, but also lends authority and legitimacy to the learning process (Misselhorn, 1997).
Murray (1992) also stresses the importance of such a presence, and emphasises that it can
help students develop different skills. He suggests, for example, that the teacher should
“guide students to select leaders and scribes, discuss group interaction techniques, provide
sufficient time over an extended period, and have students produce written drafts throughout
the process” (Murray, 1992:115). If an authority figure is present to guide the learning
process in this manner, students are less likely to get stuck in a comfort zone of always
performing the same task, and students stay stimulated as a result of the expectations of the
Rosenthal (1996:74) states that “many minority students prefer global rather than sequential
learning, do better in a supportive rather than a competitive classroom environment, and learn
more when working collaboratively/cooperatively rather than competitively”. The next
section examines the importance of learning styles.
2.2.2 Learning styles
All learners are different, and consequently learners learn in different ways (Willing, 1988).
Learning styles can be defined as “they ways in which an individual characteristically
acquires, retains, and retrieves information” (Felder & Henriques, 1995:21). Learning styles
are generally seen as habits (thus formed by means of social conditioning), biological
attributes playing a more minor role (Claxton & Murrell, 1987; Keefe, 1987; More, 1989;
Scarcella, 1990; Bennett, 1999). Factors such as schooling and culture seem to have a far
more significant influence on learning styles (Rosenthal, 1996).
Since socialisation plays a major role in the formation of learning styles, it follows logically
that certain cultural groups prefer certain kinds of learning (Rosenthal, 1996). In a Western
culture which often emphasises competitiveness, for example, it is likely that a person would
prefer a more individualistic style of learning that is conducive to competition. Rosenthal
(1996:85) states that many women and minorities prefer a more collaborative mode of
classroom instruction and “a more supportive classroom atmosphere.” Misselhorn (1997)
argues that black South African students generally prefer to learn by means of group
discussion. This is critical for the current study. When developing learning material, it is
important to consider Nunan‟s (1992) suggestion that differences in learning styles must be
reflected at a methodological level. Thus, when developing learning material for black South
African students, one would have to include a significant number of collaborative tasks,
where students can learn by means of their preferred learning style.
In addition to certain cultural groups preferring certain kinds of learning, it would seem that
certain subjects are best acquired through specific learning styles. Nunan (1992) argues that
language is best acquired through tasks where students have to negotiate meaning, and where
there is interaction. Rosenthal (1996) also states that limited English proficiency students
learn better by means of collaborative learning. The reason for this might be because such
students already feel as though they are at a disadvantage. They might become very anxious
in a competitive environment (Rosenthal, 1996), which is not conducive to language learning.
Learning in a group where a shared outcome is strived for and where learning occurs through
socialisation might reduce much of this anxiety, and thus promote language acquisition.
From the arguments above, it seems as though a collaborative learning style might be
specifically beneficial to black South African students in an academic literacy course. Not
only do many of these students seem inclined to a collaborative learning style (due to the
cultures they have been socialised into), but as limited language proficiency students, the
research also suggests that a collaborative environment might be more advantageous to them.
There is a further factor that might make collaborative learning a desirable method of
teaching and learning. Kohonen (1992:22) states that “there is consistent evidence to suggest
that learning attitude and motivation are important predictors of achievement”. Rosenthal
(1996) argues that students‟ affective filters (i.e. their emotions, motivation and anxiety) are
influenced by classroom conditions; for example, continuously correcting additional language
errors will raise the affective filter of EAL students, while a classroom environment that
encourages self-confidence and reduces anxiety will lower students‟ affective filters. Both
language acquisition and content learning will increase if students‟ affective filters are
lowered (Schinke-Llano & Vicars, 1993; Florez & Burt, 2001; Lightbown, 2001; Garcia,
2003). Hutchinson and Waters (1987:129) further state that since learning is an emotional
experience, it is necessary to develop positive emotions rather than negative ones, by
“making „interest‟, „fun‟, [and] „variety‟ primary considerations in materials and
methodology”. Learning in a collaborative environment – if facilitated correctly – can be
enjoyable. Students can laugh, socialise, and would rarely become bored, since collaborative
and experiential learning allow for a wide variety of language tasks. Enjoying a class would
certainly raise the motivation of learners to learn, and few (if any) students would have a
negative attitude towards a subject which has enjoyable classes.
On the other hand, forcing students to make use of a learning style that is contrary to their
preference could have detrimental consequences. Rosenthal (1996:89) suggests that
“[i]ncompatibility of learning style (...) may influence students in their choice of a major”.
This could be disastrous in science-related fields, specifically in South Africa where there is a
desperate need for black students to become qualified in such fields. These students generally
come from a culture of ubuntu6, and might ultimately choose against science, not because
they do not have the potential to succeed, but because the learning (and teaching) styles
Ubuntu can be defined as follows:
[A] metaphor that describes group solidarity where such group solidarity is central to the survival of
communities (…), where the fundamental belief is that motho ke motho ba batho ba bangwe (…) which,
literally translated, means a person can only be a person through others. In other words the individual‟s
whole existence is relative to that of the group (Mokgoro, 1998:16).
traditionally associated with science related fields can provide yet another obstacle to
students who already need to overcome much in a Western-centric learning environment. If
one of these obstacles, namely becoming academically proficient in English, is then also
taught in a style incompatible with their preferred learning style, this secondary obstacle may
further discourage students from science related fields of study.
In spite of the arguments in favour of collaborative learning, Rosenthal (1996) points out that
not all individuals in a culture will have the same learning style. Witkin, Moore, Goodenough
and Cox (1977) mention that although learning styles are usually stable over time, they are
alterable. It is important not to exchange one learning style for another completely, but rather
to expose students to a variety of styles, so that firstly, no students‟ preferences are ignored,
and secondly, so that students can get used to a variety of learning styles. Students should
have at least some exposure to a variety of instruction methods to acquire a full range of
learning strategies, as they will at some point “be called upon to deal with problems and
challenges that require the use of their less referred modes” (Felder & Henriques, 1995:28).
For students to be successful in diverse working environments, they will have to be able to
adapt their learning styles, and acquire a variety of learning styles, to succeed in the long run.
2.2.3 The benefits of collaborative learning with regard to language acquisition
Collaborative learning has several advantages, for educational institutions and students alike.
Letting students work collaboratively means that less interaction is necessary with a teacher.
To ensure quality education in traditional classes, the teacher would have to individually
interact with each student at some point during the class for the student to receive feedback
on work done during the class. In large classes, this becomes impossible. With collaborative
learning, the teacher only acts as a guide and facilitator, whilst students receive feedback
from peers. The teacher is still there to give students guidelines on the type of feedback that
should be given and to answer questions, but the onus is on the students themselves to
become critical of their own and others‟ work. Thus, in this context, it becomes possible to
provide quality education in larger classes. Misselhorn (1997:217) confirms that small-group
work is increasingly viewed as an effective strategy for dealing with “the problem of
increasing student numbers, in the face of the escalating costs of tertiary education, and the
resultant need to use the services of teaching staff ever more effectively”.
Using collaborative learning merely to decrease the costs of education would be unethical if
there were not advantages for the learners as well. However, numerous advantages for
students are reported by several researchers. One such advantage is that “[s]tudents routinely
attain higher levels of subject matter learning when they work in groups” (Magney, 1996:2).
In a study by Stevens, Madden, Slavin and Farnish (1987), the researchers found that students
learning through a collaborative style performed considerably better in reading
comprehension, decoding, language mechanics, vocabulary, writing, spelling and language
expression than their counterparts receiving traditional instruction. Bejarano (1987) also
found that small-group methods were much more effective in foreign language teaching than
the whole-class method. Although most students at UNISA are not foreign language learners,
often the division between additional language learning and foreign language learning is
vague at best. Many South African students grow up in rural areas where they have little
contact with English outside of the classroom (and even there, the quality of English used is
often poor), and hardly ever speak it, and thus for all practical purposes could be considered
foreign language learners. It could thus be inferred that Bejarano‟s (1987) findings would
also apply to teaching some South African additional language learners of English.
Other advantages include increased intrinsic motivation and enjoyment (Kohonen, 1992;
Magney, 1996), increased self-confidence (Kohonen, 1992; Misselhorn, 1997), developing a
critical perspective by discovering another writer‟s point of view (Murray, 1992), improved
negotiation of meaning (McGrath, 2002), building on existing social relationships and
improved socialisation (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987; Magney, 1996; Misselhorn, 1997),
improved teamwork (Magney, 1996; McGrath, 2002), taking on various roles such as that of
leader or scribe (Murray, 1992), improved learning by observation (McGrath, 2002), an
increased focus on process instead of product (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987), improved
exploratory (spontaneous and informal) and presentational (structured, formal) speech (Thier
& Daviss, 2002), and contextualised learning (Misselhorn, 1997).
The benefits of collaborative learning are not necessarily automatic. Kohonen (1992) cites the
interdependence; individual accountability; abundant face-to-face interaction; sufficient
social skills; and team reflection. Morrow (1981:62) adds that in real life, participants almost
always have different knowledge, and that the purpose of communication is to “bridge this
information gap”. This should be kept in mind when developing truly communicative and
collaborative exercises for the language classroom. It is thus necessary to be careful when
going about designing collaborative learning activities, and vital to guide students in this
often unfamiliar type of learning, rather than believing that the benefits of this learning style
would materialise automatically (also see Felder and Henriques, 1995).
Though it is often easy to forget that students attend tertiary institutions to prepare them for
the world of work, it is necessary for lecturers and tutors to remind themselves that their
purpose is in fact to prepare students for this „life after studies‟. This is equally, if not more,
true for language teachers. As Murray (1992:100) argues, “[i]f we want to ensure that our
ESL [English Second Language] writing classes prepare students for their life outside the
classroom, we must give them opportunities to experience collaborative writing”. Such
opportunities may enable students to fully function as writers and language users outside of
the English classroom, and also outside of the tertiary environment.
Traditionally, methodology in the science classroom has been aimed at independent and
competitive learners. Felder and Silverman (1988:674) point out that if students are forced to
use learning styles that are contrary to their own, they are likely to “become bored and
inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about the courses, the curriculum, and
themselves, and in some cases change to other curricula or drop out of school” (also see
Felder and Henriques [1995]). To attract and retain students with other learning styles, one
would have to “include a more student-centred pedagogy, cooperative / collaborative small
group projects, a warmer, more supportive classroom atmosphere, and improved relations and
communication between science faculty and students” (Rosenthal, 1996:89). Admittedly, the
language teacher might not be able to do much about changing the methodology in the
science classroom7, but by creating an environment in the language classroom that suits
students‟ learning styles, students might be more motivated to participate in the language
The exception to this would be in cases where the literacy-as-social-practise approach (based on the new
literacies studies, as discussed in Jacobs, 2005) is followed. She describes (in her 2005 article, as well as in her
1998 dissertation) the integration of academic literacy into subject-specific courses. Although I believe this to be
the ideal way of acquiring academic literacy, this approach was deemed unrealistic in the UNISA context, where
it would be impossible to merge the current learner support approach (of one facilitator per region) with the
hundreds of subjects that would need academic literacy support.
class, resulting in improved academic literacy levels, and ultimately improved reading and
writing abilities outside of the language classroom – all contributing to increased success in
the science classroom.
Already there are projects at major South African universities such as the University of
KwaZulu Natal and the University of Cape Town “which use small-group learning as part of
their efforts to assist second-language students in language and study skills” (Misselhorn,
1997:217). Using Supplemental Instruction (SI) groups at universities like the University of
Fort Hare, North-West University, and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, is also a
longstanding tradition. According to Hartman (1987), such small-group learning leads to
more independent and autonomous learners. Hartman argues that lecturers are often the main
cause of learners‟ intellectual dependence.
In a distance learning environment, it is especially important for learners to be independent
learners. If Hartman is correct, then, contrary to the current practice of learners studying and
acquiring academic literacy in isolation, it is in fact group work that can help these learners
become truly autonomous learners. For UNISA to be the open and distance learning
institution that it claims to be, it would be necessary to cater for students who need this type
of interaction and learning to reach their full potential – and that means more than providing
the occasional tutorial which often reverts to a lecturing scenario. It implies structured and
focused learning through interaction with a tutor, learning material and fellow students.
English for Academic Purposes (EAP)
English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses have become increasingly popular at tertiary
institutions in the past few decades. EAP is generally taught at educational institutions to
students who need English in their studies (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984). Kapp (1994) states
that at the University of Cape Town, the EAP course generally services English secondlanguage students who were classified by an English placement test as at-risk in terms of
coping with the cognitive and linguistic demands of studying at an English-medium
university. Several South African universities have similar courses for students identified as
at-risk by placement tests. The University of Pretoria, the University of Stellenbosh and the
North-West University, for example, present academic literacy courses in both Afrikaans and
English to students.
EAP is also interdisciplinary (Clark, 1998), often accommodating students from faculties as
diverse as the natural sciences and the humanities in the same classroom. The fields of
English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and academic literacy overlap considerably, though
the first focuses on English specifically, and might be argued to be focused more narrowly on
language in particular and its usage for academic success. In the South African context,
mastering English, and more specifically EAP, is vital for students, as only through doing this
are they enabled “to challenge the social and academic environment” (Bock, 1998:54), and
thus become empowered within this environment.
In a country such as South Africa, where English is the lingua franca and most students
entering university can at least speak English fairly fluently, one often erroneously believes
that students will also be able to write proficiently in an academic context8. However,
“conversational English should not be used as a guide for predicting success in the classroom
because the kinds of language skills needed to learn academic subject matter and to carry out
the types of assignments demanded of students are much more complex than those used in
everyday conversation” (Rosenthal, 1996:48). Cummins and Swain (1986) distinguish
between two types of language proficiency. The first type is called BICS – Basic
Interpersonal Communicative Skills – which is contextualised everyday language. The
second is CALP – Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. This type of language is
abstract and generally not related to students‟ everyday life experiences and activities9. CALP
requires language and cognitive skills of a much higher order and far fewer people ever reach
this level of proficiency than is the case with BICS, which most people master without
difficulty. EAP classes usually address CALP. These classes rarely have the function of
„teaching‟ students English. Rather, such classes try to equip students with the specific
cognitive and language abilities they would need to succeed at tertiary level.
In fact, students themselves have been shown to have unrealistic perceptions of their own English proficiency
(see Coetzee-Van Rooy and Verhoef [2000]).
Although criticism has been raised against the BICS/CALP distinction by, amongst others, Edelsky, Hudelson,
Altwerger, Flores, Barkin and Jilbert (1983), Martin-Jones and Romaine (1986), Edelsky (1990) and Wiley
(1996), the distinction remains functional, and is used for the purposes of this study.
The necessity of EAP interventions has become more pronounced with the large numbers of
foreign and additional language speakers entering universities worldwide. This is even more
so in South Africa, where a very small percentage of the population speaks English as a first
language, and where the majority of previously disadvantaged students (almost all of them
English additional language speakers) have only been able to enter the tertiary environment
in the past decade. In fact, those students now busy with their degrees were the first students
to have started their schooling under the new government, supposedly with the same access
to and quality of education as their previously advantaged counterparts, and who are thus
supposed to be fully prepared for tertiary studies. Many university lecturers would insist,
however, that this is not the case. Rosenthal (1996:49) states that “poor test grades,
ungrammatically written assignments and little participation in class discussions do not
necessarily mean that [additional language] students are dumb, lazy, or not studying; rather,
these students may still be developing BICS and/or CALP in English”. Lecturers often have
an unrealistic view of how quickly students are supposed to acquire an acceptable level of
academic language proficiency, and usually feel that a one year course should be more than
enough to bring students up to par. This is, unfortunately, an unrealistic expectation. In fact, it
takes approximately five to seven years to develop CALP (Rosenthal, 1996).
Educators must also be aware that the problem does not necessarily only lie with students‟
English proficiency. Cummins (1980) hypothesises that CALP can be transferred from one
language to another. Therefore, students who have received a good education in their mother
tongue are likely to have less difficulty in acquiring CALP in, for example, English, since the
literacy and cognitive abilities already exist, and merely need to be transferred (Cummins &
Swain, 1986). Similarly, Coetzee-Van Rooy (2000:263) recommends “providing incentives
for South Africans to use their L1 [first language] in as many domains as possible (…)
[resulting in an] improvement of literacy-related (academic) language proficiency in the L1
that would make these skills available to L2 [additional language] contexts”. The problem
with most students who struggle with academic English (specifically in South Africa) is that
they often lack these literacy and cognitive skills in their mother tongues (due to, for
example, a poor schooling background that afforded them little or no opportunities to use
their first language extensively as medium of instruction). It is thus not so much English that
needs to be taught, but the underlying literacy and cognitive abilities that students need to use
English effectively in an academic context. It could be argued that these skills could best be
taught through reading and writing activities that are likely to be found in an academic
In terms of content, the EAP classroom must pay attention to the type of reading and writing
activities students are likely to encounter in academic contexts. Horowitz (1986:449) created
a classification system according to which he classifies student assignments. This includes
seven categories, namely: “summary of/reaction to a reading, annotated bibliography, report
on a specified participatory experience, connection of theory and data, case study, synthesis
of multiple sources, and research project”. One might thus surmise that across faculties, these
categories are those most often expected of students, and should ideally also be the types of
assignments used in the EAP class. Braine (1995:117) points out that though this is one of the
most reliable systems for classifying assignments thus far, it is problematic that Horowitz did
not conduct this study according to disciplines, as “[e]ach discipline is a separate discourse
community with its own writing conventions”. The next section examines why a discipline
specific approach to language learning might be more advantageous than general EAP.
English for Specific Purposes (ESP)
More than 25 years ago, Robinson (1980:1) already described English for Specific Purposes
(ESP) as “one of the most prestigious fashions of recent years”. Today, this is an established
branch of English teaching for both academic and occupational purposes. Snow and Brinton
(1988) state that the interest in content-based approaches to language teaching has grown in
the past years. This is mainly due to the argument that learners need to become part of a
discourse community (academic disciplines have been characterised as being such discourse
communities [Berkenkotter, Huckin & Ackerman, 1991]) to truly become literate10 – a
process which is both social and cognitive (Collett, 2002). According to Berkenkotter et al.
(1991:191), “students entering academic disciplines need a specialised literacy that consists
of the ability to use discipline-specific theoretical and linguistic conventions to serve their
purpose as writers”. Johns (1995) agrees when stating that students are entering a new culture
with two sets of academic rules: a generalised set of rules that apply to all discourses, and a
more specific set of rules that applies to specific disciplines and even individual classrooms.
Also see Jacobs‟ (2005) discussion about the literacy-as-social-practice approach, as well as her arguments
regarding collaborative pedagogy.
Becher (1987:273) confirms that various disciplines “display fundamental differences not
only between types of evidence and procedures for proof, but also (...) in the modes in which
arguments are generated, developed, expressed and reported”. This need to belong to a
discourse community exists for all students - “[e]ven the cognitively very capable student
needs to feel a sense of belonging in a discipline. That sense of belonging comes mostly from
the assurance of other people who belong” (Collett, 2002:237)11. The most effective way of
attaining such assurance is by learning the rules of discourse that set each discipline apart,
and thus becoming a member of that discourse community. As Ballard (1984:43) argues, it is
through written assignments that students are generally “judged” to have become part of a
discourse community or not. Should the student have proven the ability to incorporate the
conventions of a specific discourse, the student will have achieved acceptance into the
discourse community of the specific discipline.
ESP has come a long way since its inception. After the Second World War, scientific,
economic and technical activity grew tremendously. A lingua franca was needed, and
English became accepted widely as the international language of technology and commerce
(Hutchinson & Waters, 1987; Graddol, 2006). Whereas before, learning a new language was
seen as a sign of a well-rounded education, it suddenly became a tool with which to obtain
access to new information, including textbooks and journals, and with which to communicate
with fellow experts in various fields (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). Not much has changed in
the last 60 years. English is still the international language of technology and commerce, and
is still the language most people in the world acquire as an additional language (Graddol,
2006). In an era where „time is money‟, learning a language for the sake of becoming a
„better‟ person is no longer the norm. Rather, students of English learn the language to be
more successful in their field of study or work. To stay relevant to the ever-increasing market
of new English learners, it is vital for universities and other places where languages are learnt
to adapt to the needs of the learners. That is the primary purpose of ESP.
It is important to mention Coetzee-Van Rooy‟s (2006) view of integrative motivation, namely that it is
important to be critical about the idea that EAL learners have a desire to become integrated into the culture of
the language they are learning. However, I agree with Gardner and MacIntyre‟s (1993:158) argument which
explains integrativeness as reflecting “the individual‟s willingness and interest in social interaction with
members of another group”. In the context of this study, students do not necessarily wish to become part of
another culture at the expense of their own. However, I do believe that a student who decides to study in a
specific field has the desire to become a member of that field. Entering such an additional discourse community
does not imply that the students‟ own culture has to be sacrificed. Therefore, this argument should be seen in the
context of gaining access to additional academic discourse communities, rather than choosing another culture
above one‟s own.
After the Second World War, teachers were faced with learners who usually already had
some background knowledge of English, and who had a specific purpose for learning the
language (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984). Many first attempts at ESP courses were disappointing.
There was little, if any attempt to link topics learned in the English classroom to those of
students‟ subject areas and learning styles. The texts used in these courses were often more
appropriate for a literary rather than a scientific audience (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984:7).
Learners were taught grammar in isolation from context beyond that of sentence level, and
methods such as drilling were heavily relied upon, with some subject-specific vocabulary
added haphazardly (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984). Kennedy and Bolitho (1984) also list one
example of an early approach by Herbert where students had to „practise‟ scientific
statements in the form of substitution tables. A later approach was that of creating corpuses of
vocabulary lists, frequently used grammatical patterns, etc. that are common to a specific
discipline (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984). Books such as the Focus Series in the late 1970‟s
were the first to use texts that students actually had to read and write in their studies. The
Focus Series specifically focused on reasoning processes, or functions, such as defining,
classifying, generalising, hypothesising, etc., instead of the traditional grammatical exercises
used before (Allen & Widdowson, 1978). This approach has also been criticised in that it
supposedly replaced grammatical lists with lists of functions (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984).
Currently a more holistic approach to texts is taken in ESP, examining how longer stretches
of language are composed and made sense of, rather than merely isolated functions (Kennedy
& Bolitho, 1984:10).
Although the above might show the origins of ESP, a more concise definition of ESP is
necessary in the context of this study. Robinson (1980:13) defines an ESP course as follows:
[It is a course that is] purposeful and is aimed at the successful performance of occupational
or educational roles. It is based on a rigorous analysis of students‟ needs and should be „tailormade‟. Any ESP course may differ from another in its selection of skills, topics, situations
and functions and also language. It is likely to be of limited duration.
Hutchinson and Waters (1987:19) offer this description of an ESP course:
ESP must be seen as an approach not as a product. ESP is not a particular kind of language or
methodology, nor does it consist of a particular type of teaching material. Understood
properly, it is an approach to language learning, which is based on learner need. The
foundation of all ESP is the simple question: Why does the learner need to learn a foreign
language? (...) ESP, then, is an approach to language teaching in which all decisions as to
content and method are based on the learner‟s reason for learning.
It is important to remember that “ESP is not a matter of teaching „specialised varieties‟ of
English” (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987:18). Just because language is used for a specific
purpose and certain aspects of the target language are often related to a specific subject, does
not mean that a new language is used (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984; Hutchinson & Waters,
1987). Robinson (1980:18) also stresses that one should not try to suggest that one feature,
for example “the type and sequencing of noun adjuncts, is unique to one type of text or that
this one feature uniquely characterizes the text”. Typical features of the specific discourse
may be focused on, even practised more regularly, but the language remains the same.
ESP should also not be reduced to teaching students specialised vocabulary and grammatical
features of a discourse. Students need to be proficient in both performance – “what actually
happens in the „target situation‟” – and competence – “the knowledge and abilities required to
comprehend this” (Hutchinson & Waters, 1981:58). Although the content of learning may be
different in an ESP classroom, it does not imply a separate ESP methodology – rather,
methodologies that could have been applied in any other EAL classroom (and which have
evolved over decades in EAL classrooms) are used in the ESP classroom (Hutchinson &
Waters, 1987). Robinson (1980:70) states that “structural and notional/functional/
communicative approaches have been adopted in the preparation of ESP textbooks”.
Dudley-Evans (1995:310) argues that ESP courses are generally “designed for students with
less than native speaker competence in using the grammatical and lexical system of the
language”. Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) courses, on the other hand, “are usually
designed for native speakers”12. The academic literacy workshop series developed for
students of the UNISA Science Foundation Programme (SFP) is described as an ESP course
for the purposes of this study, and indeed, as Dudley-Evans suggests, none of the students
who attended the workshops in 2007 are native speakers of English. However, since there are
not enough interested mother-tongue English speakers to justify a separate WAC course, this
Marland (1977) mentions two approaches to the curriculation of WAC courses, namely the disseminated
approach and the specialised approach. The disseminated approach argues that language permeates the
curriculum, and that a variety of staff needs to be consistently involved in the teaching thereof, rather than
isolating it by setting aside certain periods on a timetable. The specialised approach argues that if special
provision is not made for separate language classes, this will be neglected and will possibly not be taught at all.
The approach used in the ESP course discussed in this study would therefore be similar to what Marland
describes as a specialised approach.
ESP course is accessible to all UNISA students, whether first, second or foreign language
The next section examines why ESP has become and remained popular during the past few
2.4.1 A justification for ESP
Rosenthal (1996) argues that “[t]raditional ESL instruction does not adequately prepare most
students for mainstream, content-area coursework taught in English”. As a result, ESP
courses have grown tremendously in the past quarter century. Parkhurst (1990) states that
science students are often not prepared for scientific writing in generic writing courses,
because such courses often focus on teaching students basic academic rhetorical modes,
generic academic essays, and models of composing which are often not applicable for
scientific writing. Though Parkhurst specifically focuses on science students here, the same
could be said for students from other faculties. Ostler (1980) discusses a study at the
University of Southern California where students regularly complained that language
(reading and writing) assignments were not useful in their studies, and that they did not need
any more English training. Leki (1995) describes a study in which students described criteria
used by English teachers as only being relevant in the English class, and as being
disconnected from the real world. If students feel that a language class does not meet their
needs, and thus become so demotivated that they do not believe it necessary to study the
language anymore, the language classes they attend may become ineffective. Bridgeman and
Carlson (1984) conducted a survey in which different university departments were asked
what writing demands they had of students, and what the preferred mode of discourse was for
assessing both undergraduate and graduate students. The results indicate that different
departments have different expectations of both these issues. It therefore follows that students
in an EAP class (which often consists of mixed groups of students) would have different
needs, depending on the required writing mode and assessment preferences of their various
departments. Such students might be more motivated if doing an ESP course that they felt
was meeting their specific needs.
One should however take into account findings such as that of Van Rooy and Terblanche (2009) about
differences between L1 and L2 varieties.
Johns (1981) found that faculty had mixed opinions about whether students should rather take
ESP courses, or general English courses, with biosciences and physical sciences leaning
towards general English courses, whereas engineering and mathematics seemed to prefer ESP
courses. Although it might be argued that any language intervention would be beneficial,
especially for first-year students whose language proficiency may be at a low level, one must
remember that student motivation is a very important factor when it comes to optimal
learning, and that motivation alone might serve as adequate justification for ESP courses.
According to Hutchinson and Waters (1987), it is generally assumed that the greater the
evident relevance of the English course to the learners‟ perceived needs, the greater the
students‟ motivation, subsequently increasing students‟ quality and speed of learning.
Proponents of ESP argue that “for successful language learning to occur, the language
syllabus must take into consideration the eventual uses the learner will make of the target
language” (Brinton, Snow & Wesche, 1989:3). Motivation is increased if students believe
that learning English will ultimately enhance employment opportunities (Rosenthal, 1996).
Kroll (1979) found that students did not consider personal essays (the most popular class
assignment in traditional composition classes) relevant to their present, past or future needs.
Rather, business letters of request and persuasion and reports were found much more useful
in this study. Zambo and Cleland (2005) describe a study where great success was reported in
an integrative learning setting where students had to solve real-life problems in which they
had to apply basic skills. They argue that students‟ motivation increased and retention
improved when students had the basic skills necessary to complete authentic tasks. Kroll
(1979) concludes that it would not be difficult to motivate students if they feel that a writing
task has some practical application for them, and that it is rather difficult to motivate students
to “perform writing tasks they consider far removed from the reality of their other courses, to
say nothing of their outside lives” (Kroll, 1979:227).
Love (1991) found that first-year geology students at the University of Zimbabwe often
resorted to rote learning because they did not understand the frames of reference (content
schema) of a particular discipline. This included global structural characteristics as well as
specific lexico-grammatical features of texts. These students largely received their schooling
in English, yet they still struggled with tertiary texts aimed at mother-tongue speakers. In
South Africa, the same situation prevails, but often South African students do not receive
their schooling in English. Especially in the rural areas, few teachers are fully proficient in
English, and thus teaching and learning often occur in a mix of languages in supposed
English schools (see, for example, de Klerk [1999; 2003]). South African students are
therefore even more likely to become reliant on rote learning in an attempt to cope with the
often „foreign‟ texts they are faced with at tertiary level. Thus, if the academic literacy class
at university level uses texts that do not conform (with regard to content schema) to those
texts the students encounter in their other subjects, students may continue to struggle with the
texts they deal with in other subjects, and may experience the academic literacy class as not
meeting their needs. The academic literacy class needs to challenge these students to interact
with texts similar to those that they encounter in their other subjects, and needs to guide
students to acquire the reading, summarising and learning skills to successfully master such
Horowitz (1986) argues that if writing practice is situated in academic contexts, it is more
likely that skills will be transferred to other subjects optimally. This argument can be taken
one step further by not only teaching writing in an academic context (i.e. EAP), but more
specifically in an ESP context, so that students can practically see how they could transfer
skills learned in the ESP class to their other subjects. Rosenthal (1996) states that English as
an additional language is best acquired when the new language is used purposefully. It seems
that the best place for acquiring new language and cognitive skills is in an ESP course, where
the relation to students‟ other subjects is clear. Rosenthal further argues that “many educators
still tend to view ESL instruction as remedial such that ESL courses should be completed and
the English language „mastered‟ before students can enter into the mainstream classroom”
(Rosenthal, 1996:19). Clearly, separating a language course from students‟ other mainstream
courses by expecting students to acquire the language before gaining access to mainstream
courses would be a mistake, as language is a social construct that cannot be optimally
acquired in isolation – not from other students, nor from a purposeful context, preferably the
context of the study field students have chosen.
Some authors remain sceptical of the importance of a subject-specific approach. Hutchinson
and Waters (1987) argue that the difference in vocabulary and grammatical or structural
forms between generic and subject-specific texts is not nearly great enough to justify the use
of subject-specific texts. They claim that the only two reasons for having a subject-specific
approach are face validity (in that materials look relevant) and familiarity with such texts.
However, these two reasons alone should be enough to justify an ESP approach rather than a
generic approach. Even if only the students believe that texts are relevant, this alone could
improve student motivation, and ultimately bring about more effective learning. In addition,
if familiarity makes students feel more comfortable with texts similar to those they encounter
outside of the language classroom, students‟ attitude towards the language class could
certainly be changed for the better. Robinson (1980) makes a useful distinction when arguing
that relevance of material (i.e. that students could use the material and abilities in their other
subjects) might be more important than authenticity of material (i.e. material taken directly
from their study material) in increasing student motivation. Thus, if students can clearly see
how the abilities developed in the ESP class could be applied to other subjects (through
relevant material, though not necessarily completely authentic), optimal learning is much
more likely to occur than if texts were chosen solely on the basis of their authenticity.
2.4.2 Different ESP models
There are many different models that can be used in an ESP framework. Mainly, ESP courses
can be defined as being either occupational or educational in nature (Strevens, 1980).
Furthermore, one can distinguish between pre-study, in-study and post-study ESP (Robinson,
1980). For the context of this study, only ESP courses that are educational in nature, and that
are „in-study‟, will be considered. Still, one has to remember that “the undergraduate may (...)
have more in common with the trainee secretary than with a postgraduate research fellow
who wants English to give a paper on his findings to an international congress” (Kennedy &
Bolitho, 1984:5). Ostler (1980:494) also indicates that undergraduate and postgraduate
students have very different needs when it comes to academic skills (undergraduate students
indicating that they need skills for “taking multiple choice exams, writing laboratory reports,
and reading and making graphs” and postgraduate students indicating that they need to “read
academic journals and papers, give talks [...], write critiques, research proposals and research
papers, and discuss issues”) , and that these two groups cannot be seen as variations of each
other. The aim of the present study is to equip students with practical language skills that
might indeed have more in common with the type of communication expected of a young
trainee secretary than with a postgraduate research fellow; thus purely classifying the current
ESP course as „educational‟ might be somewhat too simplistic.
ESP courses often take on different forms. Robinson (1980) states that the ideal ESP course
would have only one student in it, since all learners have individualised needs and purposes.
Clearly, this is impossible for the overwhelming majority of students in need of an ESP
course, due to practical constraints. Further, if one were to argue that learning occurs best in
interaction with peers (as argued in Section 2.2), this might not be as ideal a situation as it
might seem at first.
A more realistic model that is often used successfully in ESP is the adjunct model (see Snow
& Brinton, 1988; Johns, 1995; and Rosenthal, 1996). In this model, ESP courses and contentarea courses are paired and coordinated, with the language and content specialists supporting
each other (this is very similar to what Marland [1977] describes as a disseminated approach
to language curriculation, as well as the literacy-as-social-practice approach [based on the
new literacies studies], as discussed in Jacobs [2005]). In the ESP class, students would, for
example, write drafts of essays given to them in their content courses. This model has clear
advantages, such as increased motivation of students. Braine (1995) states that although such
courses do exist, they are not common. This is probably due to logistical problems, as well as
the difficulty in getting content lecturers or tutors to cooperate with language specialists on
such an effort. These are certainly the reasons why adjunct courses would not work in the
context of the current study. In addition to lecturers being overloaded and often not being
willing or able to restructure their courses so as to coordinate them with an academic literacy
course, the SFP academic literacy workshops provide a service to 17 subjects, with students
spread out across the country, and usually have only one facilitator per regional centre to deal
with all these students, in addition to students from other programmes and courses.
Dudley-Evans (1995) describes another ESP model, namely team taught sessions. He states
that this type of course is very similar to an adjunct course, with the main difference being
“that they involve the actual working together of the subject teachers and language teachers
in the same classroom” (Dudley-Evans, 1995:304). He cites several advantages to this
approach for students, subject teacher as well as language teacher. Students, according to
him, benefit by gaining three types of insight.
First, they are able to understand more fully what is required in the set tasks in terms of
content, organization, and language. Secondly, they learn to apply the general knowledge of
genre conventions and other aspects of writing they have gained from the general classes to
actual assignments or examination answers. Thirdly, the students gain insights into the
particular expectations and definition of the writing task (Dudley-Evans, 1995:304).
Subject teachers, according to Dudley-Evans (1995), are able to see firsthand what tasks
students experience the most difficulties in. This also allows subject teachers to identify
examination questions or assignment instructions that are potentially confusing, which often
leads to them rewriting these more clearly for future groups. Finally, language teachers are
given the opportunity of understanding what departments require of students, and what the
specific challenges are that students have in fulfilling these requirements (Dudley-Evans,
Again, the challenge of this type of model would be to get cooperation from subjectspecialists. Also, persuading language teachers that this is a productive option might prove
difficult. They might, for example, believe that team teaching takes the focus away from the
core subject matter and that it is more labour intensive. In addition, finding classes that have a
flexible enough curriculum to allow time for a language specialist to co-teach is by itself a
difficult task.
If language courses are not coordinated with a specific subject, Braine (1995) states that
ideally, academic writing courses should focus on a specific discipline, since each discipline
could be seen as a separate discourse community. However, he states that logistical reasons,
for example a lack of teachers, often prevent such narrowly focused courses from being
feasible. Kennedy and Bolitho (1984:49) suggest an alternative solution, namely “to abandon
any approach which may relate to a specific subject and instead to develop a common-core
course drawing on material or topics from general interest areas rather than from content that
relates to a specific subject”. This is probably very close to what Jacoby, Leech and Holten
(1995:352) call a non-adjuncted course, “a free-standing course akin to many composition
and ESL courses that base the development of the content and assignments for the course on
the language and writing needs of the students enrolled”. Thus, common-core courses which
deal with broader disciplinary areas (for example the natural sciences), and where students
generally have similar writing and language needs, are much more feasible than courses that
focus on a specific subject (Braine, 1995). Kennedy and Bolitho (1984:50) agree in saying
that when there are students from various subject groups, “a common-core approach is the
logical solution. Texts of a semi-technical nature may be chosen (...) to which students of
different specialisms would be able to contribute and which would provide practice in a set of
skills, structures, functions and semi-technical vocabulary which the students will meet in
their specialist studies” (also see Braine, 1989). Such courses, says Braine (1995), usually
work best at the beginning of students‟ undergraduate studies, where they have not yet
specialised too much within their study fields.
Hutchinson and Waters (1987:161) argue that “there is little linguistic justification for having
highly specialised texts”. According to these authors, no clear relationship exists between
specialisation of knowledge and sentence grammar. Kennedy and Bolitho (1984:57) also add
that symbols and formulae “generally form part of a learner‟s knowledge of the subject
matter of his [sic] speciality and are not, therefore, of direct concern to the language teacher”.
It is thus not necessary for the teacher to be a content expert, since, as discussed in Section
2.4, no subject uses a different type of language (e.g. “scientific English”), regardless of
technicalities. It must be kept in mind, however, that should a text be used that the teacher
does not understand, due to its highly technical nature, the teacher could lose face in front of
the students. It is therefore important that, as Hutchinson and Waters (1987) argue, a balance
be found between the knowledge and competence of the teacher when developing material.
Braine (1995:126) states that though the English teacher might not have a solid background
in, for example, report writing, what the teacher “can teach with confidence are the writing
skills that are crucial to experimental reports”. The concern of the language teacher remains
the language necessary for successful learning which, apart from a varying focus on certain
features across disciplines, stays largely the same, regardless of subject. Adopting a commoncore course was ideal for the purposes of the current study, where 17 subjects are serviced by
one reading and writing tutor in each region. Because the texts selected for the course
discussed in Chapter 4 of this study are still scientific in nature (thus retaining face validity
and contributing to higher motivation, as argued by Hutchinson and Waters [1987]), students
from various scientific subjects could relate and contribute equally to the topics.
The last variable that differs from one ESP course to another, depending on the students‟
needs, is the duration of the course. As mentioned earlier, it can take anything from five to
seven years to develop academic language proficiency (see the discussion of CALP in
Section 2.3), depending on specific contexts and existing language proficiency. If one takes
into consideration the poor schooling background of many South African students, and that
academic language proficiency really only starts to develop at secondary school level, one
begins to understand why many students are not at the required academic language
proficiency level by the time they reach university. Robinson (1980) states that most ESP
courses seem to be one-year courses, with teachers often only having a few hours per week
available to teach, and thus having to select which skills to teach within this very limited
period of time. The present study had the same time-constraints, with students attending the
6-month workshop programme only three hours per week. In addition, since these workshops
are voluntary, no homework is given – decreasing the learning time even more.
Whatever approach one uses in an ESP classroom, it would be wise to take heed of Allwright
and Allwright‟s (1977:58) warning that “ESP teachers, in particular, should be conscious of
the dangers of generalizing from one learning/teaching situation to another”. The goal of ESP
is to cater for individual groups of students‟ specific needs. To generalise between groups of
students could potentially achieve the opposite. Learners‟ needs must continuously be reevaluated, and the ideal ESP course should accordingly evolve continuously.
2.4.3 Elements of an ESP course
As argued in Section 2.4.2, each ESP course should ideally be developed and adapted
depending on the needs (what abilities students need for assignments and tests) and wants
(what abilities students believe they should develop) of the students taking the course.
Therefore, each ESP course is likely to have a different focus on various academic literacy
abilities. The abilities of reading, writing, speaking and listening cannot be, and should not
be, treated separately in any ESP course, because they are typically used in combination in
the completion of real-life, authentic academic tasks. Still, it is important to examine which
elements are vital for a successful ESP course, and since the literature tends to deal with these
four abilities separately (for better description and analysis of each), they will also be
discussed separately in this section.
First, it is important to decide to what extent students are required to read, write, listen or
speak. Subsequently, the nature of each of these activities in students‟ other courses must be
examined, for example, the type of writing or speaking that is expected of students, since
“„[w]riting‟ may refer to note-taking or completing a technical report. „Speaking‟ may refer
to activities in a seminar discussion (...) or a factory-floor conversation” (Kennedy & Bolitho,
1984:21). Merely focusing on one ability (for example, writing) without taking into
consideration the specific aspects of that ability that students need most in their courses, as
well as how the ability interacts with other abilities, would probably prove ineffective in an
ESP course.
Little seems to have been written about listening and speaking abilities in ESP classes. This
might be because listening and speaking are usually not assessed, and are therefore not seen
as important outcomes in students‟ other subjects, and consequently also not in their ESP
courses. Yet, it is worthwhile to pay at least some attention to these abilities in the current
Thier and Daviss (2002) distinguish between two kinds of speech – presentational speech (for
example, presenting findings to the rest of the class) and exploratory speech (spontaneous
exchanges between students, or between student and teacher). Exploratory speech is used to
experiment with ideas, and helps students focus their thoughts. It is thus a very useful tool in
preparation for writing. Though presentational speech might be somewhat less important,
especially for students in a distance education environment, it still requires students to plan
and organise, and as such should not be discarded completely. Listening goes hand in hand
with speaking, especially with exploratory speech, since to share one‟s own ideas with others,
it is necessary to listen to their ideas, and accurately incorporate these into one‟s own ideas to
effectively focus one‟s thoughts. When positioning language learning in a communicative
situation, specifically exploratory speech and listening (which are usually more authentic) are
very important for effective learning (Hendrickson, 1991; Sato & Kleinsasser, 1999). If
learning occurs best in collaboration with others, enough opportunities must be created for
students to listen and speak to each other, thereby increasing their reasoning and
argumentative abilities.
Though listening and speaking abilities are clearly useful in a small-group, communicative
context, and should not be disregarded, the emphasis that the literature awards to reading and
writing is even more justified in the UNISA environment, since students rarely listen to
lectures, and are almost never tested orally. In addition, Phillips (2004:105) states that
“[s]tudents will read and write their way through tertiary courses and by concentrating on
giving training in these two areas, tertiary institutions can assist their students in achieving
greater academic success”.
Misselhorn (1997:64) points out that one of the greatest difficulties confronting students
when reading and writing in an academic context is the complexity of these tasks, and
specifically “the variety of practices associated with particular disciplines and genres”.
According to her, it is a problem that students are often expected to discover these practices
for themselves, since they are not made explicit to students (Misselhorn, 1997). It thus seems
wise to, within each discipline, include a wide variety and a large number of texts students
might possibly need to deal with, to clearly show how these texts are constructed, and what
norms are expected of writers in the various disciplines (cf. Jacobs, 2005). Misselhorn
(1997:64) stresses that students should not merely focus on the subject knowledge in texts,
“but also on increasing their skills in the genre and discipline-specific conventions for
organising that content”.
Johns (1981) also argues that the teaching of receptive skills (i.e. reading and listening)
should take precedence over the teaching of productive skills (i.e. writing and speaking). She
states that writing could rather be practised in response to a reading or listening task (such as
a paraphrase, summary, or rewriting of lecture notes). Phillips agrees when stating that
“[r]eading ability seems to facilitate language development in ESL students” (Phillips,
2004:104). Though one should be careful in agreeing with these two authors that reading
ability is indeed more important than other abilities, it is clear that writing, and to some extent
listening and speaking, should ideally be integrated with reading activities in an ESP course,
since all these abilities tend to be based on reading in students‟ other subjects (e.g. writing an
assignment based on readings, having a discussion based on arguments in a textbook, and
listening to others‟ interpretations of what they have read).
There seems to be little consent among lecturers as to the importance of writing skills in
various faculties. In an engineering faculty that Bridgeman and Carlson (1984) surveyed,
many faculty members stated that they placed very little emphasis on writing. In the civil and
electrical engineering departments of that faculty, only 20% believed student writing to be
very influential in achieving academic success. Interestingly enough, the majority of
departments believed writing ability to be very important after graduation. In addition, even
for subjects where there was little emphasis on writing, at least some writing was still
required of first-year students (Bridgeman & Carlson, 1984).
Vocabulary is also an element that usually receives much attention in ESP courses.
According to Rosenthal (1996), it is a common misconception that students have difficulty
with subjects because of technical and scientific words. It seems as though learners generally
have less difficulty with technical vocabulary (vocabulary that is solely found in the specific
discipline) than with sub-technical vocabulary.
Subtechnical vocabulary consists of those words which are not specific to a subject speciality
but which occur regularly in scientific and technical texts – e.g. reflection, intense,
accumulate, tendency, isolate and dense. Learners frequently find difficulties in understanding
such words. One estimate puts the occurrence of subtechnical items in scientific texts almost
as high as 80 per cent (…). If this is so, such items will have to be accorded high priority in
the language programme (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984:58).
