Power and the Wave: Scaffolding students’ academic writing

One of the big innovations of the Academic English 1 course taught at Navitas is the way it draws on the latest research in the sociology of education, Legitimation Code Theory, and linguistics, Systemic Functional Linguistics, to provide students with an accessible and versatile scaffolding for their academic writing. The key here is the image of the wave—a ground-breaking way of visualising how ideas and language interact within well-written, well-structured and high-achieving academic texts. On top of this innovative teaching tool, the course provides students and teachers with an approachable and memorable shared language for describing highly valued academic language—Power Words and Power Grammar. And importantly, the course explicitly teaches students to weave these words into a paragraph to create an effective piece of writing.

But before we look more closely at these teaching tools, let’s start with some simple questions:

  • What do Academic English students have to demonstrate in their paragraphs to receive high marks?
  • What kind of ideas should they express and in what order?
  • What language should they use to clearly express these ideas?

Which would receive the highest marks on an AE course?

Keeping your answers to those questions in your mind, take a look at these two example paragraphs. Which one would you score more highly on an introductory Academic English course? What is it that makes one of these paragraphs better than the other?

It’s easy to see which of those paragraphs is best. The difficulty lies in showing our students why one is better than the other and in getting them to reproduce its structure and language in their own writing. In the following video, I show how the concept of the wave can provide students with a powerful way of visualising the flow of ideas in an effectively written opinion paragraph.

Take a look at these sentences, which form the second paragraph of the example essay on tourism. Can you arrange them so that the ideas they contain flow in a wave from generalisations to specific examples and then back to generalisations? (Some of the language has been changed from the original to make the task a little harder for you!)

Note: You need to drag the sentences to the left of the slide to make them stay in the right place.

So we’ve looked at the way that ideas develop within a paragraph, but what about the language used to express those ideas? In the next video, I look at the inseverable link between generalised, abstract ideas and the language used to convey them— Power Words and Power Grammar.

Using your understanding of the specialised, subject-specific nouns that constitute Power Words and the nominalisations that facilitate Power Grammar, see if you can find the 10 examples of those nouns in the following example paragraph.

Power Words, Power Grammar and the wave—although these terms may seem unfamiliar, and perhaps even daunting at first, what they offer teachers and students is a simple, shared language for talking about good writing. They provide a logical and effective way to make explicit to our students the paragraph structure and language that will be rewarded with high marks, and they act as a powerful scaffold for learning. But don’t just take my word for it:

“I am a fan of the wave structure. I think it is a step up from the typical sandwich structure as it provides more scaffolding to the students in terms of the inner development of a paragraph. If followed, students’ paragraphs are likely to have more Power (i.e., be more formal & academic). In other words, following the wave structure produces a paragraph with clear staging (flow & linking), coherence and appropriate development. It’ll have depth & substance, & not be superficial.”

Kari Qasem, Senior Teacher at Eynesbury College, Adelaide

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