My Favorite Response to Second Language Writers

We’ve been learning a lot in class and in our readings about Non-Native Speaking students and how they all have different needs regarding compositional know-how. Their needs can be influenced by their educational history, their exposure to the English language and American writing practices, and even by their current academic goals and situations. Because of all these variables, I would say that the best way to respond to a second language writer is to try and discern what their specific needs are. Try to discern what they are most confused about, or most off-base from.

A NNS writer may come to a session wanting to focus on the grammar of their rhetorical analysis essay, but that may only be because they were unaware that they didn’t actually know how to conduct a rhetorical analysis essay. I think that as tutors, it’s our responsibility to inform the writer when they are missing something, especially when it’s something that could have a big impact on their grade. With the assumption that any student writer could have missed something, in a tutoring session I usually like to go through the writer’s whole draft or discuss with them the process they went through when writing it as well as what their understanding of the assignment is. Talking to the writer about their process and understanding as well as looking at the whole paper have been the two most effective methods that I’ve discovered for assessing a writer’s greatest needs.

Once the most pressing needs are discovered, I try to teach the writer to do the things that need to be done by themselves rather than just give them steps to complete the work that needs to be done. If I did that, they would only be able to blindly fix their paper. If I can give them the reasoning behind what they need to do though, they can become more informed and connected to American rhetorical conventions and the English language, and hopefully learn to become stand-alone compositional masters.

I suppose that these methods can apply to any student writer, NNS or NES, but I think they apply to NNSs in particular. In my limited experience, it seems that NNSs often have more underlying conflicts with comprehension than NESs. I find myself teaching more NNSs than NESs about the uses of an Introduction, the rhetorical value of in-text citations, and really just the rhetorical strategies in general that should be used within the piece they’re working on. I think that these methods are effective for any student writer, but are most needed with non-native speakers of English, who have likely received less education on and experience with American compositional strategies and norms than native English speakers.


  1. Kamila, NSU10:53 AM

    Hi Evan,

    Nice post. Talking to a writer about their process is a great way to get to the heart of a student's writing concerns, and it moves beyond what the student *thinks* a session should cover.

    I think this is a great strategy for individual student sessions, but I've had some difficulty applying this to group sessions (particularly groups of 3 where there is one NNS student.)

    In my program, I meet with a class' workshop groups 4 times throughout the semester. Sometimes I worry that NNS students don't get as much out of these sessions because we simply don't have the time to cover their individual, underlying concerns. To boot, although they have the option to meet with me individually, they rarely do. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Kamila!

      That's so cool that you meet in a group setting like that, I've never taken that opportunity. Good for you!

      Since I don't have any group experience, my only suggestion stems from my experience with one-on-one group work. I would suggest talking with the NNS student after class, and expressing the need you see in that student to meet with you one-on-one, as a supplement to the type of group work you guys do together. I guess need isn't the most appropriate word, I guess you could explain to them what you think they could get out of additional one-on-one time with you, how you could see that it might benefit them and their writing. That might show them the good things that could come from it.

      Anyways good luck! Let me know how it goes!


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