The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 2, September 2001
The Write Path: Basics of Paragraph Writing
Kelly Kennedy-Isern (2001)
Harcourt College Publishers
ISBN 0-15-506519-x (paper)
Reviewed by Sudeepa Gulati
Marymount College, Long Beach City College
Writing in a second language can be the most difficult skill of all because to be able to write effectively, one needs to master the interaction among lexical issues, semantics, syntax, and correct grammar. Ideas must be presented in a clear, coherent manner as the goal of writing is not only to communicate one's thoughts and ideas but also to be read and understood. The nature of this complex task suggests that teaching writing to non-native speakers of English presents a significant challenge to the instructor. The Write Path by Kelly Kennedy-Isern is an ESL writing textbook designed for low-intermediate/intermediate level students which offers students fundamental instruction in writing starting at the sentence level and progressing to paragraph development on a variety of topics.
The book starts with an introduction for teachers that explains how the book is divided as well as the topics of instruction that are covered in each section. The author explains that the sample paragraphs presented in each section were written by ESL students and therefore represent a variety of cultural and national backgrounds. In this way, the students using this textbook will be able to relate closely to the topics and the experiences shared, as well as to benefit from exposure to errors similar to the ones they may make in their own writing. Kennedy-Isern also explains in her introduction that there are students who have some skill in writing paragraphs but that others may need practice in developing basic writing skills. The advantage of using this book is that it addresses the issues faced by both types of students by introducing certain skills and tools needed for effective writing and then providing review and reinforcements for those who need it.
The Write Path consists of twelve lessons that progress from identifying clauses to writing various types of paragraphs including illustration, narration, classification, description, definition, comparison and contrast paragraphs. The title page of each chapter provides a summary of the objectives and skills that will be practiced. In this way, the title pages serve as an easy reference to each chapter for the instructor and the students. Chapters 2,3,4, and 5 focus on sentence structure, prewriting, the elements of a paragraph and techniques for proof-reading, correcting and rewriting. The following chapters focus on specific types of paragraphs.
The chapters in this book are divided into mini-lessons. After each lesson is presented, the students are directed to exercises located at the end of each chapter on several tear-out pages. These exercises can be completed in class with the help of the instructor, individually, in small groups or as homework assignments. There is also an answer key at the end of the book for most of the exercises in the text. The structure of this book offers flexibility to the instructor concerning when to introduce each topic or lesson depending on the needs of the students and how much can be done independently.
This textbook emphasizes many necessary elements of writing a good paragraph such as the topic sentence, transition words and phrases and the conclusion sentence. Each chapter on the different types of paragraphs focuses on these three components to help students develop paragraphs effectively. Since paragraphs vary a great deal depending on the topic, students gain a better understanding of how to employ appropriate phrases in their writing through numerous activities and examples. It is therefore necessary to devote a significant portion of each chapter to the kinds of topic and conclusion sentences and transition words characteristic of the type of paragraph being studied.
The Write Path is an aesthetically appealing text because of its visual layout The focus of each chapter is highlighted on the page in a shaded grey box, thus drawing attention to the important aspects of the lesson. All of the sample paragraphs are accompanied by a picture of the students they were written by to allow students to visualize who they are and where they are from. There are also generous margins and many blank pages to facilitate note-taking.
Overall, The Write Path is an excellent writing textbook that includes a detailed explanation of many useful writing techniques to help ESL students become proficient writers. The authentic examples help students to relate to the topics and writing styles of non-native speakers of English. Another advantage of this book is that it is not only useful in the classroom, but it can also be used for self-study because of the numerous explanations and examples as well as the answer key at the end of the book.
One drawback with this text is that there are only a few explicit grammar lessons presented in the first two chapters of the book. After that, there is a shift in focus to the characteristics of good paragraphs and then the specific types of paragraphs are introduced. For this reason, it may be necessary to supplement intermittently to meet the needs of the students. Although there are numerous opportunities in the sample paragraphs for students to correct errors, at the instructor's discretion, lessons can be introduced to explain some of these errors.