Students often struggle specifically with words that have a more general meaning as well as a
specialised meaning (often in a scientific and a technical context) (Johnstone & Cassels,
1978; Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984; Ryan, 1985; Rosenthal, 1996). Kennedy and Bolitho (1984)
provide examples such as „cycle‟, „conductor‟ and „resistance‟. It might be worthwhile for an
ESP course to focus on sub-technical vocabulary rather than technical vocabulary, since
students from various subjects, but in the same general field of study (e.g. business or
sciences), could benefit from such vocabulary instruction.
Bridgeman and Carlson (1984:262-263) show how different skills are required by different
For example, describing an apparatus is relatively unimportant in MBA departments and
relatively important for engineering and computer science. Apparently, describing a
procedure is especially important for computer science majors. Arguing for a particular
position is very important for undergraduate and graduate business majors but is relatively
unimportant for students in engineering, chemistry, and computer science.
In the Bridgeman and Carlson (1984) study, the writing skills needed by students of various
faculties are examined. The study indicates that the writing skills that subject lecturers find
important are often different from those focused on in many EAP courses. Appropriateness to
audience (which is an aspect often focused on in EAP classes), for example, was not
considered very important by engineering lecturers. In the same study, lecturing staff across
various fields stated that when evaluating students, they focused more on discourse level
characteristics (for example, the quality of content and how the paper is organised) than on
word- or sentence-level characteristics (for example, punctuation, spelling, and sentence
structure). On the other hand, it must be remembered that sentence-level characteristics
become more important in all fields as students progress through their studies, and that at
postgraduate level, such „correctness‟ is non-negotiable. Yet, at first year level, skills and
knowledge that are often emphasised in EAP classes might be inappropriate for students of
certain faculties (and consequently such classes might bore them, and therefore become
ineffective), whereas other writing skills might have to be emphasised and practised more for
certain disciplines. The needs of students will change as they progress through their studies –
an area that deserves further discussion and research, but which falls outside the scope of this
Though different departments may require or emphasise different writing skills, the strategies
that Jacoby et al. (1995:355) describe as being incorporated into their developmental writing
course are universal skills necessary for all students. These skills “include prewriting,
planning, and organizing before putting pen to paper [or the so-called process-model of
writing, still very popular in most EAL classes, despite recent criticisms from authors such as
Johns (1995)]; information review and synthesis; and content and rhetorical analysis of
professional and peer text models”. These abilities usually transcend the individual skills of
reading, writing, speaking and listening, and are much closer related to students‟ real-life
experience of language use at tertiary level.
Clearly, each ESP course would emphasise different elements, but elements such as reading
strategies, a focus on sub-technical vocabulary, as well as writing that is relevant to the
students‟ field of study, preferably as a response to reading, seem to be vital for every ESP
course. Though listening and speaking may seem less important in a distance education
environment, these abilities should not be ignored, as it is often by means of listening and
speaking that learners focus their thoughts, which ultimately leads to more successful writing.
English for Science and Technology (EST)
English for Science and Technology (EST) is one of the major branches of ESP. According to
Kennedy and Bolitho (1984:6), “[t]he term EST presupposes a stock of vocabulary items,
grammatical forms, and functions which are common to the study of science and
technology”. It is these mainly stylistic elements that distinguish scientific writing from that
in other academic fields (UNC-CH Writing Centre, 2005). EST is also important because it
has almost always “set and continues to set the trend in theoretical discussion, in ways of
analysing language, and the variety of actual teaching materials” (Swales, 1988:xiv).
In the United States of America, changing demographics have made it vital for science
education to be available for all students:
Race, language, sex, or economic circumstances must no longer be permitted to be factors in
determining who does and who does not receive a good education in science, mathematics,
and technology. To neglect the science education of any (...) is to deprive (...) the nation of
talented workers and informed citizens – a loss the nation can ill afford (AAAS, 1989:156157).
The same is true for South Africa, where the Government is still engaged in redressing the
inequalities of the past, and where specifically black students are encouraged to enter the
fields of science and technology. Rosenthal (1996:25) points out that undergraduate students
with limited English proficiency (LEP) “represent a large pool of talent; they could be
tomorrow‟s university and industry researchers, high school and college science teachers,
technicians, and/or technologically and scientifically literate members of the public”.
Unfortunately, many of these students come from poor secondary school backgrounds, and
although many have the aptitude in mathematics and science to make a success of their
studies, few have the language abilities necessary to succeed at tertiary level. EST courses
already exist at many South African universities (for example UNISA, the University of
KwaZulu/Natal, and the University of Pretoria), but several universities still employ EAP
courses as a strategy of „dealing‟ with students of limited English proficiency. To
successfully address the problem of science students‟ language proficiency inadequacies, it
may be time for South Africa to learn from the example set by the rest of the world, which
has long since seen the need for EST, and adapt what has been done internationally to redress
this problem. If this is done, there is a possibility that more students will be trained
successfully in the sciences, and, as Rosenthal (1996:25) points out, these students could then
become “mentors and/or serve as role models for other LEP students moving up through the
school system, thereby helping to increase (...) participation in the sciences” (Rosenthal,
Rosenthal (1996:44) states that even though “ESL students enrolled in science classes are
ostensibly learning science, we forget that they also are simultaneously both learning and
acquiring proficiency in English”. Expecting students to have already acquired the latter may
prevent them from reaching their full potential in learning science. In fact, several authors
claim that many students have not acquired sufficient proficiency in English by the time they
reach university. White (1988:9) states that “children learning science at school are not
automatically proficient in using the discourse of the subject to interpret their experiences”.
Thier and Daviss (2002:3) agree when stating that already at secondary level, students in
higher grades do not enter science courses with the necessary vocabulary and other language
skills “to decode print and draw meaning from language”. They further argue that students
have difficulty with comprehension, particularly in specific content areas (Thier & Daviss,
2002). White (1988) points out that at secondary level, students usually use worksheets in
science-related subjects, and very rarely get to experiment with any type of extended writing,
or writing as a means of planning. Thus, though students may enter tertiary education with
sound scientific knowledge, they often find themselves out of their depth when expected to
communicate this knowledge in anything but one-word answers. To cite one example, in
Phillip‟s (2004) study at a South African college which serves as bridging between Grade 12
and university, most students speak English well enough. However, few students have
acquired the level of reading and writing ability necessary for tertiary education. She states
that although the students‟ results indicate that their abilities in science and mathematics are
adequate, a lack of English language skills significantly diminishes their chances of success
at university level. Thier and Daviss (2002:3) confirm that “the stronger a student‟s literacy
skills, the stronger the student‟s grasp of science will be. (...) In that way, a student‟s
achievement in science will be directly proportional to the student‟s ability to use language”.
This might be oversimplifying the matter, since a student with little aptitude in science might
never achieve success in science, regardless of that student‟s language abilities, but still the
argument remains that even students with a strong ability in science cannot perform
adequately if they have difficulty in decoding and encoding the information from and into
Entering the tertiary environment with these weaknesses is already difficult for students of all
fields. But to make matters even more complicated for science students, scientific writing is
extremely complex, as Rosenthal (1996:114) points out.
Unlike other materials that they read, the content of the science textbook is for the most part
unfamiliar; the vocabulary is strange, and new words are introduced at a very rapid rate.
There is no temporal or predictable sequence to the unfolding of information nor are there
familiar themes to which the reader can relate. The bottom-up presentation of information
(details before general ideas and concepts) often requires that the text be read several times.
Rosenthal (1996) adds that the information is generally very dense, and is rarely paraphrased
or repeated. She states that it takes an EAL student two to three times as long as it would a
native reader to read such a text. In Writing in Science (1975), Smith (in Johnstone &
Cassels, 1978:432) states that the formal nature of scientific texts “leads pupils to believe that
their own thinking does not count and that in examinations what is required is regurgitation
of someone else‟s thinking in someone else‟s language”. Students also often believe that they
do not have the authority to question textbooks and lecturers. This is clearly an erroneous
view, and from my own conversations with lecturers from several scientific fields, it is
evident that students‟ inability to paraphrase, and their tendency to plagiarise, are some of the
greatest problems UNISA students face when writing assignments (also see Braine, 1989;
Braine, 1995 and Collett, 2002). Students plagiarise for many reasons. The first may be, as
Smith states, that students do not believe their thinking has much value, or that they can
compete with the complex level of writing they encounter in their study material. Of course,
students‟ difficulty with paraphrasing most probably also contributes significantly to the
problem – students often just do not know how to express someone else‟s ideas in their own
words. In addition to these difficulties, students are often unfamiliar with the academic
conventions of citing information correctly. It is, therefore, probably the sum of these
difficulties that students experience, and their frustration in dealing with these problems, that
ultimately lead to plagiarism.
Students who already need to manage the aforementioned problems when they enter tertiary
education institutions are then often expected to take generic language classes, which
regularly focus on writing tasks that have little to do with students‟ present reality at
university. White (1988) concludes that students are given much more instruction and
guidance for writing narrative fiction than they are for expository writing. Braine (1995)
states that a research paper is usually the final and most important assignment in most firstyear English classes. This is specifically problematic for the fields of science and technology,
where narrative fiction is basically non-existent, and research papers, according to Braine
(1995), make up a mere 5% of assignments written by first-year science and engineering
students. If an academic literacy class were to teach students how to write narrative fiction
(with the belief that any kind of writing would improve students‟ writing, and because many
academic literacy teachers often feel more comfortable with such writing) or even research
papers, such students may feel demotivated because they see no link between what they do in
their other subjects, and what they are expected to do in the academic literacy class.
Conversely, “composition classes consisting only of science and technology students not only
create an environment for better simulating academic writing, but also give the students an
opportunity to share and evaluate subject matter information, an experience that they rarely
encounter in academic courses” (Braine, 1989:14). Here, students have the opportunity to
compose the types of texts they need for their specific disciplines in a focused, constructive
2.5.1 Science and English
Without the discourse of scientific language, scientists would not be able to express their
findings in the concise and precise fashion that characterises the field of science.
Language is essential for the teaching of science. Oral language is used to lecture, to ask and
answer questions, to conduct discussions, and to direct classroom and laboratory activities.
Written language is used to place information on the chalkboard, to prepare exams and
quizzes, for laboratory directions and reports, to record experimental results, and to respond
to test questions. (...) Language is so central to the teaching of science that it is impossible to
imagine a „language free‟ science classroom (Rosenthal, 1996:104).
Montgomery (2004:1333) argues that “[w]ords are the primary medium by which technical
work is embodied, added to the corpus of professional understanding, and passed on”.
Scientists have to be masters of these words, and the language structures that hold the words
together, to maintain and expand the field of science.
Scientists use language every day, though often for somewhat different purposes than, for
example, a businessperson. Mackay and Mountford (1978:129) state that scientists are
explicitly conscious of acts such as “defining, identifying, comparing, differentiating, [and]
classifying”. Latour and Woolgar (1979:49) describe the majority of scientists‟ daily
activities as consisting of “coding, marking, altering, correcting, reading, and writing”.
Montgomery (2004:1335) goes so far as saying that “science is today the most active area of
language creation”.
English has become the lingua franca for scientists across the world in communicating with
each other. This has reached a level where physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering
are internationally studied mainly through the medium of English (Robinson, 1980; Graddol,
2006). Scientists use this lingua franca for presenting papers, exchanging views informally,
participating in international meetings, being involved in corporate science and multinational
research programmes, setting up official web sites, reading relevant literature or writing
scientific papers (Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984; Montgomery, 2004; Graddol, 2006).
Montgomery (2004) estimates the current amount of scientific scholarly writing in English on
the Internet as between 80% and 90% of the total amount of such writing – in spite of the
Internet becoming more linguistically diverse each year.
Language plays another important role in science. According to Montgomery (2004:1335),
“[m]aking science comprehensible to general audiences has literally become an effort of
translation”. Science has little value if scientists cannot „translate‟ their highly technical
knowledge into language that politicians, students and the general public can understand.
This „translation‟ requires a high level and range of linguistic skills.
Montgomery (2004:1335) states that “language training is now a critical fact and compelling
factor in modern science”. As shown above in the number of cases in which scientists use
language, this seems very true for scientists already active in their professions. Yet even at
university level, this seems to be very much the case. It would seem that science lecturers are
less tolerant of writing errors typically made by EAL students than are lecturers in the social
sciences, education and humanities (Santos, 1988; Vann, Lorenz & Meyer, 1991). Science
lecturers also have misguided notions about how quickly students of limited English
proficiency can master English (Rosenthal, 1996) – placing an even greater burden on
students who are struggling to acquire the language that will give them access to the scientific
Johnstone and Cassels (1978) state that students can be prevented from demonstrating their
knowledge in, for example, chemistry, because of a lack of language skills. Even scientific
subjects that seem to have little to do with language skills can benefit from students achieving
a higher level of CALP (as discussed in section 2.3). For example, Zambo and Cleland (2005)
argue that mathematics and language are both problem-solving processes that employ symbol
systems to represent ideas. If students‟ ability to understand and manipulate one symbol
system improves, surely their ability to understand and manipulate another could only benefit
(see also Bohlmann & Pretorius, 2002). In a study by White (1988:1) it was found that
“[p]upils who were most highly rated in both science and language were found not only to
have a good understanding of the science involved, but also their language was well
structured to communicate the understanding to listeners or readers”. Thier and Daviss
(2002:6) explain this phenomenon by arguing that science and language “seek to develop
reciprocal skills in students – skills that complement and strengthen each other”. They
continue by saying that “[l]iteracy skills strengthen science learning by giving students the
lens of language through which to focus and clarify their ideas, conclusions, inferences, and
procedures” (Thier & Daviss, 2002:6).
Thier and Daviss (2002:121) relate anecdotal evidence where teachers who combine science
and literacy abilities believe that “[s]tudents are able to communicate their ideas and
understandings more clearly, so teachers are better able to detect what students know and
have learned”. Another teacher claims that “[t]he quality of the writing improves; it‟s more
precise. When they present data, ideas, or arguments, they give more extensive background
information and evidence. They‟re asking questions that carry them to a higher level of
thought and performance” (Thier & Daviss, 2002:122). Thus, including language education
in science students‟ curricula may, in addition to improving their actual language usage, also
develop the higher thought processes necessary in a discipline where new knowledge is
created by asking questions about existing knowledge.
Though many teachers and researchers see the importance of language skills for science
students, underprepared students entering tertiary institutions are still a great problem:
Even at the university level we can surely not assume as do Mackay and Mountford (...) that
„students will have an advanced conceptual knowledge of objects, substances, processes and
operations‟. Many students do not have much knowledge of science in their own languages
because it does not exist in those languages. That is why they are learning science in English
(Robinson, 1980:25).
This is certainly the case in South Africa, where little, if any scientific vocabulary exists in
any of the black African languages (Dlodlo 1999), which are the mother tongues of
approximately 80% of the population (Statistics South Africa, 2001). Studying a subject in an
additional language is already very difficult, and even more so if your language skills in that
additional language (and sometimes even in your first language, as suggested by Robinson
[1980]) are weak.
Clearly, language is vital for the comprehension of scientific knowledge, and subsequently
the expression which demonstrates such comprehension. Students need to learn how to use
language for their own purposes, rather than to resent it as something „outside‟ of their
studies, an extra burden that they have to take on in addition to their studies. Only when
students see language as instrumental to their studies will they be able to exploit its full
potential. They are unlikely to see this, though, if their English course is not moulded to suit
their needs. Johnstone and Cassels (1978) state the importance of knowing where students‟
linguistic weaknesses lie, so as to teach skills useful to them – maybe unknowingly, they
already describe the importance of creating a course around students‟ needs, the essence of
ESP. Teachers must understand how pupils “take possession” of scientific information, and
pay attention to the role of language in this knowledge acquisition (Johnstone & Cassels,
1978:434). In order to understand how students of a specific subject field acquire knowledge,
it is necessary to look at the type of assignments they are expected to do (as the cognitive
processes required to complete an assignment will, out of necessity, determine how students
learn). This issue is emphasised in Chapter 3, where a sample of UNISA first-year SFP
assignments is examined.
Without a doubt, language proficiency plays a significant role in students‟ ability to do well
in science. However, leaving language acquisition to subject specialists might be a mistake,
because as White (1988:34) points out, they do not know “how to communicate the explicitly
linguistic demands that certain genres of writing entail”. Even if they had this knowledge, in
an educational system that emphasises that students should learn as much as possible in as
short a time as possible, it is unlikely that subject-specialists would take a significant amount
of time out of the curriculum to teach students how to write, for example, acceptable
2.5.2 Characteristics of scientific discourse
Science students usually deal with different types of texts than those in other disciplines. For
example, students in the sciences typically encounter laboratory reports, project proposals
and reports and fieldwork notes during the course of their studies, as opposed to critical
analyses, projects and even translations that are often critical in other faculties (Coffin &
Hewings, 2003). Braine (1995) distinguishes between five categories of assignments
generally given to science students, namely a summary or reaction, an experimental
laboratory report, an experimental design report, a case study and a research report. In his
study at the University of Texas, he found that almost 75% of the sample of assignments
examined fell under the category of experimental reports. In another study, Braine (1989)
discusses several studies that surveyed assignments in the sciences, all of which found that
laboratory reports constituted between 57% and 93% of the total assignments given to
In addition to specific types of texts frequently encountered by science students, it has been
well documented that scientific language has certain characteristics that sets it apart from
other discourses. Firstly, “scientific reasoning is linear and inductive. The basic facts are
first laid out, and from there a case is built. All extraneous information and unnecessary
words are omitted, producing a tightly knit argument and a style of writing which is concise
and precise” (Rosenthal, 1996:105; see also UNC-CH Writing Centre, 2005). Science texts
are generally considered to be very dense, and contain a lot of conceptually complex factual
information (Phillips, 2004). Such texts are not as predictable as narrative texts, and also
have a very formal structure (Phillips, 2004). Often, structures such as nominalisation are
used (Halliday, 1998; Banks, 2005), which increase formality. White (1988) states that
writers of scientific texts must link any new set of observations to a pre-existing pool of
knowledge, and that one therefore often finds generalising classificatory statements at the
beginning of such texts. Becher (1987:273), in an examination of the linguistic features of
physics, states that “physics knowledge is not only cumulative but tightly structured and
atomistic (in the sense that it is capable of fragmentation and of being assembled in relatively
small pieces)”. He adds that “[t]heories and methods are for the most part firmly established
(...) and modes of argumentation are well-established and unquestioned. Physicists deal in
quantifiable and universal entities and value neatness and simplicity of explanation”. Coffin
and Hewings (2003:49) agree that scientific texts should be “clearly written and easily read”.
In fact, precision, clarity and objectivity, though by no means uniquely characteristic of
scientific writing, are possibly even more vital for scientific writing than for writing in other
fields (see, for example, UNC-CH Writing Centre‟s [2005] description of scientific writing).
To achieve the appearance of objectivity and neutrality, scientific texts frequently use the
passive voice instead of the active voice (Robinson, 1980; White, 1988; Phillips, 2004; UNCCH Writing Centre, 2005), generally use the present tense (White, 1998), and are written in
an impersonal style (Myers, 1991): “when experiences are written about in science, all
reference to persons is characteristically deleted, signifying that what is reported has a
general, abiding quality, not tied to the peculiarity of the observer” (White, 1988:5). In
addition, quantitative descriptions are preferred in a scientific context, whereas qualitative
descriptions should be kept to a minimum, if not avoided completely (UNC-CH Writing
Centre, 2005). Scientific texts also “make frequent use of semantic relations, for example,
causal relations signalled by conjunctives such as since, therefore, which the students need to
recognise and understand but seldom do” (Phillips, 2004:8).
Kennedy and Bolitho (1984:19) stress that scientific English “uses the same structures as any
other kind of English but with a different distribution”. „Scientific English‟ is thus not a
separate language, and should not be treated as such. Yet making students aware of the
linguistic features frequently found in scientific language firstly enables students to become
aware of the reason behind these features (and thus to become aware of the characteristics of
the discourse community they are entering into). Secondly, it has the potential of helping
them see the link between the language classroom and the science classroom, and the
relevance that language has for scientists, and thus for themselves.
2.5.3 Essential skills for science students
An ESP course can be organised around abilities, functions, topics or situations (Robinson,
1980). The workshop series in the present study is designed around abilities, mainly
identified as insufficient by the Test for Academic Literacy Levels (TALL) that students
wrote during the first workshop. Although the workshops in this study are built around
abilities which are often discussed separately in this study, it must be remembered that these
abilities are treated holistically in the workshops, and no claim is made that any ability can be
taught in isolation from the rest. The rest of this section examines which language abilities,
according to the literature, are necessary for science students to be successful in their studies.
In a study by Johns (1981), lecturing staff from the sciences (bio-science, engineering,
mathematics and physical sciences) all considered receptive abilities (reading and listening)
to be the most important for their students to succeed at university (with reading, on average,
being considered the more necessary of the two). Writing was consistently viewed as the
third most important ability. Speaking was, for most of the lecturers (with the exception of
the mathematics department, where 8% of the staff found this skill important), considered not
to be important at all (Johns, 1981).
The American Language Institute at the University of Southern California conducted a survey
amongst students of all faculties to determine what language needs the students believed they
had (Ostler, 1980). Reading texts obtained the highest score, with 95% of soft science and
100% of hard science14 students believing they needed this skill. Reading journal articles was
another ability that students believed they lacked, with 77% of soft science students and 53%
of hard science students claiming they needed this. Taking class notes also rated very high,
with 86% of both soft and hard science students citing this as necessary. Certain skills varied
widely between soft and hard science students, for example, writing down a laboratory
experiment (only 14% of soft science students felt this necessary, whereas 60% of hard
science students believed this to be a crucial ability). Other skills that students found
important were answering multiple choice and essay examinations, discussing issues, and
asking questions. Clearly, the students identified reading as the most important ability
necessary for them to successfully complete their studies, followed by writing (specifically
writing for study purposes such as taking class notes), and then speaking abilities.
The literature in general seems to agree with Johns‟ and Ostler‟s studies that reading is the
most important ability for a science student to acquire. UNISA (2006:53) also views reading
abilities as paramount for science students:
The ability to read with understanding, know the meanings of keywords and the ability to use
the words in the correct context are vital skills that students must have. When a student does
not have adequate reading skills and a limited knowledge of science vocabulary he or she will
find it difficult to follow written text and even spoken lessons and tutorials. This will
undoubtedly lead to stress which will impair his or her chances of success.
Phillips‟ (2004) study shows a strong correlation between reading abilities and performance
in science. She also shows that explicit reading instruction improves students‟ performance in
science, whilst students seem to be prevented from reaching their full potential in science
because of poor reading abilities (Phillips, 2004). Though not proven statistically, Phillips‟
study also indicates that consistent reading contributes to an improvement in writing ability.
She argues that students began imitating the style and structure of expository texts in their
own writing after having read several well-written expository texts. She also claims that
Both „hard science‟ and „soft science‟ students refer to natural science students. The distinction between the
two groups is made by the authors.
students‟ spelling ability improved due to regular reading. This is merely one example of the
crucial connection between abilities, and how improvement in one language area (e.g.
reading) may result in an improvement in other language areas (e.g. writing).
According to Phillips (2004:23), “the study of Science relies heavily on word problems and
explanations which in turn involve both general reading and vocabulary skills”. The
importance of both vocabulary and semantic knowledge (e.g. understanding the relationship
between words and between parts of the text) for reading science texts, which she describes
as containing an “information overload”, is highlighted in Phillips‟ discussion of word
problems. She states that for students to understand reading texts, they must have a sound
knowledge of technical words (for example „gravity‟), academic vocabulary (for example
„exemplify‟), and general words (for example „cliff‟) (Phillips, 2004).
In addition to vocabulary knowledge, word problems also demand semantic knowledge, (…).
The student has to be familiar with the structure of the text as well as the conventionalised
way in which word problems are presented. The student has to be able to understand the
logical relations between phrases, sentences and paragraphs in order to grasp what is being
presented in the text (...) Students also need background knowledge or a mental framework
(schema) to interpret word problems. They have to learn to anticipate information and then
place it in context when they are reading texts, especially expository texts. An inappropriate
schema would lead to a misinterpretation of a word problem or statement (Phillips, 2004:2526).
Though Phillips specifically discusses the reading and understanding of word problems here,
the same can be said of any scientific text. “Because of their conceptual density, the reading
of Science texts also requires attention to detail and accurate reading. Without precise
reading, many important details in a scientific text could be overlooked by an unskilled
reader” (Phillips, 2004:24). Rosenthal (1996) also argues that texts with particularly high
reading levels and instructors speaking rapidly and using unfamiliar vocabulary tend to cause
a lot of difficulty for EAL students. Though few first-year students in an academic literacy
class are at the level of being able to cope with the complexity of texts they are expected to
read, understand, interpret and synthesise with previous knowledge, students can gradually be
helped to attain the required level if texts are properly „scaffolded‟ (i.e., by using easier texts
at first, and gradually progressing to more difficult texts, or by guiding students by means of
increasingly challenging exercises – see, for example, Brown [1999]). Krashen (1992)
stresses that language proficiency can only improve if students receive enough
„comprehensible input‟ – that is, if the messages or „input‟ that students receive is just a little
beyond their current level of competence. It is the task of the language classroom to scaffold
texts for students, and to always provide them with texts just beyond their competency level,
so as to continually stimulate and challenge them.
Regular reading and subsequent critical discussions (preferably led by a facilitator) achieve
another very important outcome for science students. When students view information
analytically, “they are cultivating the habit of a „healthy skepticism‟ that [is] essential to the
nature of science”, since “[s]cience distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing (...)
through the use of empirical standards, logical arguments, and skepticism [sic]” (Thier,
2005). Scepticism can, to some degree, be said to be definitive of science, and is an ability
which must be fostered from an early stage in science students through intensive and
extensive reading, and subsequent critical discussion and interpretation of such reading.
Students are unlikely to develop many of these reading abilities (and gain their accompanying
advantages) on their own, especially if they are not regular readers. Phillips (2004) suggests
that reading and vocabulary strategies should be explicitly taught. Apart from teaching
students vocabulary and comprehension strategies, students should also be shown how
scientists in the field approach a text. Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995) studied the reading
strategies adopted by scientists, and found that there was a relatively fixed way in which most
scientists would read a research article, namely firstly the title, then the abstract, then tables,
graphs or pictures, then the results section and finally the content of the article. In addition,
Bazerman (1985) demonstrates how reading techniques such as scanning have become
completely automated for successful scientists. Phillips (2004) suggests that these strategies
for reading scientific texts should be taught to students. In addition to the explicit teaching of
reading strategies, students should also have enough opportunity to practise these abilities, so
that ultimately the abilities will become automated, as is the case with successful scientists.
Clearly, the benefits of acquiring adequate reading (and accompanying vocabulary and
semantic) strategies are invaluable. A word of caution is given by Pretorius and Bohlmann
(2003) though, in a study on the impact of explicitly taught reading strategies on mathematics
students‟ success. They believe that one should not have unrealistic expectations about the
possible impact of a reading intervention programme in a short period of time. This is a skill
that needs to be developed consistently over time.
This study does not focus on improving listening abilities. Many listening exercises in EAL
course books focus on formal listening and consequent note-taking, which students in the
UNISA context seldom, if ever, need. Whatever listening abilities the students in this study
need to acquire for their specific purposes, they would acquire through practice with fellow
students. Moreover, one must remember that South African students are in a somewhat
different situation than many other students having to learn science through the medium of
English. South African students are not foreign language speakers, and hear English on a
daily basis (in shops, at work, at school, and on television). Whereas foreign language
speakers are often able to read and write before being able to listen to a foreign language
effectively, South African students often have greater difficulty with acquiring adequate
reading and writing abilities (possibly due to an inadequate primary and secondary schooling
system), whilst they have more practise in listening and speaking than foreign language
speakers generally have. It is specifically the abilities of writing coherently and reading
critically that South African students, and UNISA students in particular, often still lack by the
time they reach tertiary level.
Although writing is often not considered very important by science lecturers (Johns, 1981),
and little extensive writing is done in science students‟ undergraduate studies (especially in
their first year – see Chapter 3), it remains an important skill. It has been found that science
students‟ learning is enhanced if they write about their thinking, since the very act of writing
often integrates new ideas and previous knowledge (Fellows, 1993), thus ensuring more
effective learning. Such synthesising is vital for all students, regardless of the amount of
writing they need to do in assignments.
Though science students are generally not considered to do a lot of extensive writing in their
undergraduate studies, even writing that is not considered extensive can be very complex. As
mentioned in Section 2.5.2, most science students‟ assignments can be classified under the
genre of the experimental report. “The scientific research report (...) is certainly one of the
mainstays of the natural and physical sciences” (Jacoby et al., 1995:352). A laboratory report,
however, is by no means a straightforward writing task, as it “requires a complex mixture of
writing skills such as summary, paraphrase, seriation, description, comparison and contrast,
cause and effect, interpretation of data, analysis, and the integration of mathematical and
scientific data into a text” (Braine, 1989:9-10; Braine, 1995:115). Thus, though science
students may never need to write a descriptive essay, the ability to describe (and the same can
be said of all the other abilities, such as paraphrasing, comparing and contrasting, etc.) is still
vital for their writing purposes.
Another important writing ability in the sciences is summarising, and implicit in that,
paraphrasing (Braine, 1995). Being able to summarise is possibly the most useful and
relevant writing ability that undergraduate science students can acquire, since this can be used
for summary assignments, as a study aid, and for more complex assignments where material
needs to be summarised and incorporated into students‟ own arguments (Kirkland &
Saunders, 1991). This is, however, a highly complex “reading-writing activity involving
constraints that can impose an overwhelming cognitive load on students” (Kirkland &
Saunders, 1991:105). To prepare students for this complex task, they could be trained to
effectively underline, colour code or create mind maps or diagrams (Kirkland & Saunders,
1991). These abilities are an important point of departure for an adequate summary, but can
also be used in isolation as studying techniques. One could even let students present oral
summaries before writing these summaries. “Oral group activities seem to develop a greater
awareness of the cognitive and metacognitive operations being used” (Kirkland & Saunders,
1991:115). Black cultures in South Africa traditionally come from an oral background, and
thus students may also prefer first expressing themselves orally before going on to the written
equivalent. This emphasises the importance of speaking abilities for science students.
Though the development of speech is rarely, if ever, an outcome in science classes, and
seemingly not important to science lecturers (as shown by Johns, 1981), its importance
should not be overlooked completely. As discussed in Section 2.4.3, Thier and Daviss (2002)
distinguish between presentational speech and exploratory speech. “The importance of
exploratory speech – what appears to be simple conversation – in science classes cannot be
overestimated. We discover and sharpen our own ideas by talking about them and seeing how
other people react, a crucial element of learning” (Thier & Daviss, 2002:76-77). Robinson
(1980) states that ESP is generally thought to subscribe to the communicative approach. If
communication is indeed necessary to acquire language and thinking abilities, then speaking
is a vital ability for students to focus, organise and refine their thoughts. In addition, in a
collaborative learning environment it is necessary to give students enough practice to orally
negotiate meaning with fellow students.
Many of the abilities that science students need to acquire transcend the boundaries of the
individual skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Thier and Daviss (2002) mention
activities that students regularly engage in, for example: reading and following instructions
on data sheets; reading and understanding informational texts; developing analytical skills;
participating in collaborative learning groups where information is primarily shared and coconstructed by means of speaking and listening skills; speaking to others to explain their
understanding of a subject; and writing data sheets, reports, narrative procedures and
persuasive documents. Students need to be guided in all of these activities, and be
empowered to complete them through a mix of receptive and productive skills. Focusing on
authentic academic tasks that students need to complete may be one way to accomplish the
integration of abilities.
Rosenthal (1996) suggests that science lecturers need to explicitly teach their students to
present arguments that are reasoned and scientifically acceptable. As Ballard and Clanchy
(1991) point out, being able to construct an argument is not equally important in all cultures,
and what lecturers might take for granted (i.e. students‟ ability to present an argument) might
be a very foreign concept to the student. Rosenthal (1996) further argues that science students
also need to be taught to take their audience into consideration, to provide evidence that is
appropriate for scientific discourse, and to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant
information. Furthermore, students need to acquire linguistic skills enabling them to define,
identify, compare, differentiate, and classify– acts that Mackay and Mountford (1978) state
scientists use often and are explicitly conscious of. These abilities show a strong similarity to
Weideman‟s (2003a) definition of academic literacy, which is the blueprint for the Test of
Academic Literacy Levels (the pre- and post-test used in the present study). This definition is
discussed more fully in Chapter 3. Murcia (undated:10) argues that science students should
be made aware of the fact that science keeps changing through the process of research and
critical questioning, and that “observations of the world are made from a personal perspective
built up by prior knowledge, beliefs and theories”. Students should also be able to make
“connections within the discipline and with larger social problems and endeavours” (Murcia,
undated:10). Using more generic texts within a scientific discipline could potentially help
students to deal with the issue mentioned above, as students from various disciplines could
give input on such topics, ensuring a wider variety of viewpoints. Murcia (undated) also
suggests that students should be made aware of the relationship of science with society –
specifically the ethical dimensions associated with such a relationship – to ultimately become
accountable professionals.
Students further need to be made aware of how their lecturers are likely to evaluate them (as
Spencer [2007:311] states, students are entitled to “clear, apt, polished and consistently
applied teacher criteria in grading work and models that exemplify standards”), and be
supported to develop strategies to improve in the areas their lecturers view as most
important15. Johns (1991) found that lecturers from engineering and science departments
ranked criteria for student evaluation different from how English lecturers would rank such
criteria. The engineering and science departments believed that quality of content was
paramount. After that, they found the following important, in this order: assignment
requirements, addressing the topic, development of ideas, paper organisation, overall writing,
paragraph organisation, sentence structure, punctuation / spelling, and finally vocabulary
range. For them, global features were thus much more important than local ones.
For an ESP course to be fully responsive to students‟ needs, it also needs to take student
preferences into account (these are the „wants‟ that are discussed in Chapter 3). Students
generally have at least some idea of what they need and want to learn to be successful in their
courses. For example, in a study by Bridgeman and Carlson (1984), students had a choice
among ten writing samples. Engineering and science students clearly preferred the topic on
describing and interpreting a graph or chart. This shows both an awareness of and a
preference for the type of writing that they might be required to do in their studies. An ESP
curriculum should take such preferences into account. One way of doing this could be by
doing a needs analysis with the students at the beginning of a course, and to incorporate
students‟ perceived needs with those shown by means of other measures (for example, an
academic literacy test) into the curriculum. These other measures are vital because, as shown
by Coetzee-Van Rooy and Verhoef (2000), students often have inaccurate perceptions of
their own English proficiency levels, and therefore it is vital to investigate students‟ English
proficiency from various perspectives.
Finally, White (1988:35) argues that students need to be informed “about the linguistic
structures that constitute „science‟”. Coffin and Hewings (2003:46) agree:
[S]tudents have greater control over their writing if they are helped by lecturers to develop an
explicit awareness of how different disciplines employ different text types and how these text
types construct and represent knowledge (both through their text structure and through their
use of register)”.
Unfortunatly, as Louw (2006) shows, lecturers very rarely provide such feedback, and often seem so
overwhelmed by the plethora of surface errors that they tend to ignore textual organisation as well as students‟
writing strengths. Students, on the other hand, are often confused by, unable to use, and uncertain of the purpose
of feedback.
If this is not done, they will have difficulty with understanding the subject, and will not have
the linguistic resources necessary to critique such knowledge.
Whether or not grammar should be taught has been a matter of controversy in linguistic
circles. Ellis (2006:84) defines grammar teaching as involving “any instructional technique
that draws learners‟ attention to some specific grammatical form in such a way that it helps
them either to understand it metalinguistically and/or process it in comprehension and/or
production so that they can internalize it”.
Most researchers agree that “a traditional approach to teaching grammar based on explicit
explanations and drill-like practice is unlikely to result in the acquisition of the implicit
knowledge needed for fluent and accurate communication” (Ellis, 2006: 102). As a reaction
against such traditional grammar teaching, theorists such as Thompson (1969) and Krashen
(1981) have argued that grammar instruction does not play any role in language acquisition.
According to Krashen, learners would automatically internalise important structures, as long
as sufficient comprehensible input (language just above their current proficiency level) is
provided. While subsequent studies (such as White, Spada, Lightbown & Ranta, 1991) have
shown that instruction does not necessarily guarantee language acquisition, other studies such
as Ellis (2002, 2006) have indicated that instruction at least contributes to learned as well as
acquired knowledge. Although there is enough evidence indicating that learners learn a lot of
grammar without having been instructed in it, students cannot learn all grammar on their
own; in fact, recent direct and indirect evidence supports the teaching of grammar (Ellis,
2006), and consequently “there is now much more enthusiasm (...) for the idea that conscious
grammar (resulting from formal teaching) could have the useful benefit of improved writing”
(Hudson, 2001:1). Burgess and Etherington (2002) agree, saying that grammar is an essential
component of both language learning and language use. It is not only researchers who are
enthusiastic about teaching grammar as part of a language learning syllabus; students as well
as teachers also indicate that poor grammar is an obstacle to adequate writing and believe this
to be an essential part of language learning (Burgess & Etherington, 2002).
There are two types of grammatical knowledge, namely explicit knowledge (“facts that
speakers of a language have learned” [Ellis, 2006:95]) and implicit knowledge (“procedural,
[unconsciously held] knowledge, [which] can only be verbalised if it is made explicit [Ellis,
2006:95]). Although theorists still debate whether “explicit knowledge has any value in and
of itself, it may assist language development by facilitating the development of implicit
knowledge” (Ellis, 2006: 96), and in that carries enough value to justify the instruction
Though many researchers would agree that some explicit grammar teaching is necessary for
fluent writing and speaking, it is important to take early research (indicating that grammar
teaching does not lead to grammar acquisition) as a warning that any grammar teaching
would not be better than no grammar teaching (Hudson, 2001). The way in which grammar
teaching is dealt with should be based on careful consideration.
Hudson (2001) suggests that grammar exercises should concentrate on the production of
language, rather than focusing purely on the grammatical form. He further suggests that the
underlying theory of grammar should be made clear, without focusing too much on
grammatical terminology. Hudson (2001:3) quotes various studies that support such “modern
grammars” as opposed to more “traditional ones”. Burgess and Etherington (2002) argue that
teachers prefer to present grammar by means of discourse-based approaches, using authentic
texts and a communicative approach. The workshop material used in the present study also
incorporates grammar at various sections, though only to support students in improving their
writing abilities, and therefore almost always in context.
Finally, it is important to note that students are unlikely to acquire all of the structures of
English necessary for their studies if they do not become fully aware of what science
lecturers find most important and expect of them. Language teachers must explicitly teach
students language functions, explain expectations, and finally give students enough
opportunity to practise and internalise any skills or rules necessary for them to make a
success of their studies.
This chapter started by defining academic literacy as the reading, writing and thinking
abilities necessary to succeed in a tertiary environment. It has been argued that language
development courses should be situated in the context of a tertiary environment, and that it is
necessary for students to acquire the discourse of the academe to be accepted into, and be
successful in, this „new culture‟. Academic literacy might be acquired naturally by some
students – often students who already have an adequate basic proficiency in a language find it
easier to acquire the conventions of academic language. However, most South African
learners need guidance and even explicit instruction in acquiring the level of academic
literacy necessary to succeed in a tertiary environment. Where both first and additional
language speakers internationally enter tertiary institutions without being sufficiently
academically literate to succeed in their studies, this problem is even more pronounced in
South Africa, where the majority of first-year students speak English as a second, third or
fourth language. In addition, these students often do not have the literacy and cognitive
abilities necessary to function at tertiary level in their mother tongues, much less in English.
As argued in Section 1.1.1, throughput rates at South African universities are disturbingly
low. This is particularly problematic in South Africa, where there is a widespread shortage of
qualified professionals in fields such as information technology and engineering, as well as in
technological and technical occupations. Since a low level of academic literacy is commonly
accepted as being a major factor in low throughput rates, the hope is that explicitly teaching
students reading, writing and thinking abilities would improve their levels of academic
literacy, and that these abilities would ultimately transfer to students‟ other subjects.
It is necessary for academic literacy courses to focus on both fluency and accuracy in
language, since it is the combination of these that is needed in „real-life‟ situations that
students find themselves in (i.e. situations outside of the classroom). Important aspects that
need to be addressed in academic literacy courses are students‟ reading abilities and their
writing abilities (a process through which students consolidate knowledge, formulate ideas
and construct meaning), with an emphasis on low frequency words.
Teaching academic literacy is particularly difficult in an ODL institution. Firstly, acquiring
language proficiency in isolation is very difficult, since language is generally considered a
socially mediated process – one where learners need to have contact with teachers (or tutors)
and fellow learners. Other challenges include that there are rarely stable groups of students in
ODL (as opposed to traditional learning, where there are constant and fixed classes), and that
many ODL students, especially in South Africa, come from a lower socio-economic
background than those studying at residential institutions. A combination of these factors
makes it very difficult for students to work independently, with only very superficial
engagement with the institution. One way of transcending such superficial engagement is to
establish contact between student, teacher and institution in some way, preferably through
contact classes.
An important strategy in acquiring academic literacy is collaborative learning. Many tertiary
institutions rely on formal lectures, yet it has been proven that students learn better if they
participate in, and actively contribute to, their own learning. In addition, they are more likely
to learn better if they find the learning enjoyable – something which is more probable if they
participate in their own learning. Collaborative learning seems to be particularly beneficial to
black South African students, who often prefer a more collaborative learning style due to
their cultural background. By means of collaborative learning, the abilities of reading,
listening, writing and speaking can be integrated effectively. Collaborative learning has the
potential of providing quality education for large classes. This is something that has been
notoriously difficult to accomplish with mere learner-teacher interaction. Collaborative
learning therefore holds the potential of improving students‟ success rates in subjects,
increasing motivation and self-confidence, developing a critical perspective, and improving
teamwork and social relationships. Although students learn well from each other in groups,
an authority figure is still important to regulate and lend legitimacy to the learning process.
English for Academic Purposes (EAP) refers to English language proficiency courses taught
at educational institutions. By acquiring language in the context of the academe, students are
empowered to challenge this environment, i.e. to question existing knowledge from within
the specific field of study. The language and cognitive skills acquired in such classes are
specific to the context of academic study, as opposed to those learned in a normal English
course (with the sole purpose of learning the language).
English for Specific Purposes (ESP) aims at helping students to learn English so as to be
more successful in their specific field of study or work. The argument is that students will
acquire language more successfully if it is learned within a very specific discourse
community. Since ESP courses focus on a specific group‟s needs, it should ideally be „tailormade‟ to suit each individual group. The greatest justification for ESP courses is that they
improve student motivation, in that the material that is used is likely to be similar to texts that
students encounter in their studies of mainstream modules and that the type of tasks in the
ESP course would also be similar to those students are expected to do in their other courses.
An ESP course that is „tailor-made‟ for a group of students would ideally be designed to be
directly applicable to the rest of their studies. Though the material in an ESP course cannot
always be material taken directly from the texts used in students‟ other subjects, the main
concern with material in an ESP course is that it must be relevant – students must see the
relation between the abilities they practise in the ESP course and their other subjects.
The ESP model supported by the current study is the common-core approach, where students
from similar courses (in this case, science-related courses) are grouped together, and material
or topics from general interest areas are drawn upon, rather than focusing on one specific
subject. Texts of a semi-technical nature are used, which provide practice in the abilities,
structures and semi-technical vocabulary that students are likely to encounter in their
specialist studies.
As far as elements of an ESP course are concerned, it is essential to incorporate reading,
writing, speaking and listening activities. It is important to determine the type of, for
example, writing activity that students are likely to encounter in their studies, and to take this
into consideration when designing an ESP course. It is also advisable to include a wide
variety of texts when designing such a course, so that students can become experienced in
how such texts are constructed in their discipline. The research seems to imply that writing,
speaking and listening abilities should ideally follow reading activities. Vocabulary is also
very important in ESP courses, although it seems that sub-technical vocabulary poses more
problems to students than technical vocabulary. Other abilities that students need to acquire
are prewriting, planning, organising, synthesising and analysing texts. These abilities
encapsulate, but also transcend the individual abilities of reading, writing, speaking and
listening. Though it is not possible or desirable to always focus equally on reading, writing,
speaking and listening abilities in an ESP class, it is necessary to remember that these
abilities are integrated, and should not be practised in isolation from the others.
English for Science and Technology (EST) is the branch of ESP that the current study is
based upon. Whilst science-related subjects are already difficult to master at tertiary level,
they are even more difficult if students are at the same time still acquiring proficiency in
English, the main language of tertiary education in South Africa, and the major lingua franca
of the scientific world (Graddol, 2006). A lack of English proficiency can be a major
impediment even for students who have adequate science and mathematics abilities.
Language is vital in the field of science. Scientific fields such as chemistry, engineering,
physics and mathematics are mainly studied in English throughout the world. For scientists to
continually maintain and expand the field of science, they need to master the language that
makes this possible. Furthermore, they need to be able to „translate‟ their scientific findings
into understandable English, for those findings to be of any worth to the wider community.
