Category Archives: English Language Learners


Chrissine Cairns, MA, Writing Center Tutor

The Kaplan University Writing Center (now Purdue University Global Writing Center) is a dynamic and inclusive tutoring center staffed by experts in college writing, online writing instruction, and the delivery of personalized and multimodal tutoring services, webinars, and resources for adult students online.  Housed in the Academic Support Center on KU Campus, the Writing Center is accessible to every student taking courses at KU, undergraduate and graduate.  In 2014, the Writing Center celebrated its 10th anniversary, and today the Writing Center continues its mission as a free, academic support service for KU’s diverse online students writing across the curriculum and the globe.

When the Writing Center first opened, it established itself with a website, a Q&A chat, and a paper review service.  At that time, students and tutors communicated only in writing and with printable resources.  Then in 2008, equipped with its first full-time director and staff of professional writing tutors, the center had the potential to experiment with new educational technologies, audio and video tools, and reach more students with more personalized support.

I was one of those original tutors and the founder of the English Language Learner Tutoring and Outreach Program, one of two innovative Writing Center programs developed for students struggling with the basics of writing and standard English in the text-based online learning environment.  Together, the ELL Tutoring and Outreach Program and the Writing Fundamentals Program introduced the following specialized services and resources to the Writing Center’s traditional offerings:

  • Email outreach with a video welcome to the Writing Center,
  • One-on-one tutoring in an audio-enabled, Adobe Connect tutoring room,
  • Interactive writing workshops on college writing, grammar, and plagiarism prevention,
  • Video and written feedback on paper reviews with a 24-hour turnaround time,
  • Video tutorials on college writing and grammar topics, and
  • Faculty resources and referral initiatives.

Nine years later, these services and resources are the cornerstones of Writing Center support with improved access for ELL and Writing Fundamentals students and expanded access to all students.

In 2016, self-referral web forms were added to the Writing Center’s ELL and Writing Fundamentals webpages that connect students with a tutor and personalized video feedback within 24 hours if not immediately.  Time is one thing busy, adult students online do not have to spare, and the chance to help any one student may happen only once and in an instant, so ELL and Writing Fundamentals students no longer have to be referred by an instructor to receive video feedback.  ELL students had the additional obstacle of first having to self-identity as ELL to an instructor to be referred.  Today, every student who submits a paper for review receives personalized video feedback.

Today, not one or two but all 13 Writing Center tutors are trained and experienced to tutor ELL and Writing Fundamentals.  ELL and Writing Fundamentals students do not have to wait for an appointed time to work with one or two specialized tutors.  Over the past several years, all tutoring services, outreach, and resources in the Writing Center have been recreated to be inclusive and more accessible.  They are designed with the experience and expectation that students arrive to the center at various points in their degree or career path and bring with them unique educational backgrounds and diverse cultural and linguistic histories.

Today, with streamlined outreach that connects ELL and Fundamentals students with tutors more quickly and the innovative integration of the original specialty services with the center’s traditionally offerings, the Writing Center has bridged gaps on many students’ paths to learning success.  With all-student access to more tutors, more live tutoring hours, over 500 media-rich writing guides and archived webinars, and new study skills videos, the Writing Center is entering its next phase of growth as a far-reaching, versatile, and inclusive tutoring hub that provides substantive and personalized academic support to all students with the motto, “Every encounter matters.”  Visit the Writing Center by logging into KU Campus, or check out the Writing Center’s public-facing website at today.


ELL: We’ve made it simple.

Kyle Harley, Purdue University Global Writing Center Tutor


Copy of Copy of shutterstock_174812276With the very recent change and continued success of our Writing Fundamentals program here at the university, our English Language Learner’s program required a bit of a face-lift. After meeting with prior heads of the ELL program, we all came to the conclusion that, well, we are a bit in the past. The success of the program in years gone by cannot be ignored, of course. The folks who headed such a massive project deserve all the credit in the world and then some. That said, though, it was our collective effort to mainstream the project to adhere to what we strive for most in the Writing Center: a streamlined, simple experience geared toward student success. Much like the model that we currently employ in the Fundamentals program, the process for ELL submissions, for professor or student alike, will now be easier than ever.

