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Action Steps

1. While students often find strategies helpful, an instructor can best assist a student by giving examples and explaining the purpose of these strategies (see the "Basic Sample Essay" section). Without understanding the purposes of these strategies, a writer may use them haphazardly. Basic writers often feel pressured into writing to prove what they know and disregard the fact that they need to write so that readers can easily follow their information flow and so that the essay communicates as a whole piece.

2. Before assigning a topic or guidelines for topic selection, review basic English texts to determine the type of essay you will expect students to write (that is, example essay, argumentative essay, etc). Clarifying the type of essay will assist students in their organization and thinking.

3. After you assign a topic or students select a topic, discuss the limitations of the topic. For example, "a point will need to be made and supported in 3-5 body paragraphs."

4. Give students time to think about the topic by discussion, making webs, outlines, or free-writing These pre-writing activities allow students to search for ways to limit their topic, group similar ideas, and create a main point (thesis statement).

5. Have students "talk through" their papers: retell the story, free-write it, or create a videodraft. In this way, students have the information they are planning to use already thought through. Thinking and writing at the same time often requires a lot of cognitive energy. In this way, much of what students want to say is already clear in their minds. Everhart and Marschark (1988) have shown that frequently the complexity of Deaf student's productions is greater in sign language than in their written productions.

6. If students are using a videodraft, it may be beneficial to show them contrasts between an appropriate ASL presentation and the structure of an English essay (see Christie, Wilkins, McDonald, & Neuroth-Gimbrone, 1999). In this way, a positive transfer of knowledge of discourse structure can occur across the presentation of information in two different ways.

7. Often, when students retell a story, create a videodraft, or begin their first draft(s), they do not include a formal introduction and conclusion. Familiarize them with the basic format of the essay and the general conventions for writing an academic essay. Allow the students to note the lack of introductory and concluding information included in their own initial drafts.

8. Have students develop several thesis statements in appropriate form from the main point.

9. Introduce students to examples of basic essays to read and analyze. Note the strategies used for introducing and concluding the essays. In general, students often feel that this introductory and concluding material is a bit "off the point" of their main point. Discuss the expected functions of introductory and concluding paragraphs.

10. Allow students to practice writing introductory and concluding paragraphs using various strategies. You may suggest that the students create one or more introductory and concluding paragraph pairs before discussing which pair fits a holistic reading of the essay.

11. Meet individually with students to discuss the early drafts of their papers. Often teachers' written comments are misunderstood or contain assumptions which could be clarified during one-on-one meetings. Refrain from grammatical correction in the early drafts (see Livingston, 1989). This often interferes with the student's ability to focus on the structure of the essay as a whole.