Monday, June 2, 2014

Smaller car for the city

Lit Motors car
Last week (23-24 May 2014) the 7th Austrian UAS Language Instructors' Conference took place in Vienna, Austria at the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien. I not only organized the conference, but also presented a workshop on a topic that I focus on often in my lessons and in this blog: Integrating Reading and Writing for ESP Students.

I showed participants how I use a model text in the students' field of study to enhance students' reading skills, and then use the work we've done to relate it to the kind of writing they have to do in their studies.

The text I used was Lit Motors: Super-shrinking the city car from the BBC news website:

This is a text I've used with my robotics engineering and mechanical engineering students to guide them to eventually write a process description. But the work we've done has also helped to sharpen their reading skills.

After students have read the text, I have them find the parts of the article that explain:
  • what the innovation is
  • how it is innovative
  • what it looks like
  • how it works
These are features they would have to include in their own process descriptions.

As part of the description, I have them notice how explanations are made to make the information understandable to a non-technical audience. This is an ability that is useful for them to develop.

Examples of these explanations include:
  • Imagine if you could cut the size of a car in half, ...
  • ...looks like a hi-tech, streamlined egg on two wheels.
  • A spinning disc has a tendency to stay upright, just like a child's spinning top. If you were ever made to hold a spinning bicycle wheel horizontally at school then you will have experienced the physics at work.
  • will legally qualify as a motorcycle, meaning it can split lanes and park in motorcycle specific spaces.
Further work includes noticing features of vocabulary that can be useful in their own technical writing. I give them the following instructions:
  • Highlight words and phrases in the text that indicate change; that is, what the innovation has done.
  • Highlight words and phrases that indicate comparisons; e.g., advantages and disadvantages.
  • This innovation focuses on the idea that the car is snaller than other models. Highlight vocabulary that indicates size.
After we've worked on a number of texts like this (and others that have been posted on this blog), I have a clearer model for students to focus on when they write their own process descriptions. And having students notice content and vocabulary features of a text helps them to develop their reading skills in English.

These advantages make such texts very useful for ESP studies - in addition to providing interesting input for class dicussions about the innovation.

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