In another post, I mention that it’s a good idea to help students notice signal phrases in authentic sources. Of course, it’s always a good idea to go to authentic sources.
Exercises and sample sentences are great for pointing out a structure, but they simply don’t match the way the structures are actually used in most cases.
Signal phrases are a perfect example of this. There are important nuances to the use of signal phrases in academic writing and one effective way I’ve found to teach those is to, first, help students notice them, especially in sources they are using in their own work, and then to discuss with them the different implications of the different structures they find. Below is a sample assignment that I include in my Research Writing for International Students class. This spring it will be offered via internet, so this assignment is in blog form. Students will be able to see other students’ answers and will use those answers to form their own.
Signal Phrases from Your Field Exercise:
Each post of this assignment has two parts: a template and a quote.
The purpose of the assignment is to bring to your attention more complex signal phrases that are used in authentic texts and to make templates of them so you can see how to use them in your own writing. As you look for a good quote to provide, think about why the author used the type of signal phrase he did. If there is a lot of biographical detail, why? If there is nothing but citation, why? There are subtle nuances to the use of signal phrases.
Using them well is an easy way to quickly raise the sophistication of your writing. In other words, do this and your professors and advisers will be impressed!
The first part of your post, your template, should use the quote from the student post before yours. Use the quote to make a template for signal phrases. The second part of your post should be a quote from a source in your field that includes signal phrases.
See the sample post. The first student to post should use Student A’s new quote for the first template.
Student A responds to a post by another student that has this quote in it:
“On this point, Alastair Pennycook, Professor of Language in Education and author of The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language wrote in 1996 about his experiences teaching in Hong Kong and the different attitudes toward borrowing others‟ words that he encountered there. He writes in the 1996 article that the idea of ownership of text is a distinctly Western and a distinctly modern invention….”
Student A uses this quote to make the first part of her post (1), a template showing the form of the quote’s signal phrase:
(1) On this point, (Author’s full name), (Author’s Occupational Title) and author of (Author’s Book Title) wrote in (date) about (paraphrase). He writes in the (date) article that (paraphrase).
Then, Student A writes the second part of her post (2), a new quote from her own field, Transportation, so that the next student can use it:
2) The most relevant ones in this category are Viton (1992, 1993) and Colburn and Talley (1992), all of which analysed the long-run cost structure of urban multi-mode transit system in the U.S. …Following Baumol, et al (1982) and Mayo (1984), we use a quadratic cost function.
Do you have some good ideas for teaching the nuances of signal phrases? I’m putting together a presentation on this topic and I’d love to include your suggestions.