How to teach academic writing in 160 pages or less…


Here’s another thing that I’ve been reluctant to throw out until now…

Twenty years ago I took over coordinating an academic writing course for speakers of English as a second language at the university where I had just been employed.

The academic writing course they had was OK, but it was kind of hard to teach. And because I didn’t know any better I spent all my time rewriting the entire course so that I could teach it.

And then because I didn’t know any better I created a system to make it easy to mark including avoiding plagiarism without high-tech software.

Then I rolled this out to the half dozen or so other tutors who delivered the programme.

I prepared all the lessons. Standardised the delivery. And wrote the exams. Everyone seemed pretty happy and the students figured out how to write university-style essays.

Eventually, I just compiled everything and put it in a book. That turned out to be around 160 pages.

I think it’s still a pretty good course. Anything topical in the examples are now 20 years out of date, but the teaching ideas and structure still works.

I’d probably do things a bit differently if I got the chance to do this over again. Like a one-page poster, for example.

But I think I’m OK posting it here for free for anyone who wants it. If not, I’ll wait for the cease and desist letters.

I’ve taken the name of my former employer off the front.

Mostly, this is my work. It remained unchanged as the course book for at least 5 or 6 years after I left, at which point I lost track of things.

And while it is my work it does draw on a whole bunch of other stuff that others have done. Some of this is referenced. Some of it is not.

If I’ve missed something, sorry. I’m not going back to fix it. I just want to release it into the wild.

If you’re looking for a basic text on how to teach academic writing there are probably lots of good ones out there now.

If not, feel free to use and adapt this one. With or without citations.





How I accidentally became a published writer in 1998 by authoring a book filled with blank pages


Four score and seven years ago in 1998, I became a published author. It was an accident and I didn’t mean to.

The published book was filled with (mostly) blank pages. That’s the cover up above.

I found a copy yesterday because I have this banana box in my office that I’ve been trying to tidy. Like, for years.

Hashtag relatable, right?

It’s a tricky box full of stuff that I find difficult to throw away. It’s all actually crap. But I have a sentimental attachment to some of the crap. Actually, all of it.

But I’m determined to try and live a more minimalistic lifestyle. You know… have less stuff. Be more zen etc.

Aside from meditating and eating Lima beans, one strategy then, it would seem, is to get rid of all the stuff.

This is much harder than it sounds.

For example, at the moment, I can fit everything I need to run my business and do my work in a 35L backpack. And there’s still room for clothes for a couple of days away.

It’s a great bag. It’s a new one. I got it for my birthday.

I also have too many bags. I need a separate closet just for bags.

But what if I wanted to go away for a long time? That’s what I’ve been mulling over. What about all the other dross that has accumulated? What kinds of bags would I need?

More importantly, what about the box of crap that I can’t seem to unload?

A few years back I when I seemed to be moving house every 18 months I realised that I had more than 25 banana and apple boxes full of books on applied linguistics and language teaching and other stuff that I didn’t really care about anymore.

I don’t even know where I got most of the books from. Some of them I bought. But others just seemed to find me. Piles of them.

I think I read one or two. But mainly they made me feel good.

They looked great on the shelves. It’s another dirty little pleasure of mine. Interesting books on bookshelves.

You can tell a lot about someone by the books on their shelves. That’s what we book snobs tell ourselves.

But really, it’s about as accurate as trying to psychoanalyse your friends by reading meaning into the titles of the songs they listen to on Spotify (yes, I’m watching you).

I tried to sell the 25+ boxes of books to the second-hand university bookshop close to my old university. All I wanted was a hundred bucks.

They just laughed at me. And eventually, they had to ask me to leave the premises. The books had no value they said.

So I dried my tears and went back to the department where I used to work and offloaded all of the boxes of books to Carmen the secretary.

They were, of course, very grateful.

No one said anything, not even Carmen who was of course very happy to see me after so many years and who tried to re-recruit me to the academic staff.

It hadn’t been the same since I left, you see.

It’s also possible that many of the books were actually theirs to start with.

Mea culpa.

I was still a student at the same university in the same department when I accidentally became a published writer of the book with blank pages.

No, it wasn’t a diary.

But that must be a similar kind of thing. I mean, if you write diaries for a living and they’re published, then aren’t you a published writer as well?

Diary writer at a party: “Yeah, man… I usually put a book out every year… Last year, though… that was a toughy. Nearly missed the deadline… But you should see what I’m working on for next year…”

Diaries don’t usually have the author’s name on the front, however. So I’m a step above a writer of diaries.