In addition, language and science abilities seem to complement and strengthen each other,
and an improvement in language often leads to an improved ability to understand and express
scientific ideas. Exposure to both language and science improves students‟ reasoning skills,
and these can thus be seen as reciprocal abilities. Unfortunately, although a thorough
command of English is essential for science students, few subject-specialists have time to
devote to language learning. Therefore, EST courses should be a vital part of any science
EST courses can be justified by the unique characteristics of scientific discourse. Scientific
texts are particularly difficult in that they are generally very dense, and information is rarely
repeated or paraphrased in them. They usually contain large amounts of conceptually
complex factual information. Because they are often so conceptually complex, they must be
clearly written, so as to be more easily read. They must be precise, clear and objective. The
formal nature of scientific texts often leads students to the impression that their own thinking
is not important, and that they are required to regurgitate someone else‟s ideas. Scientific
discourse is linear and inductive. It also has certain grammatical characteristics such as
frequently being written in the passive voice, and generally using the present tense. The style
is always impersonal, with a preference for quantitative descriptions. Semantic discourse
markers such as conjunctions are frequently used. Though scientific language is not a
language separate from English, it does contain various linguistic features that students must
be made aware of, together with the reasons why these features are preferred.
Research indicates that, although the abilities of reading, writing, speaking and listening
cannot be separated, science students do rely more strongly on some of these abilities than on
others. The most important ability, identified by both students and researchers, is reading. In
addition, a knowledge of vocabulary is strongly related to reading. An effective strategy for
helping science students deal with complex texts is to scaffold such texts in an EST class.
Ideally, these texts should be just beyond the students‟ competency level so as to ensure their
continued interest. It is important that students are taught reading and vocabulary strategies,
and to give them enough time to practise both of these regularly. However, it is also
important to remember that these abilities cannot be fully developed in a short period of time
– they need to be developed consistently over time. Thus, a one-year academic literacy course
might not be enough to help students master sufficient reading and vocabulary strategies. The
second important ability seems to be writing skills, specifically being able to summarise and
paraphrase effectively. Teaching students to take notes by means of, for example, annotating
and mind mapping can prepare students for the more complex task of summarising. Speaking
abilities are also important for science students, though less so than reading and writing
abilities, since speaking to other students often helps students to refine their ideas and explore
alternative solutions to problems. Listening effectively, though seemingly the least important
of the four basic language abilities, is related to speaking, and forms the basis of effective
communicative education.
In EST classes, students not only get to engage in more authentic writing tasks, but they also
get the opportunity to discuss subject matter information, an experience that in the context of
the current study, namely distance education, is a very rare one indeed.
A successful ESP course, and more specifically EST course, should take all of the above into
account. The next chapter describes the target group of the current study in detail, and
explores the group‟s language needs.
Needs analysis
An analysis of student needs
The previous chapter discussed the concepts of English for Academic Purposes (EAP),
English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and English for Science and Technology (EST). It also
focused on the typical elements of such courses. The point was made that, ideally, each ESP
course should be adapted to the specific group of learners it is intended for.
This chapter focuses on a needs analysis of the current study‟s participants, so as to determine
which aspects would be most important to these learners in an ESP course. The analysis
emphasises three critical aspects. Firstly, the target group is analysed. This includes a
description of the demographics of the target group as well as their language needs. Secondly,
the type of assignments done by UNISA natural sciences students in their first year is
analysed. This analysis focuses specifically on applicable subjects in the Science Foundation
Programme (SFP). Certain categories of language and reasoning skills required for
assignments are identified. Thirdly, an analysis is done of students‟ Test of Academic
Literacy Levels (TALL) pre-test results, and inadequacies in students‟ academic literacy are
identified. The areas of weakness in students‟ academic literacy, in addition to the type of
language skills required from students for assignments in credit-bearing courses, are
subsequently used to critique the intervention programme used in this study.
According to Hutchinson and Waters (1987), three important questions should be asked in the
process of developing a syllabus for an ESP course: what do learners need (necessities), lack
(according to others) and want (according to themselves)? In the current study, an already
developed set of workshop materials was used. The study aims at determining whether the
existing workshop materials are suited to what students need, lack, and want. Learners‟ needs
are established through an analysis of several subject assignments, and what they lack is
established through the TALL. Students‟ wants are taken into account by analysing a
questionnaire that the participants in this study completed. This questionnaire was only
completed at the end of the year in which the intervention took place. It is therefore only
discussed in the next chapter, and used as a tool to suggest improvements for subsequent
workshop redevelopment. In addition to these information gathering techniques, observations
from the previous year‟s SFP workshops, as well as conversations with lecturers, were used
to determine what students needed, lacked and wanted. Coetzee-Van Rooy and Verhoef‟s
(2000) advice, that students‟ English proficiency levels must be investigated from many
perspectives, is followed here, since students have shown to have unrealistic beliefs about
their own proficiency levels.
Using a variety of information gathering techniques ensured triangulation, which can be
defined as “the use of two or more methods of data collection in the study of some aspect of
human behaviour" (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2007:141). According to Jick (1979),
“multiple viewpoints allow for greater accuracy”. Thus, using several methods of data
collection for the current study meant that the information was more likely to be reliable, as
relying on only one source could provide skewed information about students‟ needs.
Target group analysis
Since every group of students is likely to have diverse needs, it is often necessary to create
material for each different ESP group. As Kennedy and Bolitho (1984:22) point out, “[t]he
more specific the learners‟ needs are, the less likely they are to be met by published
material”. For this reason, the students who chose to attend the SFP workshops were
described by examining the demographics of the target group as well as students‟ language
needs. Information was collected by accessing the UNISA student information system (to
gather information about demographics) and by examining samples of student assignments
and examinations (to find out more about their language needs). Informal conversations with
students also contributed to the collection of information. To effectively describe the target
group, a target situation analysis framework was used.
The target situation analysis was originally conceived by Hutchinson and Waters (1987), and
consists of the following considerations: why the language is needed; how, where and when
the language will be used; what the content areas will be; and who the language will be used
This framework, however, seems to disregard several questions thought to be important to
form a broader picture of the type of student who attends an ESP course, so as to more
adequately adapt such a course to learners‟ needs. Additional considerations would include
what the ages and distribution of males and females in the student population are, whether the
students are first or additional language speakers, how proficient they are in the target
language, and what their schooling background is.
Therefore, for the purposes of the current study, Hutchinson and Waters‟ (1987) target
situation analysis is expanded to include the following questions:
What is the average age of the student population?
What is the distribution of males and females?
What is the distribution of first and additional language speakers?
What is students‟ schooling background?
How proficient are students in the language of learning/training (i.e. English)?
What will the content areas be?
Why is the language needed?
Who will the learner use the language with?
Where will the language be used?
How will the language be used?
When will the language be used?
A discussion of this framework follows in Sections 3.2.1 and 3.2.2. The framework is divided
into two broad categories, namely the demographics of the target group and the language
needs of the target group.
3.2.1 The demographics of the target group
It is important to have a broader picture of the demographics of a group before developing
appropriate course material. The average age, distribution of males and females, as well as
students‟ educational background can influence the type of exercises used in course material,
as well as the type of texts selected. In a study by Spoon and Schell (1998), for example, the
majority of adult „basic skills‟ students preferred a teacher-centred learning style, as opposed
to younger students who tended to be more learner-centred. Although a focus on the
demographics of the target group is not included in Hutchinson and Waters‟ (1987) target
situation analysis, it is included in this section.
The oldest student to attend the workshops on a regular basis was 52 years old, and the
youngest student to attend the workshops regularly was 17 years old. The average age of
students attending the workshops was 23 years. Although the mean age is somewhat higher
than it would be at a residential university, the majority of students are still relatively young,
and unlikely to have reached a stage of maturity where they could be optimally successful in
a distance learning environment (see, for example, Souder [1993], Buchanan [1999] and Diaz
Approximately twice as many males as females attended the workshops. Of the 21 students
who attended more than seven workshops (and wrote both pre- and post-tests), 13 (65%)
were male and 7 (35%) were female. This does not, however, reflect the total UNISA
registrations for the subjects that were targeted in these workshops. In 2009, a total of 49.6%
of the students registered for the subjects analysed in this study were female, and 50.4% were
male. Therefore, no significant deductions can be made from the spread of male and female
students attending the workshops.
The students attending the workshops were, without exception, additional language speakers
of English. The majority of learners were South African citizens. Only two students who
attended the workshops regularly came from other African countries, and no students came
from outside of Africa.
From informal conversations with students, it transpired that the students generally come
from an impoverished schooling background, more often than not with teachers who
themselves are not fully proficient in English. They are generally used to a more teachercentred teaching methodology, but as Chapter 2 shows, are likely to enjoy a more
collaborative methodology, due to their cultural background and values. The qualitative
questionnaire completed by students (discussed further in Chapter 5) confirms their
preference for a collaborative learning environment.
Growing up in South Africa (as the majority of them did), they seem to understand
conversational English well (often communicating in English in shops, with friends speaking
other languages, and hearing it on television), and even speak it quite fluently, but they
generally lack critical reading and writing abilities, as could be seen early on in the workshop
series after several reading and writing tasks were completed. Almost all of them recently
completed their secondary education, and few have completed any degrees or other short
courses before this year. Thus, the subject knowledge that the average attendee of these
workshops had was that of a school leaver. As they chose to study sciences, one could
surmise that all of the participants have at least some interest in subjects that are scientific in
3.2.2 The language needs of the target group
Before developing effective material for an ESP course, students‟ language needs must be
taken into account.
All students who participated in this study are first-year undergraduate Science Foundation
Programme students. Their greatest need for having mastered the target language to an
adequate level is therefore to use their language ability in order to study successfully in a
wide range of science-related fields. During their studies, students will have to write
assignments and examinations, read study material, and take notes. Since students do not
always realise the extent to which they use language in their studies (or the true level of their
language proficiency; see Coetzee-Van Rooy and Verhoef [2000]), they are not likely to be
motivated by a generic language course, as its application to their studies might not be clear
(this emerged from informal conversations with students, as well as from the questionnaires
discussed in Chapter 5). They are, however, more likely to be motivated by acquiring
language skills in the context of the sciences, where clear relations can be seen between the
language course and their studies after every workshop.
Since learners will make use of the language to communicate to both lecturers and students,
they have to be able to function on different levels of formality in terms of language usage.
Furthermore, the language is likely to be used both for individual work as well as in group
contexts: during workshops, tutorials, at home or at the library, when writing assignments or
examinations. Again, depending on the context they find themselves in, students must be able
to switch their level of language formality. During workshops and when taking notes, for
example, more informal language may be used, whereas very formal language must be used
when writing assignments or examinations. In addition, students must be able to express
themselves clearly when both writing and speaking. Since the language will be used not only
during the ESP course, but also later on in their studies and in their future professions, the
abilities that students acquire during the workshop programme must be solidified into their
language usage to such an extent that they still remember and build on these abilities in years
to come. One method of achieving this is to ensure that acquired abilities are reinforced
regularly during the workshop series.
In addition to determining why, where, when and how students use language in their studies,
it is important to determine what motivates students to attend language workshops. In this
study, the workshops were voluntary. Students attended them either to improve their
academic literacy for use in their studies, or specifically to get better marks for an English
course many of them have to take in their first year (though the workshops and the English
course are unrelated). No students were forced to attend the workshops. Students are often
motivated through external reasons (or instrumental motivation) to study a literacy course the most significant reason is for good marks (or at least a pass, so as not to be required to
repeat the course again the next year). Such motivation, however, could be argued to be less
desirable than what Hutchinson and Waters (1987:48) term „integrative motivation‟, a
motivation that “derives from a desire on the part of the learners to be members of a speech
community that uses a particular language”16. It is an internally generated want rather than an
externally imposed need. Most students attending these workshops did so for both of these
reasons. Many merely wanted more help with their English abilities so as to pass their
English course. Others (many of whom did not take this English course) were motivated
purely by a desire to improve their literacy abilities.
Now that the target group has been described more comprehensively, it is important to
understand what literacy abilities students lack. This is discussed in the following section.
See Footnote 11 on page 45 for a discussion of this controversial topic. Again, in the context of this study, the
implication is not that students wish to replace their own culture with that of the discourse community they are
entering. Rather, the researcher believes that it is a desire to gain access to additional discourse communities that
motivates students to acquire an additional language, and that access to additional discourse communities will
empower, rather than disempower, students in the academe.
Analysis of the TALL
To analyse students‟ academic literacy strengths and weaknesses, an academic literacy test –
the Test for Academic Literacy Levels (TALL) – was used. The TALL has been developed
collaboratively by the University of Pretoria, the University of Stellenbosch and North-West
University. It was developed because other available academic literacy tests were seen as
insufficient (Van Dyk, 2004), especially in the South African context. This test was chosen
for the current study because of its high reliability (an alpha-measure of 0.92 across several
versions) (Weideman, 2006). The TALL of 2007 comprised solely of multiple choice
The blueprint for this test is based on the following definition of academic literacy. In order
to study successfully at a tertiary institution, students should be able to:
understand a range of academic vocabulary in context;
interpret and use metaphor and idiom, and perceive connotation, word play and ambiguity;
understand relations between different parts of a text, be aware of the logical development of
(an academic) text, via introductions to conclusions, and know how to use language that
serves to make the different parts of a text hang together;
interpret different kinds of text type (genre), and show sensitivity for the meaning that they
convey, and the audience that they are aimed at;
interpret, use and produce information presented in graphic or visual format;
make distinctions between essential and non-essential information, fact and opinion,
propositions and arguments; distinguish between cause and effect, classify, categorise and
handle data that make comparisons;
see sequence and order, do simple numerical estimations and computations that are relevant to
academic information, that allow comparisons to be made, and can be applied for the
purposes of an argument;
know what counts as evidence for an argument, extrapolate from information by making
inferences, and apply the information or its implications to other cases than the one at hand;
understand the communicative function of various ways of expression in academic language
(such as defining, providing examples, arguing); and
make meaning (e.g. of an academic text) beyond the level of the sentence.
(Weideman, 2003a: xi).
The designers of the TALL argue that this definition is based on an open and interactive view
of language, rather than a restrictive, grammar-based one (Weideman, 2006).
The test was written before the intervention started (pre-test), as well as after the intervention
ended (post-test). The results discussed in this section are only those of the pre-test, which
served to identify the literacy abilities that students lacked. The post-test results are discussed
fully in Chapter 5.
This test was analysed according to certain categories of academic literacy, and the main
weaknesses and strengths in students‟ academic literacy were identified. The results of 46
students were used, since only students who wrote both the pre- and the post-test were
considered for this analysis. The sample size exceeds the number of 30 which Cohen et al
(2007) describe as the minimum for useful statistical analysis. On average, students obtained
26.98% for the test. The highest mark was 70%. Except for this mark, only one student
managed to obtain more than 50%, with a mark of 59%. The lowest mark was 2%, with the
second and third lowest marks at 14% each. If these students had studied at the University of
Pretoria, everyone who scored below 55% would have been classified as at-risk, which
means that only two students would have been considered not at risk.
The abilities tested in the TALL were categorised as follows:
Main sections in
Abilities tested
the test
Section 1: Scrambled
Relations between parts of a text, logical
sequence of a text
Section 2: Interpreting
Understanding basic numeracy
graphs and visual
(including percentages and fractions),
identifying trends
Section 3: Text types
Understanding the difference in style,
Number of
Number of
questions / 65
marks / 100
5 questions
5 marks
8 questions
8 marks
5 questions
5 marks
22 questions
48 marks
9 questions
18 marks
16 questions
16 marks
register and tone of different texts
Section 4:
Comprehension, understanding
Understanding texts
connotations, understanding
relationships between ideas, inferencing,
distinguishing between essential and
non-essential information
Section 5: Academic
Understanding academic vocabulary in
Section 6: Text editing
Understanding words in context,
understanding sentence structure
Table 3.1
Academic literacy abilities tested by the TALL
The following table presents students‟ results broken down into the various test sections:
Test section
Average percentage
Section 1: Scrambled text
Section 2: Interpreting graphs and visual information
Section 3: Text types
Section 4: Understanding texts
Section 5: Academic vocabulary
Section 6: Text editing
Table 3.2
Results of target group’s academic literacy abilities
Clearly, students were extremely weak in all of these areas. Even the section on „Interpreting
graphs and visual information‟, that one would expect the SFP students (who all had
mathematics and/or science in secondary school) to do very well in, received very low results
(an average of 34.78%) – this is, however, the section in which students fared the best.
The results of the test show that the participants need to significantly improve in all of the
academic literacy areas identified by the TALL for them to have less risk of failing at their
studies. Chapter 5 discusses the improvement in each of these areas, which was determined
by comparing the pre- and the post-tests.
To identify which of these skills are most important for the UNISA SFP students, an analysis
of a sample of their assignments was done. This analysis is discussed in the following
Analysis of assignments
In 2006, the UNISA Science Foundation Programme comprised of 17 subjects, namely:
1. Agriculture 1: Production Economics and Management (AME1015)
2. Nature Conservation 1: Animal Studies (ANS101T)
3. Agriculture 1: Animal Nutrition (ASA102M)
4. Biology 1 (BLG111H)
5. Mathematics 1: Precalculus A (MAT110M)
6. Chemistry 1: General Chemistry (CHE101N)
7. Computer Science 1: Introduction to Programming (COS111U)
8. Geography 1 (GGH101Q)
9. Nature Conservation 1: Resource Management (HBB121R)
10. Mathematics 1: Precalculus B (MAT111N)
11. Engineering 1: Mechanical Engineering Drawing (MED161Q)
12. Animal Health 1: Anatomy and Physiology (PAH131S)
13. Physics (PHY104-9)
14. Nature Conservation 1: Plant Studies (PSO141Q)
15. Mathematics 1: Mathematics for Mining (WIM131U)
16. Zoology 1: Animal Diversity: ZOL121Q
17. Botany 1 (BOT121U)
Assignments of 6 of the 17 subjects were examined to determine which skills students needed
most to successfully complete these subjects. The subjects that were analysed were:
1. Animal Nutrition: ASA102M
2. Animal Studies 1: ANS101T
3. Botany 1: BOT121U
4. General Chemistry A: CHE101N
5. Production Economics and Management: AME1015
6. Resource Management 1: HBB121R
The sample was chosen based on the appropriateness of assignments. Some subjects were
disregarded for reasons such as:
assignments requiring only calculations or drawings, for example Mathematics
(MAT111N) and Mechanical Engineering Drawing (MED161Q);
assignments comprising solely of multiple choice questions, for example Geography
(GGH101Q). These were disregarded because the multiple choice questions tested
only knowledge, and no higher order abilities (as defined in Bloom‟s taxonomy [see
below])17; and
assignments not being available in the tutorial letter, for example Physics (PHY1049)
and Biology (BLG111H).
Previous studies (such as Braine, 1995) have categorised science students‟ assignment types
under the following headings: „Summary‟, „Reaction‟, „Experimental laboratory report‟,
„Experimental design report‟, „Case study‟, and „Research project‟. The use of the same
categories was, however, not possible for the current study, since first-year students were not
required to do any of the more „extensive‟ writing tasks that these categories require. The
most extensive writing that was ever expected of students was answering short questions. The
longest piece of writing required of students was one paragraph. Thus, the abilities that
students needed in order to complete assignments successfully had to be categorised
The following eight abilities were identified:
1) Writing definitions
2) Naming / listing points
3) Answering true/false questions
4) Explaining
5) Comparing / contrasting
6) Illustrating / drawing sketches
7) Drawing tables or graphs
8) Categorising / ordering
These abilities were chosen based on how frequently they were required in students‟
To further categorise these abilities, Bloom‟s taxonomy was used. Bloom‟s taxonomy can be
divided into three domains of learning, namely cognitive (knowledge), affective (attitude)
and psychomotor (manual and physical skills) (Clark, 2004). In looking at students‟
assignments, it is useful to examine the cognitive domain more closely, to determine at what
Although it is possible for multiple choice questions to successfully address higher order cognitive abilities,
none of the multiple choice questions examined in these assignments did so.
level of Bloom‟s taxonomy first-year UNISA students are mostly required to function.
Determining the level(s) (as described by Bloom‟s taxonomy) on which students are required
to operate aids, firstly, in categorising the types of tasks students are expected to complete in
their studies. Once this has been determined, suitable academic literacy material can be
developed to address the appropriate levels students need to function at. A second advantage
of categorising student task types according to Bloom‟s taxonomy is that more insight is
gained into the cognitive skills expected of UNISA first-year students. Bloom‟s taxonomy
can be represented as follows:
Figure 3.1
Bloom’s taxonomy (Adapted from the University of South Australia
[UniSA], 2006)
The first level of the cognitive domain is that of „knowledge‟. This is the most elementary
level, requiring the lowest level of cognitive skills (May & Palmer, 2004). At this level,
students are merely required to recall information (Clark, 2004). This is often possible
through rote learning, where little comprehension is necessary. The first three abilities
according to which students‟ assignment questions were categorised (namely „defining‟,
„naming / listing‟, and „true/false‟ questions) would fall under this level.
„Comprehension‟ is the second level of the cognitive domain. At this level, students are
required to understand the meaning of information (Clark, 2004). This is usually best
displayed when stating the problem in one‟s own words, thus the abilities of paraphrasing and
summarising are very important here. Of the eight categories identified in students‟
assignments, the categories that best fit under the comprehension level are „explaining‟ and
„comparing/contrasting‟. It must be noted that the abilities of comparing/contrasting could
also be categorised under either of the next two levels, namely „application‟ or „analysis‟.
However, the level at which students were required to compare and contrast information in
these assignments seemed to fit best under the „comprehension‟ level.
The third level of the cognitive domain at which students are expected to function is the
„application level‟. At this level, students should be able to use a concept in a new situation
(Clark, 2004). Abilities that can be categorised under this level are those of illustrating and
drawing graphs and tables.
The fourth level of the cognitive domain, namely „analysis‟, requires students to separate
information into component parts so as to understand its organisational structure (Clark,
2004). The only ability identified in the assignments analysed in this study that falls under
this level is that of categorising or ordering.
The fifth level of the cognitive domain is „synthesis‟. At this level, students must put parts
together to form a whole. There is an emphasis on creating new meaning, or at least a new
structure (Clark, 2004). This level was identified in only one question of one assignment
examined in this study.
The final level of the cognitive domain is „evaluation‟. Here, students must make valuejudgments about ideas (Clark, 2004). Again, this level was only identified in one question
amongst all the assignments analysed in this study.
3.4.1. Science Foundation Programme (SFP) assignments analysed according to
Bloom’s taxonomy
Mainly the first four levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, namely „knowledge‟, „comprehension‟,
„application‟ and „analysis‟, were evident in the SFP assignments analysed for this study. A
discussion of all the levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, together with examples from students‟
study guides, follows.
95 Knowledge
The cognitive level that is drawn on most frequently in the assignments examined in this
study is the „knowledge‟ level. „Defining‟ was the ability that was needed most regularly in a
wide variety of subjects. One assignment specified that concise definitions were necessary,
and several assignments required a definition and an example to illustrate the definition.
According to Bloom‟s taxonomy, definition is a lower-order skill. Yet, for students to write
clear, concise and complete definitions, it is important that they are able to identify the main
points of an issue and use correct sentence grammar. For additional language users, these are
not always easy abilities to acquire. Another ability drawn on in most of the assignments is
that of naming/listing. Five of the six subjects‟ assignments required students to complete
questions that would fall under this category; however, questions requiring this ability were
not very frequent in these five assignments. One of the five subjects analysed contained
true/false questions18. To answer these questions successfully, as is the case with the multiple
choice questions that students were often required to do in their first assignment, students
need to be able to implement the reading strategies of scanning, skimming and reading in
Examples of questions that would fall in this category are the following:
Define the following terms. Illustrate your answer with a suitable example in each
valence electron
(iii) p-orbital
(CHE101N – Question 2c)
Briefly list the relevant points that have to be taken into account when simple
random test sampling is used, and state its application.
(HBB121R – Section B, Question 1a).
Mark the correct block (…) to indicate whether the following statements are true
or false:
Malarial organisms belong to the phylum Apicomplexa. (…)
(ANS101T – Assignment 1, Question 1)
Although various reading strategies are necessary to answer true/false questions correctly, the inclusion of
these at Higher Education level is problematic, as students have a 50% chance of being correct. Therefore,
results based on these questions cannot be taken as a true indication of students‟ quality of learning.
What is the meaning of the term “Cephalopoda”?
(ANS101T – Assignment 3, Question 1a)
Write the correct term or phrase that corresponds with each of the statements
given below. Number your answers carefully and correctly.
1.1 What is the fourth factor of production that is also called the know-how or
managerial skills? (...)
(AME1015 – Assignment 3, Question 1.1)
Describe the structure of the two organelles involved in protein synthesis.
(BOT121U – Assignment 1, Question 1.2) Comprehension
The second cognitive level of Bloom‟s taxonomy, namely „comprehension‟, was also drawn
on quite extensively in these assignments, almost to the same degree as the „knowledge‟
level. All of the subjects examined required students to either explain a concept, discuss it, or
compare and contrast information, often with the purpose of explaining the difference
between concepts. For all of these questions, students had to be able to state information in
their own words so as to show that they understood the work, and usually it was also
necessary for students to summarise information. Here, students not only needed to identify
main ideas, but also had to manipulate language to transfer information.
Examples of questions that would fall in this category are the following:
Explain the term „binomial nomenclature‟ with the aid of an example.
(ANS101T – Assignment 2, Question 1a)
What is the difference between intracellular and extracellular digestion? You must
refer to Hydra as an example.
(ANS101T – Assignment 3, Question 3c)
Explain the goal of agricultural economics and how it is achieved.
(AME1015 – Assignment 2, Question 2.5)
What is the relationship between iodine and thyroxin?
(ASA102M – Assignment 3, Question 1.3)
What is the difference between a weak acid and a strong acid? Illustrate your
answer with suitable examples.
(CHE101N – Assignment 1, Question 4c)
Discuss Mendell‟s results – the theory of inheritance.
(BOT121U – Assignment 1, Question 3.1)
Fire is used in nature conservation management for more than one purpose.
Briefly discuss this statement.
(HBB121R – Assignment 1, Question 4b)
Write notes on the feeding of the earthworm. Explain why the earthworm is an
ecologically important organism.
(ANS101T – Assignment 3, Question 2e) Application
The „application‟ level of Bloom‟s taxonomy was also required in most assignments, though
the marks awarded to questions that called for this level of cognition were considerably fewer
than for the previous two levels, namely „knowledge‟ and „explanation‟. Four subjects
required students to draw tables or graphs. Students either had to complete a table, draw one
themselves, or plot graphs. All of these require students to take information from one context
and represent it in another context, i.e. visually. Three subjects required students to illustrate
information, for example, by drawing a concept map, a diagram, a schematic representation,
or a sketch. Two subjects required students to apply information by doing calculations.
Examples of questions that would fall in this category are the following:
Give a detailed diagram of the cell cycle.
(BOT 121U – Assignment 1, Question 2.1)
Use a concept map to illustrate the various components of feed.
(ASA102M – Assignment 2, Question 1.2)
Complete the table below. Given the data for the Product and Price of the product,
calculate Revenue, ATC and MC and plot a graph to show that MC = ATC at its
lowest point.
(AME1015 – Assignment 3, Question 4.4)
Calculate the population size from the given population density and area. The
population density equals 1,5/ha and the total area is 30 km2.
Population density = .....................
(HBB121R – Assignment 2, Section A, Question 3)
Calculate the energy of a photon of blue light which is observed in the emission
spectrum of sodium corresponding to a wavelength of 48 nm.
(CHE101N – Assignment 1, Question 4d)
Tabulate the differences between male and female roundworm Ascaris
lumbricoides. Draw labelled diagrams to substantiate your answer.
(ANS101T – Assignment 1, Question 6a). Analysis
The fourth level of Bloom‟s taxonomy, namely „analysis‟, was hardly evident in any of the
assignments. Only one subject‟s assignment required students to complete two questions
where they had to categorise and order information. Even these questions, however, could be
argued to rather belong to the „comprehension‟ or „application‟ categories, due to their
An example of a question that would belong to this category is the following:
Compare the different phases of respiration with respect to the starting substrate,
end product and energy rich products formed, and where it occurs in the cell.
(BOT121U – Assignment 2, Question 3.1) Synthesis and evaluation
The last two levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, namely „synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟, were
identified in only one question, namely the final HBB121 assignment:
Study chapters 16 to 18 (study guide 2), the prescribed bulletin of Matthee & van
Schalkwyk (1984), and work of other authors on soil erosion. Apply the theory
contained in these texts to address an example of ditch erosion that occurs in your
(1) From your own area, choose an appropriate example of soil erosion
(preferably one of ditch erosion). Study this specific example in terms of the
following factors and write a scientific report of your results.
(2) Then, plan a restoration method to stop the erosion and reclaim the eroded
area. (...). Incorporate any other management steps you deem necessary (because
of the related causes) as management proposals in your assignment.
(HBB121R, Assignment 3)
Here, students had to synthesise the work of several authors on the topic of soil erosion
(using the theory to explain soil erosion in a specific area), and subsequently plan a method to
stop soil erosion in this area. Although the level of „evaluation‟ is only applied to a limited
extent in this question, students still need to evaluate the type and extent of soil erosion in an
area, and based on this, be creative in planning a restoration method for this area.
When the assignments of second year courses are compared, the trend is much the same as
above. The level most drawn on in second year assignments is that of „comprehension‟, with
a clear shift away from „knowledge‟. Application is focused on to approximately the same
extent as in the first-year assignments.
The last three categories, namely „analysis‟,
„synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟ are again neglected in the second-year assignments. Although
slightly more questions fall under these categories (5 questions out of all the second-year
assignments, as opposed to 3 in the first-year assignments), lecturers do not seem to expect
their second-year students to work at these levels yet.
This analysis of students‟ subjects gives a clear indication of the cognitive levels at which
students are required to operate in their assignments. Clearly, the bottom half of Bloom‟s
taxonomy is much more important for students at first-year and second-year level in the
UNISA Science Foundation Programme than are the top three levels. It is important to keep
this in mind when developing material for students, so as to focus on abilities relevant to their
respective fields of study.
For an ESP course to be relevant, each individual group of students must be analysed
according to certain criteria. This chapter has examined the target group, its language
weaknesses as well as the language abilities necessary for the students to successfully
complete their assignments.
To begin with, the demographics of the target group were examined. Although students in
this study were slightly older than the average school-leaving university student, the average
age was still quite low at 23 years – probably not what most people would consider a
„mature‟ age. All students were additional language speakers of English, and most of them
were South African. Most students also came from an impoverished schooling background,
and very few had completed any tertiary education before enrolling for the science-related
degree they were busy with during this study.
Participants needed to improve their literacy abilities so as to have a better chance at
succeeding in their studies. The workshops were voluntary, and students attended the
workshops for both instrumental (external) as well as integrative (internal) motivational
reasons. The literacy abilities acquired in these workshops were used for students‟ first-year
assignments and studies, but were also aimed at equipping them for the rest of their studies,
as well as their future careers.
To determine the literacy abilities that students lacked, the TALL was used. The pre-test
indicated that students‟ academic literacy abilities were at an unacceptably low level for all
test sections: the average score for the test was 27%, a score that indicates that students are
at high risk of failing their studies.
Finally, students‟ language needs were identified by examining the assignments of a sample
of SFP subjects. Traditional categorisations of assignments were impractical for this study,
since little (if any) extensive writing seems to be done in students‟ first year. Instead, eight
categories were identified as recurring frequently in students‟ assignments (see Section 3.4).
The assignment questions falling under these eight categories were subsequently classified
according to abilities necessary for the six levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy. It was found that the
first two levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, namely „knowledge‟ and „comprehension‟, were relied
upon most heavily in assignments. The „application‟ level followed these two levels. The
fourth, fifth and sixth levels, namely „analysis‟, „synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟ were rarely
required from students in their assignments.
The next chapter examines the workshops in the SFP academic literacy intervention
programme, and consequently criticises their design, keeping in mind the needs identified in
Chapters 2 and 3.
Description of workshop material
As already mentioned in previous chapters, the effective development of learning materials
depends on the developer‟s understanding of how the course is to be constructed, familiarity
with students‟ needs, and finally a decision on what type of language students will need.
Diagram 4.1 illustrates that the most important aspects regarding material development have
already been discussed in previous chapters.
Figure 4.1
Factors affecting ESP course design (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987:22)
[Chapter 4]
[Chapter 2]
nature of
target and
Needs analysis
[Chapter 3]
Chapter 2 deals with a justification of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses, and
discusses relevant approaches to language learning (the main one being collaborative
learning) that are underlying principles of the material used in the current study. The
literature study done in this chapter further considers student needs and the requirements of
scientific writing. Chapter 3 serves as a needs analysis for this study‟s specific target group,
describing its nature and learning situation. It also examines what type of literacy abilities
students in the SFP need to successfully complete their assignments. The current chapter
discusses the syllabus of the workshop programme used in this study.
Description of the workshop programme outline
The intervention took the form of a series of 20 workshops of three hours each. The
workshops were designed to show a logical progression from dealing with vocabulary
acquisition to the writing of an extensive academic text. The following topics were covered
during the workshops:
1. Improving your vocabulary
Acquire methods of improving vocabulary;
Understand and use parts of speech; and
Use a range of vocabulary in specific subject fields in sentences.
2. Writing good19 sentences
Use words in the appropriate contexts;
Identify all of the necessary parts of speech that constitute a proper sentence;
Identify and use the active and passive voice correctly.
3. Using scientific words and concepts in context
Correctly use words that can be used in more than one context;
Convert symbols into formulas written in good sentences and vice versa; and
Identify the various connotations of words, and the feelings and emotions that
accompany such words.
This word „good‟ in this title is problematic, as it is unclear what a „good‟ sentence would be. However, this
word was chosen as it was thought to be the most accessible to students. The same is the case with the title
“Writing good paragraphs” on the following page.
4. Reading in the sciences (1)
Develop techniques of skimming, scanning and reading closely; and
Apply these abilities to a variety of scientific texts.
5. Writing good paragraphs (1)
Develop an awareness of topic sentences, and identify these in paragraphs in
your study guides;
Write good paragraphs that are built on good topic sentences;
Develop an awareness of discourse markers (conjunctions); and
Use discourse markers in joining ideas and sentences.
6. Writing good paragraphs (2)
Use discourse markers to combine more difficult ideas and sentences;
Analyse logical relations; and
Write answers (in paragraph form) to questions in study guides.
7. Paraphrasing
Write information in your own words.
8. Summarising
Paraphrase and summarise information; and
Distinguish between essential and non-essential information.
9. Visual literacy (1)
Read and interpret tables, graphs, charts and other visual information.
10. Visual literacy (2)
Gather and tabulate data, and do basic calculations to interpret this data;
Interpret results obtained in your own research; and
Represent these results visually, in graphs and charts.
11. Distinguishing between essential and non-essential information
Distinguish between main ideas, supporting ideas and examples;
Distinguish between facts, opinions and assumptions; and
Classify, categorise and label information.
12. Note-taking strategies
Make an outline of information; and
Represent information visually in the form of a mind-map.
13. Introduction to referencing
Develop an awareness of the function and location of different parts of a text;
Develop an awareness of plagiarism and how to avoid it by means of
referencing correctly.
14. Bibliographies
Use in-text referencing appropriately; and
Construct a list of references of books, study guides, journals, newspapers and
the Internet.
15. Revision – Parts of speech and paragraph writing
Revise the use of parts of speech and conjunctions; and
Practise writing effective paragraphs.
16. Reading in the sciences (2)
Revisit reading strategies, and combine these with effective note-taking skills;
Apply these abilities to advanced reading comprehension activities.
17. Writing about facts in the sciences (expository writing)
Analyse the structure of a text (introduction, body, and conclusion);
Understand the hierarchy of ideas; and
Illustrate concepts and ideas with examples, drawings or theorems.
18. Arguing in the sciences (argumentative writing)
Understand the hierarchy of ideas;
Judge information critically, and prove the validity of statements; and
Argue concepts and ideas with examples, theorems or persuasive passages.
19. Synthesising information
Apply known knowledge to new contexts and the general to the particular;
Extrapolate – infer by deducing beyond the facts, estimate beyond the known,
and make predictions; and
Write about a topic in a relevant subject in which several sources are
20. Writing a laboratory report
Understand the various sections of a laboratory report;
Identify inappropriate language use and unnecessary information in existing
laboratory reports; and
Write sections of laboratory reports when given basic information.
As noted previously, the workshops complemented one another in terms of progressing
logically from less complex to more complex language learning tasks. For example, a
workshop on writing good sentences preceded the workshop on writing good paragraphs.
These were then followed by workshops focusing on, for example, reading strategies (during
which students had to use abilities such as vocabulary learning and note taking, which were
both addressed in earlier workshops) and, subsequently, a focus on the complexities of
writing ability.
Analysis of workshops
It should be noted that although the workshop titles might imply that the issues addressed
were fairly narrow in scope, workshops were treated holistically. Workshops were, therefore,
flexible enough so that skills introduced in previous workshops were revisited and reinforced
as the need arose. This section analyses workshops (found in Addenda A to T) according to
the abilities they address. They are then discussed in terms of the extent to which they
address the abilities identified in the previous chapters.
4.3.1 Workshop 1: Improving your vocabulary
Workshop 1 was titled „Improving your vocabulary‟ (Addendum A). All vocabulary used in
this workshop is subtechnical vocabulary typically used in a scientific context. As Section
2.4.3 argues, students generally have more difficulty with subtechnical vocabulary than with
purely technical vocabulary. The vocabulary used in the first three workshops either comes
from a scientific word list (Gillett, [undated]) or from articles or books that focus on
vocabulary that science students generally struggle with (for example Johnstone & Cassels,
1978). All vocabulary was chosen on the grounds of its occurrence in scientific discourse, its
difficulty, or how often students confuse its meaning (see Section 2.4.3, as well as Ma [1993]
and Miller [2009]).
In this workshop, some grammar is dealt with (parts of speech in Task 1), but only with the
purpose of applying that knowledge in manipulating vocabulary so as to make an educated
guess about the context in which to use new vocabulary (e.g. as a noun, verb, adjective or
adverb) (Task 2), and so as to correctly use the vocabulary in sentences (Task 3). Thus, the
approach to grammar teaching in this workshop series is similar to that of Ellis (2006), as
discussed in Section 2.5.3 (also see Nunan [1988]). In addition, students are given a „New
word list‟ in which they can write down new vocabulary, together with parts of speech,
dictionary definitions and explanatory sentences where the new words are used in context.
Students were supposed to update this word list during the year to improve their vocabulary.
However, a weakness in this study was that the facilitator did not check throughout the year
whether students did indeed update this list. Finally, students complete a crossword puzzle
consisting of academic vocabulary (Task 4).
Students worked in small groups of three to four to write down the functions of the different
parts of speech in Task 1. For the second task, they had to manipulate the parts of speech and
subsequently write sentences in pairs. In Task 3, students firstly wrote as many sentences as
possible individually, and then worked in pairs to teach each other vocabulary that their
partners might not have identified. Finally, students worked in groups of three to four to
create as many correct sentences as possible. The crossword puzzle in Task 4 was completed
in groups of three to four students.
Knowledge of academic vocabulary generally underlies successful reading and writing
abilities, which in turn largely predict academic success (see, for example, Phillilps [2004]).
The importance of this issue is also acknowledged in the TALL, where an entire section is
devoted to academic vocabulary (Section 5 of the TALL). In addition, it tests students‟ ability
to make educated guesses (in terms of making use of the context) about missing words in the
section on text editing (Section 6 of the TALL). It is necessary that students acquire the
ability to make such educated guesses about new academic vocabulary, as well as broaden
their academic vocabulary range, for them to ultimately be successful in their studies. This
forms part of being academically literate, according to the definition of academic literacy
given by Weideman (2003a) in Section 3.3.
When this workshop is evaluated, it would seem as though most of the guidelines given in the
literature regarding the acquisition of vocabulary in the fields of science and technology are
adhered to. The focus is on subtechnical vocabulary that students are likely to encounter and
have difficulties with (see Section 2.4.3). Grammar is incorporated in this workshop, but only
to facilitate meaning (see Section 2.5.3). A weakness in this programme is that vocabulary
development is not stressed throughout the workshops series. As vocabulary acquisition is a
continuous process, a three-hour workshop is not sufficient to develop this important aspect
of academic literacy.
4.3.2 Workshop 2: Writing good sentences
Workshop 2 is titled „Writing good sentences‟ (Addendum B). It focuses on various
important abilities such as using the passive voice (Task 1), which is often used in scientific
writing; using the correct part of speech in context (Task 2 – reinforcing the abilities dealt
with in the first workshop); joining simple sentences into more complex sentences with
correct punctuation or conjunctions (Task 3 – here punctuation rules are addressed, together
with a basic introduction to discourse markers. The necessity for this ability was highlighted
in the literature review, Sections 2.5.2 and 2.5.3, as well as by the fact that most of the
students‟ assignments required one sentence answers, as seen in Section 3.4); and making use
of nominalisation (Task 4), yet another characteristic of scientific language. In the final task
(Task 5), students are required to answer in full sentences questions that could typically be
found in their study guides (an example would be question 5a, where students are asked the
following: “In a brief sentence, define pollination in flowering plants”).
Tasks 1, 2 and 4 were done in pairs, Task 3 was done in groups of three to four students, and
Task 5 was done individually. Alternating the level of collaborative learning kept students
interested in a topic that has the potential of becoming monotonous.
The text excerpts and sentences used in this workshop all come either from students‟ tutorial
letters or from the science sections of a reading course called START (Strategies for
Academic Reading and Thinking), so as to make these exercises more authentic for science
students. A degree of authenticity is vital for motivation, as argued in Section 2.4.1.
This workshop, although it does not necessarily focus on any of the abilities tested in the
TALL, is vital for students‟ assignments, since the majority of assignment questions requires
answers in full sentences.
This workshop incorporates several guidelines as set out in the literature, for example
practising strategies such as nominalisation, the use of the passive voice, and constructing
complex sentences (see Sections 2.5 and 2.5.2). It is the first step in introducing students to
longer stretches of scientific discourse, and allowing them to gain entrance into this discourse
community. The use of authentic texts further aids in this endeavour.
4.3.3 Workshop 3: Using scientific words and concepts in context
Workshop 3, „Using scientific words and concepts in context‟ (Addendum C), builds on both
the previous workshops. In Task 1, students need to use words which can be used in both an
everyday context and a scientific context in complete, explanatory sentences. They can
choose words that might typically be found in their own fields of study. Here, students need
to firstly understand which part of speech to use, secondly they have to use the word in
different semantic contexts, and thirdly they need to use the word in a full sentence. The main
aim of this task is to reinforce abilities acquired in the previous workshops. In Task 2,
students need to complete a crossword puzzle. The clues give two meanings of the same
word, either in different scientific fields or in a scientific and an everyday context. This task
is done in the form of a competition, where the first small group of students to finish the
crossword puzzle wins a prize (something as small as a chocolate suffices). This encourages
an enthusiastic atmosphere, whilst improving students‟ vocabulary. Task 3 builds on
vocabulary that might be used in a mathematical context. Here, students need to complete
mathematical instructions with the appropriate word. Task 4 challenges students to convert
scientific information either from a symbolic form to a written form, or from a written form
to a symbolic form. The last two activities aid in showing students the link between the
abilities practised in the workshops and subjects such as mathematics or chemistry.
Task 1 is initially done individually, and then marked in small groups. Task 2 is also done in
small groups. In both of these tasks, students can teach each other words that certain group
members might not know. Tasks three and four are completed in pairs.
Dictionaries are freely available, and students use these extensively to look up words, without
being forced to do so. This also encourages dictionary use in a relaxed atmosphere. Words
and sentences used in tasks mainly come from the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry
and biology. Thus, at least some of the material in this workshop would be authentic for
Although no new abilities are focused on in this workshop, it is valuable in that it builds on
previous workshops. It especially focuses on the difficulties that students often have with
distinguishing between everyday and specialised meanings of words (see Section 2.4.3), in
addition to providing practice in writing single sentences. In an enjoyable manner, this
workshop highlights the importance of correct vocabulary usage; that in itself makes the
workshop worthwhile.
4.3.4 Workshop 4: Reading in the sciences (1)
Workshop 4 (Addendum D), titled „Reading in the sciences (1)‟, is the first workshop that
focuses on reading abilities. In this workshop, skimming and scanning are introduced. These
reading strategies are first explained to students and subsequently practised in Tasks 1 to 3.
All tasks are first completed individually. After Task 1 has been completed individually,
students have small-group discussions about the most important facts they picked up whilst
skimming three texts. A whole-class discussion is held on their feedback20. Tasks 2 and 3 are
again done in the form of a competition, with the first student to have all the answers correct
winning a small prize. This is very effective in getting students to engage with the tasks, and
encouraging them to find the correct answers. This is followed by a whole-class discussion of
what students might use skimming and scanning for.
Two of the texts used are authentic texts taken from tutorial letters (i.e. study guides).
Another text is taken from a diagnostic assessment task that most students had to complete at
the beginning of the year (though the questions asked do not come from this diagnostic
assessment). Thus, they are all texts similar to those that students are likely to come into
contact with whilst engaging in their studies.
Reading abilities are tested in the TALL under the reading comprehension section (Section
4). Fine-tuning these skills could be argued to be the most important ability a student can
acquire during a literacy course. As illustrated in Section 2.5.3, many researchers believe
reading abilities to be even more vital than writing, speaking or listening abilities. This
section also emphasises the importance of reading strategies such as skimming and scanning.
