By Karen Christie, Ph.D.
Department of Cultural and Creative Studies
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology
Extended "discourse," such as class presentations or essays written as school assignments, has a particular structure arising from particular expectations and standards. Such structure, expectations, and standards vary across languages and modes. For example, the organization of information to be communicated through written English essays differs from spoken English presentations, presentations in American Sign Language (ASL), and essays written in French or Chinese.
Research has indicated that deaf students may not be fully aware of the audience expectations, cultural conventions, or standards by which their essay writing is judged. Like many nonnative users of English, deaf students may create essays which are viewed as having weak organization and a lack of flow. Specifically, one researcher has noted that the conventions for opening and closing academic essays differ significantly across various language groups, and difficulties are evident in these areas when non-natives begin composing essays in English (Kaplan, 1966).
This module focuses on two aspects of the development of a basic essay: the introductory and concluding paragraphs. It describes academic conventions and expectations in writing introductions and conclusions. The goal is to clarify the cultural conventions-audience expectations and the expectations of teachers-that must be demonstrated in order to be a successful writer.
The module also briefly delineates the writing of the thesis statement, the statement that includes the main point of the essay. Although thesis statements can be implied and can appear truly anywhere in an essay, it is suggested that basic writers begin with a directly stated thesis statement which appears in the introduction. As students become more experienced with writing and the purpose of thesis statements, they may demonstrate skill in communicating implied thesis statements or in incorporating thesis statements in the body of their essays.
In the Research Findings and Implications section of this module, a summary of studies which have addressed the above-mentioned aspects of essay writing is provided. In addition, the module offers Guided Practice in developing introductions and conclusions for various essay topics. Lastly, Action Steps are included which teachers can employ to support their students' learning of the cultural conventions of basic essay structure.
1. Strings of communication, whether spoken, written, or signed, have basic rules for being used and understood. These rules are sociocultural conventions which establish expectations and provide structure for the information being communicated.
2. In addition to restricted access to linguistic features of English, Deaf students, like nonnative users of English, lack access to the cultural conventions for organizing their writing. This becomes particularly evident when one looks at their writing for academic purposes.
3. For some deaf students who have acquired ASL as a native language or primary language, these students may bring to the task of writing a different set of expectations for organization of information than what is expected for writing in an academic setting.
4. While deaf students tend to have a basic awareness of introductory and concluding paragraphs as part of the development of a basic essay, they frequently feel at a loss for any strategies helpful for creating openings and closings in written English.
5. Instruction in which students are given examples to analyze various approaches to writing introductory and concluding paragraphs, as well as direct teaching of cultural conventions, assists students in developing their essay writing skills.