In the near future, I, along with the rest of the Writing Center staff, will begin training to better assist our ELL students in the coming months. Our ELL referral process will now mimic the submission process of our Paper Review service that thousands of students currently take advantage of. Students and professors will soon be able to attach the draft to a JotForm, which is the standard we use in Paper Review, submit the draft with their detailed concerns, and receive assistance via a thorough review and an invitation into Live Tutoring to better acclimate students with our services. Our goal with all of our students revolves around exposure. Sometimes we must “walk” them into the tutoring service to initiate the continued interaction. This, now, does not change for any of our students. Each and every one of our tutors, even before we begin specialized training, can easily assist our ELL students at this very moment, but we want to extend our reach further.

To accomplish this, we really just wanted to make the process simple. Long gone are the confusing e-mails back and forth between student and tutor. To put this into perspective, imagine having to type a detailed e-mail back to another individual in another language—better yet, one that you are currently struggling with. As a student, how simple does that sound? From my neck of the woods, that sounds like a pure nightmare, and I am mentioning all of this in my native language, even simpler on my end. Our response, after viewing both the pros and cons of our old system, resulted in trimming the excess from the program. Each student will still receive just as much assistance as before. In fact, because of how the program is designed, the student will receive more help than ever before. Our new, simplified workflow allows for ELL students to benefit in a variety of different ways:

  • First, the student or professor submits the work via a very familiar form already employed in Paper Review. Because of the way the site will be designed, the form can not be submitted unless a sample of the writing is uploaded.
  • Next, the student will receive a detailed review of his or her work, accompanied with a video discussing the issues within the draft; again, this is very similar to our current Paper Review process.
  • After receiving their review, students will also receive an extended invitation to Live Tutoring to better acclimate themselves with the pre-existing services.
  • After the initial meeting with the tutor, the student will then be encouraged to return to Live Tutoring whenever he or she seeks writing assistance.

Because of this impending change, I genuinely encourage professors to take advantage of this service once it goes live. Please check our English Language Learners page for this incredibly exciting change. If the success of our streamlined Fundamentals program foreshadows what will come from this ELL transformation, I only suspect that our retention rates across the university will increase drastically for these fantastic students. They certainly deserve the elevated and specialized attention.



The Forget Kale or Chipotle Peppers-the Best Way to Learn English Quickly is Reading Method

By Jay Busse, Kaplan University Writing Center

My ELL students frequently ask, “What is the fastest way to learn English?” I believe that, for ELL college students, the number one way to improve English is through reading. What does that have to do with the latest superfood?


© 2014 Jupiterimages

Maybe you remember when pesto was trendy, or sun-dried tomatoes or chipotle peppers. The “in” food now seems to be kale. Whether it is kale chips or kale pizza, the green leaf is finding its way into everything! What does this have to do with reading? Reading should be touted as the hot, new “in” way to improve your English.

As I said, my ELLs frequently ask, “What is the fastest way to learn English?” First, I remind them that instead of concentrating on English in general, they should focus on the individual aspects, which are reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Reading will help ELLs improve in each of these categories.

Reading benefits your writing. When reading, you are exposed to different styles of writers. You are exposed to different writing styles (persuasive, narrative, expository, technical, and descriptive) new vocabulary and grammatical structures. The more you read, the more influenced you become. These influences become blended with your own style to create your own unique voice. Some of my students occasionally struggle with transitions, introductions and conclusions. Reading how others have tackled these tasks will give students some ideas of their own.