Although adequate reading abilities are important at all of the levels in Bloom‟s taxonomy,
they are vital at the first two levels of „knowledge‟ and „comprehension‟, since here, students‟
own opinions matter little. They merely need to effectively transmit what they read and
understand onto paper (see also the importance of skimming and scanning under the
discussion of the „knowledge‟ level of Bloom‟s taxonomy under Section
4.3.5 Workshops 5 and 6: Writing good paragraphs
Workshops 5 and 6 (Addenda E and F) both address „Writing good paragraphs‟. In Workshop
5, students have to start by identifying topic sentences in various authentic scientific texts
(Task 1). Subsequently, they have to write a variety of paragraphs themselves (i.e. definition,
The instructions regarding group discussions and whole-class feedback are not mentioned on the students‟
worksheets (added as addenda at the end of this dissertation). These instructions are, however, indicated on the
facilitator‟s handout. Throughout the workshop series, further instructions on activities such as these are often
indicated only on the facilitator‟s notes.
classification, comparison and contrast, sequence, explanation and evaluation paragraphs)
(Task 2). On transparencies, students are given typical discourse markers that might be used
in each of these paragraphs (building on Workshop 2), and are given topics to choose from
when writing the paragraphs. The paragraphs can be classified under the categories in
Bloom‟s taxonomy, ranging from the knowledge level (e.g. the definition paragraphs) to the
evaluation level (e.g. the evaluation paragraphs). Many of these paragraphs are typical of
short questions of about 5 to 10 marks that students might have to answer in their
These tasks are all completed individually. The paragraphs are subsequently scored by three
other classmates. This phase is „scaffolded‟ in the sense that students are provided with
specific criteria for assessing one another‟s work. Such criteria include that there has to be a
topic sentence, at least some of the given discourse markers have to be used, grammar and
spelling have to be correct, and the content needs to be cohesive and coherent. Students need
to indicate what they deduct marks for by underlining problematic areas and writing a short
justification next to it. If they do not deduct more than two marks, or if they are not sure
about the marks they want to give each other, they need to call the facilitator for a second
opinion. Marking each other‟s work helps to foster a critical awareness of certain common
mistakes that occur in student writing. Although it is always more difficult to see mistakes in
one‟s own work, the hope is that this critical awareness would later on filter through to
students‟ own writing.
The paragraphs used in the first task come from a variety of scientific fields (in this case,
from mathematics, biology, computer science, chemistry and geology), so as to interest as
many students as possible. A variety of topics is also given for each type of paragraph that
students have to write, so as to give them the opportunity of writing on a topic related to their
field of study.
Workshop 6 is a continuation of „Writing good paragraphs‟. In this workshop, the use of
discourse markers (which were introduced in previous workshops) is dealt with in detail, and
the relationships between sentences and ideas in paragraphs are examined.
In the first task, students‟ existing knowledge is exploited, and groups of four to five students
need to think of as many discourse markers as they can, in addition to organising these into
three broad categories (namely „additive‟, „contrastive‟ and „cause and effect‟ discourse
markers). This serves to let students think about the meaning and purpose of these discourse
markers. In Task 2, students need to construct sentences with five discourse markers that they
find difficult. This again reinforces abilities dealt with in previous workshops, whilst
integrating these with new knowledge. In Task 3, students merely need to identify discourse
markers, although the words they have to identify are often words that might not seem like
discourse markers at first. This again serves the purpose of letting students think carefully
about the purpose of certain words in sentences, and how discourse markers connect ideas.
The first part of Task 4 is a simple „fill-in-the-gap‟ exercise, although students do need to
think very carefully about the meaning and purpose of words, together with correct
punctuation, to complete this task successfully. In Task 5, students are required to connect
two sentences using some of the more difficult discourse markers. Here, students need to
again carefully think of the relationship between these two sentences to correctly identify an
appropriate discourse marker. At the same time, they need to use the correct word order, as
certain discourse markers require the word order of the sentences to change. Students are also
sensitized to appropriate punctuation in this exercise. Finally, students are required to write
two cohesive paragraphs in Task 6. This builds on the ability of writing specific paragraph
types (with appropriate vocabulary) that was practised in Workshop 5, but this time using
appropriate discourse markers at a more difficult level than was required in the previous
Task 1 is a group activity, in which students have to find as many discourse markers as
possible. The opportunity exists for students to learn how to use unfamiliar discourse markers
from fellow students. Task 2 is an individual activity which is marked in pairs afterwards.
Tasks 3, 4 and 5 are done in pairs, with whole-class feedback given. Task 6 is again an
individual activity which is scored afterwards by 3 other students. As in the previous
workshop, students need to mark and score each other‟s paragraphs.
The ability to write cohesive paragraphs is vital for first-year students. It is part of learning
how to write effectively, an ability that is extensively discussed in Section 2.5.1. It also
introduces students to some of the characteristics of scientific writing, for example, the use of
semantic relations, as examined in Section 2.5.2. In various assignment questions, students
need to answer a question for between 5 and 10 marks. This usually requires of students to
write a paragraph. A section in the TALL that tests students‟ ability to understand the
relationship between sentences in a paragraph is the first section, „Scrambled text‟. Here,
students need to identify introductory, concluding and linking sentences, as well as recognize
discourse markers and their functions within a paragraph, so as to identify the sequence in
which the sentences in a text should follow. Writing good paragraphs is also essential for all
the levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, especially the four higher levels of „application‟, „analysis‟,
„synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟, since it is rarely possible to function at any of these levels by
writing one-sentence answers.
One criticism against this workshop is that three higher-order levels in Bloom‟s taxonomy,
namely „analysis‟, „synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟, are practised in some of the paragraphs, even
though these levels are rarely required from students in their assignments (see Section 3.4.1).
It can be argued that it would be advantageous to challenge students to function slightly
above the level they are expected to be proficient in already. This firstly makes the lowerlevel tasks seem easier, but also challenges students to function at a higher level. This
corresponds to Krashen‟s (1992) theory of comprehensible input. However, it seems unlikely
that specifically the levels of „synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟ could be considered as
comprehensible input this early in the workshop programme, taking into consideration the
very low level of the target group‟s academic literacy (see Section 3.3), as well as the fact
that students are not required to function at these levels in their second year assignments
either (see Section 3.4.1).
A further criticism is that too much attention is paid to discourse markers, especially in the
second workshop. It might be more effective to design a separate workshop on cohesion,
during which discourse markers and other cohesive devices can be practised extensively.
Although these would have to be revised during the two paragraph writing workshops, more
time could be spent writing and editing a wide variety of paragraphs.
4.3.6 Workshop 7: Paraphrasing
Workshop 7 is titled „Paraphrasing‟ (Addendum G). This is an essential ability for science
students, as can be seen from the analysis of students‟ assignments (Section 3.4) as well as
the literature review (Section 2.5.3). To do this successfully though, the previous workshops
were necessary, since students cannot paraphrase appropriately if they cannot write correct
and complete sentences or paragraphs, and if they do not know how to approach unfamiliar
vocabulary. The workshop is structured in three phases. Firstly, students need to paraphrase
sentences, then paragraphs, and finally an entire section from their own study guides.
In the first two tasks, students are encouraged to paraphrase in pairs. This enables them to
help each other, and not to feel discouraged if they cannot paraphrase effectively by
themselves, thus building confidence. In the last task, students need to paraphrase
individually. All of these activities are checked in larger groups afterwards, and students give
feedback on each others‟ efforts. Whole-class feedback is given for the first two tasks.
The texts used in this workshop again come from a variety of scientific disciplines, but are
not so subject specific as to exclude any students. Where technical terms do occur, these are
explained to the students by the facilitator before commencing with a task.
Paraphrasing is very important at the top five levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, starting at
„comprehension‟, since students cannot show that they understand work if they cannot
paraphrase concepts. As argued in Section 2.5, science students‟ inability to paraphrase is
often one of the biggest challenges faced in their studies, and one of the reasons why they
make themselves guilty of plagiarism.
Students had great difficulties with this workshop. This is understandable, as paraphrasing is
a very complex ability to acquire, and it would be unrealistic to expect of students to master it
in a three-hour workshop. Although all activities in this workshop worked well, another
useful activity would have been to take sample questions (on the knowledge and
comprehension levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy) from a few assignments, and to also provide the
text in which the answers could be found. Students would then have to answer authentic
questions by paraphrasing the information. This would also have introduced the concept of
plagiarism, and made the concept more tangible to students.
4.3.7 Workshops 8: Summarising
Workshop 8, titled „Summarising‟ (Addendum H), is dealt with next. Again, all of the
abilities practised in previous workshops are necessary to be able to summarise effectively.
This workshop starts off by showing students an example of a text as well as its summarised
version on the overhead projector. In pairs, they then need to try to summarise another text on
the overhead projector. A sample answer is given, and students need to compare their own
answers to this. In Tasks 2 and 3, students summarise sentences and paragraphs with a
partner. Whole-class feedback is given. Finally, a longer text is summarised individually.
This is checked afterwards in small groups, so that students can debate what points were
important enough to include in a summary. The facilitator is available to facilitate this
process, but the consensus of the group is heavily depended on.
As in previous workshops, various methods of student interaction are used here, ranging from
small-group work (Task 1), pair work (Tasks 2 and 3), individual work (Task 4) to wholeclass feedback (Tasks 1 to 4). Thus, a variety of preferred interactional patterns are utilised,
which prevents any student from feeling frustrated and left out.
Similar to the previous workshop, text extracts were chosen from scientific texts, but none
were so technical as to exclude students from certain scientific disciplines.
Section 2.5.3 indicates that summarising, together with paraphrasing, is a vital ability for
science students. This ability becomes specifically important at the four highest levels of
Bloom‟s taxonomy, namely „application‟, „analysis‟, „synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟. All of
these require that students take the gist out of a certain section of work, and integrate it with
either other work or their own ideas.
A weak point of this workshop is that this ability could have been scaffolded better. Showing
students examples on the overhead projector was a good idea, but could have been
supplemented by including activities on underlining key words and ideas before summarising
4.3.8 Workshops 9 and 10: Visual literacy
Workshops 9 and 10 (Addenda I and J) both focus on visual literacy. This is an important
ability for science students, who often need to either interpret visual information, or represent
information visually. Students often find these workshops very relevant to their studies, and
thus these are very important for student motivation. In these workshops, students need to
interpret graphs and tables, either giving one-word answers or writing paragraphs interpreting
the graphs. They also need to convert tables to graphs and vice versa.
All of these tasks are done in pairs, so that students can support and teach each other.
Answers are then checked by means of whole-class feedback.
Graphs and tables used in these workshops come from scientific areas such as physics,
chemistry, and biology.
These workshops are of particular importance, since the scores on the corresponding sections
in the TALL pre-test were very low (Section 2: „Interpreting graphs and visual information‟)
– something that was surprising for students studying science-related fields. In addition,
many of the „application‟ questions (as defined in Bloom‟s taxonomy) in the SFP subjects‟
assignments require students to either interpret information in graphs or tables, or to represent
information in this format (see Section
The literature also shows that reading graphs and tables is an important skill for scientists.
See, for example, the discussion in Section 2.5.3 on a study by Berkenkotter and Huckin
(1995) examining the reading habits of scientists. According to this study, visual elements of
an article were read right after the title and abstract, indicating that scientists use these
sections to gain an understanding of the entire article. It would also seem as though
undergraduate students internationally have the need to become more proficient in visual
literacy. In a study by Ostler (1980) (discussed in Section 2.4.2), for example, this was listed
as one of the most needed skills, according to a survey of undergraduate students.
4.3.9 Workshop 11: Distinguishing between essential and non-essential information
In Workshop 11, „Distinguishing between essential and non-essential information‟
(Addendum K), students need to identify main ideas. This workshop is done before the one
on note-taking, so that students can first get used to identifying important information in a
text. Here, students need to identify main ideas (by, for example, identifying topic sentences,
practised first in Workshop 5; Tasks 1, 6, 8 and 11) and supporting details (Tasks 1, 3 and
11), paraphrase information (practised first in Workshop 7; Task 4), answer short questions
that they might typically have to answer in assignments (Tasks 2, 4, 5 and 10), give headings
to paragraphs (Task 7), summarise information (either in tabular form [Task 9] or paragraph
form [Task 8]), and respond to a text by illustrating points from the text (Task 11).
Tasks 1 to 7 are done in pairs, with whole-class feedback, and Tasks 8 to 12 are done
individually, with feedback in small groups. The material used for this workshop comes from
the Horticulture 1 (one of the SFP subjects) study guide.
The abilities practised in this workshop are particularly important for the „analysis‟,
„synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟ levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, though they are also important for
the first two levels of „knowledge‟ and „comprehension‟. The section in the TALL that tests
these abilities is the „Understanding texts‟ section.
Although this workshop requires students to summarise information to some extent, it might
fit more logically before Workshop 8 (Summarising), because to summarise a text, it is
necessary to first identify the main points of the text. The next workshop builds on the ability
of distinguishing between important and unimportant information.
4.3.10 Workshop 12: Note-taking strategies
In Workshop 12, titled „Note-taking strategies‟ (Addendum L), students need to take notes in
a variety of forms from a popular scientific text. First, students highlight important ideas in
the text (reinforcing abilities practised in Workshop 11), after which they annotate this text.
This is done individually, and then small groups come together and compare their underlining
and annotations. Together, they need to decide on the best version, which can be adapted or
added to, as the group sees fit. The best version of each group is then distributed to all other
groups, who each have to score it. The group with the version where the best notes were
made receives a small prize. Subsequently, students need to create a mind map of the text
(outlining is also discussed, but was not practised during this workshop, due to lack of time).
This is again done individually, after which small groups decide on the best version. This
version is then transferred to an A1 sheet of paper (thick coloured pens are provided to
students), and one student from the group has to present this mind map to the rest of the class.
The class again awards marks for each mind map, and the group with the best mind map wins
a small prize.
Again, a variety of interactional patterns are used in this workshop, including individual work
(Tasks 1 and 2), small-group work (Tasks 3 and 4), small-group feedback (Tasks 1 and 2) and
whole-class feedback (Tasks 1 to 4). A popular scientific text on „black holes‟ is used for this
This workshop builds on previous workshops, specifically „Distinguishing between essential
and non-essential information‟ and „Summarising‟. Taking the essence out of a text and
representing it through notes should also improve students‟ comprehension abilities, which in
turn should be reflected in their TALL scores. Section 2.5.3 argues that note-taking strategies
such as mind mapping could be used to prepare students for the more difficult task of
summarising. A weakness in the order of these workshops could therefore be that this
workshop on note-taking strategies was held after the paraphrasing and summarising
workshops. In addition, it was difficult to complete all the tasks within the time frame of this
workshop. Specifically the ability of creating mind maps deserves additional time.
4.3.11 Workshops 13 and 14: Referencing
These workshops, titled „Introduction to referencing‟ and „Bibliographies‟ (Addenda M and
N), deal with plagiarism, in-text referencing and bibliographies. Although none of the
analysed assignments directly test referencing, almost all tutorial letters contain a section on
the importance of referencing in academic writing. Departments therefore value the presence
of referencing from as early as students‟ first-year level, and retain the right to fail students if
any plagiarism occurs.
Workshop 13 starts with a small-group discussion of what plagiarism is (Task 1), followed by
a whole-class discussion of the topic. This is very effective in letting students learn from each
other, rather than just giving them the information and expecting them to remember it. After
that, students discuss the difference between various types of sources, specifically in terms of
their credibility (Task 2). In the next task (Task 3), students identify various sources handed
out to them (including a journal article, a book and a magazine article), and the specific
information contained in these sources that would be necessary when drawing up
bibliographies and doing in-text referencing. In this task, students also have to write down
direct and indirect quotations, as they would be required to do in an assignment, with
appropriate in-text referencing.
Except for the whole-class discussion at the beginning of the workshop, all tasks are done in
small groups of four to five students. This forces students to collaborate in collecting the
relevant information. The facilitator moves between the groups and gives feedback on correct
and incorrect attempts. Whole-class feedback is later provided on problematic areas.
In Workshop 14, students compile the bibliographic references for books, journal articles,
study guides, Internet articles, and magazine articles (Tasks 1 and 2). This is done in small
groups. After students have practised compiling their own bibliographies, they need to
individually identify mistakes in other bibliographies (Task 3). This makes them aware of the
importance of the order of information in, as well as the completeness of, bibliographic
references. Whole-class feedback is given on all tasks.
All of the handouts used in these two workshops either come from students‟ own study
material (e.g. study guides and books), or popular scientific sources (e.g. the magazine and
Internet articles). Again, the choice of material emphasises the principle of relevance to
students‟ fields of study.
As shown in Section 2.5, plagiarism is one of the more serious problems that lecturers deal
with when marking science students‟ assignments. One possible explanation for such
plagiarism is that students do not know how to paraphrase. Another possibility is that they
simply do not know the conventions used in the academe to prevent plagiarism. Often,
students have never heard of plagiarism or referencing by the time they attend these
workshops. This is very problematic, considering that these two workshops are only held
towards the end of the year. It thus seems as though this is one of few occasions where
students are made aware of this phenomenon. Although referencing techniques are not dealt
with in the TALL at all, it is a vital skill that students need to acquire, especially when
considering that students at tertiary education institutions should be working towards the top
three levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy, namely „analysis‟, „synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟
4.3.12 Workshop 15: Revision – Parts of speech and paragraph writing
In the original workshop programme, a revision workshop was scheduled on any topic that
students wanted to revise. The majority of students indicated that they wanted to revise parts
of speech, conjunctions and paragraph writing. The material developed for this workshop can
be found in Addendum O.
Tasks 1 and 2 focus on parts of speech. The use of conjunctions in sentences is addressed in
Tasks 4, 5, 6 and 7. Finally, students practise paragraph writing in Task 8.
During this workshop, students either work in groups (Task1), in pairs (Tasks 2, 3, 4, 5 and
6), or individually (Tasks 7 and 8).
This revision workshop builds on previous workshops (specifically Workshops 2, 5 and 6)
and strengthens students‟ abilities so as to prepare them for the essay writing workshops
(Workshops 17 and 18).
4.3.13 Workshop 16: Reading in the sciences (2)
In the second workshop entitled „Reading in the sciences‟ (Addendum P), students are
required to use several abilities practised previously to interact with a text. Text extracts are
taken from the fields of chemistry, physiology, physics, geography, and biology. In Task 1,
students preview a text and subsequently annotate it (abilities practised in Workshops 5 and
12) with possible questions they might have about the text. In Task 2, students draw a
diagram of a text, thus practising their visual literacy abilities (first practised in Workshops 9
and 10). In Task 3, students summarise a text (an ability practised in Workshop 8), and in
Task 4, a diagram is drawn and a summary is written. Task 5 requires students to use the
acquired abilities to summarise a section of their own study guides at home.
Task 1 is done individually, with whole-class feedback. Task 2 is done in pairs, with
feedback first in small groups, followed by whole-class feedback. Tasks 3 and 4 are first done
individually, and then discussed in small groups, with a possible model answer given
afterwards by the facilitator. Task 5 is given as homework.
In the TALL, students‟ reading abilities are tested specifically in the „Understanding texts‟
section. This workshop aims to develop their reading abilities in processing difficult texts.
Practising annotation can be particularly helpful at the „knowledge‟ and „comprehension‟
levels of Bloom‟s taxonomy. Drawing a diagram of a text practises students‟ „application‟
abilities, and summarising a text serves as a foundation for the levels of „analysis‟, „synthesis‟
and „evaluation‟.
This workshop follows Johns‟ (1981) advice, as discussed in Section 2.4.3, in that the writing
in this workshop is a response to reading. In addition, students need to „translate‟ (see
Montgomery [2004] in Section 2.5.1) what they read into other forms of communication (for
example diagrams and summaries). Such „translation‟ ensures that students “read with
understanding” (UNISA [2006]; see Section 2.5.3 for a more complete discussion), as
information can only be converted from one form to another (for example, a full text to a
diagram or a summary) if the writer understands its content.
This workshop is well-structured, and leads students to interpreting and „translating‟ texts
effectively. The only criticism is that, as with the workshops on paraphrasing and
summarising, more time needs to be spent on this topic to help students acquire the broad
ability of reading. It might also be useful to have students do Task 5 in small groups in class,
and to subsequently present their summaries and/or diagrams.
4.3.14 Workshop 17: Writing about facts in the sciences (expository writing)
Workshop 17 is titled „Writing about facts in the sciences (expository writing)‟ (Addendum
Q). In this workshop, students are firstly introduced to the idea of thesis statements. Students
are asked to individually write down a thesis statement; these are then discussed in small
groups to determine whether they adhere to the given criteria. In Task 2, students are each
given an article on a particular subject, upon which they have to give feedback in small
groups. Each student in a small group receives a different article, and they are encouraged to
use the note-taking abilities practised in previous workshops to summarise the information in
some way that will make it easier for them to give feedback in their small groups later on. In
Task 3, students have to plan their essays. They must create either an outline or a mind map
(both abilities were addressed in Workshop 12), and are encouraged to use topic sentences at
this point already (first practised in Workshop 5). In Task 4, students write a thesis statement
for their essay, based on the various articles that were discussed in small groups. In Task 5,
students write the essay. There was not enough time to write the essays in class time, and
students were required to write these as homework and bring them to class the following
week. Unfortunately, only five students did so. Since these workshops are not compulsory, it
is impossible to force students to do homework. The workshop succeeded in guiding students
to practise the reasoning and planning abilities required to plan an essay and construct a
thesis statement, and thus, even if students did not write the actual essay, valuable practice
was still achieved. However, composing an essay is a writing experience that is too valuable
to dismiss. There was also not time for Task 6 – a check-list to determine whether the
essential elements are present in the expository essay.
Student interaction is very important in this workshop. Students first work individually on
most tasks (except for Task 3, where they work in pairs), but for each task, feedback is given
in small groups. In Task 3, they have to rely on information from other students to present a
comprehensive mind map or outline. Here, summarising, listening and speaking abilities are
particularly important, so as to ensure that all group members get a holistic view of all the
articles, even though each group member reads only one article. Also, the difficult skill of
synthesising is practised extensively for the first time in this workshop.
The topic chosen for this workshop was „nuclear energy‟, since it is a scientific concept that
all students have heard of and know at least something of, and it is something that touches
their lives, or has the potential to. This topic is therefore likely to be of interest to students.
The abilities needed to write an expository essay are reflected in all sections of the TALL. In
addition, certain characteristics of scientific writing mentioned in the literature (see Section
2.5.2), such as scientific writing being linear and inductive, concise and precise, as well as
clear and objective, can only be fully explored in a longer piece of writing. A weakness in
this workshop series is that these characteristics were not explicitly discussed during earlier
workshops such as paragraph writing, nor were they discussed in this workshop.
Although none of the assignments analysed required students to write expository essays, this
type of essay is the culmination of most of the abilities addressed thus far in the workshop
series. Also, the sequencing and other reasoning abilities (for example the abilities to
compare and contrast, summarise, paraphrase, etc.) required in this task would help students
with various other assignments. On Bloom‟s taxonomy, these abilities would mostly be
represented at the levels of „analysis‟ and „synthesis‟. Thus, even though these levels are
rarely required in students‟ first year, this workshop would hopefully start to prepare students
for essay-type assignments they might be required to do in the remainder of their
undergraduate studies.
Students struggled with the concept of thesis statements, and a three-hour workshop
specifically on this topic would have been very valuable. Activities could have included
identifying thesis statements, criticizing good and bad thesis statements, and finally
developing thesis statements of their own. However, the topic was only touched upon, and
was not fully exploited. Yet another workshop could have been productively spent on
planning an essay. Here, the concept of topic sentences could have been revisited in detail,
and concepts such as linear argumentation, objectivity and precision could have been
explored more fully. Finally, writing the essay would take students at least another three
hours, as redrafting, self-editing as well as peer-editing would have to be incorporated. Thus,
this workshop would have been much more effective had it been divided into three separate
three-hour workshops.
4.3.15 Workshop 18: Arguing in the sciences (argumentative writing)
Workshop 18, „Arguing in the sciences (argumentative writing)‟ (Addendum R), is another
workshop that focuses on essay writing. In Task 1, thesis statements are revisited. In Task 2,
students again read one article each in small groups, summarise this information and share
this information with the rest of the group. In Task 3, a thesis statement on the topic of
genetically modified foods is written individually, and then checked in small groups, and in
Task 4, an argumentative essay is written. Again, there was not enough time to finish the
essay in class, but everyone did at least finish their introductory paragraph, which was then
checked in small groups.
As with the previous workshop, students first work individually (except in Task 1, where pair
work is made use of), and then get feedback in small groups. Also, students get another
opportunity to practise their summarising abilities when reading and summarising their
specific article, which then needs to be presented to the rest of the group.
The topic of genetically modified foods was chosen, firstly because of its scientific nature,
and secondly because of its interest value. This is not a topic that many of the students know
much about, but they are very interested in it, especially if a discussion is held about the state
of genetically modified foods in South Africa. Students were again invited to submit their
essays the following week. Six students did this.
This workshop presents students with a second opportunity of synthesising information – an
ability that most of them found very difficult. As with the previous workshop, cognitive
levels on Bloom‟s taxonomy that are practised most here are „analysis‟ and „synthesis‟, but in
this workshop, students are also required to function at the level of „evaluation‟, since they
now need to not only represent factual information, but also have to evaluate this information
by presenting a convincing argument.
Even though UNISA students do not seem to be required to argue at this level in either their
first or second year of study, this workshop is still worthwhile. As Fellows (1993) argues,
students often learn through the process of writing, as the act of writing integrates new ideas
and previous knowledge (see Section 2.5.3). It is only when writing an essay that students see
how all the abilities they have acquired thus far fit together.
This workshop faced the same challenges as the previous one, namely that there was not
enough time to explore all activities fully, and as with the previous workshop, additional time
spent on these activities might be fruitful.
4.3.16 Workshop 19: Synthesising information
In the „Synthesising information‟ workshop (Addendum S), students are given two pairs of
short texts (Task 1), as well as a collection of 9 short texts (Task 3) which need to be
synthesised, using the appropriate referencing techniques. The texts were taken from the
fields of information technology and geography, both fields included in the SFP. These texts
offer different perspectives on various issues. In addition to synthesising the texts, students
are required to incorporate their own opinions into the synthesis. This workshop builds on
previous workshops in that students firstly have to use the referencing techniques practised in
Workshop 13, and also apply the abilities practised in Workshop 11, namely „Distinguishing
between essential and non-essential information‟. Furthermore, they need to paraphrase
information (practised in Workshop 7) to successfully complete this task.
In Task 1, students work in pairs to synthesise information. Subsequently, they use a set of
peer review questions to evaluate the synthesis of another group (Task 2). This promotes
critical awareness of the features of a well-synthesised text. Finally, students are required to
individually write a synthesis (Task 3), with small-group feedback given afterwards.
Although students are not required, in any of the analysed assignments, to function at the
„synthesis‟ level of Bloom‟s taxonomy, the same argument as for the previous two workshops
is given, namely that this ability incorporates several abilities practised during earlier
workshops, allowing students to see the relationship between abilities practised during the
Researchers argue that synthesising is a vital ability for students entering tertiary learning
institutions (see, for example, Jacoby et al [1995] in Section 2.4.3, Snow and Brinton [1988]
and Horowitz [1986], in Section 2.1.1). Through synthesis, ideas are formulated, meaning is
constructed and one‟s own opinion is formed (see Kuanda et al, 1998, Section 2.1.1).
Whether or not the assignments analysed in this study require this ability, it is clearly an
ability that is generally required from tertiary level students. Therefore, it can be argued that
it is UNISA‟s responsibility to lead students towards acquiring this ability. Preferably, this
should be done in all assignments. The fact that this does not seem to be the case at present
should not be an excuse to neglect this important ability in the workshop programme.
4.3.17 Workshop 20: Writing a laboratory report
The final workshop is titled „Writing a laboratory report‟ (Addendum T). Here, different
sections of laboratory reports are analysed to determine whether they are written well, and
include the necessary information. This is done by means of guided discovery questions
(Tasks 1 to 3). Analysing sections of laboratory reports in groups helps students to identify
which aspects are critical in each of these sections. In Task 4, an example of a badly written
laboratory report (i.e. with important information left out, unnecessary information included,
and incorrect sentence and paragraph structure) is examined, and again students need to
identify strengths and weaknesses, and suggest how these weaknesses could be improved. All
activities are initially done in pairs, with whole-class feedback at the end of each activity.
There was no time in this workshop for students to write their own laboratory reports, and
since the majority of students do not need to write a laboratory report at first- or second-year
level21, it was decided against having a second workshop on this topic for that purpose.
However, it might be worthwhile to create a second workshop in the future, so that students
can practise writing their own laboratory reports. One reason for this would be that laboratory
reports, like with expository and argumentative essays, incorporate a wide range of abilities
such as paraphrasing, summarising, describing, comparing, contrasting, showing cause and
effect, interpreting and analysing data, and using graphs and tables (Braine, 1995; Section
2.5.3). Another would be that students in the SFP know that they will have to write laboratory
reports at some point in their tertiary studies (as is done internationally – see, for example,
Section 2.5.2), and are thus likely to be motivated in engaging in this „real-life‟ writing
Since it was impractical to develop a subject-specific workshop series for each of the SFP
subjects, a common-core approach (described in Section 2.4.2) was used. In this approach,
material from general interest areas is utilised, instead of focusing on a specific subject
(Kennedy & Bolitho, 1984). Semi-technical texts from a broad variety of scientific
disciplines (including computer sciences, chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics) were
included in the workshops. This prevented the exclusion of students from any scientific
discipline. Hutchinson and Waters (1987) argue that there is little justification in including
highly specialised texts in ESP courses. Rather, it is preferable to use semi-technical texts
from general interest areas that would keep all students interested. As Hutchinson and Waters
When examining the assignments of a sample of fifteen second-year modules, only one module (PSO281Z
[Plant Studies 2]) required students to write a laboratory report.
(1987) state, successful learning must be interesting, fun, and include variety to ensure that
students develop a positive attitude towards the learning.
A variety of strategies for student interaction are used – at least two different interactional
patterns are used in each workshop, although most workshops utilise at least three to four
different patterns. These include individual work, pair work, small-group work and wholeclass discussions. The variety of interactional patterns keeps the three-hour long workshops
student-centred, and prevents monotony. As stated in Section 2.2, although black South
African students are likely to prefer collaborative learning, individual learning styles must not
be neglected as a result. Firstly, there may be some students who prefer individual tasks, and
these students should not be excluded. Secondly, though students might prefer small-group
learning tasks, it is beneficial for them to be exposed to a variety of interactional patterns, as
this allows them to grow into more holistic learners who are able to function under a variety
of learning conditions (also see Felder and Henriques [1995]).
The workshops were designed to build on each other, and as seen throughout this chapter,
abilities acquired in previous workshops were revisited and refined in later workshops.
Although the abilities required for students‟ assignments were an important consideration in
the workshops, the workshops often challenged students to even higher levels of thinking, so
as to prepare them for the remainder of their studies. The workshops also regularly focused
on abilities that would be necessary to successfully complete the TALL, but workshops were
not structured around the TALL. Rather, the workshops were meant to help students practise
abilities that would be vital in their studies.
After completing this workshop series, several recommendations can be made about the
order, frequency and content of workshops. These will be discussed in Chapter 6. Although it
is always important to keep improving the structure of a workshop series such as this one,
and to continually revise material, it would be important to maintain the principles of
building on abilities previously acquired (and thus also revising them), as well as ensuring
that workshops are interesting and challenging, firstly by developing appropriate material,
and secondly by making sure that students get the opportunity to function in different
interactional patterns. This should ensure continued motivation on the part of the students,
which is vital for the success of a voluntary programme such as the SFP academic literacy
Data analysis
The previous chapter discussed the content of, and rationale behind, the intervention that was
undertaken in the current study. However, for an intervention programme to be improved
through a process of action research, it is also vital that the extent of its effectiveness be
determined. This chapter analyses its effectiveness in two ways.
Firstly, a comparison between pre- and post-test results is made to determine the
improvement (if any) in various sections of the TALL. Subsequently, a T-test is done of
students‟ TALL pre- and post-test results, to determine whether the improvement in various
sections of the TALL is statistically significant. Furthermore, an Analysis of Variance
(ANOVA) is done to determine which variables influenced improved test marks significantly.
Secondly, a questionnaire that participants completed at the end of the workshop programme
is analysed to determine what they felt the strengths and weaknesses of the intervention were,
and how they suggested the intervention could be improved.
Statistical analysis of the TALL
The first step in determining whether the academic literacy intervention discussed in this
study had any influence on students‟ TALL results was to compare pre- and post-test results.
An overview is given in Table 5.1.
Test section
Improvement between
pre- and post-tests
Interpreting graphs and
visual information
Text types
Understanding texts
Academic vocabulary
Text editing
Scrambled text
Table 5.1
Average improvement between pre- and post-test results in various
sections of the TALL
It would seem as though students improved in all sections of the TALL, except for the section
on „Scrambled text‟. In fact, on average, students‟ performance in this section was worse in
the post-test than it was in the pre-test. Although there seems to have been an improvement in
the sections of „Interpreting graphs and visual information‟ as well as „Understanding texts‟,
this improvement is not very substantial (at 5.16% and 5.98% respectively). The greatest
improvements seem to be in the sections on „Text types‟, „Academic vocabulary‟ and „Text
editing‟ (all show improvements higher than 10%).
It is dangerous to make the assumption that the improvement discussed above is necessarily a
significant improvement. A paired T-test was done to determine whether there was a
statistically significant improvement between students‟ pre-test and post-test scores. A paired
T-Test is used “when there is a natural pairing of observations in the samples, such as when a
sample group is tested twice – before and after an experiment” (Microsoft Office Excel,
When the test as a whole is looked at, there is a significant improvement in students‟ test
scores (P-value = < 0.0001; T-value = 5.54). When one looks at the various sections of the
test, however, all sections do not show a statistically significant improvement between pretest and post-test.
Whole test
Section 1 – Scrambled text
Section 2 – Interpreting graphs and visual information
Section 3 – Text types
Section 4 – Understanding texts
Section 5 – Academic vocabulary
Section 6 – Text editing
* Significant at the 0.05 level
Table 5.2
** Not significant
Statistical significance of average improvement between pre- and post-tests
Sections 1 and 2 („Scrambled text‟ and „Interpreting graphs and visual information‟) do not
show a significant improvement between pre-and post-test. However, the last four sections do
show a significant improvement (at the 0.05 level).
Although there is a clear improvement between pre- and post-test results, it is not a very
heartening improvement. It must be kept in mind, however, that the population that was
tested includes a range of students who attended anything from one to twenty of the
intervention workshops. It might therefore be useful to create two broad categories of
students, namely those that attended one to seven workshops, and those that attended eight to
twenty workshops, and to subsequently compare these two groups‟ results. This is done in
Table 5.3. The division between the two categories (1 to 7 workshops and 8 to 20 workshops)
was made so as to ensure that the group size was roughly the same in each category.
Students who attended 1
Students who attended 8
to 7 workshops (n = 26)
to 20 workshops (n = 20)
TALL pre-test result
TALL post-test result
Average improvement
between pre- and posttests
Table 5.3 Results divided into sessions attended (1-7 and 8-20 sessions)
The difference in the improvement would seem to indicate that students attending more
workshops were likely to show a greater improvement between pre- and post-tests. The
4.50% improvement of the group of students who attended seven workshops or less could
either be attributed to having spent a year in an academic environment, or to the effect of the
workshops that the students did attend. In contrast, the marked improvement of students who
attended between eight and twenty workshops would seem to imply that workshop attendance
influenced the extent of improvement on the TALL.
To statistically verify the assumption that the number of sessions attended influenced
students‟ improvement between pre- and post-tests, an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was
done to see which variables most influenced the improvement between the pre-test and posttest. An ANOVA is “an analysis of the variation in the outcomes of an experiment to assess
the contribution of each variable to the variation” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2006).
A range of variables can influence an improvement in students‟ test marks. Three such
potential variables were identified for this study, namely 1) the number of sessions attended;
2) the participants‟ age; and 3) the participants‟ sex.
Sessions attended
0.0225 *
0.7610 **
* Significant at the 0.05 level
Table 5.4
** Not significant
Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) for sessions attended, age and sex
As can be seen in Table 5.3, the only variable that seems to have had a significant influence
on the improvement between students‟ pre- and post-test results is that of number of sessions
attended (with a P-value well below the required 0.05). Neither age nor sex seem to have had
a significant influence on the improvement between pre- and post-tests. This implies that the
more workshops students attended, the bigger the improvement between pre- and post-test
results was likely to be.
This discussion has shown that there was a statistically significant improvement between
students‟ pre- and post-test results in most sections of the TALL. Further, it would seem as
though the number of intervention workshops that students attended significantly influenced
this improvement. Unfortunately, the improvement was not substantial enough to take
students out of the „at-risk‟ group, and even after the intervention, the majority of students are
still considered at-risk of not completing their studies. Possible ways of further improving
students‟ test results are discussed in Chapter 6.
Qualitative analysis of feedback questionnaire
According to Hutchinson and Waters (1987), in addition to determining what students need
and lack, it is important to keep in mind what students want when developing an ESP course
(see Section 3.1). Therefore, before Chapter 6 examines how this intervention can be
improved further in future, it is important to first ascertain students‟ opinions of the workshop
programme, so as to incorporate their „wants‟ effectively.
At the end of the workshop series, students completed a questionnaire (Addendum U) in
which they evaluated the workshops. This section discusses the feedback on each question.
5.3.1 Students’ perception of important abilities gained
Students were firstly asked which abilities addressed in the workshops were most important
to them.
Of the 37 students who completed this question, 38% stated that summarising was the most
important ability acquired during the workshop programme. This was closely followed by
32% of students stating that improved reading/understanding abilities were most valuable to
them. Thirty per cent of students wrote that writing essays was very useful to them, 27% of
students listed paraphrasing as a very important ability, and 24% of students stated that
improved note-taking abilities were most important to them. Other important abilities
included understanding/creating graphs (14% of students), referencing (14% of students),
writing sentences and paragraphs (11% of students), writing laboratory reports (11% of
students) and increasing academic vocabulary (11% of students). Although many of the
abilities do correspond to a workshop topic with a similar title, most of these abilities were
practised in a variety of workshops.
5.3.2 Aspects of workshops most enjoyed by students
In the next question, students were asked what they enjoyed most about the workshops.
The theme that emerged most strongly here was how much students enjoyed collaborative
learning. This was commented on by 43% of the students. Comments included that students
enjoyed “meeting other students” as well as “discussing tasks in class and being able to
answer questions in groups”.
In a distance education environment, students rarely get the opportunity to measure
themselves against other students, and therefore one advantage of the workshops was
“meeting other students to see their ability of writing and reading [sic]”. Students also seem
to have enjoyed the mental stimulation that group work brings: “I enjoyed group discussions
and arguing in the class”. Another student states that what was most enjoyable was “the
teamwork, and new students‟ inputs, the manner in which we were shown how to handle the
study material which looked difficult at home, and became easy hereafter”. Biggs (1989), in
Section 2.2.1, states that it is through such learner activity and interaction that deep learning
takes place.
Section 2.2.3 states that collaborative learning increases self-confidence, and one student
agreed, saying that the workshops “boosted my self-confidence [and] language proficiency”.
The most important benefit of collaborative learning might be the opportunity “to meet with
fellow students and share ideas, as we are part-time students [and] we met in the workshops”
– here, students who hardly ever see other students are given the opportunity of becoming
part of a larger university community, whilst at the same time entering the discourse
community of science.
Another advantage of collaborative learning is that it ensures an informal learning
environment. Eleven per cent of the students stated that they enjoyed “the freedom of
learning without being afraid of making a mistake or asking”. One student stated that “there
is no oppression, [you are] free to ask if there is something you don‟t understand”. Of course,
collaborative learning allows students a certain degree of freedom that is not always possible
in a traditional educational environment, as this student states: “everyone was free to express
his/her ideas and points of view. I also enjoyed working in groups to express our ideas and
pick the fundamental points [sic]”. Students are given the chance to experiment, to learn by
asking and by trial and error, and through this to construct knowledge (see Section 2.2.1).
Students also seemed to enjoy the challenging environment that the workshops ensured. One
student stated that her favourite workshops were “the brainstorming ones”, and another
enjoyed learning “how one should learn to think critically, out of the box”.
5.3.3 Aspects of workshops least enjoyed by students
The third question asked students what they enjoyed least about the workshops.
Five per cent of students stated that they did not enjoy group work. It is important to keep in
mind the warnings given in Section 2.2.2 and 2.2.3 that not all students will have the same
learning preferences. Thus, even though, as stated in Section 2.2.2, black South African
students are likely to enjoy collaborative learning, there will always be exceptions, and thus
all learning styles need to be catered for when designing an ESP course.
Eight per cent of students felt that groups did not participate enough or that students were
rude. Here, the importance of the facilitator comes to the fore – it is his/her responsibility to
ensure that order is maintained whilst ensuring a comfortable environment, and also to make
sure that all groups participate in activities. Misselhorn‟s (1995) conclusion that students
prefer having an authority figure present when learning (as discussed in Section 2.1.1) seems
to be confirmed by students‟ feedback in the current study, and should be kept in mind when
designing an ESP course. Leaving students to their own devices too much could lead to the
failure of an intervention such as the one described in this study.
Five per cent of students stated that they felt there were not enough workshops. This is a
theme that came through quite strongly in Question 8, and is discussed in more detail in
Section 5.3.8.
Eight per cent of students blamed themselves for not enjoying the workshop series as much
as they might have, saying that they did not attend all of the workshops, or were often late.
This is a pitfall of voluntary workshops – if there is not a big enough incentive for students to
attend all workshops, they are likely to start missing workshops once the pressure of
assignments and examinations starts burdening them. This ultimately prevents them from
optimally benefiting from the workshops.
5.3.4 Workshop topics to be included in future
The fourth question asked students which workshop topics they would like included in future.
Several students mentioned workshop topics that they were unable to attend, confirming the
point made above, that voluntary workshops often lead to students missing out on important
information – something that they regret afterwards.
Several new workshop topics were suggested. The only topic that was suggested by two
students was one on „presentation skills‟. In a distance education environment, students never
get the opportunity to practise class presentations, though they realise that this is an important
life-skill. Other topics that were suggested included „punctuation‟, „preparing for exams‟,
„designing projects‟ and „multiple choice questions‟. Some workshop topics were suggested
that have nothing to do with language acquisition. These include „computer literacy‟ and
„vectors and directions‟. The fact that students suggest such topics might indicate that they
see the workshops as helping them acquire general academic abilities, and not necessarily
only language abilities. This is positive in that the workshops do not seem to be stigmatised
as only being intended for students with poor language abilities.
5.3.5 Abilities students need to practise more
In Question 5, students were asked what workshop topics they needed additional practice in.
Twenty-eight per cent of students who completed this question felt that they needed more
practise in paraphrasing. Interestingly enough, though students did not indicate that
laboratory reports were important in Section 5.3.1, it closely follows paraphrasing as an
ability that students would like additional practice in (24% of students wanted to practise this
ability more). This seems to indicate that one workshop was not enough to familiarise them
with this topic, and that they see this as an important topic. Other topics that students would
like more practice in are synthesising (17% of students), summarising and referencing (14%
of students each), academic vocabulary, argumentative writing and note-taking abilities (10%
of students each), writing paragraphs and general reading skills (7% of students each).
Clearly, students feel they need more time to practise almost all topics on the workshop
programme. It might therefore be worthwhile to present more workshops per week, taking
students‟ preferences into consideration. The fact that students show the desire to spend even
more time on various topics shows a strong desire to learn and to be challenged intellectually.
As this participant states, students want more practice in “anything that will make our brains
think and work much [sic]”.
5.3.6 Further improvement of workshops
Question 6 asks students how the workshops could be improved further.
Forty-five per cent of students who answered this question stated that there should be more
workshops, or longer workshops. Since the workshops are already three hours long, and
challenge students‟ concentration span, it would probably be advisable to increase the
number of workshops. This suggestion is not unproblematic either though, since some of the
students are working students, and already have difficulty getting the time off work to attend
the workshop programme in its current format.
Twenty per cent of students suggested including tests or questionnaires. Since these
workshops were not for credit purposes, no formal evaluation (other than the TALL pre- and
post-tests) was done. Yet, students might need some sort of formative assessment for them to
assess whether they are making any progress.
One student suggested presenting the workshops via satellite broadcasting for students who
live far away from Pretoria. Though this is an interesting suggestion, this method of
presentation would have to be researched and designed very carefully, so as not to lose the
benefits of collaborative learning that the workshops presently have.
Another student wanted more relevant texts. Although the material is designed to appeal to
all students studying in science-related fields, it is impossible in the UNISA context to
present specialised workshops for each module. However, it should be investigated whether
some of the workshops could be adapted to use students‟ own study material, instead of
generic texts.
Some of these suggestions, for example increasing the number of workshops and including
formative assessment, could quite easily be incorporated into the redevelopment of this
workshop series. Others would have to be planned carefully, but should seriously be
considered for future refinement and improvement of the intervention programme.
5.3.7 Transference of abilities to students’ studies
In Question 7, students were asked in what way the workshops have helped them to become
more successful in their studies. Almost all students felt that the workshops did help them in
their studies. Thirty per cent of students specifically stated that the workshops helped them in
their assignments.
One participant commented that s/he used the skills “in my biology books” and another
student “received good marks in my last assignment”. Eight per cent of students stated that
they used the acquired abilities in examinations, and 8% of students mentioned that they used
the abilities in the communications module that some of them had to do. One student
enthusiastically wrote: “Yes! I did [sic] most of them, like paraphrasing, note-taking,
summaries, almost every skill that I have learned, I applied it”. Though it is very difficult to
establish whether most students did indeed transfer the abilities acquired in the workshops to
their other subjects, comments like these do imply that at least some students did.
