In my last blog post, I share my experiences of my second week on an eight-week pre-sessional course. However, in today’s blog post, I will be sharing week three of the online course and what things I covered during the week.

The pressure has now hit home with many of the students. They realise that they actually need to do some work and submit an annotated bibliography and sentence outline, in order to prepare for their essays. The previous Friday, I shared Essay Titles with my students and told them to consider a relevant essay title which connects to their subject of academic study. The majority of my students are going to be studying a business-related post-graduate degree from September, so the majority of the students chose similar essays. There was some emailing and responding to student queries in relation to their essays, with much of the catch-up sessions via Zoom explaining the expectation with an annotated bibliography and sentence outline.

If you are unsure what an annotated bibliography is, it is essentially where students try to find suitable academic articles or sources to include within their essays. Students summarise the key points in the academic article, try to justify how the article can be incorporated within their essay and consider any limitations. The word count for the annotated bibliography is set at 500 words, with a minimum of 5 sources included – so it is not too onerous. The sentence outline that students submit, provide a summary of how the essay will be structured – introduction, main body and conclusion. It is a basic outline but provides students with the ability to construct an academic essay and is an important process when drafting the essay. After providing students with key expectations and providing a model format, they just over a week to complete their annotated bibliography and sentence outline. Feedback will be provided the following week which would help them write their draft essay. An email was also sent out to ensure that key expectations, written models attached and a reminder of deadlines. I did not want any students to be confused and reiterating what I mentioned verbally via email is the best way to remind students.

Also during Week 3, there was the post lecture seminar discussion on William Shakespeare. This was a pre-recorded lecture from last year and it was great to see this lecture again. I organised a few activities related to the lecture to prompt learners to discuss in their breakout rooms. I even used the Poll function in Zoom to see how many students had watched or read a Shakespeare play. I have now started to place the stronger students into separate breakout rooms so that they are able to manage the discussion and encourage the weaker students to contribute to discussions. I have also started to notice that the weaker students (with their spoken accuracy), are gaining the confidence to contribute. What I am tending to do now is enter the breakout rooms, with my webcam off and microphone muted, making notes of good spoken English and possible areas to improve upon and start to include feedback at the end of the catch-up session. I have also noticed that some of the students end their answers/contribution with their speaking to either myself or other students by declaring: “I have finished. Thank you.” It seems a little odd – but perhaps perfectly acceptable in their L1 – but it does not encourage interaction by halting any feedback or questioning. I may consider giving all learners feedback about this and spin it so that students can encourage other responses by using different phrasing.

Also during the week, on Wednesday and Thursday, I had individual tutorials with students to help provide support with their annotated bibliography and sentence outline. I have now started to notice the more enthusiastic students who have already researched possible academic articles to include with their essays and had a draft to share with me. I explained to all students at the start of the week that I wanted them to share with me their annotated bibliography and sentence outline via email before the tutorial or through Zoom live during the tutorial. The majority of the students had a draft ready to share with me and I was able to provide some feedback on their drafts. For those very few students who had left their contribution too late, I explained that I was unable to provide any feedback as there was nothing to review. However, I explained expectations and engagement with the online materials are vital to develop the skills necessary to write a suitable academic essay. I shall see how things are once students submit their essays. Also, for those that needed the little encouragement, I suggested, as there was one more individual tutorial before the submission deadline, that they share their drafts via email or through Zoom the following week.

Towards the end of the week, students had a listening assessment practice to complete. This was in preparation for the actual listening test for Week 5 and students were able to review and redo the test. It actually made sense for students to practise their listening test, so they are aware of the format prior to the actual test in a few week’s time. On Friday, their practice reading preparation was released, so over the weekend – on top of their annotated bibliography and sentence outline – students had to read an academic article, makes notes on it and summarise some ideas before undertaking a practice reading test on Monday. Again, the practice reading test will help guide students towards format and expectations. They will also be able to reflect on best practice. The final Zoom catch-up session that I had on Friday focused on the practice listening test and I encouraged students to share best practice with each other. I even used the whiteboard to make notes – a first for me as the whiteboard has been barely used.

It was a busy week and there is no let up next week. I have found myself having to encourage the less-motivated students to engage with the course, complete tasks and put in the expected self-study hours for the course. The majority of students who have put in the work are now making fabulous progress and it is wonderful to see how much they have evolved since the beginning of the course. Thanks for reading and again, I shall share Week 4 soon.