The cause of my accidental publishing was my students. It was, at least, partially their fault.

As an ESOL teacher, I needed ways of filling in time. You know, in the classes.

Sometimes these fillers also had the added benefit of having pedagogical value. That means people learned as a result.

I had stumbled onto the idea of getting my students to do a journal writing exercise every class for 10 minutes.

Hardly original, but it was brilliant. I set the time and patrolled the class. They stopped talking and started writing.

We had some rules. Such as there were no rules. Apart from the rule that there were no rules.

And they could also ignore pesky things like spelling and grammar. Also a kind of non-rule, rule.

The idea was to focus on pure fluency.

If I still had the 25 banana and apple boxes full of second language acquisition theory and research I could probably justify it some way.

But on a purely pragmatic level, it worked beautifully. That’s all I really care about these days. If something works, do I need to know why?

Not only did the journal writing use up at least 20 minutes by the time they had come in, said hello, settled down, got started, written a bunch, done a word count and graphed their output… but it actually improved their writing.

I had the data to prove it.

And then when I was wracking my brains on what to submit for one of my assignments for the degree I was completing, I decided to write up my journal writing activity.

The lecturer liked it so much that she sent it to a national organisation that worked with refugees and migrants. And they liked it so much that they made a few suggestions and published it.

I was so happy. Especially when I received royalty cheques for years after too.

Once I got a cheque for $1.43.

That must have covered the envelope, paper AND the stamp costs.

If you’ve never received a royalty cheque you wouldn’t understand. Even though it cost me around $10 in fuel to get to the bank and back, I loved depositing those royalty cheques.

Happiness can’t last forever though. And a few years ago I asked them to keep the royalties and donate them to a good cause. Namely themselves.

And today I realised that if I scan and post the last remaining copy here, I can get rid of the last remaining paper copy from the banana box of crap on my floor.

There might be one more copy though, slipped deviously into one of those 25 boxes of books off-loaded to Carmen at the university.

Workbook for Learners of English and their Tutors by Graeme Smith





Teach better now – Where’s the new content for Assessment 7 of the NZCALNE (Voc)?

Kia ora and welcome to Collection 7

If you’re reading this then you are up to Assessment 7 in the new and improved NZCALNE (Voc).

That means you are up to the final assessment task in the programme…! This next part is about assessing learner progress, reviewing your teaching and working out the next steps.

As always, you can find this content on Graeme’s blog first. It will be live on Pathways Awarua shortly.

If you do stop by Graeme’s Blog, please comment. Let us know what’s useful and what’s not. Our model is a dynamic one and we’re always tinkering with programme content and assessment tasks where we can. You can help us continue to improve the experience.

There are four sections in Collection 7:

  • 7.1 Just do it: Progress assessment
  • 7.2 What does it mean?
  • 7.3 Collecting some final information
  • 7.4 Reviewing your teaching and next steps

If you find that you already know what you’re doing for a particular part of this collection, then feel free to skip ahead to the next relevant section.

Or start with the assessment template and dip into this material as you need to. Email us if you don’t already have the template and checklist.

Otherwise, work your way through as usual. Here are the links you need to different parts of this collection.

Follow the links below

Here’s the overview for the final collection.

7.1 Just do it: Progress assessment

7.2 What does it mean?

7.3 Collecting some final information

7.4 Reviewing your teaching and next steps

If you’re stuck, please get in touch with us by email here: or by texting or calling Graeme on 0800-ALEC-1-2.

AFTER: What are the reflection and review questions?

You’ll find the reflection and review questions to finish off this part of the programme below. Your answers are your own evaluation of what you’ve done and how effective it was.

  • You can download the questions here in a form that you can print out and write on if you want to take notes. Otherwise, don’t forget that the template is in Assessment module 7.


What went really well for you?

  • The best thing was …
  • One thing that surprised me was …

What would you do differently?

  • Something I’d do differently if I was doing this all over again, is …
  • Also, …

How do you feel you managed the delivery of embedded literacy and numeracy?

  • I think that …

What was it like collaborating with the learners on different things?

  • For the learning plans, I thought that …
  • Another thing was …

What about any collaboration with your supervisor? Any comments there?

  • One thing …

Any comments on your learners’ evaluation of the sessions?

  • They said that …


Are there any key changes or improvements that you will make to your teaching?

  • One change that I’m considering is…
  • I know I need to …

What kind of goals do you think you need to set for your learners from here?