5.3.8 Students’ rating of workshops’ usefulness
In the final question, students had to rate the usefulness of each workshop on a scale from 1
to 5, 1 being „Very useful‟, and 5 „Not useful at all‟. Students rated the workshops as follows:
Workshop topic
Very Useful
Useful Not
to an
extent useful
at all
Workshop 1: Improving your
Workshop 2: Writing good
Workshop 3: Using words
and concepts in context
Workshop 4: Reading in the
sciences (1)
Workshop 5: Writing good
paragraphs (1)
Workshop 6: Writing good
paragraphs (2)
Workshop 7: Paraphrasing
Workshop 8: Summarising
Workshop 9: Visual literacy
Workshop 10: Visual literacy
Workshop 11: Distinguishing
between essential and
non-essential information
Workshop 12: Note-taking
Workshop 13: Introduction to
Workshop 14: Bibliographies
Workshop 15: Revision –
parts of speech and
paragraph writing
Workshop 16: Reading in the
sciences (2)
Workshop 17: Writing about
facts in the sciences
(expository writing)
Workshop 18: Arguing in the
sciences (argumentative
Workshop 19: Synthesising
Workshop 20: Writing a
laboratory report
Table 5.5 Students’ rating of usefulness of workshops
Although some workshop topics were clearly more popular than others, more than half of the
students felt that all of the workshops were „very useful‟ or „useful‟.
The most useful workshops, according to the responses in this question, were „Improving
your vocabulary‟ and „Writing good paragraphs (1)‟. However, most workshops received
very good ratings, with between 70% and 91.9% of all students finding almost all workshops
either „very useful‟ or „useful‟. The only exception was the revision workshop on „Parts of
speech and paragraph writing‟. Only 57.1% of students indicated that this workshop was
either „very useful‟ or „useful‟.
The only workshops that received more than 10% in the categories of being „not very useful‟,
or „not useful at all‟, were the workshops on „Argumentative writing‟, „Visual literacy‟ and
„Note-taking strategies‟. It must be remembered that the students who did find these
workshops useful or very useful far outweigh the students who did not believe themselves to
benefit from these workshops.
Since there were no instances where the majority of students felt that a workshop was „not
very useful‟, or „not useful at all‟, it does not seem advisable to change any of the current
workshop topics. At most, workshop material might be adjusted so as to be more relevant to
This chapter examined the effectiveness of the SFP academic literacy intervention in two
Firstly, a statistical analysis was conducted to determine whether the improvement between
students‟ TALL pre- and post-test results was significant, and subsequently what variable had
the greatest influence on students‟ improvement. It was found that the improvement between
pre- and post-test results were statistically significant, and that the number of sessions
attended significantly influenced the extent of students‟ improvement between pre- and posttests.
Secondly, the feedback obtained in the form of a questionnaire, completed by students at the
end of the workshop programme, was examined.
Students indicated that they had gained a wide variety of abilities, foremost being
summarising, reading, comprehension, writing essays, paraphrasing and note-taking abilities.
Students also felt that they needed additional practise in almost all abilities, especially
paraphrasing, writing laboratory reports, and synthesising. As all of these abilities are very
complex, students probably felt that not enough time was spent to adequately master these
abilities. The majority of students indicated that all existing workshop topics were either
„very useful‟, or „useful‟. The only new topic that was suggested by more than one student
was that of presentation skills. This, however, does not justify it being included in future
workshop programmes as a distinct topic. Rather, it could be included in other workshops, as
an alternative to general discussions as a form of feedback.
A major emerging theme was that students enjoyed small-group, collaborative learning. Such
learning, however, must be carefully structured, and led by an authority figure. Several
students also indicated that they enjoyed learning that was perceived as being challenging.
Suggestions for improving the workshop programme in future included having additional or
longer workshops, as well as incorporating formative assessment in addition to the TALL,
which could be considered a summative assessment. Almost all students indicated that the
workshops helped them in their studies, with approximately a third of the respondents
indicating that they used the abilities acquired in the workshops in their assignments. It can
thus be surmised that at least some transference occurred.
Now that the effectiveness of the SFP intervention programme has been investigated, Chapter
6 will focus on making recommendations for the refinement and redevelopment of this
workshop programme.
Critique of the workshop programme
As discussed in Chapter 4, many of the guidelines suggested in the literature review were
followed in the development and implementation of the intervention programme. However,
some suggestions were not incorporated – possibly to the detriment of the intervention.
Additionally, feedback on the effectiveness of this workshop programme was obtained from
the TALL results as well as students‟ feedback at the end of the workshop series. This
feedback can only be of value if it is considered in the redevelopment of future workshop
programmes. This section starts off by examining to what extent the principles of
collaborative learning and the use of authentic materials were followed in the intervention
programme. Thereafter, a summary is given of instances where the guidelines in the literature
review and the current workshop programme either coincide or differ. Furthermore, students‟
feedback and suggestions, as well as the implications of students‟ TALL results, are
incorporated. Finally, a revised workshop programme is suggested which takes into account
guidelines from the literature, implications from the TALL results, as well as students‟
The principles of collaborative learning and the use of authentic
Two important principles underlie the workshop programme. The first is collaborative
learning. The second is the use of authentic materials.
The importance of collaborative learning is discussed in detail in Section 2.2. The concept of
collaborative learning has been shown to be ideal for an African context (see Rosenthal
[1996] and Misselhorn [1997]) as well as for language learning (Nunan, 1992).
This workshop series integrates aspects of collaborative learning throughout, and supports the
principle that students learn best from each other, while actively engaging with knowledge
(see Kohonen [1992]). Throughout the workshop programme, students are encouraged to
engage with the learning material, and great care is taken to not create a distance between
student and learning material in the form of a formal lecture. At the same time, the principle
that an authority figure must be present to regulate group work and to lend authority and
legitimacy to the workshops is followed (see Murray [1992] and Misselhorn [1997]).
The design of the workshops acknowledges that students have different learning style
strengths (see Willing [1988] and Rosenthal [1996]), and therefore incorporates whole-class
work, small-group work, pair work as well as individual work, so as to accommodate as
many students as possible.
This defining characteristic of the workshop series was the one that students commented on
most favourably in their feedback at the end of the year. Almost all students made positive
comments about being able to learn with, as well as from, other students. Comments included
that students enjoyed “the teamwork, and new students‟ input”, as well as “to meet with
fellow students and share ideas” (see Section 5.3.2). This makes sense in an ODL
environment where students do not often get the opportunity of engaging in collaborative
learning. In view of students‟ comments, as well as recommendations made in the literature
review, this is one aspect that should continue to be integrated in future intervention
The second principle that underlies much of this workshop programme is that of using
authentic material (discussed in Section 2.4.2). One advantage of this is that students see the
intervention as having relevance to their own studies (see Hutchinson and Waters [1987]),
and are consequently more motivated to engage in language learning (see Kroll [1979]).
Authentic material in this context refers to texts that are scientific in nature and that are
accessible to students from various scientific fields, rather than highly technical and
specialised texts (see Hutchinson and Waters [1987]). This is because students attending the
SFP workshops come from a variety of scientific fields. Examples of texts used in the
intervention programme include samples taken from students‟ study guides in Workshops 4
(Reading in the sciences [1]) and 12 (Distinguishing between essential and non-essential
information), texts found in scientific textbooks and reference books in Workshops 7
(Paraphrasing) and 16 (Reading in the sciences [2]), as well as popular scientific articles in
Workshops 17 (Writing about facts in the sciences) and 18 (Arguing in the sciences).
Developing specialised workshops for each module or even scientific field would be
impractical in the UNISA context, and therefore, the approach of using topics and material of
general scientific interest is the best approach for this type of intervention. Misselhorn‟s
(1997) advice is followed in that a wide variety and large number of texts are used, so that
students get a feeling of how the texts are constructed (Section 2.4.3).
In addition to these two principles, various abilities are incorporated into the workshop
programme. Although many of these abilities correspond to workshop titles, abilities are
generally practised and reinforced throughout the workshop series (see Section 4.2). Section
6.3 examines to what extent the abilities practised in the workshops coincide with findings in
the literature, as well as students‟ TALL results, and their opinions on the workshop
Critique of elements of the intervention
6.3.1 Grammar
When one thinks about a language course, grammar is often one of the aspects focused on
most. In this workshop programme, the advice from language practitioners such as Nunan
(1988) and Ellis (2006) is followed, in that grammar was dealt with in context, and only so as
to facilitate meaning. Examples of this are where parts of speech are dealt with in the
vocabulary learning workshops (Workshops 1 and 3), the use of the active and passive voice
in the workshop on writing good sentences (Workshop 2) or tenses in the workshop on
writing laboratory reports (Workshop 20). Students are thus made aware of the linguistic
structures (as discussed by Coffin and Hewings [2003] in Section 2.5.3) so as to facilitate the
production of language (Hudson [2002], Section 2.5.3).
Grammar was not overtly tested as a section in the TALL. In addition, no students
commented thereon in the questionnaire. Thus, no further comments can be made regarding
the use of grammar in the workshops, except that students seem to feel comfortable with the
status quo, and that the approach to grammar should stay the same in subsequent workshop
6.3.2 Vocabulary
Rosenthal (1996) argues that low vocabulary levels are a particularly great obstacle for
science students when it comes to decoding information through the receptive abilities of
listening and reading (see Section 2.5.3). In this intervention programme, two workshops are
dedicated to vocabulary learning, with some emphasis on vocabulary learning strategies
(Phillips [2004]; Section 2.5.3). These workshops address problems found in the literature
relating to students having difficulty with distinguishing between the general and scientific
meaning that many words have, as well as struggling with sub-technical vocabulary more
than with technical vocabulary (see Section 2.4.3).
Students showed an encouraging improvement in the vocabulary section of the TALL
(10.87%, p = 0.0002; see Section 5.2). Several students also stated that increased academic
vocabulary was one of the most important abilities gained throughout the workshop series
(Section 5.3.1), rating them at the levels of „very useful‟ and „useful‟ with combined scores of
91.9% and 87.1% respectively (Section 5.3.8). However, more could still be done to reinforce
vocabulary learning throughout the workshop programme.
After focusing on vocabulary acquisition in Workshops 1 and 3, it is not directly focused on
again throughout the rest of the workshop series. One way of building on the abilities
practised in the two vocabulary workshops would be to have a short exercise on vocabulary
acquisition built into all workshops. Potentially problematic words can be identified in each
workshop, and these can be addressed either through a separate activity, or by adding them to
a vocabulary journal in which the words, their meanings, as well as meaningful sentences are
written during each workshop22.
The intention was to do this in the intervention under discussion, and a framework for such a list was handed
out to students at the beginning of the year, but this was not followed up throughout the year.
Furthermore, vocabulary could be tested throughout the year as part of formative assessment,
to encourage students to continuously work at acquiring new vocabulary. Although it seems
fashionable to steer away from tests in the era of outcomes-based education, students‟
feedback in the questionnaire (discussed in Section 5.3.6) seem to indicate that they do have a
desire to know at what level their abilities are. Informal tests (possibly with a prize for the
students who perform best, to make the experience more fun and increase student motivation)
would be one way of assisting them in this.
The definition of academic literacy that the TALL is based on includes that students
“understand a range of vocabulary in context” (Weideman, 2003a: xi). As understanding and
using academic vocabulary is a prerequisite for academic reading and writing, it is important
that this ability be practised throughout the workshop programme, so as to expand students‟
academic vocabulary as much as possible.
6.3.3 Visual literacy
Not much is said about visual literacy for science students in the literature, yet it remains an
important ability for them to acquire. The definition of academic literacy on which the TALL
is based states that students must be able to “interpret, use and produce information presented
in graphic or visual format” (Weideman, 2003a: xi). Furthermore, the UNC-CH Writing
Centre [2005] mentions that quantitative descriptions are preferred over qualitative
descriptions in a scientific context (Section 2.5.3). One way of representing quantitative
descriptions would be through graphs, charts and tables. This is practised in both visual
literacy workshops (Workshops 9 and 10), as well as in the second workshop focusing on
reading strategies (Workshop 16).
In the feedback questionnaire, 14% of the respondents mentioned understanding and creating
graphs as one of the most important abilities acquired. However, as the TALL results show
that students did not improve significantly in the visual literacy section (5.16%, p = 0.1506),
this ability would have to be examined more carefully in subsequent workshops so as to
better equip students in future. Even though no students indicated that they felt they needed
more practise in visual literacy, the TALL results indicate that there is much room for
One suggestion would be to include more graphs, tables and charts in the texts used in other
workshops, thus assisting students in becoming familiar with the convention of using visual
literacy elements in scientific writing. It would also be useful to include at least one
additional visual literacy workshop, and to avoid clustering the workshops together in the
programme. Rather, workshops should be spread throughout the year, allowing students to
revisit abilities acquired previously, and building on these abilities. A further strategy that
might be useful in the visual literacy workshops would be to include more small-group work.
In the current workshops, all activities are done in pairs. It is possible that students would
learn more if the groups were slightly bigger (approximately 4 to 5 students), as this would
increase the chances that stronger students could explain difficult concepts to weaker
students. It is also possible that workshops were pitched at a lower level than the TALL was.
If this is the case, it would be necessary to make certain that all visual literacy workshops
build on each other in terms of difficulty level, so as to ensure that students have a thorough
foundation in this ability, and are then able to progress to more difficult activities.
6.3.4 Speaking and listening
Although this workshop programme focuses very little on presentational speech, much
exploratory speech occurs between students, and between students and facilitator (see Section
2.4.3 for a discussion of these types of speech).
Since the workshops are informal, and allow much time for students to explore topics with
fellow students and with the facilitator, they have the opportunity of expressing their ideas in
a stress-free environment. Furthermore, exploratory speech helps students to discover and
sharpen their ideas by sharing these with other people (Thier & Daviss [2002], Section 2.5.3).
Through the process of exploratory speech, opportunities are also created for students to
practise their listening abilities. Students need to concentrate on what fellow students say, as
they usually have to offer a reaction to other students‟ thoughts.
None of these activities seem like traditional learning (which usually consists of formal
listening and note-taking in a lecture, with very little speaking in between), which probably
assists in breaking down affective filters (see Section 2.2.2 for a discussion hereof). This is
indicated in the questionnaire by comments such as that students enjoyed “the freedom of
learning without being afraid of making a mistake or asking”, and that they “enjoyed group
discussions and arguing in the class” (Section 5.3.2). This feedback corresponds with the
argument made in Section 2.5.3 that specifically black South African students, who often
come from on oral background, might prefer expressing themselves verbally before engaging
in writing activities.
The fact that two students suggested presentation skills as a new workshop topic in
subsequent intervention programmes indicates that, as much as students enjoy and value
exploratory speech, there is some need to also practise presentational speech. One way of
exposing students to this type of speech would be to vary whole-class discussions as a
method of feedback by having students present their feedback in front of the class. This
would have the advantage of allowing students to improve the ability of presentational speech
in a relatively stress-free environment, whilst increasingly getting used to presenting in front
of groups of people – an ability they might need when entering their chosen professions.
Some workshops where this could be incorporated would be Workshop 10 (Visual literacy),
Workshop 12 (Note-taking strategies), and Workshop 19 (Synthesising information). By the
time students would first have to present their work (Workshop 9), they would have
participated in the workshop programme for approximately two months, and would,
presumably, feel comfortable enough with their fellow students to have the self-confidence to
present in front of the rest of the class.
6.3.5 Reading
The definition of academic literacy upon which the TALL is based emphasises a wide variety
of reading abilities, for example: understanding metaphor, idiom, connotation, word play and
ambiguity; understanding relations between various parts of a text and seeing sequence;
interpreting text genres; distinguishing between essential and non-essential information; and
understanding what would count as evidence for an argument (Weideman, 2003a: xi). The
fact that reading abilities are focused on so strongly in the TALL indicates that they are the
cornerstone of academic literacy.
Only two workshops (Workshops 4 and 16) specifically focus on reading abilities, but
students are expected to read and process texts in many other workshops, often writing in
response to such texts (see Johns [1981]; Section 2.4.3). Phillips (2004) claims that just by
reading a wide variety of texts, students will begin to imitate the style and structure of such
texts in their own writing (see Section 2.5.3). Examples of workshops in which scientific
texts are read include the workshops on „Summarising‟ (Workshop 8), „Distinguishing
between essential and non-essential information‟ (Workshop 11), „Note-taking strategies‟
(Workshop 12) and the two workshops on essay writing (Workshops 17 and 18). The fact that
a wide variety of text types is used across workshops means that students are exposed to a
broad range of writing, which challenges them to adapt their reading strategies.
Many of the texts used in this intervention programme (specifically those used in the two
essay writing workshops) encourage students to be critical about information, understanding
that “observations of the world are made from a personal perspective built up by prior
knowledge, beliefs and theories” (Murcia [undated:10]; Section 2.5.3). This helps them to
cultivate the healthy habit of scepticism (Thier, 2005; Section 2.5.3). One student commented
that s/he enjoyed learning “how one should learn to think critically, out of the box”. This
display of meta-cognitive thought shows that a habit of critical thinking was fostered with at
least some participants.
Students are taught reading strategies (as suggested by Berkenkotter and Huckin [1995] in
Section 2.5.3) to some extent, specifically in the first reading workshop (Workshop 4) where
the abilities of skimming and scanning are practised. However, reading abilities should
receive much more attention throughout the workshop series. Berkenkotter and Huckin
(1995) suggest that students should be familiarised with the strategies that scientists use to
read texts, namely first reading the title, followed by the abstract, the visual elements, the
results and finally the content. Although I believe that it would be unrealistic to expect
UNISA first-year students to see the value in reading academic articles so early in their
studies, Berkenkotter and Huckin‟s strategy could be followed with more basic texts as well.
Exercises could, for example, be included before all longer texts, where students are asked
leading questions about the various sections of texts, or are asked to create a short outline or
mind-map of the texts by using visual clues (for example headings, bold keywords and visual
elements). If such activities are regularly included in a variety of workshops, reading
strategies would probably become automated, and students would be more likely to apply
these strategies to their studies.
In addition to paying more attention to reading strategies throughout the workshop
programme, at least one extra workshop would have to focus on equipping students with
strategies to access very dense, atomistic texts (all characteristics of scientific writing, as
discussed in Section 2.5.2). The recommendation of scaffolding material and exercises, made
in Section 2.5.3, should be followed by gradually introducing students to increasingly
difficult reading texts, which would progressively demand improved reading strategies.
Another recommendation regarding workshops in which aspects of reading strategies are
focused on is that the order of various workshops be changed. For example, it is
recommended that Workshop 11 (Distinguishing between essential and non-essential
information) be moved before Workshop 8 (Summarising), because in order to summarise a
text, it is necessary to first identify the main points of that text. Furthermore, Workshop 12
(Note-taking strategies) should be placed between the workshops on „Distinguishing between
essential and non-essential information‟ and „Summarising‟. To effectively take notes, the
abilities introduced in Workshop 11 should already have been addressed. Once students have
practised distinguishing between essential and non-essential information and taking effective
notes, fewer new abilities would have to be introduced in the summarising workshop. The
more complicated note-taking method of mind mapping could be removed from the current
note-taking workshop, and be discussed in a separate workshop at a later stage, so as to
ensure that enough time is spent on this ability.
Students seem aware of the crucial importance of reading abilities. In the questionnaire
completed at the end of the workshop series, 32% of the respondents mentioned reading and
understanding as one of the most important abilities gained during the intervention
programme. Both reading workshops were rated as „very useful‟ or „useful‟ (with combined
scores of 83.9% and 82.1% respectively). Interestingly, only two students indicated that they
needed more practice in this ability. Students seem to have an unrealistic perception of how
much they had improved in this ability, and how much they still needed to improve (also see
Coetzee-Van Rooy and Verhoef [2000] for a discussion on students‟ inaccurate perceptions
of their language proficiency levels, specifically their reading abilities). In the „understanding
texts‟ section in the TALL, there was a mere 5.98% improvement between pre- and post-test.
Thus, even though students do not seem to realise it, this ability definitely has to be practised
more. This will be possible if the recommendations made in this section are followed.
6.3.6 Writing
Several workshops in this intervention programme focused on writing abilities. Jacoby et al.
(1995) suggest that important writing abilities include prewriting, planning, organising,
synthesis, and content and rhetorical analysis of texts (see Section 2.4.3). All of these were
addressed in this intervention programme. Prewriting and planning were practised in both
essay writing workshops (Workshops 17 and 18). In these workshops, students had to take
notes from articles as the basis for their own essay. In the expository essay workshop,
students had to think of topic sentences for the paragraphs in their essays. Organising abilities
were also practised in both of these workshops, as well as in sessions such as „Note-taking
strategies‟ (Workshop 12), where information had to be organised logically into a mind map
or outline. Synthesis was practised in both essay writing workshops, as well as in a workshop
dedicated to synthesising texts (Workshop 19). Content and rhetorical analysis of texts was
also practised in both essay writing workshops, as well as the synthesising texts workshop.
These are not the only writing abilities important to students studying science-related courses.
Being able to summarise (and included in that, paraphrase) effectively is vital for science
students (Braine, 1995; Section 2.5.3), as scientific writing is “tightly knit” in “a style of
writing which is concise and precise” (Rosenthal, 1996:105) and atomistic (Becher,
1987:273; see Section 2.5.2). These abilities are addressed in workshops 7 and 8. Using
semantic relations (Phillips, 2004) can assist in making highly structured academic writing
more comprehensible. This is addressed in the workshops on paragraph writing (Workshops
5 and 6). Another way of preparing students for the complex task of summarising is to train
them to underline, colour code, and create mind maps or diagrams (Kirkland & Saunders,
1991; Section 2.5.3). These strategies are addressed in Workshop 12 (note-taking strategies).
However, as this workshop takes place long after the workshops on paraphrasing and
summarising (Workshops 7 and 8), the workshop is not ideally placed to be a useful tool in
preparing students to summarise effectively (as discussed in Section 6.3.5).
The characteristics of objectivity and neutrality (for example Phillips [2004]; Section 2.5.2)
are touched upon in the workshop on writing good sentences (Workshop 2), where students
have to convert sentences in the active voice to the passive voice (an important ability
according to White [1988], Robinson [1980] and the UNC-CH Writing Centre [2005]). These
characteristics are further addressed specifically in the workshop on expository writing
(Workshop 17), where students are expected to objectively report on nuclear energy – a topic
that students can become very emotional about.
When examining the feedback questionnaire, students indicated that they benefitted from
several writing workshops (see Section 5.3.1). Foremost amongst these was summarising,
with 38% of the respondents indicating that this ability was one of the most important
abilities acquired during the year. Surprisingly, 30% of the respondents mentioned essay
writing as an important ability gained, in spite of the fact that little extensive writing is done
in students‟ first year, as indicated in Section 3.4.1. As this constitutes a favourable response
from almost a third of the respondents, it would seem prudent to keep the two essay writing
topics in the workshop programme, and to possibly even expand on them. Other abilities that
students believed they gained were paraphrasing, referencing (specifically important in essay
writing, but also in other assignments), writing sentences and paragraphs, as well as writing
laboratory reports. Students also indicated that they needed more practise in many writing
orientated workshops. Twenty-eight per cent of the respondents indicated that they needed
more practise in paraphrasing. Other abilities that were mentioned were writing laboratory
reports, synthesising, summarising, referencing, argumentative writing and writing
paragraphs. Even though the academic literacy abilities tested in the TALL would most likely
have an impact on students‟ writing abilities, one limitation of this study was that there was
no specific writing pre- and post-test. Therefore, students‟ feedback has to be relied upon to
determine the extent to which the writing components in future workshops would have to be
In spite of a wide array of writing abilities being successfully addressed in a variety of
workshops, several recommendations can be made to further enhance students‟ writing
abilities. Firstly, in early workshops such as the two paragraph writing workshops
(Workshops 5 and 6), more attention should be given to Bloom‟s lower-order levels, and
fewer exercises should focus on „synthesis‟ and „evaluation‟. As students clearly need much
development at all levels, it seems worthwhile to start by paying attention to lower-order
cognitive levels, and to gradually introduce students to higher-order cognitive levels23. In
The intention here is not to encourage the UNISA curriculum away from higher order cognitive abilities.
However, the purpose of UNISA learner support is to support learners in their existing academic courses. To
neglect lower-order cognitive levels (which are heavily relied upon until at least second year level) in favour of
the ideal that students should have reached higher-order levels already would go against the purpose of learner
support, and ESP in general. This study therefore proposes that lower-order cognitive levels receive priority
until these are adequately mastered.
addition, it is recommended that Workshop 19 (Synthesising information) be placed before
the two essay writing workshops (Workshops 17 and 18), as these workshops require students
to have already acquired the ability of synthesising information. If it is placed after these
workshops, it seems disconnected from the rest of the acquired abilities, and might not seem
valuable to students. Again, abilities need to logically build on each other to be of worth.
Furthermore, several workshops seem to be too short to fully address all activities in those
workshops. It is recommended that less time be spent on cohesive devices in Workshops 5
and 6, and that an additional workshop be created during which cohesion and coherence
could be addressed more fully. A revision workshop on paraphrasing and summarising
abilities should be scheduled, so as to provide students with a more solid foundation in these
crucial abilities. Another topic that would be well served by an additional workshop would be
writing thesis statements. Students had great difficulty with this in the workshops on
expository and argumentative writing, and thus much time was spent on explaining and
creating thesis statements. More time could be spent on writing essays in these two
workshops if thesis statements were discussed in a separate workshop. Even if such a
workshop is added, more time should still be spent on planning, writing and evaluating
expository and argumentative essays. Therefore, at least one additional workshop on both of
these essay-writing topics is recommended. Finally, it might be worthwhile to create a second
workshop on writing laboratory reports, so that students can practise writing their own
laboratory reports. One reason for this would be that laboratory reports, like with expository
and argumentative essays, incorporate a wide range of abilities such as paraphrasing,
summarising, describing, comparing, contrasting, showing cause and effect, interpreting and
analysing data, and using graphs and tables (Braine 1995; Section 2.5.3). Another would be
that students in the SFP know that they will have to write laboratory reports at some point
during their tertiary studies (as is done internationally – see, for example, Section 2.5.2), and
are thus likely to be motivated by engaging in this „real-life‟ writing activity.
Although it can be argued that less focus should be given to writing abilities, as little
extensive writing is done in science students‟ undergraduate studies (see Chapter 3), I agree
with Fellows (1993) in that, by writing, students are able to integrate previous knowledge and
new ideas (see Section 2.5.3). Possibly even more importantly, students are given the
opportunity of integrating previously acquired abilities with new abilities, and at the same
time of becoming more proficient in previously acquired abilities. An example of a workshop
where this is the case is the workshop on writing laboratory reports (Workshop 20). Here,
students need to integrate a “complex mixture of writing skills such as summary, paraphrase,
seriation, description, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, interpretation of data,
analysis, and the integration of mathematical and scientific data into a text” (Braine, 1989:910; Section 2.5.3). Therefore, writing is not necessarily seen as the ultimate goal, but as a
vehicle that aids students in fully acquiring a wide range of abilities.
Number of workshops
In addition to commenting on various workshops and acquired abilities, students made some
recommendations for the improvement of the academic literacy intervention discussed in this
The most notable issue that emerged was that students (45% of the respondents) felt that
more or longer workshops were required. As discussed in Section 5.3.6, increasing the
number of workshops might be more useful than increasing the length of the workshops.
Students‟ recommendation that more workshops should be included corresponds with
suggestions made throughout this chapter, that more workshops are needed in order to
adequately address various abilities. It would seem as though a 60-hour (twenty 3-hour
workshops) workshop programme is not sufficient to optimally improve students‟ academic
literacy in the UNISA context.
One problem with an increased number of workshops is that this would make it more difficult
for employed students to attend. As all abilities might not require additional workshops, it is
probably sufficient to increase the contact time by 30 hours (thus adding ten workshops for
reinforcing abilities dealt with during the intervention programme). This would already be a
significant improvement on the current timeframe.
The next section makes final recommendations regarding the redevelopment of the SFP
academic literacy intervention.
Recommendations for the redevelopment of the intervention
Previous sections have shown that much of the workshop content of the SFP academic
literacy intervention corresponds with what the literature recommends. However, some
suggestions were made that could potentially help students increase their level of academic
literacy even more significantly in future intervention programmes. These recommendations
are made in this section.
The principle of making use of collaborative learning in workshops should be retained. The
role of the facilitator should be clearly defined to students at the beginning of the intervention
programme, so that students know what to expect in terms of guidance from the facilitator.
Certain rules also need to be laid down at the beginning of the year to ensure that discipline
will be maintained in spite of the collaborative, informal atmosphere of workshops. This
should address objections raised in Section 5.3.3, that students sometimes did not participate,
or were occasionally unruly.
The use of authentic materials should continue. One recommendation here would be that texts
at various degrees of difficulty are chosen. The difficulty of texts should increase as the year
progresses, so that students are constantly challenged just above their current competency
Although workshops already build upon previously acquired abilities, this should happen to
an even greater extent. In Section 6.3, it was argued that several abilities, for example reading
and vocabulary strategies, should be continuously emphasised in as many workshops as
possible. In addition, abilities not focused on in the present workshop programme could be
included as activities in various workshops. Examples include presentation skills and the
organisation of texts. The integration of abilities into various workshops should be formalised
by adding exercises to all workshops (where applicable) that would draw students‟ attention
to, for example, difficult vocabulary, text structure or presentation skills.
In addition to integrating the reinforcement of various abilities into subsequent workshops, it
is recommended that extra workshops be added to the existing workshop programme. This
would enable students to gain additional practise in newly acquired abilities, which in turn
should assist them in coping better with new, complex abilities. A 90-hour workshop
programme is recommended. This will provide students with an additional 30 hours contact
It is further recommended that some form of formative assessment, as well as additional preassessment and summative assessment activities, be included in the intervention programme.
Formative assessment need not be formal, as this is a non-credit bearing programme24. It
would, however, assist students by giving them a standard by which they can measure their
improvement throughout the year. Formative assessment can take the form of occasional
short tests (as recommended for vocabulary acquisition in Section 6.3.2) or essays that are
assessed by the facilitator (as discussed in Sections 4.2.13 and 4.2.14 – this would be
dependent on the two essay writing workshops being increased to four workshops, so that
students are able to complete at least a draft of an essay during the workshops). In addition to
this, it is recommended that three academic literacy tests be scheduled after three, six and
nine months of the intervention. The existing pre- and post-tests should be supplemented with
a writing activity, so that the improvement in students‟ writing abilities can be measured.
Based on recommendations made in this chapter, a revised workshop schedule (including
revised workshop outcomes) is suggested. Note that the sequence of some workshops has
changed from the original workshop programme discussed in Section 4.2. Additional
alterations to the current workshop programme are indicated by means of italics. An
additional workshop to the recommended 30 workshops is added after the final assessment.
This is a feedback workshop on the summative assessment. It reflects on what has been learnt
throughout the year, and allows students to think about how they will continue to build on the
abilities acquired throughout the year.
The academic literacies workshop fall under UNISA learner support. Learner support at UNISA does not take
the form of credit-bearing courses, as the underlying belief is that student support must happen on a voluntary
basis, and that programmes must be available to all UNISA students.
Formative assessment: Pre-test
1. Improving your vocabulary
Acquire strategies for improving vocabulary;
Understand and use parts of speech; and
Use a range of subject-specific vocabulary in sentences.
2. Writing academic sentences
Use words in the appropriate context;
Identify all of the necessary parts of speech that constitute a proper sentence;
Identify and use the active and passive voice correctly; and
Add difficult words to a personal vocabulary list.
3. Using scientific words and concepts in context
Correctly use words that can be used in more than one context;
Convert symbols into formulas written in complete sentences and vice versa;
Identify the various connotations of words, as well as the feelings and
emotions that accompany such words; and
Add difficult words to a personal vocabulary list.
4. Reading in the sciences (1)
Add difficult words to a personal vocabulary list;
Develop techniques of skimming, scanning and reading closely; and
Apply these abilities to a variety of scientific texts.
5. Writing academic paragraphs (1)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Develop an awareness of topic sentences, and identify these in paragraphs in
your study guides;
Write academic paragraphs that are built around effective topic sentences;
Develop an awareness of basic discourse markers, and use them in joining
ideas and sentences; and
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing (i.e.,
scientific writing being linear and inductive, concise, precise and clear).
6. Visual literacy (1)
Read and interpret tables, graphs, charts and other visual information; and
Acquire vocabulary and phrases used to represent and interpret visual
information in a written form.
7. Cohesion and coherence
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on cohesive devices;
Analyse logical relations;
Develop an awareness of discourse markers, and use them in joining ideas
and sentences;
Use advanced discourse markers to combine ideas and sentences; and
Develop an awareness of text coherence.
8. Writing academic paragraphs (2)
Supplement personal vocabulary list with a variety of conjunctions;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing (i.e.,
scientific writing being linear and inductive, concise, precise and clear);
Write academic paragraphs that are built around effective topic sentences;
Use advanced discourse markers to show relationships between ideas in
paragraphs; and
Write answers (in paragraph form) to questions in study guides.
Formative assessment 1: Vocabulary, sentences, paragraphs, visual literacy
9. Reading in the sciences (2)
Revisit reading strategies of skimming and scanning;
Create an outline or mind map of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Develop strategies for reading comprehension; and
Apply these abilities to advanced reading comprehension activities.
10. Revision – parts of speech and paragraph writing
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Use discourse markers in joining ideas and sentences;
Develop an awareness of topic sentences, and identify these in paragraphs in
your study guides;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing (i.e.,
scientific writing being linear and inductive, concise, precise and clear);
Write academic paragraphs that are built on effective topic sentences;
Develop an awareness of discourse markers (conjunctions);
Revise the use of parts of speech and conjunctions; and
Practise writing effective paragraphs.
11. Distinguishing between essential and non-essential information
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Distinguish between main ideas, supporting ideas and examples;
Distinguish between facts, opinions and assumptions; and
Classify, categorise and label information.
12. Note-taking strategies (1)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Distinguish between essential and non-essential information, through
underlining and annotating;
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Create an outline of information; and
Present completed outlines in front of an audience.
13. Paraphrasing
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Collect synonyms for unfamiliar and difficult words;
Write information in your own words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Develop an awareness of plagiarism by answering assignment questions from
study guides.
14. Summarising
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing (i.e.,
scientific writing being linear and inductive, concise, precise and clear);
Distinguish between essential and non-essential information;
Underline key words and ideas; and
Paraphrase and summarise information.
15. Visual literacy (2)
Gather and tabulate data, and make basic calculations to interpret this data;
Interpret results obtained in your own research;
Represent these results visually, in graphs and charts; and
Present completed graphs and charts in front of an audience.
16. Revision – paraphrasing and summarising
Supplement personal vocabulary list by adding unfamiliar words, and write
complete sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Distinguish between essential and non-essential information;
Underline key words and ideas;
Create an outline of text structure, focusing on headings, topic sentences, key
words and visual information;
Paraphrase and summarise information;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing; and
Develop an awareness of plagiarism by answering assignment questions from
study guides.
17. Note-taking strategies (2)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Identify essential information by underlining it;
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Develop an awareness of mind mapping techniques;
Represent information visually in the form of a mind map; and
Present completed mind maps in front of an audience.
Formative assessment 2: Vocabulary, sentences, paragraphs, visual literacy, notetaking, paraphrasing, summarising, comprehension
18. Introduction to referencing
Add unfamiliar words related to referencing to a personal vocabulary list, and
write complete sentences with these words;
Develop an awareness of the function and location of different parts of a text;
Develop an awareness of plagiarism and how to avoid it by means of
referencing correctly.
19. Bibliographies
Add unfamiliar words related to referencing to a personal vocabulary list, and
write complete sentences with these words;
Use in-text referencing appropriately; and
Construct a list of references from books, study guides, journals, newspapers
and the Internet.
20. Visual literacy (3)
Acquire vocabulary and phrases used to interpret visual information;
Represent written information in a variety of visual formats;
Read and interpret tables, graphs, charts and other visual information;
Present completed graphs and charts in front of an audience; and
Synthesise visual information represented in a variety of texts, using
appropriate referencing techniques.
21. Reading in the sciences (3)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Practise accessing dense, atomistic texts;
Create an outline or mind map of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information; and
Practise to read for comprehension by creating your own comprehension test.
22. Writing thesis statements
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Identify thesis statements in texts;
Distinguish between effective and ineffective thesis statements; and
Create thesis statements, written in complete sentences.
Formative assessment 3: Vocabulary, sentences, paragraphs, visual literacy, notetaking, paraphrasing, summarising, referencing, comprehension, thesis statements
23. Synthesising information
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Apply knowledge to new contexts and the general to the particular;
Extrapolate – infer by deducing beyond the facts, estimate beyond the known,
and make predictions;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing;
Use referencing abilities to synthesise a variety of sources;
Write about a topic in a relevant subject in which several sources are
synthesised; and
Present completed syntheses in front of an audience.
24. Writing about facts in the sciences (expository writing) (1)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Analyse the structure of a text (introduction, body, and conclusion);
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing;
Understand the hierarchy of ideas;
Illustrate concepts and ideas with examples, drawings or theorems; and
Develop an awareness of the importance of objectivity and neutrality in
expository writing.
25. Writing about facts in the sciences (expository writing) (2)
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Develop the outline for an essay, including key words for each paragraph;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing;
Synthesise a variety of sources by means of an outline or mind map;
Use referencing abilities effectively;
Create topic sentences for each paragraph;
Write the first draft of an expository essay; and
Develop peer editing abilities by giving feedback on another student’s essay.
26. Writing about facts in the sciences (expository writing) (3)
Revise the first draft of an expository essay; and
Develop peer editing abilities by giving feedback on another student’s essay.
27. Arguing in the sciences (argumentative writing) (1)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Show comprehension of the text through answering comprehension questions;
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Develop an awareness of the characteristics of scientific writing;
Understand the hierarchy of ideas;
Judge information critically, and prove the validity of statements; and
Argue concepts and ideas with examples, theorems or persuasive passages.
28. Arguing in the sciences (argumentative writing) (2)
Develop the outline for an essay, including key words for each paragraph;
Create topic sentences for each paragraph;
Write an argumentative essay;
Use referencing abilities effectively; and
Develop peer editing abilities by giving feedback on another student’s essay.
29. Writing a laboratory report (1)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Understand the various sections of a laboratory report; and
Identify inappropriate language use and unnecessary information in existing
laboratory reports.
30. Writing a laboratory report (2)
Add unfamiliar words to a personal vocabulary list, and write complete
sentences with these words;
Highlight certain aspects of text structure, focusing on headings, topic
sentences, key words and visual information;
Understand the various sections of a laboratory report; and
Write sections of laboratory reports when given basic information.
Summative assessment: Post-test
31. Feedback on summative assessment
Determine what your strengths and weaknesses in the post-test were;
Develop a strategy to continue building on strengths, and to work on
Create a mind-map or outline in which you show how you will use various
abilities in your studies; and
Present the mind-map or outline to an audience.
Based on results from the TALL, feedback from students, as well as recommendations made
in the literature, this chapter has critiqued the academic literacy workshop programme used in
the current study. Subsequently, it made recommendations as to how this programme can be
improved in future.
The next chapter summarises the findings of this study, highlights its limitations, and makes
recommendations for future research.
This study commenced with a description of the poor pass rate at South African secondary
school level, especially in the fields of science and mathematics (Collings, 2000; Pandor,
2007). It was argued that one of the main reasons for this poor pass rate is students‟ low
academic literacy levels (McCallum, 2000; Phillilps, 2004). The fact that so many first-year
tertiary level students are not prepared for the demands of tertiary studies has the direct effect
that few students complete their degrees, specifically in the fields of science and technology
(Collings, 2000; Phillips, 2004). This is very problematic in a country that has a growing
need for graduates in these fields (Phillips, 2004).
This study has addressed the Ministry of Education‟s (2001) call to universities to improve
the throughput rate at South African universities by suggesting one way of improving the
academic literacy levels of students at a tertiary, open and distance learning (ODL)
institution. One of UNISA‟s greatest challenges is that the demographics of the average
enrolled student have changed over the past decades. Whereas many people used to see
distance learners as mature, older students, the average UNISA students today are young
school leavers who often enrol at UNISA because they cannot gain entrance into residential
universities (due to poor Grade 12 marks or financial difficulties). This means that these
students possibly have an even greater need for contact with the institution and fellow
students than do many students at residential universities. Therefore, the intervention
discussed in this study took the format of twenty weekly face-to-face workshops (see Section
1.1.4 for a justification of presenting contact classes at an ODL institution). This allowed
employed students to attend the workshops, as they only had to take off three hours from
work per week. It also allowed the majority of full-time students to have much-needed
interaction with peers and a language facilitator.
The current workshop programme was an attempt at holistically giving students exposure to
as many elements of academic literacy as possible. Abilities were, for the most part, practised
in context, and were revisited throughout the workshop programme. As shown in Chapter 4,
the intervention took into consideration the fields of study of its target population (namely
science and technology) in the choice of material used. Furthermore, the needs of the target
population were taken into account in the varied interactional patterns used in each workshop,
building on the assumption that most students would enjoy a collaborative learning
methodology, yet keeping in mind that some individual work would also be necessary. Also,
guidelines given in the literature were taken into account in the development of this
intervention programme, as discussed in Chapter 4. This chapter considers the outcomes of
the current study by returning to the three research questions posed in the first chapter of this
dissertation. Subsequently, the implications and the limitations of this study are examined,
and potential topics for future research are examined.
Research questions
This study originally posed three research questions. These were as follows:
1. Can an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) intervention improve the academic literacy
levels of first-year open and distance learning students studying science-related courses?
2. What areas of academic literacy have been improved most after the ESP intervention?
3. How can the ESP intervention be adapted to further develop students‟ academic literacy
The findings of these questions are summarised in Sections 7.2.1 to 7.2.3.
7.2.1 Research question 1
The first question asked whether an ESP intervention could improve the academic literacy
levels of first-year ODL students studying science-related courses. As shown in Chapter 5,
this is indeed possible.
Students participating in the intervention improved their academic literacy levels, as
measured by the TALL, by an average of 7.5%. Students who attended eight or more
workshops improved their academic literacy by an average of 11.40%. Unfortunately, the
average percentage that this group of students obtained for the post-test was only 41.10% - a
result which still classifies them as at-risk of not completing their studies. Therefore, the
possibility of improving the intervention should be examined, so as to potentially raise
students‟ academic literacy levels even further, thereby giving them a greater chance of
succeeding in their tertiary studies.
7.2.2 Research question 2
The second research question asked what areas of academic literacy had improved most after
the ESP intervention. This question was examined in Chapter 5.
The section in the TALL that showed the greatest improvement was the section on „Text
editing‟, with an improvement of 11.96% (p = 0.0014). This section is a good indicator of
students‟ general academic literacy levels. Reasons why students performed better in this
section could include that students‟ reading and comprehension speed increased, thus
enabling more students to complete the entire test. The improvement could also be due to
students‟ increased academic literacy levels.
„Academic vocabulary‟ was the section in the TALL that showed the second greatest
improvement (10.87%; p = 0.0002). It is heartening to see that students‟ academic vocabulary
results increased with over 10%. As indicated in Chapter 4, and again suggested in Section
6.3.2, it should be possible to continually focus on vocabulary to an even greater extent than
has been done in this study. Ways in which this could be done are discussed in Section 6.3.2.
The section on „Text types‟ also showed a marked improvement, with 10.43% (p = 0.0473).
However, as this section only counted five marks, it does not have a great impact on the total
The section on „Understanding texts‟ showed an improvement of 5.98% (p = 0.0048). This is
somewhat disappointing, as this section was not only the biggest section in the TALL, but is
arguably also the most important ability ODL students need to acquire. Reading with
comprehension is an ability that ODL students need, possibly more so than their residential
university counterparts, as most of their learning occurs through reading. If reading
comprehension levels are poor, it seems logical that learning will not be optimal.
Recommendations for creating additional opportunities for focusing on reading abilities are
discussed in Section 6.3.5.
The section on „Interpreting graphs and visual information‟ showed a moderate improvement
(5.16%; p= 0.1506). However, statistically, this improvement does not seem to be significant.
This is problematic, as visual literacy is an integral component of almost all science students‟
syllabi. Suggestions for further improving students‟ visual literacy are discussed in Section
In the section on „Scrambled text‟, students‟ post-test marks were, surprisingly, lower than
their pre-test marks (results dropped by 3.48%, although this result was shown to be
statistically insignificant [p = 0.4675]). This section counted only five marks, and therefore it
is difficult to make any meaningful conclusions based on this result. However, as discussed in
Section 6.5, it might be advisable to spend more time during the workshop series on the
organisation of texts (focusing on discourse markers, introductions and conclusions).
Examining the extent of the improvement between the TALL pre- and post-test results is
important in deciding on the number of workshops on each topic in subsequent intervention
programmes, as well as the outcomes and type of activities that should be included in various
workshop topics in future. Recommendations in this regard were made in Chapter 6, and are
summarised in Section 7.2.3.
7.2.3 Research question 3
The third research question asked how an ESP intervention could be adapted to further
develop students‟ academic literacy. Chapter 6 outlines comprehensive recommendations
regarding the possible improvement of the intervention programme, with the goal of
ultimately further improving students‟ academic literacy levels.
