Why use a model text?
Because it’s unfair to ask students to produce any writing without giving them a model first! Doing so assumes that they know what, for example, a successful factual report or argument essay looks like. However, not all students have had the same access and exposure to different types of texts and language, which means they don’t have an equal chance of achieving success in their writing. Using a model text helps to level the playing field.
Learning ‘the rules’
Whether we realise it or not, there are rules which successful writers follow when creating effective texts. If you are writing a newspaper article, an email or an academic article, for example, your chances of successful communication are greatly enhanced if you follow the structure and use the language that readers expect. This is especially true in an academic context, where the rules are more highly codified, the expectations more rigid and the stakes higher.
So, how do people learn the rules which help them to write well? As Basil Bernstein and Ruqaiya Hasan discovered, there is a strong relationship between socioeconomic status and command of these language rules. Those coming from a disadvantaged group or a different culture may use language in very different ways. And so, by not having access to dominant, socially powerful forms of language in their everyday life, people from these groups may find it harder to be successful; they can’t follow the rules because they haven’t been shown them.
By bringing the hidden rules of successful writing to the surface, teachers enact a ‘visible pedagogy’, in which, as David Rose states, there is ‘a strong focus on the explicit transmission of knowledge about language with the aim of empowering otherwise disenfranchised groups.’
For English language teachers and those concerned with academic literacy, implementing visible pedagogy can help all students to successfully produce the written texts they need in their daily, professional and academic lives. By using model texts and explicitly teaching how such texts are constructed, teachers can support their students by providing access to language, and the knowledge constructed through that language, which may otherwise be out of reach.
Exploiting the text: a four-stage process
That’s why writing instruction should always be based on a model text. But how to go about it? In my Academic English classes, I use a four-stage process to help ensure all of my students have the same access to the understandings of language and text that they need to successfully complete their studies.
Click to explore the four stages:
Finally, once you’ve discovered, or created, an engaging model text, keep coming back to it. Since you’ve invested in building students’ knowledge of the text’s field, it’s a great resource to return to again and again in order to remind students of the key structural and languages features which, if included in their texts, will help them achieve academic success.
Come into my classroom!
See a detailed example of how I break down a model text in this recorded webinar. I use a factual report called ‘Sea Bear of the North’, which would be appropriate for students at the level of Navitas Academic English 1 (IELTS 4.5 / CEFR B1).
Richard Ingold specialises in teaching English for Academic Purposes, and writes about language, linguistics and teaching English. While teaching Academic English with Navitas for over 10 years, he has been an IELTS Examiner and is currently the English Australia Journal Reviews Editor. Connect via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or his website.