  • Learner A needs to …
  • Learner B needs to …

What are the implications for you now for designing literacy and numeracy teaching and learning?

  • One implication is that …
  • Another thing is …

AFTER: How do I review my teaching and reflect on the next steps?

It’s time for some R&R. For us, that means to review and reflection.

This is the last thing. You have to think about what you’ve done in this programme and reflect on different parts of it. You don’t need to be doing advanced academic qualifications or read a lot of research to be a reflective teacher.

Reflective teaching is simply the process where you think about your teaching practice and analyse how you did. The idea is to look at where you can improve or change what you’re doing to get better learning outcomes.

If you’re like most of the people who do work in foundation education, you are probably reflecting on what you do all the time. In this next part, we want to make this process visible. Once it’s visible you can use it as evidence to finish off the NZCALNE (Voc).

Here’s what we’re going to ask you to do:

Review your teaching

This includes your reflections and thoughts on:

  • What went well.
  • What you’d you do differently.
  • How you managed the delivery
  • Any collaboration with learners and supervisor
  • Any comments on the learners’ evaluation
  • Anything unexpected.

Reflect on what you need to do moving forward

This includes your reflections and thoughts on:

  • Any key changes and improvements you might make.
  • What kind of goals you might set for these learners from here.
  • What the implications are now for designing your teaching and learning.

All we need to do this then is a set of questions for you to think about and answer. These questions are in the final section of your template for Assessment 7. We’ve also given you sentence starters as well to get you going. You can ignore these if you want.

If you know what you’re doing, you can just write up your reflections in the assessment template now. If you need some time to think about them, the questions are listed next.

AFTER: Can you remind me what evaluation evidence I need to supply for the NZCALNE (Voc)?

Let’s pause for a moment and take stock of what you should be collecting as evaluation evidence for Assessment 7 of the NZCALNE (Voc).

You still have to do your own final review, but by now you should have collected two kinds of evaluation evidence.

One lot of evidence is from your learner and takes the form of learner evaluations. The other is comments from your supervisor. There’s a separate checklist for this as discussed.

Here’s it is again below. This checklist is also in the template for Assessment 7:

Checklist of Information supplied as supporting evidence

Learner evaluations

  • These should be scanned or supplied digitally in some way.
  • You should have evaluations for at least two learners.

Supervisor comments

  • These should also be scanned or supplied digitally. We have a template for this as well. You can find it in the Assessment 7 module.

Coming up next is the last piece of work. This is your own final review and a place to reflect on what went well, what you’d you do differently and how you managed the delivery.

AFTER: Why do I have to involve my boss in the evaluation?

Collaborating with your boss or supervisor to review your teaching delivery is one of the requirements of the NZCALNE (Voc). It’s also good teaching practice. We can’t sign off on the whole qualification unless we have some evidence of this.

For our purposes, a supervisor may include any of the following:

  • Your direct manager or programme leader.
  • A colleague that is acting as study support person.
  • Someone in management that has already acted as a verifier for another part of this training and qualification.

What does this evidence need to include?

We need evidence that you and your supervisor have reviewed the teaching and facilitation in the following areas:

  • Your strengths.
  • Any potential improvements for future delivery.
  • Any comments on how this informs planning for your professional development

This review should be a collaboration and conversation. It could include teaching observation evidence, but it doesn’t have to.

What do I have to ask my supervisor to do?

If you’re about to finish off your NZCALNE (Voc), you need to include some feedback from your supervisor. It’s one of the requirements.

The easiest way to involve your supervisor or boss is simple to ask for a few minutes of their time. Hopefully, they already know how you’re doing and where you’re up to. They may have already verified your portfolio evidence for other parts of the course. However, when you get a chance, you need to:

  • Bring them up to date with the latest on your embedded literacy and numeracy project work
  • Discuss the results of your learners’ work, assessments and evaluations.

Then as evidence for this programme, your supervisor will need to summarise their responses in the Supervisor Comments template. You can find the full template in the assessment module for Collection 7.

For now, here is a list of the questions that your supervisor will need to respond to. We’ve provided prompts and sentence starters for your supervisor to use as well, but they can ignore them if they want to. Download the full template in the assessment section for this Collection.

Supervisor review questions and prompts

1. When did you collaborate on this review?

Our conversation took place on…

2. What are their strengths?

One strength is…

Another strength…

3. What are some potential improvements for future delivery?

One possible improvement could be…

Another potential improvement relates to…

4. How does any of this inform planning for the candidate’s professional development?

In terms of future professional development…