The recommendation with the broadest implications is that the number of workshops be
increased from 20 to 30, thus increasing the total contact time from 60 hours to 90 hours.
Additional workshops are recommended for the following topics: „Cohesion and coherence‟;
„Revision – paraphrasing and summarising‟; „Note-taking strategies (2)‟; „Visual literacy
(3)‟; „Reading in the sciences (3)‟; „Writing thesis statements‟; „Writing about facts in the
sciences‟ (2 and 3); „Arguing in the sciences (2)‟; and „Writing a laboratory report (2)‟.
Moreover, three formative assessment opportunities (in addition to the current pre- and posttests) are recommended.
In addition to increasing the number of workshops, numerous outcomes were added to
existing workshops so as to address various abilities more fully across a range of workshops.
Additional activities based on these outcomes were also suggested for various workshops.
A final recommendation was to spread out workshops that are currently clustered together
(thus, the same topic in consecutive weeks), so as to ensure that students are exposed to and
practise abilities throughout the year.
If these recommendations were followed in the redevelopment of the current academic
literacy intervention, the possibility exists of increasing the improvement of students‟
academic literacy levels between pre- and post-tests more considerably than was the case in
this study.
Implications of the current research
This research study has several implications.
Firstly, it would seem as though attending academic literacy workshops does have an
influence on improving students‟ academic literacy levels. If academic literacy levels play a
role in student throughput, then it would be vital for universities to invest in such courses, so
as to empower students with the abilities they need to succeed at higher education.
A further implication is that contact sessions, based on collaborative learning, would seem to
be highly beneficial, especially to black students studying language-related subjects.
Therefore, even ODL institutions like UNISA should consider allowing students the
flexibility of attending such courses, so as to be optimally engaged in their own learning.
One troubling observation made in this study is that UNISA science subjects seem to require
very few higher-order cognitive skills from students in their first and second years. This is
problematic, since students might not be sufficiently prepared for entering the work market
after their studies, and even less for pursuing postgraduate studies. The possibility exists that
UNISA students might become known as students with a sub-standard level of education,
because they were not expected to function on certain cognitive levels – a fact which would
ultimately carry grave consequences for the University‟s reputation.
For this study to be of any worth, it must be seen as the first step in a cycle of action research.
Without determining the effects of the recommendations made in this study, it will be
impossible to determine its ultimate worth.
The first limitation of this study is therefore that the effects of the proposed revised workshop
curriculum remain unknown. Research on this project will have to be ongoing, so as to
determine whether increased tuition time and revised workshop outcomes (and thus revised
activities) do indeed further improve the academic literacy levels of students in UNISA‟s
recommendations will be reported on in scholarly articles in future.
A weakness in the pre- and post-tests was that no writing component was included. It would
be useful to include such a component in future pre- and post-assessments, so as to more
objectively ascertain the impact of the intervention programme on students‟ writing abilities.
Another limitation is that the research group was relatively small. Although many more than
the 46 students who wrote the TALL pre- and post-tests took part in the workshops at some
point throughout the year, the “quasi-permanent absence of the learning group” (Keegan
1986:44) meant that the learning group was never very stable, and that students regularly
disappeared, whilst others appeared at various points during the year. Because of the
voluntary nature of the workshops, it is very difficult to motivate students to attend an
intervention programme like this from beginning to end. Future studies could consider
offering some sort of incentive for students who remain part of the intervention for the entire
year. This could be in the form of a certificate, a book prize or even a letter of reference.
An obstacle for interventions such as this is convincing lecturers to support such initiatives.
An important step would be to inform relevant lecturers of the results of this study, and to
keep them informed of future research that measures the effectiveness of the intervention
programme. Once lecturers are convinced that this intervention could help their students
succeed in science-related modules, lecturers would be more likely to refer their students to
UNISA‟s Academic Literacies Centres. This might ultimately secure a more stable learning
A final challenge is to accommodate working students as well as students who do not live
close to a regional centre. Several working students did attend the workshops, but many were
unable to take off the necessary time each week. In addition to that, many full-time UNISA
students stay far away from UNISA regional centres, and cannot attend weekly workshops.
Recommendations for future research
The current research study raises various issues that should be addressed in future research.
One limitation that was mentioned in the previous section is that working students and
students living far away from UNISA regional centres did not have the opportunity of
attending this intervention programme. One possibility would be to adapt the workshops to a
web-based environment. However, many UNISA students are not computer literate, and
would therefore not be able to make use of such a course. One student suggested that satellite
broadcasting be used to communicate with students who are spread across the country.
Though this is an interesting suggestion, this method of presentation would have to be
researched and designed very carefully, so as not to lose the benefits of collaborative learning
that the workshops presently have. This challenge would have to be researched further, as no
simple answer seems forthcoming.
Another suggestion for future research is taken from a student who commented that s/he
would like to see more relevant texts used in the workshops. Although the workshop material
is designed to appeal to all students studying in science-related fields, it is impossible in the
UNISA context to present specialised workshops for each module. However, it should be
investigated whether some of the workshops could be adapted to use students‟ own study
material instead of generic texts.
An additional aspect that deserves further research is to determine how realistic students are
about their own literacy levels. As discussed elsewhere in this study, it is possible that many
students do not take advantage of opportunities such as the SFP academic literacy workshops
because they believe their own literacy levels to be much higher than is the case. Should this
be found to be true, an alternative strategy would have to be followed to convince a broader
range of students to attend such an intervention.
The revised workshop programme which is proposed in Chapter 6 suggests ten additional
workshop topics. The suggested programme is based on academic literacy weaknesses
identified in the TALL, an overview of what students are required to do in a variety of
assignments, as well as the needs identified by students themselves. Only one of these
workshop topics are solely dedicated to improved reading abilities. Although many of the
additional workshops also contain reading components, it might be worthwhile to investigate
the possibility of developing a separate reading development intervention. Such an
intervention could potentially make use of reading laboratories, and could supplement the
current proposed workshop programme.
The final, yet most important, suggestion for future research is that a process of action
research be followed with the academic literacies programme discussed in this study. There is
much that can be done to refine the workshop programme so as to increase the likelihood of
improving students‟ academic literacy levels more markedly in future. Some of these
suggestions were made in Chapter 6. Only through a process of action research would the
possible effects of such refinement be measurable, and would the current research benefit
Even though EAL “students enrolled in science classes are ostensibly learning science, we
forget that they are also simultaneously both learning and acquiring proficiency in English”
(Rosenthal, 1996:44). The intervention examined and evaluated in this study was an attempt
at assisting students who not only have to learn science whilst acquiring academic literacy,
but who also have to do this in an ODL environment.
The recommendations made in this study are based on an EST academic literacy intervention.
However, it is hoped the recommendations would also be of value to other ESP academic
literacy programmes at first-year level, specifically in an ODL context where such
interventions are sorely needed.
Although Pretorius and Bohlmann‟s (2003) word of caution is heeded, that one cannot have
unrealistic expectations about the impact of a reading (or, in this case, an academic literacy)
intervention in a short time, this study has shown that such an intervention can have a
positive impact on students‟ academic literacy levels. With further refinement and research,
this impact can hopefully be improved further in future. If this intervention was able to create
a foundation that would enable students to become aware of their own academic literacy
levels, and subsequently encourage them to become lifelong learners, then it has achieved a
great deal in setting a process in motion where students may continuously develop the
abilities addressed in the intervention.
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Job / description:___________________________________________________________
Addendum A
In the sciences, words usually have very specific meanings which can often
be confusing. Science is also a very dense language. That means that a scientific text is
often packed with difficult words. Ignoring these words might make it difficult to understand
the rest of the text. It is therefore important for you to increase your scientific vocabulary as
soon as possible.
For you to understand why a word is used in a specific way, you have to understand what
its job is. Words can be used differently in various contexts. The word ―accelerate‖, for
example, also has different forms such as ―accelerated‖, ―accelerator‖, ―accelerating‖ and
―acceleration‖. To understand when to use which word, you have to understand parts of
 Task 1
Look at the two sentences in Section A. The parts of speech are written on top of most
words in capital letters. In groups of three to four, try to work out the job/description of each
of these parts of speech, and write this down in Section B. Then look at the sentences in
Section C, and categorise the words in bold into each part of speech category in Section B.
Job / description:___________________________________________________________
Job / description:___________________________________________________________
Job / description:___________________________________________________________
Job / description:___________________________________________________________
Some poisonous gases can enter the body by absorption through the skin.
The microphone converts acoustic waves to electrical signals for transmission.
Forensic scientists have so far been unable to ascertain the cause of the
Sound and pictures can be stored digitally, as on a CD.
Steam is water in its gaseous form.
A mathematical formula must always be followed exactly.
The doctor told him to go to the hospital if there was a recurrence of his symptoms.
New technology has rendered my old computer obsolete.
Computers operate using binary numbers.
Advanced mathematics consists almost entirely of theorems and proofs.
 Task 2
Now that you understand how parts of speech work, work with a friend to complete this
table by filling in the missing parts of speech. You may only use the dictionary if neither you
nor your friend have any idea what the answer is. Then make your own sentences with the
5 most difficult words on this list.
 Task 3
Look at the words in the following list. Individually, categorise at least 15 of them in the
three categories provided (try to have at least five words in each category), and try to write
sentences where you can. When this has been completed, compare your sentences with
those of a friend, and try to acquire new vocabulary. Afterwards, compare words and
sentences in groups of three to four.
marginal; inefficiency; scarcity; tangible; concise; distinguish; tabulate; substance;
synthesis; illustrate; disproportional; conductivity; regarding; rectify; indicates; compile;
metrication; assume; formulate; interdependent; hierarchical; variation; distribution;
variable; analyse; parameter; convert; correlation; application; conducted; bounded; plot
(verb); comprising; constituents; auxiliary; irrelevant; inevitable
New word list
An increased vocabulary will help you to succeed in your science course. Use this list to
write down all of the difficult or unknown words in your study guides and textbooks.
Part of
Dictionary definition
 to keep changing between
two extreme amounts or
 if an electric current
oscillates, it changes
direction very regularly
and very frequently
 Task 4
Complete the following crossword puzzle in groups of three to four.
Your own
The major problem
with this
experiment was
that the current
drastically without
any clear reason.
Part of speech: adjective
Definition: having a negative or harmful effect on something
Sentence: So far the drug is thought not to have any ______________ effects.
Part of speech: adjective
Definition: consisting of parts or people which are similar to each other or are
of the same type
Sentence: It is important to choose a ____________________ sample for this
experiment, otherwise the results will not be reliable.
Part of speech: adjective
Definition: relating to numbers and amounts
Sentence: He decided to conduct __________________ research instead of
qualitative research.
Part of speech: noun
Definition: a hole or crack in a pipe or container which allows liquid or gas to
Sentence: The experiment failed due to a gas _____________.
Part of speech: noun
Definition: a unit of measurement equal to 100 centimetres
Sentence: The bomb shelter has concrete walls that are three
______________ thick.
Part of speech: adjective
Definition: preventing light from travelling through, and therefore not
Sentence: He knew that the experiment was successful, since the clear water
turned _________.
Part of speech: noun
Definition: the force which makes it difficult for one object to slide along the
surface of another or to move through a liquid or gas
Sentence: When you rub your hands together the _______________ produces
Part of speech: verb
Definition: to (cause to) turn in a circle, especially around a fixed point
Sentence: _____________ the handle by 180° to open the door.
10. Part of speech: verb
Definition: to happen or make something happen sooner or faster
Sentence: They use special chemicals to __________________ the growth of
11. Part of speech: adverb
Definition: happening or being done at exactly the same time
Sentence: The two tubes exploded _________________________.
12. Part of speech: adjective
Definition: not moving, or not changing
Sentence: The traffic got slower and slower until it was
13. Part of speech: verb
Definition: to choose a small number of things, or to choose by making
careful decisions
Sentence: A mouse is a device which makes it easier to _________________
different options from computer menus.
14. Part of speech: noun
Definition: any stage in a series of events or in a process of development
Sentence: The experiment is in a very delicate _________________; please
be careful!
Part of speech: verb
Definition: to happen, or to do something, more than once
Sentence: To ensure that your results are accurate, ____________ the
experiment several times.
Addendum B
Everyone else was surprised to see the glider flying. Cayley was not surprised. He
based his machine on sound principles. He drew these principles from nature.
[Sentences based on START Reading Sheet: Science- Unit 1]
1) Active and Passive Voice:
In pairs, change the following sentences from the active voice into the passive voice:
They observed the reactions carefully.
People always wear protective clothes in a nuclear active environment.
One of the students recorded the results.
They repeated the experiment to investigate reliability.
One finds algae on many kinds of rocks.
2) Using words in sentences correctly:
In pairs, choose the correct form of the word in each sentence.
It is a factor that frequency/ frequently recurs.
Make sure that both outputs are correct: 84 and 138 respectfully/ respectively/
A logic/ logical error is another kind of error.
It is evident/ evidence from the data that the species is in decline.
The colours reflected are brilliance/ brilliant/ brilliantly.
The frequency/ frequently of the waves was measured.
The SABS 0111 ensures uniformly/ uniformity of drawings and interpretations.
3) Creating more complex sentences:
Below are groups of sentences. In groups of three to four students, join these sentences
together, using whichever conjunctions and punctuation that you think are most
appropriate. You can make changes to the word order of the sentences, as long as the
meaning remains the same.
He went back to his notes on birds. He noted that birds have strong chest muscles.
Birds use these chest muscles to flap their wings.
He studied his drawings. He studied his drawings some more. He made wings of
several shapes. He used paper and wood.
Cayley made a glider with two wings. Each wing was about 1, 5 m long. The glider
had a tail plane. The tail plane stopped his glider from tipping forward.
He made the flying machine. He used silk material. He used wood. They are light
4) Nominalization
In pairs, change the following sentences by changing the verb into a noun to let the
sentence sound more objective.
It is unacceptable to draw horizontal lines with the lower edge of the T-square.
It is a scientific fact that some substances exist in states that do not comply with the
normal definitions of a gas, a liquid, or a solid.
Recreating such a plasma on Earth would hopefully produce a controlled
thermonuclear fusion reaction as a source of power.
If the sun was compressed into a ball 3 km in diameter, then it would form a black
Einstein‘s theory of relativity more accurately described the behaviour of matter than
Newton‘s laws do.
5) Using sentences to answer questions:
Individually, answer the questions below in complete and well-constructed sentences. This
is an opportunity to put all you have learned in this workshop into practice.
Pollination and Compatibility:
In flowering plants, pollination is defined as the transfer of pollen from an anther to a
stigma. The previous chapter explained the ways in which pollen can be transferred. Not all
the pollen that lands on a stigma is suitable or desirable, although in theory, any pollen
could land on an exposed stigma. Even pollen of the same type can, in certain cases, be
unacceptable. When the pollen is acceptable, it is referred to as compatibility. When a
stigma is not receptive for certain pollen, the pollen will either not germinate at all, or
commence germination, but the pollen tube will not grow any further. In such as case the
pollen and stigma are incompatible, fertilisation cannot take place and therefore seed
cannot be produced.
Source: Study Guide 1 of 2: Plant Studies 1
In a brief sentence, define pollination in flowering plants.
Explain what ―compatibility‖ means, in this context.
Identify the effects on germination, of a stigma not being receptive for certain pollen.
Identify the consequences of incompatibility of the pollen and the stigma.
Addendum C
2. Complete the following crossword puzzle in groups of four to five students.
1. Write two full sentences with at least 5 of the following words (words which you
use in your field of study). One sentence should use the word as it is used in
everyday language, and one sentence should use the word as it is used in
chemistry, biology or physics. This is an individual task.
base / basic
Clues :
1. [NOUN] The general meaning is centre, source, or cluster. In biology, it means the
central part of a cell; in physics and chemistry, the centre of the atom; and in
anatomy, a cluster of nerves.
2. [NOUN] This refers to one type of chemical reaction in chemistry and to rotting in
3. [NOUN] This occurs when you mix two liquids in the chemistry lab and solid particles
from that settle to the bottom of the tube. In non-scientific language, it can also refer
to making something happen suddenly or sooner than expected.
4. [NOUN] The amount of matter in a sample. In non-scientific language, it can refer to a
crowd of people or a religious service.
5. [NOUN] In physics, this refers to vibrations, especially regarding sound. In chemistry
it describes chemicals which have a certain molecular structure.
6. [ADJECTIVE] ―____________‖ figures refers to numbers which were measured. They
may or may not be important. In non-scientific language, this word always means
7. [ADJECTIVE or NOUN] In chemistry, this means a group of atoms that make up a
part of a molecule; a free __________________ is very reactive. In math, the square
root sign √ is called a _______________. In non-scientific language,
______________________ means ―extreme‖, ―fundamental‖ or ―major‖.
8. [NOUN] In physics, this refers to the tendency of something to twist or turn about a
point. Unlike non-scientific language, it does NOT refer to time in physics.
9. [NOUN] In chemistry, this word refers to a particular type of bond or force holding
atoms together. In non-scientific language, it can refer to the ability to walk without
tripping over your own feet.
10. [NOUN] This can mean a shape, an area ( ______ feet), or multiplying a number by
itself (five ________ [verb] is 5 x 5 = 25).
11. [NOUN] This describes certain nerves that permit or control movement. In nonscientific language, it can also refer to a car.
12. [NOUN] In biology, this refers to a certain portion of the blood. In physics, it describes
certain superheated gases.
13. [NOUN] A certain class of chemicals that includes vinegar. In non-scientific language,
this often refers to psychedelic drugs.
14. [ADJECTIVE] This can mean a shape (like a block) or volume ( _______ feet). Its
noun means multiplying a number by itself three times (the _______ of 5 is 5 x 5 x 5
= 125).
15. [NOUN] This term may refer to either energy transferred in the form of waves (light is
a form of electromagnetic _________) or to the energy and particles released by a
radioactive substance. In the physical sciences _______ does not necessarily refer to
something dangerous.
16. [NOUN] A ________ in science is not a rule passed by people which can be broken
(the way it is used in non-scientific language), but is a description or summary of
things that happen, with no exceptions.
17. [ADJECTIVE] Referring to a species of plant or animal in biology. In physics, it
indicates a number measuring a property of a substance compared to that of water
(_______ gravity, ________ heat).
18. [ADJECTIVE or NOUN] In chemistry, this measures how concentrated a solution is.
In biology, it means one particular type of tooth.
3. Work with a partner to choose one word from the following list for each of these
sentences. You many use each word only once.
therefore (for this reason); it follows that (implies); prove / verify (show the validity of a
given statement); determine (calculate the answer that satisfies the particular
requirements); solve (find the value(s) for which a given statement is true); state (write
down fully, explain clearly); denote (indicate by means of a symbol); simplify (express the
answer in its simplest terms); define (give in exact mathematical terms the meaning of a
concept); convention (a specifically agreed rule or standard); respective (relating to a
given order/sequence); unique (the only one of a kind); assign (allocate); ambiguous
(having more than one meaning).
___________________ for x: 2 – 3x = 8.
___________________ that √2 is an irrational number.
___________________ the expression in brackets.
___________________ the Theorem of Pythagoras.
___________________ the x-intercepts of the graph.
In the expression x² + 2xy + y² we ___________________ the value of 2 to x, and 3 to
y. (This means that we replace each x with the number 2, and each y with the number
g) It is ___________________ to write ―The solution of the equation is x = 2, x = 3.‖ We
must state this by writing either ―x = 2 and x = 3‖ or ―x = 2 or x = 3‖.
h) Since x = 2, ___________________ 3x = 6.
i) The ___________________ solution of (x – 3)³ = 0 (if x is real) is x = 3.
j) The ___________________ values of a, b and c are 2, 1 and 7 (this means that a = 2,
b = 1 and c = 7).
k) We ___________________ a rational number as any number that can be expressed
as an exact fraction.
l) We ___________________ the operation of addition by means of +.
m) We use the BODMAS ___________________ for the order of arithmetic operations.
n) x = 1. ___________________ x + 3 = 4.
4. In pairs, convert at least one of the following – either from its written form to its
symbolic form, or from its symbolic form to its written form.
The difference of the third powers of any two numbers x and y is equal to the product
of the difference of these two – numbers and the sum of three terms, the first of which
is the square of the first number, the second the product of the two numbers, and the
third the square of the second number.
Twice the product of any two consecutive numbers is equal to the sum of their
squares less one.
a R
Lead nitrate reacts with sodium chloride in cold solution to give a precipitate of lead
chloride and a solution of sodium nitrate.
Addendum D
Steps to go through when skimming a text:
Read the heading carefully. Ask yourself, ―What do I expect to read about? What
do I already know about this topic?‖
Read the sub-headings (if any.) What is each section going to be about? Is this
what you were expecting?
For longer texts, read the topic sentence (first sentence) of each paragraph. For
shorter texts, read the first few words of each paragraph. It can also be useful to
read the last sentence (or last few words) of each paragraph.
For longer texts, make a skeleton plan of the sub-headings and topic sentences.
This will help you to keep track while you read, and to help you to refocus if you
lose concentration or become confused.
Task 1:
Skim the following texts:
a. Letter from ―Introduction to Programming‖ Tutorial letter
b. Letter from ―Know your world: Introduction to Geography‖ Tutorial letter
c. ―Measurements and Units‖: in a variety of tutorial letters as part of the Diagnostic
Skills Task.
How to scan:
Make sure that you know what information you are looking for. Think of different words that
might be used to refer to this information. Then scan the page, looking for the relevant
words or phrases.
Practise scanning:
Task 2:
Look at page 5 of the Introduction to Geography tutorial letter, and answer the
following questions individually:
What topic can be found on page 135 of the Study Guide? And on page 129? Page
What is Study Unit 5 about?
In the 2003 edition of Bergman & Renwick, which pages correspond to page 124 of
the Study Guide?
In the 1999 edition of Bergman & Renwick, which pages correspond to page 133 of
the Study Guide?
In the 2004 edition of Bergman & Renwick, which pages correspond to page 122 of
the Study Guide?
Task 3:
Look at the text on lasers and holograms, and answer the following questions
a. What does the word ―laser‖ stand for?
b. According to the text, what is a photon?
c. What was the first type of laser used?
d. What are the three main components of a laser?
e. What two types of mirrors are generally used in a laser?
Lasers and Holograms
The finest, sharpest, surgical scalpel is not a knife – it is a ray of light, called a laser beam.
It can be used in surgery in the same way as a scalpel, but it does not transfer any germs
to the patient. It also seals up the smaller blood vessels as it cuts, and thus reduces
bleeding. This remarkable beam of light can be used to ‗weld‘ a detached retina back into
place in the eye and thus cure a common form of partial blindness.
Beams of laser light are also used to cut through metals and glass, to mark straight lines
accurately, and to produce three-dimensional photographs called holograms.
What exactly is a laser?
‗Laser‘ stands for ‗Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation‘. Stimulated
emission can be understood by thinking of light as a stream of radiated particles (These
particles are also called photons.)
Photons are emitted from atoms when the electrons in the atoms are excited (given more
energy than they had before). All the photons in a laser beam have the same amount of
energy, and as a result, the light has a single frequency. In addition, the photons are all
emitted from the atoms at the same instant. This light is then said to be ‗in phase‘ (the
photons all move in step with each other), and the light is called ‗coherent‘ light. This is the
property that makes a laser so powerful.
gas. Radio waves are used to ‗pump‘ the gas, and the laser which is emitted may be in the
infra-red spectrum as well as in the spectrum of visible light. The main advantage of using
gas is that there are no minor imperfections to cause a slight divergence in the light as
there may be in the crystal.
The use of lasers to make holograms
A hologram is a type of three-dimensional photograph. It is produced on a photographic
plate using a laser beam. By changing the view-point, the viewer can see round the objects
in the foreground and also see objects from the side.
The ruby laser
The first type of laser invented was a laser which used a ruby crystal as the medium from
which the light was emitted. The man-made ruby crystal was in the shape of a cylinder, and
it had the sides and one end silvered to act as mirrors. The other end was partly silvered so
that the laser light could emerge. A light tube surrounded the ruby crystal.
When light flashed in this tube, some of the electrons in the ruby were excited to a higher
energy level. This is called ‗pumping‘. These electrons then moved back to a lower energy
state, (but still above the original energy level) and emitted photons of light. When these
photons hit other atoms in this raised energy condition, the atoms simultaneously emitted
other photons (a process called ‗lasing‘), and the atoms returned to the lowest energy level.
These photons hit other atoms, and so on. The whole process of stimulated emission takes
place in milliseconds.
The cascade of photons of light was reflected backwards and forwards by the silvered
mirrors, which caused the light to be amplified (increased) as it colleted other photons of
light. These photons travelled together, and resulted in short pulses of red light which were
emitted from the semi-silvered end of the crystal in a narrow beam.
Gas lasers
A hologram is made by using semi-silvered mirrors which split the laser beam and one or
more object beams. The object beams shine onto the object being photographed, and are
then reflected to the photographic place. The reference beam shines straight onto the
place. When the beams of light meet on the plate, they interfere with each other, and make
a pattern on the plate.
Application of holograms
Holograms, like lasers, have many useful applications. Since holograms require special
equipment to produce they are difficult to copy. For example, some credit cards now carry a
hologram to show that they are genuine. If a hologram is removed from one credit card and
transferred to another, the picture produced by the hologram is distorted. Another use for
holograms is the storage of three dimensional pictures of defective components. For
example, engineers can easily monitor, in three dimensions, the development of a crack in
a working part.
Principal components:
1. Active laser medium
2. Laser pumping energy
3. Mirror
4. Partial mirror
5. Laser beam
Reproduced from the START materials, level 4, Science Unit 4 – in turn adapted from ―Physics Today, World
Book Encyclopaedia of Science. 1986. World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher.
Most lasers in use today are gas lasers. They produce a continuous beam of light. Instead
of a ruby crystal, they consist of a tube of carbon dioxide or a mixture of helium and neon
Measurements and units
The following article emphasises the importance of understanding
measurements and its units, and how this understanding can be useful when it
comes to entrepreneurship. Read the article and answer the questions that
follow [Adapted from Hill, J. W. & Kolb, D. K (1995); Zumdahl & Zumdahl
(2003); Halliday, et al (2001)].
1. Making observations is fundamental to all science. Scientific experiments involve
observations such as mass, length, time, temperature, electric current and the amount of a
chemical compound. A quantitative observation, or measurement, always consists of two
parts: a number and a scale, also called a unit.
2. Scientists recognised that standard systems of units had to be adopted if
measurements were to be useful. Unfortunately, different standards were adopted in
different parts of the world. The two major systems are the English system used in the
United States of America and the metric system used by most of the rest of the
industrialised world. This duality causes a good deal of trouble.
3. The metric system of weights and measures was first established in 1792 in France.
Its cornerstone was the meter, defined to be one ten-millionth of the distance from the
North Pole to the Equator. For practical reasons, the Earth standard was abandoned and
the meter came to be defined as the distance between two fine lines engraved near the
ends of a platinum – iridium bar, the standard meter bar, which was kept at the
International Bureau of Weights and Measures near Paris.
6. By 1983, the Krypton-86 standard could not meet the demands for higher precision.
The meter was redefined as the distance travelled by light in a time interval of x =
2997924581 of a second. The speed of light was chosen as 299 792 458 m/s.
7. Knowledge of units of measurement can be useful for anyone who would like to be
an entrepreneur in the painting industry. For example, a customer may commission you to
paint her house. For you to know how much and what kind of paint to use, you need to
know the size of the surface to be painted and whether it is interior or exterior.
8. Paint is a broad term that covers a wide variety of products - lacquers, enamels,
varnishes, oil base coatings and different water-base finishes. Paint contains three basic
ingredients: a pigment, a binder, and a solvent. Paint is originally white due to Titanium
dioxide. To make it coloured, small amounts of coloured pigments or dyes are added to the
white-base mixture.
9. The binder, or film former, is a substance that binds the pigment particles together
and holds them on the painted surface. In oil based paints the binder is usually tung oil or
linseed oil. In water based paints it is a polymer such as polyvinyl acetate for interior paints
and acrylic resins for exterior paints.
10. The solvent is added in order to keep the paint fluid until it is applied to the surface
to be painted. The solvent might be an alcohol, a hydrocarbon, an ester (or a mixture of
these) or water.
4. Accurate copies of the bar were sent to standardising laboratories throughout the
world. These secondary standards were used to produce other, still more accessible
standards so that ultimately every measuring device derived its authority from the standard
meter bar through a complicated chain of comparisons.
5. In 1960, a new standard for the meter, based on the wavelength of light, was
adopted. Specifically, the standard for the meter was redefined to be 1 650 763.73
wavelengths of a particular orange-red light emitted by atoms of krypton-86 (a particular
isotope, or type of krypton) in a gas discharge tube. This awkward number of wavelengths
was chosen so that the new standard would be close to the old meter-bar standard.
Addendum E
Task 1: Underline the topic sentence in each of the following paragraphs. Divide
number 5 into 3 paragraphs, and find the topic sentence of each of those
paragraphs. This is an individual task.
1. As far as we are concerned in this module, there are two main kinds of numbers.
There are integers; we use them when we do not need to talk about fractions. often,
though, we need to talk about fractions as well, and then we use floating point
numbers. For example, 2.3 metres or R6.99. We use a decimal point to show this.
2. Scientists have learned to supplement the sense of sight in numerous ways. In front
of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches
in diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. One can
also look through a small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of
water or blood, and magnify by as much as 2000 diameters the living creatures
there, many of which are among man‘s most dangerous enemies. To see distant
happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted electromagnetic
waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny
crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. They can also bring happenings of
long ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and
color-absorbing molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. If
we want to see into the center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child,
they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X rays, and then
convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. Thus almost
every type of electromagnetic radiation yet discovered has been used to extend our
sense of sight in some way. George Harrison, ―Faith and the Scientist‖
3. The Internet is a network of thousands of computers across the world.
Researchers, students, government agencies, schools, businesses and individuals
have left multigigabytes of free information on these computers, available to anyone
with a computer and an Internet connection. There are thousands of "web sites", as
they are called, with text, pictures, sounds, and movie clips. You can see this
material by simply sending out the appropriate Internet address, and after a few
moments, it appears on your screen. You can type in the address directly, or you
can automatically invoke an address by tapping on an icon or an underlined "link"
on the home page of a web site that you already have on your screen. Often the
information can be printed or downloaded (copied) directly to your local computer
and saved on your own diskette. Clearly, the Internet is an incalculable tool for
4. Distillation is a most widely used separation process and ranges from the age-old
rectification of alcohol to the fractionation of crude oil. The basic construction
feature and design methods also apply to the processes of stripping, absorption
and extraction. The separation of liquid mixtures by distillation depends on
differences in volatility between the components. The greater the relative volatilities,
the easier the separation.
5. Diamond is one of the two best known forms (or allotropes) of carbon, whose
hardness and high dispersion of light make it useful for industrial applications and
jewelry. (The other equally well known allotrope is graphite.) Diamonds are
specifically renowned as a mineral with superlative physical qualities — they make
excellent abrasives because they can be scratched only by other diamonds,
Borazon, ultrahard fullerite, or aggregated diamond nanorods, which also means
they hold a polish extremely well and retain luster. About 130 million carats (26,000
kg) are mined annually, with a total value of nearly USD $9 billion. The name
―diamond‖ derives from the ancient Greek adamas (αδάμας; ―invincible‖). They
have been treasured as gemstones since their use as religious icons in India at
least 2,500 years ago—and usage in drill bits and engraving tools also dates to
early human history. Popularity of diamonds has risen since the 19th century
because of increased supply, improved cutting and polishing techniques, growth in
the world economy, and innovative and successful advertising campaigns. They are
commonly judged by the ―four Cs‖: carat, clarity, color, and cut. Roughly 49% of
diamonds originate from central and southern Africa, although significant sources of
the mineral have been discovered in Canada, India, Russia, Brazil, and Australia.
They are generally mined from volcanic pipes, which are deep in the Earth where
the high pressure and temperature enables the formation of the crystals. The
mining and distribution of natural diamonds are subjects of frequent controversy—
such as with concerns over the sale of conflict diamonds by African paramilitary
groups. There are also allegations that the De Beers Group misuses its dominance
in the industry to control supply and manipulate price via monopolistic practices,
although in recent years the company's market share has dropped to below 50%.
Task 2: Choose one topic for each of the following paragraph types, and individually
write a paragraph thereon.
Definition paragraph
1. Define trigonometry.
2. Give the definition of a bar graph.
3. Define the term ‗species‘.
4. What are genetically modified foods?
Classification paragraph
1. Write a paragraph discussing two kinds of energy resources.
2. In a short paragraph, discuss how you would classify an elephant, a shark, a whale
and an eagle.
3. Discuss the numbers 1 and 0 in programming language.
Compare and contrast paragraph
1. Compare and contrast mammals and amphibians.
2. What are the similarities of and differences between an acid and a base.
3. Critically compare and contrast desktops and laptops.
Sequence paragraph
1. Write a paragraph in which you describe how you would go about testing whether a
chemical is an acid.
2. How would conduct an experiment in which you wanted to determine the velocity of a
1 kg brick falling from a building that is 2 km tall.
3. Describe the steps necessary to open a new folder on a Word document.
Explanation paragraph
1. In a short paragraph, discuss whether a feather or a rock would fall to the earth at a
greater velocity from a 2 km tall building, and explain why.
2. Explain why a pie chart is sometimes more appropriate than a bar graph when
representing figures.
3. Why do things on earth not float around, as they would on the moon?
4. Why do various rocks have different colours?
Evaluation paragraph
1. Do you think that genetically modified foods should be labelled in shops?
2. Should a mechanical engineer be sued if the car she worked on causes an accident
due to a mechanical error?
3. Is it necessary for pupils to have mathematics as a subject until Grade 12?
Glendale community college. [s.a.] From: topic11.html (accessed 19 June 2006).
Orr, M.H. & Schutte, C.J.H . 2001. The Language of Science. Pretoria: John Povey Press
UNISA. 1997. Comprehension Skills for Science Study Guide. Pretoria: UNISA Press.
UNISA. 2005. COS11-U study guide - Introduction to Programming. Pretoria: UNISA Press.
Writing Den. 1996. Tips-o-matic. From: (accessed 19 June 2006).
Writing Tutorial Services. 2004. Indiana University. From:
pamphlets/paragraphs.shtml (accessed 19 June 2006).
Wikipedia. 2006. Diamonds. From: (accessed 19 June 2006).
Addendum F
Task 2
Choose five difficult conjunctions from the overhead projector, and make sentences with
them. This is an individual activity.
Conjunctions are examples of logical connectors. They are words that join two or more
sentences or ideas together. The main types of conjunctions are additive conjunctions,
contrastive conjunctions, and cause and effect conjunctions.
Task 1
The easiest additive conjunction is ―and‖, the easiest contrastive conjunction is ―but‖, and
the easiest cause and effect conjunction is ―because‖. Now, in groups of three, think of as
many other conjunctions as you can under these three categories.
Additive conjunctions:
Contrastive conjuctions:
Cause and effect conjuctions:
Task 3
Work with a partner to underline the conjunctions in the following sentences.
Gears are used in many applications in machines, but are of utmost importance in
motor vehicles.
When a multicellular, diploid organism produces gametes, the gametes can be a
product of only meiosis.
After fertilisation, any organism produced by successive mitotic divisions is diploid.
The brick possesses potential energy because it can do work.
A fast moving motorcar can do more harm in an accident than a slower moving motor
car of the same mass, since it has more kinetic energy that must be transferred to
another body or form of energy in the case of an accident.
If a person starts to pull the chain up, then the part which still has to be pulled up gets
shorter and shorter and therefore the chain will become lighter.
As the sun gradually brightened over hundreds of millions of years, the greenhouse
heating from all that carbon dioxide could eventually have brought the oceans to boil.
Task 4
Working with a partner, complete the following text by inserting the best logical connector /
conjunction from those provided below.
________________, if the disadvantages mentioned above could be addressed
productively, electric cars could replace fuel burning cars as the vehicles for a cleaner,
pollution-free future.
(Kotecha in Butler, H.G. 2005. Academic Writing in English EOT 162. Unpublished workbook: University of Pretoria.
firstly; fourth; because; besides; but; secondly; however; in other words; and; still; in
Task 5
The electric car
Make use of the text that you have already used for the previous task to create a
meaningful context. Join the pairs of sentences with a conjunction. Do not use and, but or
because. Rewrite the whole sentence. You may work with a friend on this activity.
There is no doubt among transport researchers and environmentalists that alternatives to
today‘s cars must be found. The reasons for this are simple: ______________ being
inefficient consumers of fuel, cars contribute considerably to the global warming
______________, scientists are finding it hard to develop acceptable alternatives, with only
the electric car likely to present any serious opposition to the combustion engine. This
discussion will focus on just some of the advantages and disadvantages of the electric car
over the conventional fuel-burning engine.
The electric cars already in operation, in countries like Britain, the USA and Sweden, are
used mainly as delivery vans or commuter buses; _____________, in applications which
do not demand high speeds or long ranges ________________ which allow the battery to
be recharged overnight.
The advantages of the electric car are ______________ that it is quiet. Secondly, it emits
no polluting exhaust fumes. In the third place, it accelerates rapidly from the start. This
feature, of course, makes it ideal for city driving. A _____________ advantage is that is
does not depend on oil or other fossil fuels, because batteries can be recharged by
electricity, generated by, say, nuclear power.
____________ the electric car does also pose important problems, most of them related to
the battery. First of all, the lead-acid batteries are so bulky and heavy that the car cannot
carry enough batteries to cover long distances. Naturally, this severely limits the range of
the car. ___________, the batteries are expensive. Even in countries where the electricity
for recharging them is cheap, the electric car is _____________ more expensive to run
than the petrol-driven car. And thirdly, the electric car cannot attain a top speed of much
more than 80 km/h, which is unacceptably low to most car owners.
Alternatives to today‘s cars must be found.
Cars contribute considerably to the global warming phenomenon.
The electric car is quiet.
It emits no polluting exhaust fumes.
The electric car accelerates rapidly from the start.
It is ideal for city driving.
The lead acid batteries are bulky and heavy.
The car cannot carry enough batteries to cover long distances.
The batteries are expensive.
The electric car is still more expensive to run than the petrol-driven car.
The car cannot carry enough heavy batteries over long distances.
It severely limits the range of the car.
Many car owners would not be interested in an electric car.
It can only reach a top speed of approximately 80 km/h.
(Adapted from Du Toit, Heese & Orr in Butler, H.G. 2005. Academic Writing in
English EOT 162. Unpublished workbook: University of Pretoria.)
Paragraph 1
Task 6
Choose two topics from the options below. Write a paragraph on each of these topics. Use
as many appropriate logical connectors as possible. This is an individual activity.
Compare electric cars to petrol-driven cars (compare and contrast paragraph)
Compare and contrast kinetic energy to potential energy (compare and contrast
Explain what the function of the spleen is (explanation paragraph)
How does a magnet work (explanation paragraph)
Explain how a diamond is formed (sequence paragraph)
Give all of the steps of saving a Microsoft Word document on the Desktop (start from
switching on the computer) (sequence paragraph).
What is the definition of energy? (definition paragraph)
What is a vector? (definition paragraph)
Is it viable to use electric cars in South Africa? (evaluation paragraph)
Should medical experiments first be done on animals? (evaluation paragraph)
Paragraph 2
Addendum G
A paraphrase is a restatement in your own words of some written material. The
paraphrased text should be approximately as long as the original.
Your goal is to state the author‘s ideas accurately but in your own words, so a
paraphrase calls for careful study of the original.
A paraphrase should not contain any words that add your opinion about the writer‘s
Primary purpose: to clarify difficult material.
Guidelines for paraphrasing
 Read the passage through carefully before staring to paraphrase (often one sentence
that is not clear by itself becomes clear as you read on).
 Look in the dictionary for meanings of unfamiliar words. The dictionary may give you
simpler language for the idea.
 Do not try to change specialized vocabulary
 Paraphrase by idea, whether the idea is stated in a phrase or in several sentences. Do
NOT try to paraphrase word by word.
 First write down all of the main ideas (in single words and phrases)
 Rewrite the main ideas into your own sentences.
 Now combine all of these ideas into a piece of continuous writing.
 As you write each sentence of your paraphrase, do not look at the original passage.
HINT: Do not use more than three words in a row from the original.
 You may find that changing the order of the ideas will help you use your own wording.
 After you have finished your paraphrase, compare it to the original to see if you are
satisfied with the accuracy and completeness of your notes.
Paraphrase the following sentences. Work in pairs.
a) Many invertebrates, on the other hand, such as snails and worms and crustacea, have a
spiral pattern of cleavage.
b) Similarly, the muscles will not grow in length unless they are attached to tendons and
bones so that as the bones lengthen, they are stretched.
c) Given the extent to which deforestation increased markedly in the four southern states
during 1987 and 1988, it is heartening news that during the early part of the 1989 dry
season the burning seemed to have been curtailed somewhat, due to a combination of
policy changes, better controls on burning, and most important of all an exceptionally wet
"dry" season.
Paraphrase the following paragraphs. Work in pairs.
a) In general, the knowledge that enables us to build intelligent tutors is not yet fully
understood. Further research into each domain and tutoring knowledge is required to make
further advances in this area.
Self, J. (ed) 1988. Artificial Intelligence and Human Learning. Chapman and Hall, p. 27.
b) Freezing
Although freezing was being used as a food preservation technique by the end of the 19 th
century, the freezing itself took a day or more and food tended to be damaged in the
process. The modern methods that take only a few minutes or a few hours, started in the
1930s. Today, with the deep-freeze a common item of household equipment in developed
countries, frozen foods are an extremely popular convenience food. Additives are rarely
needed, most of the nutritional value of food is maintained, and a wide variety of precooked
frozen foods is available.
The living planet. SA. Food Processing. Date unknown: 196-197.
c) We now have the power to take an adult sheep and replicate it endlessly. It is a truly
awesome capability to contemplate. And since – biologically speaking – sheep aren‘t that
different from humans, it probably wouldn‘t take much more research before we could
create clones of humans too.
Anderson, A.M. 1997. Facing science fact – not fiction. Washington Post, 12 March 1997.
d) Acids can be classified into two groups. Acids which always contain the element carbon
are called organic acids and they often come from growing things, like fruit. Citric acid,
which is found in lemons and oranges and other citrus fruits, and acetic acid, which is found
in vinegar, are organic acids. Acids which do not contain the element carbon are known as
inorganic acids. They are usually prepared from non-living matter. Inorganic acids consist
only of hydrogen and an acid radical. Hydrochloric acid consists of hydrogen and the
chloride radical, and sulphuric acid consist of hydrogen and the sulphate radical. They are
inorganic acids.
Allen, J.B. & Widdowson, H.G. 1979. English in Physical Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.11.
e) To operate the bell, the key, or screw, is connected to the positive terminal of the battery,
and the copper wire coming from the electromagnet is connected to the negative terminal.
When the current is switched on, it flows through the key into the spring, passing from there
round the coils of the electromagnet and then back to the battery. As the current passes
through the coils of copper wire, the soft iron cylinders around which it is wound become
magnetised. Consequently, they attract the armature, causing the head of the striker rod to
hit the gong. As the striker hits the gong, the spring to which it is fixed loses contact with
the screw, breaking the circuit. The current ceases to flow, the electromagnet loses its
magnetism and the armature, being no longer attracted, is pulled back by the spring. When
this happens, the spring makes contact with the screw once more, allowing the electric
current to pass, again magnetising the cylinders. These then attract the armature, once
more pulling the spring away from the screw and breaking the circuit. The whole process is
repeated over and over again, causing the head of the striker to vibrate rapidly against the
gong, thus producing the familiar sound of an electric bell.
Allen, J.B. & Widdowson, H.G. 1974. English in Physical Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.84.
Take a long text from one of your study guides (preferably about one page long),
and paraphrase it. This is an individual activity.
Gillett, A. 2006. Using English for Academic Purposes: A Guide for Students in Higher
Education. School of Combined Studies, University of Hertfordshire. From: (accessed 18 July 2006).
Orr, M.H. & Schutte, C.J.H. 1992. The language of science. Durban: Butterworths.
Addendum H
A summary is a shortened version of a text. It deals with the main ideas (argument) of
the text, but doesn‘t necessarily follow the same order as the original text. It is clear
and concise, reflecting the main ideas of the original text, leaving out the details of the
original text. If a summary is as long as the original text then it is not a summary. A
summary can be a short paragraph, one sentence or several paragraphs.
We omit examples and explanations when doing a summary.
Summaries are objective. The writer does not give his or her opinion, but the ideas are
stated in the writer‘s own words.
A good example of a summary is your CV. It is concise, easy to read and only
contains the necessary information. It does not contain unnecessary details nor is it
written like an essay.
Many students get confused between a summary and an analysis of a text. Analysis
involves the discussion of ideas or meaning in a text while a summary does not
involve the critique of the text or its ideas.
If your purpose is one of the following, you may wish to summarize a whole text or a portion
of a text:
 To discuss someone's argument or text directly
 To supply context for a specific point in another's text that you are discussing
 To use as expert evidence for a point you are making in your own argumentative text
 To present an opposing point of view that you wish to refute
 To write a one or two page summary of an article
 To take notes
 To condense large amounts of information when doing research
Read and re-read the text thoroughly to get the overall meaning.
