Thursday, January 31, 2013


Lawyers are no strangers to acronyms and abbreviations. However, for those of us teaching U.S. legal writing to international students, knowing also a few acronyms related to English language learning couldn't hurt.

Here are a few you might run across:

  • EFL = English as a Foreign Language (studying English in a non-English-speaking country)
  • ESL = English as a Second Language (studying English as a non-native speaker in a country where English is spoken)
  • L1 = "Language 1" = the student's native (primary or first acquired) language
  • L2 = "Language 2" = the language being learned or studied
  • TESOL = Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (also the name of an association, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.)
  • TOEFL = Test of English as a Foreign Language
  • NNS = Non-Native Speaker
  • NS = Native Speaker
  • ESP = English for Specific Purposes / English for Special Purposes
  • EAP = English for Academic Purposes
  • IEP = Intensive English program
For additional examples, see this website:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Taking it down: Notetaking practices of L1 and L2 students

I just came across this article from 1995 by Rosemary Clerehan in English for Specific Purposes. Clerehan studied the notetaking practices of native English speakers (L1) and non-native English speakers (L2) in a Commercial Law lecture in Australia. She mapped the hierarchical discourse structure of the lecture into three levels: level 1 - exposition headings; level 2 - propositions relating to the headings; and level 3 - legal case examples.

After the lecture, the L1 and L2 students' notes were checked to see how many of the hierarchically ordered topics were included and how many were missed. As compared with the L1 students, the L2 group was found to be "at a huge disadvantage, given the fact that they [did] not adequately record 19% of level 1, 43% of level 2 and 43% of level 3 elements."

What does this mean for those of us teaching international students? Well, a previous study looked at the effect of discourse markers on L2 comprehension of lectures and found that the use of "macro" markers, which signal the lecture's direction and sequencing or significance of information, facilitates greater recall. Thus, Clerehan suggests that signalling the overall structure and interrelationships of elements is important for L2 listeners.

She says:

We may infer from the large number of L2 omissions in the current corpus that many L2 students are missing the rhetorical/logical structure of the discourse. The structure serves to develop the legal arguments, based on the underlying rules of law as they emerge from the findings of the courts (levels 1 and 2). The arguments are driven by the relevant material facts of the cases (level 3) [citation omitted]. For these students, once one element of a sequence in the lecture is missed in the notes, whether it be level 1, 2 or 3, frequently the whole sequence is missed.

To me, this suggests an opportunity to help international students take better notes (and possibly comprehend the material more easily) by signaling the discourse structure and interrelationship of principal elements. Whether verbal or visual, signaling techniques should help L2 students follow and get the point of the lecture.

Clerehan, R. (1995). Taking it down: Notetaking practices of L1 and L2 students. English for Specific Purposes, 14, 137-155.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Find and use the best models of legal writing

Students will ask occasionally about what else they can do to improve their legal writing in English. This is not an easy answer because many of my students, while non-native speakers of English, are at a high enough proficiency level that basic language mechanics are not the issue. What they really want is to sound more like native English-speaking lawyers.

My answer usually is to write, write, write and read, read, read. However, it's not always easy to find good models of legal writing to write like or to read and learn from.

This article by Bruce Garner gives some concrete sources of where to find good legal writing models and how to use them as a student and into practice.

Find and use the best models of legal writing

If the link doesn't work because you need a particular journal subscription, here's the MLA citation:

Garner, Bryan A. "Find and use the best models of legal writing." Student Lawyer Mar. 2008: 14+. LegalTrac. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.


I give my students a detailed checklist before every major writing assignment. This semester I'm co-teaching an Academic Legal Writing class, and the first assignment I've given my students, who are working on seminar papers, is to create a timetable, basically a checklist, for the rest of the semester. I think checklists are great, and I'm happy to see I'm not the only one.

Jennifer Murphy Romig has written before on using checklists for legal writing,  Checklists for Powerful, Efficient Legal Writing, and she is currently guest blogging about using checklists for legal writing in the “Project Management for Lawyers” series on Think Like a Lawyer.