Man Reading

© 2014 Jupiterimages

To improve listening, students are frequently steered towards listening to song lyrics or watching television. To improve speaking, a common suggestion is to find a native English-speaking friend. Reading helps your speaking and listening in similar ways. Because you are exposed to more vocabulary, reading provides you with greater flexibility in your interpersonal communication. Additionally, you can practice one of the most important communicative strategies-using context. Even more than a dictionary, context is the most common way to identify the meaning of new words. Reading is fantastic practice for this important learning tactic. You have the extra advantage of having an entire paragraph, page or story to help you understand the application of the unknown word.

When speaking, it can be a bit awkward to ask people to frequently repeat themselves. With written texts, you have the luxury of simply rereading the passage as many times as you like. Additionally, reading aloud helps you to visually and aurally identify exactly how sounds, syllables, words, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs fit together. When you read aloud, you can listen to the expression of your voice, the rate prosody and intonation. These attributes are indispensible in effective speaking and listening. Using that same friend to correspond with is a good way to improve writing, for sure.

Although sometimes overlooked, reading will never go out of vogue if you want to improve your grammar, spelling, vocabulary, pronunciation, listening comprehension, and overall writing.

What Every Instructor Should Know about Providing Feedback on Writing

(c) 2014 Jupiterimages

(c) 2014 Jupiterimages

By Chrissine Rios, KUWC ELL Support

Instructors teaching Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) know that writing and learning go together—writing is a method for acquiring content, and providing feedback on the writer’s purpose, ideas, and use of information helps students think more critically and write more substantively about the subject matter.

Yet sentence grammar and making meaning also go hand-in-hand, so feedback on sentence-level concerns also helps cultivate strong academic writers. English Language Learners, especially, need feedback that improves their command over the English language, and this means WAC instructors should be versed in sentence fundamentals, beginning with English word order.

English has a fixed, Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order.  

In a sentence, the subject comes first, the verb second, and if the sentence uses a transitive (action) verb, an object receives the action of the verb and completes the thought.


  • Astronomers discovered a new planet.
  • Children should not watch violence on television.
  • Bears hibernate.

Subjects can be nouns, noun phrases, infinitives, or gerunds:


Providing feedback on sentences with missing subjects and verbs:

A sentence without a subject or verb is often labeled a fragment and treated like a punctuation error whereas connecting the rogue phrase to the sentence before or after it will solve the problem. Unfortunately, all incomplete sentences aren’t as easily labeled or fixed as illustrated by these examples from an ELL graduate student paper:

  • During the first two weeks lost of Davis to the team.
  • With an expectation of having a project to be completed in eight weeks that normally would be longer.  
  • Jones under a time restraint of eight weeks, and low budget to accomplished product.

First, before commenting on any sentence, determine if it’s a pattern of error. Does it happen three or more times? If not, your feedback may not be needed. After a student has learned a new concept or strategy, it takes practice to make it a habit, let alone master it; meanwhile, mistakes happen. Pointing them out can deflate the student’s confidence and prevent further risk taking as trying something new, even if it’s the right way to do it, feels awkward and unnatural.

If it is a pattern of error, pick a representative sample and comment in the margin with the purpose of encouraging, instructing, and modeling a correction.

A sample comment might go something like this:

Writers use prepositional phrases to add details to a sentence as you have with “in eight weeks,” so you are on the right track with your details. However, prepositional phrases need to be attached to a main clause that has a subject and verb for the sentence to be complete and so readers know whom or what the sentence is about and what is happening.

Every sentence should therefore begin with a precise subject (usually a noun or noun phrase) and conjugated verb. 

Based on the details you have provided in the prepositional phrases throughout this passage, you are writing about an “expectation” for how long a project will take to complete, so as you revise, you may want to use “the expectation” or “the project” as the subject for the sentence.

Possible revisions [“modeling a correction” using the student’s wording as much as possible]:

  • The expectation was to have the project completed in ten weeks, although it normally takes longer.
  • The project was expected to take ten weeks to complete, although it would normally have taken longer.
  • The project should have taken longer than ten weeks to complete.

Notice that in each revision option, the sentence begins with a subject and a conjugated verb. As you revise, please double check that every sentence in your paper has a clearly stated subject and verb because missing sentence subjects and verbs make it hard for readers to understand what you mean. Please let me know if you have questions about these writing concepts. The Writing Center also has resources and tutors to help you with subjects and verbs.

