One of the main skills I want to develop in my students is academic writing. This is very hard because they come out of high school grievously unprepared to do any serious writing. I prepared the following exercise to teach them to identify bad writing and explain why it was bad.
Here is a short text I created that contains many of the most common mistakes students make when they write their essays:
Lope was a very poor boy. He lived in great poverty and his life was very poor. As Ana Maria Matute shows in her short story El Pecado de omisión. At first, this novel was difficult for me to read and I was almost about to give up but then I read it again and understood it much better. Lope lived in great poverty. Everybody in Spain was very poor during the Franco reign. . . Only after Franco’s downfall people began to live much better and Lope’s story wasn’t possible any longer. As we learned in class from our wonderful Professor Clarissa, Franco died in 1975 and that was a good thing. I think. I think Ana Maria suffered a lot in her life and that influenced her writing. Maybe her childhood was as poor as Lope’s. . . There are many interesting things in this story because it’s an interesting story. I liked reading it even tough it was hard at first.*
In class, I asked them to go over the text and identify all of its many problems. Then we went over it together. At first, the students had no idea why I thought the text was bad. They kept looking for grammar and spelling mistakes because, for them, bad writing is, first and foremost, grammatically incorrect. They are not used to the idea that an academic essay needs to conform to a certain format and are mostly unaware of stylistic problems. By the end of the class, however, they got it. Everybody was laughing very hard.
Of course, I will only know if the exercise really worked after I see their final essays on November 14.
* In the exercise, the text was in Spanish.