Use a dictionary if need be.
Underline/highlight the main points of the text or circle key sentences, phrases and
Annotate: make notes in the margin as you read.
Find the topic sentence in each paragraph. The topic sentence will capture the
meaning of the paragraph.
Link key points using sentences or paragraphs.
You can also use headings and sub-headings.
Revise and edit your summary.
Be aware of plagiarism.
Summarising Shorter Texts (ten pages or fewer)
1. Write a one-sentence summary of each paragraph.
2. Formulate a single sentence that summarizes the whole text.
3. Write a paragraph (or more): begin with the overall summary sentence and follow it
with the paragraph summary sentences.
4. Rearrange and rewrite the paragraph to make it clear and concise, to eliminate
repetition and relatively minor points, and to provide transitions. The final version
should be a complete, unified, and coherent whole.
Summarising Longer Texts (eleven pages or more)
1. Outline the text. Break it down into its major sections--groups of paragraphs focused
on a common topic--and list the main supporting points for each section.
2. Write a one or two sentence summary of each section.
3. Formulate a single sentence to summarize the whole text, looking at the author's
thesis or topic sentences as a guide.
4. Write a paragraph (or more): begin with the overall summary sentence and follow it
with the section summary sentences.
5. Rewrite and rearrange your paragraph(s) as needed to make your writing clear and
concise, to eliminate relatively minor or repetitious points, and to provide transitions.
Make sure your summary includes all the major supporting points of each idea. The
final version should be a unified, complete, and coherent whole.
Task 1: Look at the sample texts on the overhead projector. Try to summarise these texts
in small groups.
which congest the roads and render rapid movement more difficult year by
Task 2: Find a partner and summarise the following sentences using your own words.
The amphibia, which is the animal class to which our frogs and toads belong,
were the first animals to crawl from sea and inhabit the earth.
Failure to assimilate an adequate quantity of food over an extended period of
time is absolutely certain to lead, in due course, to a fatal conclusion.
The climatic conditions prevailing in the British isles show a pattern of
alternating and unpredcitable periods of dry and wet weather, accompanied
by a similarly irregular cycle of temperature changes.
Tea, whether of a Chinese or an Indian variety, is well known to be high on
the list of those beverages which are most frequently drunk by the inhabitants
of the British Isles.
One of the most noticeable phenomena in any big city, such as Cape Town or
Johannesburg, is the steadily increasing number of petrol-driven vehicles,
some in private ownership, others belonging to the public transport system,
Task 3: Working with your partner, summarise the following text.
Volcanic islands
Islands have always fascinated the human mind. Perhaps it is the instinctive
response of man, the land animal, welcoming a brief intrusion of earth in the vast,
overwhelming expanse of sea. When sailing in a great ocean basin, a thousand
miles from the nearest continent, with miles of water beneath the ship, one may
come upon an island which has been formed by a volcanic eruption under the sea.
One’s imagination can follow its slopes down through darkening waters to its base
on the sea flow. One wonders why and how it arose there in the midst of the
The birth of a volcanic island is an event marked by prolonged and violent travail
: the forces of the earth striving to create, and all the forces of the sea opposing. At
the place where the formation of such islands begins, the sea floor is probably
nowhere more than about fifty miles thick. In it are deep cracks and fissures, the
results of unequal cooling and shrinkage in the past ages. Along such lines of
weakness the molten lava from the earth’s interior presses up and finally bursts
forth into the sea.
But a submarine volcano is different from terrestrial eruption, where the lava,
molten rocks, and gases are hurled into the air from an open crater. Here on the
bottom of the ocean the volcano has resisting it all the weight of the ocean water,
the new volcanic cone builds upwards towards the surface, in flow after flow of
lava. Once within reach of the waves, its soft ash is violently attacked by the
motion of the water which continually washes away its upper surface, so that for a
long period the potential island may remain submerged. But eventually, in new
eruptions, the cone is pushed up in the air, where the lava hardens and forms a
rampart against the attack of the waves.
Task 4: Now summarise this longer text individually.
For thousands of years people have processed
natural foods to improve their keeping qualities,
nutritional value or flavour. Natural processes have
been harnessed to create totally new foods and
drinks, or to change the characteristics of a raw
material completely. Biotechnology and genetic
engineering are now used to enhance what can be
done with the world‘s harvest, and will undoubtedly
shape some of the foods and drinks of the future.
The oldest processing techniques improve the
digestibility and enhance the keeping qualities of
foodstuffs. Examples include grain-milling, the
cooking of meat, and the fermentation of grapes to make wine.
Fermentation and enzymes
The most widely used biological technique is fermentation – the changing of food
components such as carbohydrates into natural preservatives, or more easily digestible
nutrients, by the action of yeasts, fungi or bacteria. Bread making, the brewing of beers,
and the manufacture of yoghurts and cheeses are typical examples. Fermentation is also
used for the preservation of proteins, as for example in meats such as pastrami and
salamis. In Japan, fermentation has been used for centuries both for food conservation and
in order to produce new flavours, such as rice saks, soya bean sauce, and whole
fermented soya beans (natto).
Enzymes – proteins that are produced by living organisms – are used as catalysts in
biochemical reactions in a number of food-processing techniques. For example, rennet,
derived from rennin (an enzyme found in the stomachs of cud-chewing animals such as
cows), is used ot curdle milk in the manufacture of cheese.
Dairy foods
Milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt are staples – basic components of many diets all over the
world. Milk is mainly water, with some protein, fat, lactose (milk sugar) and salts. It sours
easily, and can also be a vehicle for human diseases. Louis Pasteur (1822-95), the great
French microbiologist, devised a method of heating liquids to temperatures that destroy
harmful microorganisms. His work in the 1860s concentrated on wines and beers, where
spoilage caused great economic losses. He found that heating to temperatures as low as
57°C (135 °F) for a few minutes extended the safe shelf-life without spoiling the taste.
Pasteurisation of milk is undoubtedly one of the most significant advances in public health
of the last hundred years.
In 1907, Ilya Mechnikov (1845-1916) of the Pasteur Institute in Paris published the results
of his research into the long life-spans of Bulgarian farming families. He was convinced that
their diet of natural yoghurt was the cause. Since then yoghurts have shown a greater
worldwide market growth than any other dairy product. In the manufacture of yoghurt,
certain bacteria are responsible for turning the lactose in milk into lactic acid, so enhancing
the milk‘s nutritional value and preventing other organisms from causing rancid sourness.
Bread and alcohol
Grains are another staple of the human diet. Modern milling of cereals such as wheat and
maize separates fibrous, floury and proteinaceous components. The fibre is known as bran
and the protein as germ, which often has a high oil content. The flour is either used for
baking or processed further, by means of biochemical enzymes, into fructose or glucose
syrups. These are then used in all kinds of snacks, processed foods, cake and
confectionery. The germ and bran are often sold separately as health foods. Bakeries are
now often recombining the separate ingredients in ‗multi-grain‘, bran-enriched and ‗natural‘
breads, to take advantage of a consumer trend for foods with a healthier image. Enzymebased whole-grain processes are now being developed to retain protein and fibre in the
end-product and avoid separation techniques.
Other types of grain are used to make drinks. Barley is malted – the grains are sprouted in
warm, wet conditions that encourage natural enzymes to turn the starchy component into
maltose, another sugar. After drying, the malted barley as used as one of the sugar
ingredients making beer and lager; special yeasts on these sugars to turn them into
carbon-dioxide and alcohol.
Although freezing was being used as a food preservation technique by the end of the 19th
century, the freezing itself took a day or more and food tended to be damaged in the
process. The modern methods that take only a few minutes or a few hours, started in the
1930s. Today, with the deep-freeze a common item of household equipment in developed
countries, frozen foods are an extremely popular convenience food. Additives are rarely
needed, most of the nutritional value of food is maintained, and a wide variety of precooked
frozen foods is available.
Food presentation
Many of the older food-processing techniques alter the flavour, appearance or texture of
foodstuffs. Even freezing – despite its advantages – can alter texture and taste on thawing,
because of the disruptive effect of ice crystals.
The 20th century has seen an increasing emphasis on freshness, visual appeal and
freedom from additives. The retailer‘s aim is to make food items look and taste as if they
have just been harvested or freshly prepared. Chilling, vacuum-packing, controlledatmosphere packing and irradiation are all possible ways of achieving this aim. Of these,
irradiation – the controlled use of gamma or beta rays – is the most effective anti-microbial
technique and preserver of quality, but it is not widely used in Europe and America because
of fears about its safety. Chilling is particularly useful for foods that are sold and eaten
within a few days of preparation. Chilling approximates to household-refrigerator conditions,
and slows down spoilage considerably. However, the bacterium Listeria, which can cause
food poisoning, can persist at chilling temperatures. Controlled-atmosphere packing
involves the use of unreactive gases such as nitrogen, which slow down the rate of
Biotechnology in food processing
The possibility of altering the genes of a food source to change the characteristics of a food
product is now real. Raw materials may be manipulated to give new effects, or effects
currently achieved only by using additives. Currently under research are animals with a
better lean-to-fat ratio, and soya-bean proteins with better ‗foaming‘ properties to help make
certain desserts more attractive to eat. New sweeteners such as aspartame and thaumatin
are produced using genetic engineering techniques or mass-culture of plant cells.
Tomatoes have been created that contain genes preventing the softening of skin
associated with ripening, thus prolonging shelf life. Diagnostic tests, based on monoclonal
antibodies and gene probes, have been developed to detect food-poisoning bacteria in raw
and processed foods, and toxins in fish that come from algae they eat.
Source: The living planet. SA. Food Processing. Date unknown: 196-197.
Addendum I
A graph is a pictorial representation of ordered pairs of numbers. The reader can quickly
determine relationships between the quantities that the ordered pairs represent.
In a graph, the DEPENDENT VARIABLE (y-axis on graph / right on the data table) is the
variable that changes each time that the INDEPENDENT VARIABLE (x-axis on the graph /
left on the data table) goes up or down. For example, in a circle, the radius would be the
independent variable, and the area would be the dependent variable (the area becomes
bigger / smaller each time that the radius becomes bigger / smaller).
Graphs are a useful tool in science. The visual characteristics of a graph make trends in
data easy to see. One of the most valuable uses for graphs is to "predict" data that is not
measured on the graph.
Extrapolate: extending the graph, along the same slope, above or below
measured data.
Interpolate: predicting data between two measured points on the graph.
Task 1: Find a partner with whom you will work for the duration of this workshop. Make up
a short story (2 to 4 sentences) for each of these 4 graphs
Task 2:
Describe what happens during the time represented by this graph.
Convert the data in this graph into a table.
Task 3:
Oxygen can be generated by the reaction of Hydrogen Peroxide with Manganese Dioxide.
2H2O2 + MnO2
2H2O + Mn + 2O2
A chemistry class sets up nine test tubes and places different masses of MnO2 in each test
tube. An equal amount of H2O2 is added to each test tube and the volume of gas produced
is measured each minute for five minutes. The data from the experiment is:
Tube #
MnO2 (g)
1 min (ml O2)
2 min (ml O2)
3 min (ml O2)
4 min (ml O2)
5 min (ml O2)
What volume of O2 did tube #3 produce between the second and fourth minutes?
How much O2 is produced in tube #5 during the first two minutes?
How much oxygen did tubes 7 and 8 produce together during the third minute?
What volume of oxygen gas, in liters, was produced during this procedure (thus
the total for all of the test tubes)?
E. Make a graph of the amount of oxygen produced each minute in test tubes # 2, 4,
and 6.
F. Make a graph using the mass of manganese dioxide and the volume of oxygen
for all tubes at five minutes.
G. Interpret the above two graphs in a short paragraph. Remember to use
conjunctions to show the relationship between ideas.
Task 4:
The energy needed to remove the most loosely held electron in an atom is called the First
Ionization Energy. This energy for the first 18 elements is shown in the table below.
Atomic Number 1st I.E. (volts)
Plot the data points and then draw a line graph in "connect-the-dot" fashion.
How to draw a graph
How To Construct a Line Graph On Paper
What To Do
How To Do It
Identify the variables
Determine the variable
Determine the scale of the
Number and label each axis
Plot the data points
Draw the graph
Title the graph
Independent Variable - (controlled by the experimenter)
Goes on the X axis (horizontal).
Should be on the left side of a data table.
Dependent Variable - (changes with the independent variable)
Goes on the Y axis (vertical).
Should be on the right side of a data table.
Subtract the lowest data value from the highest data value.
Do each variable separately.
Determine a scale (the numerical value for each square) that best fits the range of each
Spread the graph to use MOST of the available space.
This tells what data the lines on your graph represent.
Plot each data value on the graph with a dot.
You can put the data number by the dot, if it does not clutter your graph.
Draw a curve or a line that best fits the data points.
Your title should clearly tell what the graph is about.
If your graph has more than one set of data, provide a "key" to identify the different lines.
Addendum J
chart above contains data on the number of hookworms and the amount of blood loss
caused by that number of worms.
A graph is a pictorial representation of ordered pairs of numbers. The reader can quickly
determine relationships between the quantities that the ordered pairs represent.
In a graph, the DEPENDENT VARIABLE (y-axis on graph / right on the data table) is the
variable that changes each time that the INDEPENDENT VARIABLE (x-axis on the graph /
left on the data table) goes up or down. For example, in a circle, the radius would be the
independent variable, and the area would be the dependent variable (the area becomes
bigger / smaller each time that the radius becomes bigger / smaller).
In some cases the data table is blank. Determine the number of worms or the
amount of blood lost and complete the table.
B. What is the dependent variable?
C. What is the independent variable?
D. Make a line graph of the data.
E. How many cm3 of blood will be lost by a person containing 88 hookworms in a
Task 2
Graphs are a useful tool in science. The visual characteristics of a graph make trends in
data easy to see. One of the most valuable uses for graphs is to "predict" data that is not
measured on the graph.
Extrapolate: extending the graph, along the same slope, above or below
measured data.
Interpolate: predicting data between two measured points on the graph.
Age of the
tree in years
All activities in this workshop will be completed with the help of a partner.
Task 1
Number of hookworms in the
Amount of blood lost per day
in cm3
Hookworms live in the human intestine drinking the blood it sucks from the intestine
wall. It is estimated that a single hookworm can drink 1/2 cm3 of blood per day. The
Average thickness of the Average thickness of the
annual rings in cm.
annual rings in cm.
Forest A
Forest B
The thickness of the annual rings indicates what type of environmental situation was
occurring at the time of the tree‘s development. A thin ring usually indicates a rough
period of development: lack of water, forest fires, or a major insect infestation. On the
other hand, a thick ring indicates just the opposite.
What is the dependent variable?
What is the independent variable?
Make a line graph of the data.
Based on this data, what can you conclude about Forest A and Forest B? Write a
short paragraph in which you interpret the data.
What is the dependent variable?
What is the independent variable?
Make a bar graph of the data.
What is the average pH in this experiment?
What is the optimum water pH for tadpole development?
Between what two pH readings is there the greatest change in tadpole numbers?
Approximately how many tadpoles would we expect to find in water with a pH of 5.0?
Task 4
Ethylene is a plant hormone
that causes fruit to mature.
The data on the right
concerns the amount of time
it takes for fruit to mature
from the time of the first
application of ethylene by
spraying a field of trees.
What is the dependent
B. What is the
independent variable?
C. Convert this line graph
into a table.
Tube #
MnO2 (g)
1 min (ml O2)
2 min (ml O2)
3 min (ml O2)
4 min (ml O2)
5 min (ml O2)
H. Make a graph of the amount of oxygen produced each minute in test tubes # 2, 4,
and 6.
The amount of oxygen produced each
minute in test tubes 2, 4 and 6
2H2O + Mn + 2O2
A chemistry class sets up nine test tubes and places different masses of MnO2 in each test
tube. An equal amount of H2O2 is added to each test tube and the volume of gas produced
is measured each minute for five minutes. The data from the experiment is:
2H2O2 + MnO2
Oxygen can be generated by the reaction of Hydrogen Peroxide with Manganese Dioxide.
Number of tadpoles
pH of water
Task 5:
O2 (ml)
Task 3
Test tube 2
(0.2 MnO2)
Test tube 4
(0.5 MnO2)
Test tube 6
(1.5 MnO2)
Min 1 Min 2 Min 3 Min 4 Min 5
Make a graph using the mass of manganese dioxide and the volume of oxygen
for all tubes at five minutes.
Interpret the above two graphs in a short paragraph. Remember to use
conjunctions to show the relationship between ideas.
Addendum K
Supporting details:
Distinguish between main ideas, supporting ideas and examples.
Distinguish between facts, opinions and assumptions.
Classify, categorise and label information.
If graftwood or buds are exposed to dry air the parenchyma cells will be killed and
no callus formation will take place. The humidity should be kept as close as
possible to saturation point (100%) – better still is a condition where a continuous
layer of water covers the graft. For successful grafts, humidity is therefore of the
utmost importance and the use of sealing wax can prevent problems in this regard.
Tasks 1 to 7 should be completed with a partner.
Tasks 8 to 12 should be completed individually.
Environmental factors affecting grafting and budding
To obtain proper growth of callus tissue, certain environmental conditions are required.
Temperature has a significant effect on callus growth. In apples (malus) no callus will
form below 0 degrees Celsius, or 40 degrees Celsius. The rate of callus formation is
directly in relation to temperature – the warmer the temperature, the more rapid the
tissue growth. Where high temperatures may be detrimental to graft healing the stem
could be white-washed where the graft has been done. Alternatively the side where the
graft has been done could be turned to face south.
The paragraph above is constructed out of various sentences that have different
functions. These are the topic sentence, the main idea, supporting details, and an
example. Identify which sentence or sentences represent these functions. One of
them has been done for you.
Topic sentence: Temperature has a significant effect on callus growth.
Main idea:
Based on the fact that callus and callus tissue have been mentioned in both
paragraphs above, deduce the meaning of the word from the context.
Highlight the less important ideas in the above paragraphs by underlining them.
Rapid cell division goes hand in hand with a higher respiration rate and is
accompanied with higher levels of oxygen. As the process is expedited the oxygen
uptake must not be hampered. The use of sealing wax does hamper gaseous
exchange to a great extent. In difficult cases therefore sealing wax should not be
used. These difficult cases are normally also those that require the higher
‘As the process is expedited the oxygen uptake must not be hampered'
What process is being referred to here?
Paraphrase the quoted sentence.
To obtain a permanent, successful graft, it is essential that the top of the graft must point
upwards. (This is also the case with the bud). It is however possible that a graft will form
a union if turned upside down, but the passage of water and nutrients would be
restricted in the contorted underlying tissue.
Attempts to determine the effect of light intensity on the recovery of graft tissue has
not yet yielded conclusive results although better callus growth was obtained in
Prunus Serotina (Black cherry) in darkness.
Describe whether light intensity promotes better callus growth or not?
It is important to note the season when grafting is undertaken. To do successful
budding it must be possible to lift the bark easily from the rootstock. This is only
possible if the plant has shown sufficient water uptake. The cell activity is at its highest
during late winter to autumn (Fall) – this is therefore the best season to do budding
and grafting.
In varieties where excessive bleeding (Sap flow) occurs, one should wait for the
bleeding to stop or the plant should be subjected to lower temperatures and lower
levels of moisture. No union of rootstock and graft is possible during excessive
bleeding. (Acer palmatum, Juglans regia).
It may even become necessary to make oblique cuts on the stem below the graft so
that the bleeding will occur there and not at the graft site.
Identify two main ideas from the paragraphs above.
Give a subheading for the paragraph above.
a) In which sentence can one find the main idea in the paragraph above? Underline
this sentence.
b)The two paragraphs above have over 160 words - summarise the information so
that it captures the essential ideas in the paragraph in not more than 80 words.
Food presentation
Many of the older food-processing techniques alter the flavour, appearance or texture of
foodstuffs. Even freezing – despite its advantages – can alter texture and taste on
thawing, because of the disruptive effect of ice crystals.
The 20th century has seen an increasing emphasis on freshness, visual appeal and
freedom from additives. The retailer‘s aim is to make food items look and taste as if they
have just been harvested or freshly prepared. Chilling, vacuum-packing, controlledatmosphere packing and irradiation are all possible ways of achieving this aim. Of
these, irradiation – the controlled use of gamma or beta rays – is the most effective antimicrobial technique and preserver of quality, but it is not widely used in Europe and
America because of fears about its safety. Chilling is particularly useful for foods that
are sold and eaten within a few days of preparation. Chilling approximates to household-refrigerator conditions, and slows down spoilage considerably. However, the
bacterium Listeria, which can cause food poisoning, can persist at chilling temperature.
Controlled-atmosphere packing involves the use of unreactive gases such as nitrogen,
which slow down the rate of spoilage.
The passage ‘Food Processing’ is a history of how, for thousands of years, people
have manipulated natural food to improve their keeping qualities, nutritional value
and flavour. Draw a table and illustrate the evolution of this industry up to the
twenty-first century. Where the facts are not given, make assumptions based on the
evidence from the text.
Food processing types
20th century
21st century
In five lines, write your opinion of what you think is a natural process and a
biotechnological process of food processing. Use examples from the passage to
illustrate your answer.
Take your study guide or textbook and highlight all the main ideas and the
supporting ideas in a section or unit (you can use different colours to differentiate
between these). If you do not have a suitable study guide, use the text provided for
this activity.
Before the nineteenth
Frozen foods
Source: Adapted from Horticulture 1, HOR141ZE, TSA, 2004, compiled by GJ
Addendum L
Knowing how to highlight/underline when reading
Knowing how to annotate when reading
Knowing how to outline when reading
Knowing how to draw mind maps
You highlight by using coloured pens to mark over important words or lines of a text.
The colour calls attention to the marked material.
Underlining serves the same purpose, because words are underscored.
Reasons to use highlighting:
o It helps you concentrate as you read. If you are going to mark the text, you
will be paying more attention than if you have no pen in hand.
o Highlighting requires readers to decide what is important – because that is
what will be marked.
Guidelines for highlighting/underlining
 First read the paragraph or section so that you can see what the main ideas are.
 Do not mark too much. Remember that you want to focus on main ideas and major
details that you need to learn.
 Use your prereading as a guide. Read to answer the questions you have raised from
titles and section headings. Mark the answers as you find them.
Annotating is both a main idea strategy and a personal response
Guidelines for annotating
 After reading a paragraph or section, underline the parts of
sentences that contain main ideas.
 Remember that you highlight by contrast; do not underline too much.
 When you look up a word‘s definition, write the definition in the margin
next to the word.
 Note lists of points by numbering each one in the margin, and give the list a name.
 Circle key terms and the names of important figures.
 Draw arrows to connect examples to ideas.
 Devise your own symbols and abbreviations.
 Add your reactions and questions. Both keep you engaged in your reading and
prepare you for class discussions and tests.
Example of annotating
Since when?
Two methods of food
For thousands of years people have processed natural foods
to improve their keeping qualities, nutritional value or flavour.
1 Natural processes have been harnessed to create totally
new foods and drinks, or to change the characteristics of a
raw material completely. Biotechnology and genetic
Very controversial!!!
engineering are now used to enhance what can be done with
the world’s harvest, and will undoubtedly shape some of the
foods and drinks of the future.
Natural processes
The oldest processing techniques improve the digestibility
Individually, highlight or underline all of the important information in the text
―Black holes in space‖.
Annotating means adding your marks to the text, whatever marks will help you
comprehend as you read and revise for tests.
You may make short summaries, ask questions, or note reasons for
and enhance the keeping qualities of foodstuffs. Examples
include grain-milling, the cooking of meat, and the
fermentation of grapes to make wine.
Annotate the text ―Black holes in space‖. This is an individual activity.
Outlining is a main idea strategy
Effective outlining depends on your recognition of the relationships between main
ideas and details.
It shows relationships among ideas and details and uses major headings and
Guidelines for outlining
 Items of the same level (e.g. A and B) are lined up evenly.
 Include a thesis statement or a statement of the topic at the top of the page.
 If you seem to be just making a list rather than an outline, look at what you have
written and see how you can reorganize the material or if you need some headings
under which to group points.
 Add notes in the margin of your study outline when helpful.
Example of outlining
Food processing
I. Natural processes
A. Fermentation and enzymes
1. Fermentation – changing food components
into natural preservatives
2. Enzymes – catalysts in biochemical
B. Dairy foods (esp. pasteurisation)
C. Bread and alcohol
D. Freezing
E. Food presentation
1. Chilling
2. Vacuum packing
3. Irradiation – anti-microbial technique –
preserves quality
II. Biotechnology and genetic engineering = altering the genes of a
food source to change the characteristics of a food product.
Most widely used
Mind maps are almost like outlining, but use a visual pattern
rather than numbers, letters, and indenting.
Use mapping when you might consider outlining, but you prefer a visual pattern.
Guidelines for using mind maps
 Decide on the topic and write it, in a word or phrase, within a circle or box, either in the
centre of your paper or at the top.
 Place each main idea on a line radiating out from the centre circle (or in boxes
attached to lines coming down from the top box).
 Use as many levels of lines or boxes as needed to include the information you want to
 You may want to turn the paper to the side so that you have more space for your map.
 Experiment with different patterns to find what works for you – or what best represents
the pattern used in the material.
In groups of 4 to 5 students, create a mind map of the text ―Black holes in space‖.
Used since end of
19th century, but
only now effective
Might be
dangerous. Not
widely used in
Europe and USA.
In groups of 4 to 5 students, make an outline of the text ―Black holes in space‖.
The living planet. SA. Food Processing. Publisher unknown: 196-197.
Seyler, D.U. 2000. The reading context: developing college reading skills, 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and
START materials - adapted from: World Book Encyclopedia of Science. 1986. Physics Today. World
Book, Inc.
Black holes in space
To an observer it appears as a hole in space. To physicists and mathematicians a black
hole is a remarkably simple phenomenon: a very large mass in a very small volume.
Escape from the laws of physics__________________________________
Living stars and galaxies_____________________________
When we look up into the sky on a dark night, we see thousands of points of light. They
never seem to change, except to twinkle from time to time. The points of light may be single
stars or huge clusters of stars called galaxies. For example, a massive spiral galaxy, called
M81, is made up of over 200 thousand million suns. Astronomers have identified several
different types of stars and galaxies. They have found that some stars and galaxies are
growing in size, while others are decreasing. Physicists and astronomers talk of stars being
born and dying.
Dying stars___________________________________________________
Physicists are trying to explain how stars are born and how they die. A dying star has
special interest for scientists because strange effects occur. Some of these effects support
modern theories of physics, while others cannot be explained yet by our theories. When a
star dies, the matter making up the star collapses towards the centre of the star. In some
cases, the contraction can never be halted and the dead star forms a black hole in space.
Before the first black hole was discovered, a famous scientist by the name of Einstein
predicted that black holes could exist.
Black holes___________________________________________________
A black hole is a region of space into which a star or galaxy has collapsed. The matter is
compressed into a very small volume. If the sun was compressed into a ball 3 km in
diameter, then it would form a black hole. Why is this phenomenon called a black hole?
Matter exerts a gravitational force on all the other matter around about, just as the earth
pulls an object in the air back to earth. Gravitational force even affects light. For example,
the gravitational field of a star can bend the rays of light passing by from another star.
As a star collapses, the matter at the center becomes denser and denser. This makes the
gravitational field near the star extremely strong. All mater near the star is pulled in to the
center, making the star even denser. As light passes close to the center of the collapsed
star, it is attracted into the centre just as matter is.
No escape_____________________________________________________
So anything such as a particle of matter, a ray of light or even another star, which comes
too close to the collapsed star, is pulled in. Nothing can escape the strong field of gravity.
Einstein‘s theory of relativity provided a more accurate description of the behaviour of
matter than Newton‘s laws do. However, the one is merely a simplification of the other.
That is to say, simplifying Einstein‘s theory will produce Newton‘s laws. One of the
characteristics of a black hole is that, at its centre, all the known laws of physics break
down. While Einstein‘s theory will predicts that black holes exists, his theory breaks down
as well, at the centre of a black hole. This situation provides an exciting challenge to
scientists today, and new theories predict that matter can be crushed out of existence in a
black hole.
Do we have evidence for black holes?______________________________
Scientists give a tentative ‗yes‘ to this question. Bodies have been observed in space which
behave almost exactly as Einstein‘s theory says they should. Astronomers have identified a
‗supergiant‘ star called HDE 226868. This star gives off blue light and appears to be
orbiting around an invisible companion. Scientists have calculated the mass of this invisible
object. The mass is enormous, just as that of a black hole. The gas and material from HDE
226868 are being sucked into the invisible black hole as it revolves around the hole. Also,
we know that light should reach Earth from certain galaxies, but it never does. The theory is
that the light is absorbed into a black hole between the stars emitting such light and the
The importance of investigating black holes________________________
Many people question the wisdom of spending time, money, and effort investigating
phenomena far removed from us in space. But human beings have always felt challenged
to investigate things that they cannot explain. As scientists attempt to construct new
theories to explain different phenomena, they develop new ‗tools‘ to enable the theories to
be tested. The theories benefit humanity because they open scientists‘ eyes to new
possibilities. For example, a new material which enables us to save energy may be
developed from theoretical predictions. New mathematical tools are also developed to
support and test new theories. Nuclear energy is an example of theory providing man with
new sources of energy. The study of black holes will help
scientist understand how gravity works and how matter and
energy are related. Indeed, to most of us, black holes may prove
to be of great benefit to us in developing our understanding and
improving our lives, just as space flight has given us new, strong
materials and many other beneficial spin-offs.
Addendum M
How to reference information correctly in the text (in-text referencing) –
We are releasing uncontrollable forces into our environment and food supply. Recently in
Mexico, birthplace of corn and storehouse of its genetic diversity, researchers reported that
local varieties had been contaminated by modified genes – even though Mexico has
banned the planting of engineered corn.
(Author’s surname: Ackerman. Published: 2002. Page: 32)
TASK 1: In groups, discuss what you understand under the term “plagiarism”.
How to avoid plagiarism
Acknowledge your sources: If you use information from a source, identify the source
or person according to the conventions for referencing. These references enable a
reader to track down the words and ideas you are borrowing to check whether you are
using them accurately and fairly. You need to reference every source you use in two
 In-text referencing – after your quotation (be it direct or paraphrased), you have
to add the surnames of the authors and the year in which the source was
published (Nkosi, 2000).
 List of references / bibliography – at the end of each assignment, study guide or
book, there should be a list of references, acknowledging all of the sources used
in that assignment, study guide or book.
In-text reference: Indirect quotation
Genetically modified (GM) foods are unsafe and the risks associated with them have
hazardous effects. Ackerman (2002:32) argues that forces outside of our control are being
let loose on our environment.
In-text reference: Direct quotation
Genetically modified foods have a negative impact on our surroundings. They are risky.
―We are releasing uncontrollable forces into our environment and food supply‖ (Ackerman,
2002:32). These ―forces‖ include new plant genes that spread to related plants, causing
them to become mutated and difficult to control.
In-text reference: Direct quotation of more than 3 lines.
Genetically modified (GM) foods are unsafe and the risks associated with them are
dangerous to our surroundings. Ackerman argues:
Use proper in-text referencing: Use phrases such as, ―according to Jones (2004)…‖,
―Smith (2005) argues that…‖ etc.
Use indirect quotations: With an indirect quotation, you paraphrase information
– that means, putting it in your own words. Even if you use your own words, the
idea still belongs to someone else, so even though you do not use quotation
marks, you still have to add the in-text reference (Author, Year).
Use direct quotations: With a direct quotation, you repeat the author‘s words
directly, word for word. You have to put quotation marks (―…‖) around the
quotation, and add the in-text reference (Author, Year: Page).
We are releasing uncontrollable forces into our environment and food
supply. Recently in Mexico, birthplace of corn and storehouse of its genetic
diversity, researchers reported that local varieties had been contaminated
by modified genes – even though Mexico has banned the planting of
engineered corn (Ackerman, 2002:32)
Although these findings are questionable, this new research may suggest that plant species
could become affected with new ―mutated‖ genes, even when not planted next to GM
For you to reference properly, you have to be aware of where to find certain
information in books, study guides, journal articles, newspaper articles and
magazine articles.
TASK 2: In groups, discuss the differences between the following (look at their
definitions, what kind of information you can get from each of them, how reliable
they are, etc.):
 A book
What is the copyright year (thus, what year should be put in the in-text reference, and
in the bibliography)?
Who is the publisher?
Who is the printer?
Appendix B
8. What kind of text is this (a book, a study guide, a magazine article, a journal article, or
a newspaper article)?
A study guide
A magazine article
A journal article
How many editions are there?
A newspaper report
TASK 3: In groups, examine the three appendices that your tutor will hand out to
Appendix A
1. What kind of text is this (a book, a study guide, a magazine article, a journal article, or
a newspaper article)?
What is the title?
What is the author‘s initial and surname?
What is the title of the article?
10. What is the name of the source?
11. What are the initials and surnames of the authors?
12. What is the copyright year?
Feldmann, Morris and Hoisington (2000:7) state that “these include, but are
not necessarily limited to, health issues”.
“These include, but are not necessarily limited to, health issues”
(Feldmann, Morris & Hoisington 2000:7).
Why are the surnames in the first quotation outside of the brackets, but inside of
the brackets in the second quotation?
14. Look at first sentence of the third paragraph on p. 53 of Appendix B (starting with
―Alternatively‖). Now, act as though you are quoting this in an assignment. First, write
it down as a direct quotation (remember quotation marks and in-text reference). Then,
write it as an indirect quotation (i.e. a paraphrased quotation).
Direct quotation:
Indirect quotation:
15. Choose a long quotation (3 lines or more). Quote this in the correct manner,
embedded in your own argument.
18. What is the name of the source?
19. What is the initial and surname of the author?
20. What is the volume and number?
21. What is the copyright year?
22. This article uses footnotes for referencing (which is a different method of referencing).
Reference the two quotations in the article as they would have been referenced when
using the Harvard method.
Appendix C
16. What kind of text is this (a book, a study guide, a magazine article, a journal article, or
a newspaper article)?
17. What is the title of the article?
Reference: Killen, P. O. & Walker, C. (eds.). 1979. Handbook for teaching assistants at Stanford, 2nd ed. Stanford:
Stanford University.
Addendum N
Author (surname and initials)
Year of publication
Title (in italics or underlined)
Edition (except for the 1st edition)
Place of publication
(One author)
Askeland, D.R. 2006. The science and engineering of materials. Southbank: Thomson.
(Two or more authors)
Petocz, P., Petocz, D. & Wood, L.N. 1992. Introductory Mathematics. Sydney: Thomas
(A later edition)
Zumdahl, S.S. & Zumdahl, S.A. 2000. Chemistry, 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
(A book with an editor(s)
Heldman, D.R. & Lund, D.B. (eds). 2007. Handbook of food engineering. Boca Raton:
Taylor & Francis.
(A chapter in a book, edited by another person)
Doe, J. 2007. Engineering the apple. In Handbook of food engineering. (eds.) Heldman,
D.R. & Lind, D.B. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.
Journal and magazine articles
Name of journal (italics / underlined if written by hand – may be abbreviated if
the abbreviation is a standardised abbreviation used by the journal itself)
Month, season, year
Pages of the article (from beginning to end, not just what you quoted)
(An article by one author)
Insoo, H. 2006. Magic eggs and the frontier of stem cell science. Hastings Center Report,
July 2006, 36(2): 16-19.
(An article by more than one author)
Gentry, T.J., Rensing, C. & Pepper, I.L. 2004. New Approaches for Bioaugmentation as a
Remediation Technology. Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology,
34(5): 447-494.
National Institute of Health (NIH). 2005. Stem Cell Basics. From:
/info/basics/ (accessed 13 September 2006).
Anon. [s.a]. New Hope for Stem Cell Research. From: (accessed 13 September 2006).
Study guide & tutorial letter
Dangor, M., Erasmus, T., Finlayson, K., Malan, G., Reynecke, A., Van der Watt, J.J. &
Willemse, R.J. 1993. Housing Management I: Study guide 1 for HOM121RE. Florida:
Technikon SA.
Technikon SA. 2003. Management of Training II: Tutorial letter 1 (1st registration 2003) for
MOT201UE. Florida: Technikon SA.
Author (surname and initials)
Year of publication
Title of article
TASK 1: In groups of 3 to 4 students, complete the following
1. Write down a reference for two books.
5. Write down a reference for two magazine articles.
6. Now write down the whole bibliography for all of these.
2. Write down a reference for two journal articles.
3. Write down a reference for two study guides / tutorial letters.
4. Write down a reference for two Internet articles.
TASK 2: In groups, write down the correct references (as you would in a
bibliography) of the following sources. Also put them in alphabetical order,
as you would a real bibliography!
In 2006 I found a book, called Science for Engineers, that I used in an assignment.
The book was written by Peter A. Steward. It had 313 pages, and the information I
used was on page 299. It was printed by Pretoria Printers, and published by Protea.
The book was written in 1999. It was published in Pretoria.
TASK 3: Identify the mistakes in the following bibliography. There are at least two
mistakes in each reference. Rewrite the whole reference, and circle the two
mistakes which you corrected. This is an individual activity.
Kittel, C. 2005. Introduction to solid state physics, 8th edition. J. Wiley: New York.
Perin, H., Dohmann D. and Borojevic K. 2005. Transendocardial autologous bone marrow
cell transplantation for severe, chronic ischemic heart failure, Circulation 107
McCarthy. 2005. Frequently asked questions about nuclear energy. From:
In my search, I also found a great journal called ―Science South Africa‖. The journal
had 222 pages. I used one quote on page 177 of an article called ―Engineering the
Nelson Mandela bridge‖. The author of this article was John Doe. The article was from
page 170 to page 179, and was published in the Spring of 2003. The volume of the
journal was volume 8, and it was number 2.
Guttman, B.S. January 2005. Evolution: a beginner’s guide. Oxford: Oneworld, p.155.
On 8 August 2006 I found an article called ―Benefits of Stem Cells to Human Patients‖
on the Internet. It was written in 2005. The Internet address is
C.M. Verfailie, Adult stem cells assessing the case for pluripotency, Trends Cells Biol 12, p.
Douglas M. Gingrich. Practical quantum electrodynamics. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.
Moran, S. 2006. New York Times. Biofuels come of age as the demand rises, 12
September 2006.
Biofuel. (accessed 14 September 2006).
Addendum O
Parts of speech
Writing good paragraphs
Parts of speech
Task 1: In groups, discuss what the job of each of these parts of speech is. Write this
down, and give a few examples of each part of speech:
Article (art)
Task 2: Work with a partner to identify which part of speech each of these words
belong to, by writing the abbreviation above each word.
Science in the broadest sense refers to any knowledge or trained skill, especially
(but not exclusively) when this is attained by verifiable means.
In a more restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge
based on empiricism, experimentation, and methodological naturalism, as well as
to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research.
Task 3: In pairs, complete the following table by filling in the missing part of speech:
Noun (n)
Adjective (adj)
Verb (v)
Writing good paragraphs and conjunctions
Adverb (adv)
Task 4: Working with a partner, create a flow-chart showing the sequence of milk
Preposition (prep)
Conjunction (conj)
They separate the milk into cream and milk.
The cow produces the milk.
A dairy will pasteurise the milk (heat it until 72ºC), cool it, bottle it, pack it in crates,
and deliver it to the consumer.
The factory weighs and tests the milk.
The farmer delivers the milk to a factory.
Task 5: Organise the text in the correct sequence. Use logical connectors (e.g. after
this, finally, next, then, and then, subsequently, at the next stage in the process, the
final stage occurs when, after being...) to write a coherent paragraph, explaining the
order in which the above process takes place. Remember to write it in a scientific
style (i.e. in the passive form). You may work with a partner on this activity.
b) (If)
c) (Thereby)
Task 6: In pairs, combine the following sentences by using each of the given
The zinc is resistant to corrosion.
It is used for coating sheet steel.
a) (Because)
b) (Therefore)
The piston is lowered.
The pressure increases.
a) (As a result)
d) (Consequently)
e) (Results in)
f) (As a result of)
Task 7: Fill in the conjunctions / logical connectors in the following paragraph. This
is an individual activity.
although; and; firstly; hence; lastly; secondly; since; such as; thirdly; whereby
The relationship between host and associate has been hinted at already and can be
defined as the association between organisms ______________________ only one, the
parasite, benefits, the partner suffering some definite harm. There is often some loss of free
life on the part of the parasite, ___________________ the association between host and
parasite is frequently of long duration when judged against the life span of the organisms
Parasites exhibit four features that collectively identify them as such. ____________, they
live in or on a host, and do it harm. The depth to which they penetrate the host varies, as
indeed does the damage. ________________, parasites show some simplification of body
structures when compared with free-living relatives. _______________,
____________________ all organisms show adaptations to their way of life, in the case of
parasites they are often associated with a complex psychological response, e.g. the ability
to survive in regions almost devoid of available oxygen, ________________ adult liver
flukes, or the hooks and suckers of adult tapeworm. _________________, parasites exhibit
a complex and efficient reproduction, usually associated in some way with the physiology of
the host, eg rabbit fleas are stimulated by the level of sex hormone in their host.
Many authorities consider that the most damaging and traumatic parasitic associations are
probably relatively recent relationships, ________________ the participants have not yet
had time to ‗settle down‘ to the parasitic way of life. Obviously it is of no value to the
parasite to seriously damage, or even kill, its source of food and life.
Parasites have a long history of association with man, and such finds as Egyptian
mummies have shown evidence of parasitic infections that were obviously present in
people many thousands of years ago. It should be remembered that often the mummies
were the remains of wealthy people who presumably lived a full and healthy life by the
standards of that time, and _____________ one can imagine the state of people living in
dirty and impoverished conditions.
Classification paragraph
Task 8: Individually, write one definition, classification, compare and contrast,
sequence, explanation and evaluation paragraph
Types of paragraphs
Definition paragraph
1. Write a paragraph discussing two kinds of energy resources.
2. In a short paragraph, classify sunlight, germs, trees, plastic, and animals under biotic
and abiotic factors, and explain why.
1. Define science.
2. Give the definition of a triangle.
3. Define the term ‗omnivore‘.
4. What is a black hole?
Compare and contrast paragraph
1. Compare and contrast series and parallel electrical circuits.
2. What are the similarities of and differences between solar power and fossil fuels.
3. Critically compare and contrast desktop and laptop computers.
Sequence paragraph
1. Write a paragraph in which you describe how you would go about testing whether a
substance is indeed carbon dioxide.
2. How would you conduct an experiment in which you wanted to determine the velocity
of a car falling down a cliff.
3. Describe the steps necessary to save an Excel document on your desktop.
Explanation paragraph
1. Explain why a pie chart is sometimes more appropriate than a bar graph when
representing figures.
2. Why do various chemicals smell differently?
3. How does a computer convert what you type on a keyboard to the screen?
Evaluation paragraph
1. What type of energy is better – solar or fossil? Why?
2. Should chemistry and physics be taught as separate subjects at school level?
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying at a distance learning
Addendum P
do we
Before you start reading, first preview the text.
Steps to go through when previewing a text:
1) Read the heading carefully. Ask yourself, ―What do I expect to read about? What do I
already know about this topic?‖
2) Read the sub-headings (if any.) What is each section going to be about? Is this what
you were expecting?
3) For longer texts, read the topic sentence (first sentence) of each paragraph. For shorter
texts, read the first few words of each paragraph. It can also be useful to read the last
sentence (or last few words) of each paragraph.
4) For longer texts, make a skeleton plan of the sub-headings and topic sentences. This
will help you to keep track while you read, and to help you to refocus if you lose
concentration or become confused.
5) Look at the problems at the end of the chapter and the chapter summary.
You should adopt a scientific mindset. Ask questions such as:
How do we know this?
How does this happen?
What does this show?
Are alternative explanations plausible?
What laws govern or affect this?
Task 1: Look at the following annotated example. Do the same with the second text
(i.e., ask as many questions as you can about the text). This is an individual activity.
What are the
Some biochemical processes
Only a certain number of each element‘s atoms exist on earth. For plants and
animals to reproduce and grow, atoms must be recycled and used over and over
again. The atoms that make up our bodies now are only temporarily ours. These
atoms probably belonged at one time to prehistoric plants and animals, and they will
belong to other organisms in the future. Figure 19.10 shows roughly how carbon
and nitrogen are recycled in nature.
Plants make glucose by photosynthesis, and they use the energy from it to
make amino acids out of inorganic nitrogen – ammonia and nitrates– in the soil.
Then the plants make proteins for their own use. Herbivorous (plant-eating) animals
eat the plants, taking amino acids from the plants‘ proteins and re-forming them into
their protein structures. Carnivorous (meat-eating) animals eat the herbivorous
animals to obtain proteins for their own structure and to store fat for their complex
organic structure back into simple inorganic compounds that can be used again by
Animals can‘t make amino acids, so they depend on plants for them. Plants
can‘t use organic compounds, so they depend on the bacteria in the soil to break
them down. If decay didn‘t occur, the elements would reach a literal dead end as
organic compounds, and the cycle would be incomplete. Our production of certain
plastics and other substances that do not decay is beginning to interrupt this cycle.
Newell, Chemistry: An Introduction, pp. 476-478.
Peripheral Resistance and Vessel Surface
As just demonstrated, it is possible to increase the heart rate to an extent that blood is
pumped into an artery faster than it can drain out. This increased volume of blood raises
the pressure in the vessel. Recall that the volume and pressure of blood in a vessel depend
upon two factors, the amount pumped in and the amount allowed to drain out. The
―draining‖ of blood from arteries is controlled by regulating the resistance to blood flow
through branches of the arterial tree – this resistance to flow in the peripheral circulation is
termed peripheral resistance.