In the next comment, more instruction could be given on verbs, as another pattern in this student’s paper is a mash-up of different verb forms, but in all, the comments would target no more than two or three issues. For a review of verb forms, click here, and feel free to share the resource with your students.

Although instructors do not need to become grammar experts to teach writing across the curriculum, feedback that targets specific writing and grammar concepts is more effective than a referral to the Writing Center for general “grammar help,” which can be ominous. Grammar is a large system of structures and concepts. If you aren’t sure what the specific problem is or how to articulate it, or if the issues are many, the subject and verb are good places to begin.

Here Are Some Methods Helping English Language Learners Avoid Plagiarism

Photo: Chrissine Rios/Scotland Cairns Flickr stream, Creative Common License

Photo: Chrissine Rios Flickr stream:

Sometimes instructors and tutors miss the mark when teaching students how to avoid plagiarism.  With a TurnItIn® report as evidence of the offense, plagiarism is treated as a matter of ignorance–of citation rules, the plagiarism policy, or the 80/20 principal, and for some students, some of the time, an overview of these conventions is all it takes for the students to apply the lessons in their revisions and get on track.

However, plagiarism can also be the unintentional result of faulty paraphrasing, and for many students, learning to paraphrase is more complex than simply putting text in their own words.  Assimilating a text takes strong reading skills, comprehension of the subject matter, an academic vocabulary, and time.   If one of these elements is missing, faulty paraphrasing will result.

English Language Learners, most of all, need time and help with their textual analysis in order to write about their research without unintentionally plagiarizing.

When English Language Learners haven’t had enough time to read and comprehend their research, especially when they are reading at more than one level higher than their own reading level, they may “[search] for written materials to find language adequate to express their ideas” (Hu, 2001 as cited in McDonnell, 2009, p. 6).  They will then string together the phrasing of multiple sources (mosaic plagiarism) or copy sentences directly and replace the words they can with their own (patchwriting) in order to “merge their voice with that of others” (Lankamp, 2009, p. 1).   The intent is not to cheat but to put forth the words that best convey what they think.

Helping ELLs and all students craft original sentences in response to a text therefore begins with helping them understand the text. Methods that work include:

  • During-reading strategies such as annotation and graphic organizers
  • During-research, one-on-one conferences: instructor-student, tutor-student, or peer-peer
  • During-research, small-group peer workshops

Each of these methods helps increase reading comprehension and build an academic vocabulary.

Providing students a course-content, academic vocabulary list with definitions or having students search for the definitions as part of an assignment will also better position English Language Learners for assimilating their research texts and introduce ELL students to collocations that they wouldn’t understand or know how to use without first seeing them modeled.  With this, an excellent blog post to share with graduate ELL students is 70 Useful Sentences for Academic Writing.  

Most importantly, when that TurnItIn® report identifies mosaic plagiarism or patchwriting, let that be an indication that this is likely unintentional plagiarism and remediation should begin further back in the writing process than with editing for compliance with APA guidelines.  Instead, the student would benefit from discussing the source texts and practicing paraphrasing in a peer group familiar with the subject matter as well as with a writing tutor.

Also, if revision is an option, some allowances should be made for the students’ authentic language abilities, keeping in mind that native speakers also began writing with simple sentences and small vocabularies, and only through more reading and more writing do writers acquire more sophisticated styles and advanced methods for avoiding plagiarism.


Lankamp, R. (2009). ESL student plagiarism: Ignorance of the rules or authorial identify problem? Journal of Education and Human Development, 3(1), 1. Retrieved from

McDonnell, K. E. (2003). Academic plagiarism rules and ESL learning—mutually exclusive concepts? Retrieved from

By Chrissine Rios, Kaplan University Writing Center

Why Crafting a Thesis is Cultural


By Chrissine Rios, KUWC Writing Tutor

Thesis-support essay organization is standard in academic writing, yet it doesn’t come naturally to all students. Essay organization reflects the way we organize thoughts, and how we think is cultural.  For English Language Learner students who are not only learning another language but also the ways of a new culture, academic essay writing will challenge their acculturation.

