Some of the concepts in academic writing that we, teachers, are used to, may be difficult for English language learners to grasp. Using analogies and metaphors is a great way to explain difficult terms related to writing. When I was a student in an intensive English program several years ago, my writing teacher used visual metaphors to help us understand how to better develop our writing skills. So let me share a few of them.
This is a pretty straightforward one. By looking at a skeleton—a human being or an animal—we can see the frame of the body and visually imagine the shape of the real organism. The same applies to outlines. An outline shows the structure of an essay, so that the writer can clearly see how to develop it into a more substantial piece. The outline (if well written) also shows the relationship between ideas and themes in the essay, which helps the writer organize them in a logical and coherent manner.
“Bodybuilder” (Supporting Details)
No matter how strong a skeleton is, it’s not a real body, and it won’t live without skin, muscles, blood, and organs. The same principle applies to writing. The outline—regardless of how well it’s developed and organized—needs some “meat” to become a real “body” that lives and breathes. And this is, of course, why we need supporting details. The types of supporting details certainly depend on the writing genre, the topic, the audience, and the author’s individual approach and stance. But normally, teachers introduce the following types of supporting details: facts, statistics, testimonies of authorities, and anecdotes. And once again, the outline will help the writer organize these supporting details in the way that they make sense and fulfill the purpose of the essay.
“Cupcake With Mayonnaise Topping” (Paragraph Unity)
If you are like me, you probably don’t enjoy eating your desserts with mayonnaise, ketchup, or mustard. In fact, I’ve never even tried! To me, mayonnaise does not match well with a sweet pie or cake—they ought to have some sweet topping instead of BBQ sauce or mustard. In other words, these condiments that we enjoy so much with savory food do not belong to desserts! This metaphor helps students understand the concept of paragraph unity. When students work on their essays, they need to keep in mind that supporting details in a paragraph form a unified and coherent component of their paper (“cupcake”). So if any sentence does not support, clarify, or explain the main theme of the paragraph, it should probably be taken out because it is “mayonnaise on your cupcake.”
Although these examples are probably a bit silly, they surely helped me understand and apply the terms of academic writing addressed above, so I hope that they also clarify these concepts for your students.
I’d be curious to know what examples, metaphors, or analogies you use to explain difficult ideas to your students.