Blood, like any other fluid flowing through a system of vessels, is subjected to friction
as it ―rubs‖ against the vessel walls. Consequently, blood does not flow uniformly through
any given vessel. The outer portion of blood in contact with the vessel wall is subjected to
greater friction and flows more slowly. Blood toward the centre of the vessel moves under
less friction and flows more rapidly. These different flow rates within the same vessel result
in a layered flow pattern, or laminar flow (figure 18.8). Any feature of the circulatory system
that changes the amount of blood exposed to vessel surface changes the amount of friction
and the peripheral resistance. An increase in friction increases resistance and slows the
flow of blood while a decrease in friction decreases resistance and speeds the flow of
Task 2: With a partner, draw two diagrams of the following text, one of the
convention current at the seashore during daytime, and the other at night.
Convection is a means of heat transmission in all fluids, whether liquids or gases.
Whether we heat in a pan or warm air in a room, the process is the same. If the fluid is
heated from below, its molecules increase in speed and rise, permitting cooler fluid to come
to the bottom. In this way, convection currents keep the fluid stirred up as it heats.
Convection currents stirring the atmosphere result in winds. Some parts of the Earth‘s
surface absorb heat from the sun more readily than others, and as a result the air near the
surface is heated unevenly and convection currents form. This is most evident at the
seashore. In the daytime the shore warms more easily than the water; air over the shore
rises and cooler air from above the water takes its place. The result is a sea breeze. At
night the process reverses because the shore cools off more quickly than the water, and
then the warmer air is over the sea. Build a fire on the beach and you‘ll notice that the
smoke sweeps inward during the day and seaward at night.
Conceptual Physics, p. 237
Davis, Holtz, and Davis, Conceptual Human
Physiology, pp. 358-359
Study and draw diagrams and drawings
 Diagrams and drawings often clarify a principle or concept.
 They are used to show forces, conditions, shapes, directions, processes, or positions.
 They provide a visual representations of an object or occurrence, and increase your
ability to both understand and retain information.
 Study the drawings or diagrams in your text. Then use them to recall key concepts
and processes. Finally, you can try to draw the diagram from memory. Then compare
it to the original to see what you forgot.
 Drawing diagrams can also be useful in laboratory situations. Draw brief sketches of
your equipment setup, techniques, and observations. These will help you when you
have to write your lab report.
Summarise the text in the margin
 First, read through the entire text to get an overview.
 Then read it one more time to understand the steps and the connections between
them. Try to look for cause-and-effect relationships – thus, what is the process
involved, what step happens first, second, etc.
 Finally, write a step-by-step summary of the process in your own words.
Task 3: Write a step-by-step summary of the following text in the margin. The
summary should be approximately 70 – 100 words long. This is an individual activity.
Several forces impart energy to Earth‘s waters to produce high and low tides. To
understand how these forces operate to change the level of water, you must construct a
model of Earth completely covered by water and without continental land masses. The
interaction of Earth and moon causes two tidal bulges on opposite sides of the planet (in
our model without land). The bulge on the side of the Earth closest to the moon occurs as
a consequence of the mutual attraction between moon and Earth. The moon‘s
gravitational attraction pulls and moves the water (because water is more responsive
than solid crustal material only water moves perceptibly in real life). The bulge on the
opposite side results from the centrifugal force created as Earth and moon revolve
around a common point, or barycentre, located 4670 km (2900mi) from the Earth‘s centre
(Figure 1.15). Centrifugal force is illustrated by water spinning off a moving bicycle tire.
Remember, the moon does not revolve around Earth; rather, the moon and Earth revolve
around each other. Consequently, the point on Earth farthest from the moon travels
farther as the moon and Earth swing together through space. The centrifugal force
generated by their revolution is sufficient to overcome the gravitational forces of Earth
and moon; thus, the second tidal bulge is formed. If our model is accurate, high and low
tides would occur exactly 6 hours apart during Earth‘s 24-hour day. However, they do
Tides occur at different times each day partly because of the motions of Earth and
moon. The moon completes one apparent revolution around Earth in 24 hours and 50
minutes, the lunar day. The moon‘s apparent motion is an illusion caused by the rapid
rotation of Earth; in reality, we are observing Earth‘s rotation, which we see as the moon
travelling across the sky. In addition, as Earth completes one rotation (24 hours), the
moon changes its heavenly position as it revolves around Earth, causing the moon to rise
50 min later each day; the tides also occur 50 minutes later each day. The frequency
between successive high tides, therefore, is 12 hours and 25 minutes. Due to the friction
between Earth and the moving tidal bulges, high tide in a given location occurs
approximately 50 minutes after the moon is over that point on Earth. These tides are
known as lunar semidiurnal tides. . .
Along most coastlines, the difference between the vertical height of the high and low
tide–the tidal range–varies from day-to-day. The changing tidal range for a particular
location results from the gravitational attractions of sun and moon. Solar tides are about
one-half the size of lunar tides. Although the mass of the sun is 27 million times greater
than that of the moon, the sun is 400 times farther away from Earth and thus has only a
slight effect on Earth‘s tides compared to the moon. According to Newton‘s Law of
gravity, the gravitational force (attraction) between two bodies is directly proportional to
their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
Lerman, Marine Biology: Environment, Diversity, and Ecology, pp. 19, 20
Task 4: Now, write a step-by-step summary of the following text, and draw a diagram.
This is an individual activity.
The movement of water and minerals
A plant needs far more water than an animal of comparable weight. In animals most of its
water remains in its body and recirculates. By contrast, in plants more than 90 % of the
water that enters the roots is given off into the air as water vapour. Thus, for example, a
single corn plant needs 160 to 200 liters of water from seed to harvest, and 1 acre of corn
requires almost 2 million liters of water a season. British ecologist John L. Harper
describes the terrestrial plant as ―a wick connecting the water reservoir of the soil with the
atmosphere‖. The loss of water vapour from the plant body is known as transpiration.
The uptake of water
As we noted earlier, water enters the body of most plants almost entirely through the
roots. During periods of rapid transpiration, water may be removed from around the roots
so quickly that the water in the soil in the vicinity of the roots becomes depleted. Water
will then move slowly by diffusion and capillary action through the soil toward the
depleted region near the roots. The roots also obtain additional water by growing beyond
the depleted region; the main roots of corn plants, for example, grow an average of 52 to
63 millimeters a day.
Roots cells, like other living parts of the plant, contain a higher concentration of solutes
(both organic and inorganic) than does soil water. As a result, water from the soil enters
the roots by osmosis. The osmotic potential is sufficient to move water a short distance
up the stem, a phenomenon known as root pressure. Guttation is a visible consequence
of root pressure. But how can water reach 20 meters high to the top of an oak tree, travel
three stories up the stem of a vine, or move 125 meters up in a tall redwood?
removes air from a system so that the water (or other liquid) is pushed up by atmospheric
pressure. But atmospheric pressure is only enough to raise water (against no resistance)
about 11 meters at sea level, and many trees are much taller than 11 meters.
The Cohesion-Tension Theory
According to the now generally accepted theory, the explanation is to be found not only in
the properties of the plant but also in the properties of water, to which the plant has
become exquisitely adapted. As we pointed out in chapter 2, in every water molecule, two
hydrogen atoms are covalently bonded to a single oxygen atom. Each hydrogen atom is
also held to the oxygen atom of a neighbouring water molecule by a hydrogen bond. The
cohesion resulting from this secondary attraction is so great that the tensile strength in a
thin column of water can be as much as 140 kilograms per square centimeter (2,000
pounds per square inch). This means that it requires a negative pressure of more than
140 kilograms per square centimeter to pull the column of water apart. In the leaf, water
evaporates, molecule by molecule, from the cells into the intercellular spaces within the
leaves. The water potential of the leaf cell falls, and the water from the vessels or
tracheids moves, molecule by molecule, into the leaf cell. But each molecule in the xylem
vessel is linked of the molecules in the vessel. They, in turn, are linked to others, forming
one ling, narrow, continuous thread of water reaching right down to a root tip. As the
molecule of water moves through the stem and the leaf, it tugs the next molecule along
behind it.
Because the diameter of the vessels is very small and because the water molecules
adhere to the walls, even as they are cohering to one another, gas bubbles, which could
rupture the column, do not usually, form. The pulling action, molecule by molecule,
causes the negative pressure observed in the xylem. The technical term for a negative
pressure is tension, and this theory of water movement is known as the cohesion-tension
Curtis and Barnes, Biology, pp. 614-616
One important clue is the observation the during times when the most rapid transpiration
is taking place–which is, of course, when the flow of water up the stem must be the
greatest–xylem pressures are characteristically negative (less than atmospheric
pressure). The existence of negative pressure can be demonstrated readily. If you peel a
piece of bark from a transpiring tree and make a cut in the xylem, no sap runs out. In fact,
if you place a drop of water on the cut, the drop will be drawn in. What is the pulling
force? It is not simple suction, as the negative pressure might indicate. Suction simply
Adapted from: McWhorter, K.T. 1990. Academic Reading. Glenview: Scott, Foresman &
Read section by section
Chapters in science texts are usually long. Due to the complex nature of the material, try
not to read an entire chapter in one sitting. Instead, divide the chapter into sections and
read one at a time. It is sometimes possible to mark problems or questions at the end of the
chapter that correspond to particular sections. Then, after you have read a section, do the
questions or problems in that chapter.
Task 5: At home, take one of your textbooks, and try to study a chapter by following
the above advice.
Addendum Q
Expository essays require that the writer give information, explain the topic or
define something.
2. To accomplish that, expository essays are best developed by the use of
facts and statistical information, cause and effect relationships, or examples.
3. Since they are factual, they are written without emotion and usually
written in the third person. That means that the use of the pronoun "I" is
not usually found within the essay.
Expository essays also have a distinct format.
The thesis statement (see the next section) must be defined and narrow
enough to be supported within the essay.
Each supporting paragraph must have a distinct controlling topic and all
other sentences must factually relate directly to it. The transition words or
phrases are important as they help the reader follow along and reinforce the
Finally, the concluding paragraph should originally restate the thesis and the
main supporting ideas. Finish with a statement that reinforces your position
in a meaningful and memorable way.
Never introduce new material in the conclusion.
When you are asked (now as a student or perhaps later as a managerial or
professional worker) to produce a piece of expository writing or to give a presentation
aimed at explaining some subject matter to an audience, basically you are being
asked to function as a teacher. A doctor teaches his or her patients about their
medical conditions. A lawyer teaches his or her clients about the law. A sales
representative teaches his or her customers about a product. Approach expository
essays assignments as if you were preparing in each case to teach others about the
particular topic you have selected as your subject matter. The main question that
should guide you in writing a expository essay should be, "How would I teach this
idea or doctrine to someone else (a friend, a fellow student, a family member, a coworker)?"
In an expository paper, you are explaining something to your audience. An
expository thesis statement will tell your audience:
what you are going to explain to them;
the categories you are using to organize your explanation; and
the order in which you will be presenting your categories.
The lifestyles of barn owls include hunting for insects and animals, building nests, and
raising their young.
A reader who encountered the thesis above would expect the text to explain how barn owls
hunt for insects, build nests, and raise their young.
Questions to ask yourself when writing an expository thesis statement:
What am I trying to explain?
How can I categorize my explanation into different parts?
In what order should I present the different parts of my explanation?
Task 1: Individually, write down the thesis statement of any expository paragraph / essay /
assignment that you might be asked to do in one of your subjects. Once finished, swap
your thesis statement with 2/3 other people, and comment on each other‘s statements.
Task 2: In groups of 3 to 5, read the articles on Nuclear Energy. Each person in the group
should read at least one article, and then give a summary of the most important points to
the rest of the group.
Task 3: In pairs, plan your essay in an outline or mind map form. Use the essay format
provided on page 3 as guideline.
Task 4: Individually, write a thesis statement for your essay on Nuclear Energy.
Task 5: Now write an expository essay on the details on nuclear energy. Use the provided
essay format.
Paragraph 1
This is your introduction. Begin with a good "grabber."
Restate the topic and define it.
State three explanations or examples.
Conclude with a transition sentence that leads into the next paragraph.
Paragraph 2, Paragraph 3, and Paragraph 4
These paragraphs are the body of your essay.
Use a transition at the beginning of each paragraph. Try to be different.
In each paragraph you develop one of your arguments, points, or explanations
as fully as you can, restating the explanation and then expanding on it with
examples or evidence that supports it.
Each of these paragraphs needs an introductory sentence and a concluding
These are the paragraphs where it is important to use advanced vocabulary to
show a good knowledge of words.
A little well placed humour and creativity definitely add to the quality of the
Paragraph 5
This is your conclusion.
Restate your topic in words that are different from those in paragraph 1.
Summarize paragraphs 2, 3 and 4.
Draw a one sentence conclusion.
End with a thought that makes the reader think or smile.
Expository Tips
Keep to the topic. Do not stray or go off on a tangent.
Use advanced academic vocabulary. You want to show that you have a good
command of words that is above and beyond what the average student your age
Organize yourself well. Never make a statement that you do not back up or support.
Develop that support well.
Use transitions such as first, second, third, next, before or after, and finally.
Task 5: Once completed use the Performance Task Assessment List to check your essay.
The "big idea" of the paper is interesting and clear.
All the main ideas are clearly related to the "big
The main ideas are organized into a logical
The transitions from one main idea to the next are
There are enough appropriate and accurate
details to support each main idea.
The choice of words is appropriate, varied, and
creates a natural voice.
The mechanics and grammar are integral to the
meaning and effect of the writing.
10. The paper is neat and presentable.
Performance Task Assessment List: Expository Writing
Your mark
Graphic organisers and outlines show work which
has been / has to be explored, researched,
collected, selected information, and focused ideas.
The Writing
The writing demonstrates an ability to interpret
ideas meaningfully in context.
Friend‘s mark
Task 6: Now switch essays with another group, once again using the Performance Task
Assessment List to edit their work.
"Blowing Away the State Writing Assessment Test" by Jane Bell Kiester
available through Maupin House Publishing.
Addendum R
Before you start:
 When arguing and discussing, you should present two or more points of view and
discuss the positive and negative aspects of each case.
 On the basis of your discussion, you can then choose one point of view and persuade
your readers that you are correct, based on sufficient evidence.
 You need to evaluate arguments, weigh evidence and develop a set of standards on
which to base your conclusion.
 All your opinions must be supported - you should produce your evidence and explain
why this evidence supports your point of view.
 Remember that in scientific writing, you should try to be as objective as possible. That
means that you should try to avoid pronouns such as ―I‖ and ―you‖. Rather use the
passive voice (thus, instead of saying ―people do not understand the advantages of
using nuclear power‖, rather say ―the advantages of using nuclear power are often not
understood‖). If the passive voice is not appropriate, then try to use the pronoun ―one‖.
The thesis statement:
Thesis statement rules: A thesis statement…
takes on a subject upon which people could agree or disagree;
takes on a subject that can be discussed comprehensively in the assignment
(i.e., it should not be so broad that it cannot be discussed completely in the
expresses one main idea;
makes a stand about a topic;
is a complete sentence, not a ‗heading-like‘ topic; and
is specific, not vague and general.
Your thesis statement will usually:
appear at the end of the first paragraph of your assignment.
be revised as you write your assignment, so as to fit the assignment perfectly.
TASK 1: In pairs, look at the following thesis statements. Decide whether each one is
weak or strong, and substantiate your answer. Try to revise the weak thesis
statements into strong ones.
There are some negative and positive aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.
World hunger has many causes and effects.
Because the Internet is filled with tremendous marketing potential, companies should
exploit this potential by using web pages that offer both advertising and customer
People use many lawn chemicals.
Hint: Good thesis
statements often
include conjunctions
such as “because”,
“since”, “although”,
“therefore” and
A sample argumentative essay format: The
balanced view
Present both sides of an argument, without necessarily
committing yourself to any opinions, which should always
be based on evidence, until the final paragraph.
Introduce the argument to the reader.
e.g. why it is a particularly relevant topic nowadays / what comments have been made on
this topic recently?
Commenting on another point of view
They; He/she; X; This
approach / position /
methods / beliefs
Reasons in favour of your argument.
State your point of view, your evidence and your reasons.
After objectively summarising the two sides, make clear which argument you think is
stronger, and explain why you think as you do. For an assignment in the sciences, do not
use subjective arguments such as religion.
doubts /
can / may
However, it is
clear that
be raised against this.
One disadvantage of / Another point against /
A further argument against / One other disadvantage of
Presenting another point of view
According to X
mistaken. / wrong. /
rigid. / inadequate.
One of the main arguments against X is that …
Language that can be used for argumentative
It is the view of X; The opinion of X is; It can be argued;
It has been suggested; It might be said
open to doubt. / not always the case. /
is/are not necessarily true. / unlikely to be true. /
highly debatable. / incorrect. / highly speculative.
cannot be upheld.
Reasons against your argument.
State your point of view, your evidence and your reasons.
maintain(s); say(s); argue(s); assert(s); believe(s); claim(s); point(s)
In a
is/are of the opinion; seem(s) to believe
of Y, X
is/are / may be /
seem(s) to be /
would seem to be
One objection to this argument
Plus negative words: wrong, mistaken, false, erroneous, misplaced, inaccurate,
incorrect, debateable, untrue, not the case.
X is certainly correct when he says
that …
X may be correct
in saying
One advantage of / Another point in favour of / A further argument
One other advantage of / One of the main arguments in favour of
Plus positive words: correct, right, accurate.
Presenting your own point of view
It is
important / true /
necessary / essential
The first thing to be considered is
remember / bear in mind / point out
It is a fact / There is no doubt that …
Other transitions
The first reason why … is … / First of all, …
The second reason why … is … / Secondly, …
The most important …
In addition, … / Furthermore, … / What is more, …
Another reason is … / A further point is …
Keywords: Discuss (with own opinion), compare, contrast, prove, justify, evaluate,
respond, argue.
In small groups, read the articles on Genetically Modified Foods (GM Foods) handed
out by your tutor. Each group member should read at least one article, summarise it,
and share the content of that article with the rest of the group.
Summary of your article:
Write a preliminary thesis statement for your argumentative essay on GM Foods.
This is an individual task.
Write an argumentative essay, using the balanced view format, to discuss the topic
of GM Foods. Try to use as many of the above phrases as possible in your essay.
This is an individual task.
 Gillet, A. 2006. Organising the answer. Using English for Academic Purposes.
Available from: (accessed 28 September 2006).
 Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University. 2004. How to write a thesis statement.
Available from:
(accessed 28 September 2006).
 Karper, E. 2006. Creating a thesis statement. Available from: (accessed 28 September 2006).
 LEO: Literacy Education Online. 2003. Thesis statement. Available from: (accessed 28 September
Addendum S
You synthesise information every day without knowing it. You might report on a
conversation that some of your fellow students had in a discussion class to another
friend, for example.
Also, when you do assignments, you have to read through various chapters, and often
various textbooks, and only select the most relevant information for a specific
How to synthesise information:
Synthesizing information can be difficult because it calls for you to combine two or
more summaries in a meaningful way.
2. Begin by reading the texts carefully. Make sure that you are able to identify the writer‘s
main point as well as the key ideas the writer uses to support the main point in your
own words.
3. When finding relevant ideas, highlight / underline or write them down.
4. Now you must decide what details to include based on your purpose and audience.
5. Once you have marked the relevant information, organise the information you have.
You could group similar ideas from both texts using the same number, letter or colour.
6. Transfer all the relevant information onto a piece of paper. Write down all similar
information together.
7. Now paraphrase and summarise as necessary. Go back to the original texts to make
sure that you do not misrepresent the author.
8. Combine your notes into one continuous text.
9. Remember to acknowledge your sources.
10. Remember that when you are writing a synthesis, you use sources to make a point of
your own. In your synthesis, you state the broad relationship that you see between the
sources. You cannot just put two sources together; you must have some connection in
mind when synthesizing the sources.
To sum up: In synthesizing information, you must bring together all your opinions and
research in support of your thesis. You integrate the relevant facts, statistics and expert
opinions directly with your own opinion and conclusions to persuade your audience that
your thesis is correct.
An example synthesis of two texts:
This study has therefore revealed that
children who play computer games
on a regular basis experience a
number of medical problems. The
evidence suggests that the most
serious problem is crooked posture,
which is caused by their being
hunched over their computers for
considerable periods of time. Another
common problem associated with
playing computer games over long
periods (when the same moves are
constantly repeated) is that of pain in
the hands. (extracted from p. 141)
Source: Brown, M.J. 2000. The impact of
computer games on children‘s physical health.
Journal of Physical Health, 23(1):129-142.
It is claimed that computer games have negative
physical effects on eyesight, hands and posture.
However, all of these are caused by the computer
hardware and equipment, not by the software. The
same physical effects occur from prolonged usage
of computers for any reason, such as wordprocessing. In fact, carpal tunnel syndrome was
identified as a workplace ailment caused by office
programs, not games. These physical effects can
all be reduced or eliminated by better hardware
and more attention to ergonomics, such as higherresolution and higher-contrast screens, and
supportive furniture.
Source: Smith, A.J. 2003. Synthesis. The Hong Kong
Polytechnic University, The English Language Centre Web site.
From: eap/synthesis.htm
(accessed 26 July 2006).
Example 1.
Although Brown (2000:141) states that computer games can cause physical problems such
as bad posture and pain in the hands, Smith (2003) argues that these problems are caused
by the hardware, not the games. In my opinion the games cause physical health problems
because they encourage long periods of computer use on harmful hardware.
Example 2.
Brown (2000:141) suggests that computer games can cause physical problems such as
bad posture and pain in the hands. However, Smith (2003) points out that these problems
are caused by the hardware, not the games. I believe that the physical health problems are
caused by games as they encourage long periods of computer use on harmful hardware.
Example 3.
According to Brown (2000:141), computer games can cause physical problems such as
bad posture and pain in the hands. Smith (2003) disagrees, and argues that these
problems are caused by the hardware, not the games. I contend that the physical health
problems are due to the long periods of computer use on harmful hardware which occur
when children are playing computer games.
Task 1.1.
One problem that Internet users have to
deal with is the huge quantity and variety of
sources of possible interest to them. This
creates problems of how to select relevant
information. The problems are aggravated
by a lack of effective search tools. Many
search facilities are limited in their
capabilities and are consequently not able
to deal with the volume of available
resources. Some search engines often
return a huge number of results to users‘
queries, and the details provided in the
search output often lack enough detail to
enable users to assess the relevance of
the sites which are listed. However, other
search engines source a limited number
and kind of sites. This makes the list of
sites they provide both restrictive and
possibly biased. It is hard for the untrained
eye to detect these restrictions.
Although, for a novice user, the results
returned by Internet search engines may
appear confusing and any bias may not be
obvious, these problems are becoming less
serious. Firstly, although some search
engines have problems, there is a wide range
of engines available. Users can choose a
search engine which suits them and gives
informative and relevant results. Secondly,
modern search engines often identify
sponsored links. If users find that their search
engine refers them to sites that give irrelevant
commercial links, they can use a different
search engine. Finally, as the Internet
becomes more mature, users become more
experienced. Therefore they can increasingly
use search terms or advanced search
functions which give better results.
Source: Cuisinier, B. 2000. A guide to studying on the
Internet. London: Lockstone Publishing.
Synthesised paragraph:
Source: Smith, A.J. 2003. Synthesis. The Hong Kong
Polytechnic University, The English Language Centre
Web site. From:
eap/synthesis.htm (accessed 26 July 2006).
Task 1.2
It is a fact that many individuals use
the Net to share their opinions with a
potentially huge audience via their
own Web pages. Some of these
individuals are fully qualified to write
with authority on their particular field
of expertise. Others, unfortunately,
are not qualified and their views are
really little more than personal
opinions and beliefs rather than fully
supported, credible arguments.
Clearly, a set of criteria is needed to
help students distinguish between
reliable information and that which
must be viewed more critically. One
criterion is that of authorship, a
second the status of the website,
while a third is the credibility of a
document itself. There are various
checks that a student can perform to
determine these, and it is crucial that
they do so.
Although Chan's (2001) criteria are theoretically
appealing, they are so time consuming that they
are impractical. To check whether an author is an
expert involves searching the Internet for
references to that author's work, and analysing
whether those references are just from people with
similar opinions, or from other experts. While it is
relatively easy to determine whether a website is a
high-status educational or government domain, it is
much more difficult to discover the reliability of a
commercial site. The credibility of the document
may also be difficult to determine, as it may have
all the components of a reputable page, such as
links to supporting evidence, but the content may
still not be credible. Finally there are many genuine
academic debates with many valuable points of
view. There is no clear distinction between beliefs
and different interpretations of evidence in many
areas. Therefore Chan's criteria may be too simple.
Source: Chan, W.K. 2001. Using information
found on the Web. IT Journal 6(2).
Source: Smith, A.J. 2003. Synthesis. The Hong Kong
Polytechnic University, The English Language Centre Web site.
From: eap/synthesis.htm
(accessed 26 July 2006).
Synthesised paragraph:
What do you like best about your peer‘s synthesis? Why?
Is it clear what is being synthesized – i.e. are the topic and argument of the synthesis
A rainforest is a thick forest of tall trees which is found in tropical areas where there is a
lot of rain (Govender, 1999:10).
Were the sources listed and cited correctly?
Are the ideas from the original texts reflected in the synthesis?
If you read the same sources,
a. did you identify the same points as your peer? If not, how do they differ?
did your peer miss any key points from his/her thesis? If so, what are they?
(Doe, 1985:5)
An area of tropical forest the size of Britain is deforested every year. This is
one million acres a week or 100 acres a minute.
In 1950, 30% of the earth was covered by tropical forest. By 1975, only 12%
was left and in 2002, they now cover only about 6% of the earth's land.
Today more than 40% of the world's original forests have gone. Latin
America has lost 37% of its original tropical forests, Asia 42% and Africa
The world is now losing its tropical forest at the rate of 7% a year and the end
of the tropical rainforests is in sight. (Andrews, 2005:115)
Forests are one of the most valuable ecosystems in the world, containing over 60% of
the world's biodiversity. This biodiversity has multiple social and economic values, …
varying from the important ecological functions of forests in terms of soil and watershed
did your peer include any of his/her own opinions in the thesis? If so, what are
Were there any points in the thesis where you were lost because a transition was
missing or materials seem to have been omitted?
What other advice do you have for your peer?
protection to the economic value of the numerous products which can be extracted
from the forest. For many indigenous and other forest-dependent people, forests are
their livelihood. They provide them with edible and medicinal plants, bush meat, fruits,
honey, shelter, firewood and many other goods, as well as with cultural and spiritual
values. On a global scale, all forests play a crucial role in climate regulation and
constitute one of the major carbon sinks on earth, their survival thus preventing an
increase in the greenhouse effect. (January, 2000:200).
The United States Cancer Institute has identified more than 2,000 tropical rainforest
plants with the potential to fight cancer. And yet, as the forests come down, such plants
- and the hopes they embody - are destroyed. Already about 40% of all drugs
prescribed in the United States owe all, or much, of their potency to chemicals from
wildlife - largely from the rainforest. Quinine, which acts against malaria, comes from
the bark of a South American tree. The armadillo is helping us find a cure for leprosy.
Sufferers from … high blood pressure gain relief from the snakeroot plant from Indian
forests. And the yam has given us the contraceptive pill. (Smith, 2004:5).
Until now … there has been enough remote and underdeveloped land for small groups
of people to follow their traditional ways of life without interference; and since such
people rarely make any drastic change in their environment, their life is often life in the
rain forests. The forest provides their food (wild vegetables, fruits and hunted animals)
and their material culture (houses or shelters, boats, hunting equipment, twine, rope,
poisons and medicines). There are reckoned to be over 4,000 plant species used by
forest dwellers as food and medicine alone, many of which are local or endemic, known
only to small groups whose knowledge of the forest is passed on orally, from
generation to generation. Adapted to life in the forest, self-sufficient in it, using its
products but never destroying their source, hunting forest animals but only according to
need, such people both protect the forest and are protected by it. (Gazu, 1998:20).
Rainforests influence the carbon cycle (green plants take up carbon dioxide, which they
convert to sugars by means of photosynthesis, a process during which oxygen is
released into the air) and also have a profound effect on rainfall. The uneven surface of
treetops causes air turbulence that increases the amount of water evaporating from the
forest. This forms clouds that fall as rain. If forests disappear, less rain will fall, it will
drain more quickly, and soil temperature will rise. (Anon, 1990).
Most striking … is the obvious lack of trees. With the population growth in the region,
the amount of land under cultivation increases. The forests are then cut down to make
way for more agricultural terraces. This lack of trees has led to many problems. The
soil is now exposed during the dry season and this land is very vulnerable to water
erosion during monsoon rains. Lack of tree cover has led to a more exposed soil,
highly susceptible to wind erosion. The consequent depletion of the topsoil reduces soil
fertility, causing great concern to the food producing farmers. Kanda is located on very
steep slopes. The soil substrate is soap stone, a particularly porous stone mined
commercially. The area is thus made more vulnerable to landslides. Tree roots help
retain soil stability when waterlogged by heavy downpours. In hilly areas, tree roots
help in the maintenance of a healthy watershed system. Nowadays, with forests gone,
many springs stop running in the dry season. Without the drawing action of deep tree
roots, the underground water table has dropped beyond reach. Floods down stream
from valleys such as Kanda are said to result from the lack of tree cover in the
Himalayan Hills. With Monsoon patterns changing, and torrential unseasonal
downpours increasingly common, this problem worsens to often catastrophic
consequences. (Quinn, [s.a]).
Most of Bangladesh lies less than 10 metres above sea level. Over 90 million people
live within this area. Floods in 1987 covered 40% of Bangladesh and in 1988 they
covered 62%. In Bangladesh the 'normal floods' resulting from the 'usual' monsoon
rainfall are considered a resource by farmers. Monsoon flooding is necessary for the
maintenance of agriculture with floodwaters covering 30% of the land in a normal year.
Yet in certain years they can experience disastrous flood events. Abnormal flooding
occurs once every few years and is regarded as an undesirable and damaging
phenomenon. All floods are not caused by the same factors. One possible cause is that
forest clearance in the Himalayas is responsible. They say it removes large areas of
trees, which takes an important water store away, so more water goes as surface
runoff. When trees are present they act as a natural buffer against erosion and floods.
Surface flow is slowed; rainwater infiltrates the soil by way of root channels; the leaf
canopy protects the surface of the soil from the impact of large raindrops; and the root
systems bind the soil particles. Forest clearance may be the cause of widespread soil
erosion in areas like Nepal. Downstream from the Himalayas, uncontrolled runoff
caused by deforestation in the catchment areas of the major rivers, and the increased
silting of river channels as a result of soil erosion may have contributed to disastrous
flooding in Bangladesh. (Smith, 1980).
Centre for Independent Language Learning. 2003. Synthesis. From:
synthesis.htm (accessed 4 October 2006).
Gillett, A. 2006. Reporting: synthesis. Using English for Academic Purposes (UEfAP). From: (accessed 4 October 2006).
Jamieson, S. 1999. Synthesis writing. Drew University. From:
Synthesis.pdf (accessed 4 October 2006).
University of Maryland University College. 2005. Thinking strategies and writing patterns: Synthesis. From: (accessed 4
October 2006).
Addendum T
What is a lab report?
A lab report gives details about the procedures, data and outcome of an experiment.
Future researchers can use this information to build on.
The goal of lab reports is to document your findings and communicate their
The typical lab report includes the following headings. Depending on the course you do,
these headings might change a bit in reports you will be expected to write, but this format
should give you a good idea of how to structure your lab report.
Reflect the factual content (in less than ten words) in a straightforward manner.
Use keywords that researchers and search engines on the Internet will recognize.
Summarise in a concise paragraph the purpose of the report, data presented, and
major conclusions. For shorter reports, approximately 50 words are long enough. For
longer reports, your abstract can be up to 200 words.
Sample Abstract
This experiment examined the effect of line orientation and arrowhead angle on a subject's ability to
perceive line length, thereby testing the Müller-Lyer illusion. The Müller-Lyer illusion is the classic
visual illustration of the effect of the surrounding on the perceived length of a line. The test was to
determine the point of subjective equality by having subjects adjust line segments to equal the length of
a standard line. Twenty-three subjects were tested in a repeated measures design with four different
arrowhead angles and four line orientations. Each condition was tested in six randomized trials. The
lines to be adjusted were tipped with outward pointing arrows of varying degrees of pointedness,
whereas the standard lines had inward pointing arrows of the same degree. Results showed that line
lengths were overestimated in all cases. The size of error increased with decreasing arrowhead angles.
For line orientation, overestimation was greatest when the lines were horizontal. This last is contrary to
expectations. Further, the two factors functioned independently in their effects on subjects' point of
subjective equality. These results have important implications for human factors design applications
such as graphical display interfaces.
TASK 1: Working with a partner, carefully read through the
above sample abstract, and answer the following questions
about the experiment that was conducted.
1.1 What was the purpose of this experiment?
1.2 What were the key results?
1.3 What is the most significant point of discussion?
Quick Abstract
Must have:
1. Purpose
2. Key result(s)
3. Most significant
point of discussion
4. Major conclusion
May include:
1. Brief method
2. Brief theory
1.4 What is the major conclusion?
1.5 Is a brief method included? If yes, underline this method in the abstract.
1.6 Is a brief theory included?
Defines the subject of the report: "Why was this study
Provides background information and relevant studies:
"What knowledge already exists about this subject?"
Outlines scientific purpose(s) and/or objective(s): "What
are the specific hypotheses and the experimental
design for investigation?"
Quick Intro Reference
Must Have:
1. Purpose of the experiment
2. Important background
and/or theory
May include:
1. Justification of
experiment's importance
Example: The purpose of this experiment was to identify the specific element in a metal powder
sample by determining its crystal structure and atomic radius. These were determined using the DebyeSherrer (powder camera) method of X-ray diffraction.
TASK 2: Carefully read through the above example of an introduction with a partner,
and answer the following questions about the experiment that was conducted.
2.1 What was the purpose of this experiment?
2.2 Is there any important background and/or theory in this introduction?
2.3 Is there a justification of the experiment‘s importance?
Materials and methods:
List materials used, how they were used, and where and when the work was done
(especially important in field studies).
Describe special pieces of equipment and the general theory of the analyses or test
Can usually be a simple list, but make sure it is accurate and complete.
Provide enough detail for the reader to understand the experiment without
overwhelming him/her.
Describe the process in chronological order. Using clear paragraph structure, explain
all steps in the order they actually happened, not as they were supposed to
Concentrate on general trends and differences and not on trivial
Quick Results Reference
Summarise the data from the experiments without
discussing their implications.
1. Number and title tables and
Organise data into tables, figures, graphs,
photographs, etc. Data in a table should not be
2. Use a sentence or two to
duplicated in a graph or figure.
draw attention to key points in
Title all figures and tables; include a legend
tables or graphs
explaining symbols, abbreviations, or special
3. Provide sample calculation
Number figures and tables separately and refer to
4. State key result in sentence
them in the text by their number, i.e.
1. Figure 1 shows that the activity....
The activity decreases after five minutes (fig. 1).
Interpret the data; do not restate the results.
Relate results to existing theory and knowledge.
Explain the logic that allows you to accept or reject your original hypotheses.
You can speculate if you feel it necessary, but clearly state that that is what it is – a
 Include suggestions for improving your techniques or design, or clarify areas of doubt
for further research.
 This is the most important part of your report, because here you show that you
understand the experiment beyond the simple level of completing it.
Here are some more specific guidelines:
 Analyse your findings: What do these results indicate clearly? What have you found?
Explain what you know with certainty based on your results and draw conclusions.
 Interpret your findings: What is the significance of the results? What ambiguities
exist? What questions might we raise? Find logical explanations for problems in the
 Compare expected results with those obtained.
If there were differences, how can you account for them? Saying "human error"
implies you're incompetent. Be specific; for example, the instruments could not
measure precisely, the sample was not pure or was contaminated, or calculated
values did not take account of friction.
 Explain your results in terms of theoretical issues. Often undergraduate labs are
intended to illustrate important physical laws, such as Kirchhoff's voltage law, or the
Müller-Lyer illusion. Usually you will have discussed these in the introduction. In this
section move from the results to the theory. How well has the theory been illustrated?
 Identify the strengths and limitations of your experimental design.
This is particularly useful if you designed the thing you're testing (e.g. a circuit).
TASK 3: Working in pairs, look at the following extract of a discussion, and identify
which of the above guidelines were followed in the discussion. Identify the guideline
and the example from the text.
Since none of the samples reacted to the Silver foil test, therefore sulphide, if present at all,
does not exceed a concentration of approximately 0.025 g/l. It is therefore unlikely that the
water main pipe break was the result of sulphide-induced corrosion.
Although the water samples were received on 14 August 2000, testing could not be started
until 10 September 2000. It is normally desirably to test as quickly as possible after
sampling in order to avoid potential sample contamination. The effect of the delay is
The conclusion can be very short in most undergraduate lab reports. Simply state
what you know now for sure, as a result of the lab.
The Debye-Sherrer method identified the sample material as nickel due to the measured
crystal structure (fcc) and atomic radius (approximately 0.124nm).
Notice that, after the material is identified in the
example above, the writer provides a justification. We
know it is nickel because of its structure and size.
This makes a sound and sufficient conclusion.
Generally, this is enough; however, the conclusion
might also be a place to discuss weaknesses of
experimental design, what future work needs to be
done to extend your conclusions, or what the
implications of your conclusion are.
Quick Conclusion
Must do:
1. State what's known
2. Justify statement
Might do:
3. State significance
4. Suggest further
References and literature cited:
Cite only references in your paper and not a general bibliography on the topic.
Alphabetise by last name of the author.
Follow the recommended format for citations.
General style:
Strive for logic and precision and avoid ambiguity, especially with pronouns
and sequences.
Keep your writing impersonal; avoid the use of the first person (i.e. I or we).
The experiment is already finished. Use the past tense when talking about the
experiment, e.g. "The objective of the experiment was...".
The report, the theory and permanent equipment still exist; therefore, these get the
present tense, e.g. "The purpose of this report is..."; "Bragg's Law for diffraction is ...";
"The scanning electron microscope produces micrographs ... ".
Note: "data" is plural and "datum" is singular; ―species‖ is singular and plural.
Italicize all scientific names (genus and species).
Use the metric system of measurement and abbreviate measurements without periods
(i.e. cm kg); spell out all numbers less than 10 (i.e. "two explanations of six factors").
Write numbers as numerals when greater than ten (i.e. 156) or associated with
measurements (i.e. 6 mm or 2 g).
Have a neutral person review and critique your report before submission .
TASK 4: In pairs, look at example of a lab report written by an engineering student.
Pay specific attention to the style of language and the information included. Rewrite
the badly written parts of this lab report with a partner. Once you have finished,
compare your suggestions with those of another pair of students.
by: Joe Schmoe
Lab partners: Sally Smith and John Doe
The goals of this lab are to teach the students how to use a scope and a function generator and some
resistors and capacitors to build electrical filters. Sinusoidal inputs and outputs measured and
compared to theoretical values.
Electrical engineers sometimes use filters. Electrical filters also occur in mechanical engineering
instrumentation applications. I guess mechanical engineers we need to know something about them,
but I could not find anything when I spent 30 seconds looking on Yahoo.
The circuit shown in Figure 1 gives a simple low-pass filtcr. Such a circuit exhibits a theoretical
frequency response given by
E0 is the output voltage. E is the input voltage. w is the frequency of both the input and output sine
wave. From this it can be seen that the filter break frequency is equal to RC (ME 360 manual, p.28).
The units of RC are time.
Figure I. Low-pass Filter
The purpose of the experiment was to use both a scope and a function generator to measure
electrical signals. Construct a low-pass filter on a breadboard (see Figure 1). Apply sinusoidal signals
to the input side of the filter. Measure the output signals (with smaller amplitude) on the output side of
the scope. Plot the ratio of output and input amplitudes as a function of frequency.
The actual values of capacitance and resistance were then measured with some instruments and the
uncertainty of these measurements recorded. The resulting uncertainty in the break frequency
computed with these measured values was determined with the Taylor Series method.
A drawing of typical waveforms produced during the second experiment are shown in Figure 2. The input signal is
bigger than the output.
The measurements of the resistance R was 20.456 kilo-ohms and the capacitance C was 0.00000 1234 farads.
This gives a theoretical break frequency of 4567.890123 ± 0.1. The uncertainty was computed with the Taylor
Series method. This is pretty close to the experimental break frequency shown in Figure 3 in the Appendix.
Hundreds of potential sources of error exist. Temperature effects are one. Human error is another. The
measurement of output amplitude from the oscilloscope may have introduced more error than was reflected in the
uncertainty because the total voltage transition was measured before the measuring time required for 63% of the
transition to occur and the error introduced by this determination was not reflected in the uncertainty of the
measured time constant.
Figure 3 (in the Appendix) shows some other results that we don‘t understand.
I learned alot during this experiment. We had like, you know, fun with it. During this
experiment a circuit schematic was used to construct and test an actual RC filter circuit.
The break frequency of this circuit was determined both through measurements of the
response to sinusoidal inputs and through analytic calculation. We shown that these two
measurements agree to within the uncertainties of the measurements.
This lab took too much time, so the lab instructor needs to do more of the work for us. The
lab instructions were not clear. We did not read the lab in advance and forgot to create and
bring a data sheet, so you should have given us one. The analog oscilloscope is hard to
read, so we should use the digital scope for everything. My lab partners don‘t trust me and
would not let me use the equipment, so I need new lab partners.
 Engineering Communication Centre. The University of Toronto. 2002. Laboratory
reports. From: (accessed
 Parker, J.K., 2001, ME 360 Course Manual, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa,
 Study Guides and Strategies. 2006. Writing lab reports and scientific papers. From: (accessed 4 October 2006).
 Wheeler, A.J. and A.R. Ganji, 1996. Introduction to Engineering Experimentation,
Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Addendum U
Dear student
We would like to improve the Reading and Writing in the Sciences workshops. To do that, we need your
feedback. Please take 10 minutes to fill in the following feedback form.
Question 1
What are the most important abilities that you gained during these workshops?
Question 2
What did you enjoy most about these workshops?
Question 3
What did you enjoy least about these workshops?
Question 4
What workshop topics would you like included in future?
Question 5
What workshop topics do you need more practice in?
Question 6
In general, how could the workshops be improved even further?
Question 7
In what way have these workshops helped you to become more successful in your studies? For
example, have you applied any of the skills learned in the workshops in your other subjects?
Question 8
How useful were these workshops to you? Rate them on a scale from 1 to 6. Tick the appropriate block.
1 = Very useful
2 = Useful
3 = Useful to an extent
4 = Not very useful
5 = Not useful at all
6 = I did not attend this workshop
Improving your vocabulary
Writing good sentences
Reading in the sciences (1)
Writing good paragraphs (1)
Writing good paragraphs (2)
Revision – paragraphing and summarising
Visual literacy (1)
Visual literacy (2)
Understanding and using words and concepts in context
Distinguishing between the essential and the nonessential
Note-taking strategies
Understanding text form and introduction to referencing
Reading in the sciences (2)
Writing about facts in the sciences (expository writing)
Arguing in the sciences (argumentative writing)
Synthesising information
Writing a laboratory report
Thank you for your participation in this academic literacy programme 
Addendum V
University of Pretoria
Researcher: Ilse Fouche
Unit for Academic Literacy
Tel: (012) 484 1028/9
Human Sciences Building, Floor 17
E-mail: [email protected]
Huis Meyer, Building 14, Sunnyside
Title of the study:
Improving the academic literacy levels of first-year Natural Sciences students by means of an
academic literacy intervention
The purpose of this study is to determine whether the academic literacy workshops (designed
specifically for first-year Natural Sciences students) will assist you in improving your academic literacy
During this study, you will be asked to:
attend one three-hour reading and writing workshop per week until October (to help you to
optimally improve your language skills in the sciences);
occasionally fill in questionnaires (to help us know more about your background and current
needs); and
complete feedback forms (so that we can adapt the workshop content to suit your needs).
Benefits and risks:
You will benefit from science-specific language instruction, which will probably help you to
complete assignments and study more effectively.
Your participation in this study will be voluntary. Any information that you share with me will be
confidential, and if I refer to it in my research, it will be done anonymously. Therefore you will
not be disadvantaged by attending / not attending any of the workshops.
You will not receive any extra credits for attending these workshops.
These workshops are, however, presented completely free of charge to you.
Your rights:
As mentioned above, your participation in this study is voluntary. You can withdraw from
participating in the study at any time, without any negative consequences to you.
All information that you share with the researcher will be treated as confidential – your
anonymity is, therefore, guaranteed. If you withdraw from this study, all research data related to
you will be destroyed.
You may contact me at any time during office hours. My contact details are provided above.
By signing this form, you give me permission to use the following in my research:
any written work completed during the workshops
data from any questionnaires filled in during the workshops
your marks for tests and assignments in your other registered courses
samples of writing from your other registered courses.
Thank you for participating in this study. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to
contact me.
Ilse Fouche
Your name
Signed in Pretoria on the ______ (day) of ____________ (month), 2007.
Your signature
Researcher’s signature (Ilse Fouche)
Was this manual useful for you? yes no
Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the work of artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

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