The first guest post is called "Checklists for Legal Writing: It's hard to think of a subtitle expressing just how awesome they are." Awesome, indeed! Professor Romig summarizes the theory behind checklists, mentioning The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande, and provides links to examples and resources. 

I look forward to reading the next three posts in the series!

H/T Hollee Temple

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pronouncing Dictionary of the Supreme Court of the United States

Ever feel embarrassed in class because you are not sure you are pronouncing a case name correctly, or do you cringe when you hear someone else pronounce a case name incorrectly? 

Well, the Pronouncing Dictionary of the Supreme Court of the United States, put together by Yale Law School and Yale Linguistics students, is hoping "to help conscientious lawyers, judges, teachers, students, and journalists correctly pronounce often-perplexing case names."

The site includes phonetic pronunciation guides and audio for  Supreme Court cases that are most likely to be mispronounced.

H/T Robert Downey

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Unfortunate Story Exercise

The Unfortunate Story Exercise: Recognizing a Diversity of Student Experience

With limited classroom time, it can be difficult to get to know students personally. I love this idea by Deborah L. Borman as a way to break the ice with international students at the beginning of the semester. Here's the exercise:

"Write a story about something unfortunate that happened to you, explain how you handled it at the time and what, if anything, you would do differently were this event to occur today. This assignment is limited to 250 words. Please be prepared to read your story aloud on the first day of class."

 Professor Borman says that she uses the activity not only to get to know her students, but also for assessment purposes:

"As an initial assessment tool, the Unfortunate Story allows me to evaluate: (1) whether the student can
follow directions, i.e., did he or she follow the word count limit and the details of the assignment? Did he or
she read the written story to the class or just recount an event out of his or her head; (2) the student’s writing skills, i.e., basic grammar, punctuation and sentence formation; (3) the student’s oral communication skills, i.e., whether the student is comfortable speaking aloud, any foreign language diversity issues that may require ESL coaching or other educational attention; and (4) whether the student may require attention for personal or psychological issues, i.e., to identify possible academic performance accommodations and make referrals to the appropriate professionals."

Read the rest of Professor Borman's article here. The article is published in The Law Teacher, the semi-annual newsletter of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Developing Detailed Rubrics

I imagine that most legal writing professors use some kind of rubric when grading students' papers. This study claims that the "consistent use of well-developed rubrics can enhance outcomes for English learners enrolled in writing courses." The article also recommends involving students in the development of the rubric.

I've never had students be part of a rubric's development, but I do give them a "final paper checklist," which I then turn into the rubric for the final paper. I see no benefit in leaving students wondering how they will be graded.

I like that this study looked not only at improved (or not) scores on writing assignments, but also at students' attitudes toward the rubric itself. Considering that the students had a hand in developing the rubric, there shouldn't be many surprises or much dissatisfaction, and that's just what the researchers found.

Developing Detailed Rubrics for Assessing Critique Writing: Impact on EFL University Students’ Performance and Attitudes
TESOL Journal 2.1, March 2011

Monday, January 7, 2013

Conferences and Meetings

Happy New Year!

As the new semester ramps up, I've been looking at avenues for professional development. I think conferences are one of the most valuable ways to learn, share and be inspired as a professional. To that end, I've added a resource section for Conferences and Meetings, with a couple of conferences to start things off. Please feel free to suggest others!

11-13 March 2013 | Global Legal Skills Conference 8 | San Jose, Costa Rica

The program hasn't been posted yet, but registration is open here.

I went to this conference last year and had a great time. While not every session was related to legal writing, all of them had useful methods, activities and theories for teaching international law students.

20-23 March 2013 | TESOL 2013 International Convention & English Language Expo | Dallas, Texas

Although TESOL technically stands for "teachers of English to speakers of other languages," the title is interpreted liberally, and the convention includes sessions for educators teaching students, in various contexts and at all levels, whose mother tongue is not English.

I've chosen a few sessions that I think would be most relevant; you can view my itinerary here [PDF]. Of course, there are many other sessions to choose from.

The Convention website is here.