Hispanic students, for example, especially those who speak Spanish at home and in their communities, may resist the idea of being so direct in their writing. In Hispanic composition, all perspectives are given before any final conclusion is drawn, and even then, presenting a final or singular point from the many is not the goal of communication.

This chart, created by American linguist, Robert B. Kaplan, illustrates the various ways different cultures organize thought and how one’s culture thus affects an ELL student’s approach to organizing ideas in writing:

(Kaplan, 1966)

(Kaplan, 1966)

The chart also helps explain why it can be difficult to find the main idea or thesis in a nonnative speaker’s essay.  It may be at the end of the paper, or it may never be given, or the writer may seem to go off on a tangent in the middle, which also violates the logically organized, thesis-support structure of the American, college essay.

ELL students thus have many questions about essay organization.  Here are some tips to address those questions:

  • Invite students to discuss how they would organize a paper in their first language and compare and contrast that to the expectations of their KU assignments.
  • Provide ELL students a sample outline to illustrate how their paper should be organized.
  • Provide students the opportunity to submit rough drafts or outlines for review or allow them time to conduct peer reviews or submit drafts to the Writing Center for review.

When ELL students become aware of the American academic style and how it contrasts to their first language, they will be less likely to translate (Kaplan, 1999) by writing first in their native language then translating the words and sentences but leaving the original organization (and confounding readers).

It may sound funny to refer to an academic paper as being American style, but the linear approach to organization that we use in English is just a style–it’s cultural, not universal.  Being aware of cultural influences of thought and writing will help you be proactive about supporting your ELL students and creating a learning environment that fosters respect for all cultures.


Kaplan, R. B. (1966) Cultural thought patterns in inter-cultural education. Language Learning, 16 (1), 1-20.

Kaplan, R. B. (1999, Feb. 19).  Report on Teleconference with Egypt.  Retrieved from

To Build Confident ELL Writers, Focus on Strengths

Photo used in accordance with a subscription service from (c) 2013 Jupiterimages. All Rights Reserved

Photo: (c) 2013 Jupiterimages

One of my new graduate students in the English Language Learner (ELL) Tutoring and Outreach Program forwarded an email to me from her professor to show that she was given three extra days to revise her project and to work with an ELL tutor.  Since I approach writing as a process, and for most students, revision is a learned not intuitive part of that process, I’m always happy about more time for revision. 

New ELL students often lack confidence as much as any writing or language skill, so I begin tutoring at any stage of the writing process with a focus on the student’s perceived strengths: “Where do you feel most confident in writing? What do you know you are already doing right?”

My philosophy is that a writer’s strengths provide firm footing for the next steps:  setting goals for bolstering those strengths and framing our work on the new or weak areas within those goals in order to transfer the writer’s previous knowledge and confidence to learning new concepts and tackling the trouble spots.

However, my new student’s professor also gave a very specific instruction—and this is the line of the email where my eyes fixated and glazed over: “Use the extra time to revise your paper using correct English.” Oh boy! I thought. Why not ask my preschooler to practice riding his new bike for three more days then take his training wheels off and ride like Lance Armstrong?   Learning English takes time, and more than that, only some of what is learned can be taught whereas other elements of English require acquisition through immersion and lots of practice in every day life, more than what the practice provided in one writing assignment can provide.

I’ve developed a resource titled, “Practical Ways to Improve Your Fluency in English” to help my students with this.  I’m also working on a presentation for faculty with my colleague, Millie Stoff, also an ELL Tutor in the KUWC, on realistic expectations for our English Language Learners and how we can help.

So what did I do? How did I help my student revise her paper using correct English in three days? I started by focusing on her strengths. We had some confidence rebuilding to do. 

By Chrissine Rios