Proudly presenting my student’s essay

In this post, I am presenting an IELTS essay my student wrote in response to an article we discussed. He did such a great job that I couldn’t help sharing.

 

Remember last week I wrote a post about how I tried walking in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework? Well, the student did his homework (which I didn’t have a shadow of a doubt he would). In this post, I want to share it with you.

First, let me introduce the student. His name is Nikita Videnkov, he is a 21-year old engineering student, who has been having one-to-one classes with me for about 3-4 years. His primary purpose is to improve his language skills, but he is also thinking of taking IELTS, so we do IELTS-format tasks on a regular basis.

Second, to those of you who aren’t my students I have to explain that my homework worded “write an essay” is usually followed by homework worded “rewrite your essay.” I believe that writing is 90% rewriting and make my students rewrite their work.

Third, let me give you some context. We were discussing the article called “Phoney war” (New Scientist, 25 January 2017), which deals with end-to-end encryption and its importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with the following essay topic for Nikita: “Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

Finally, I am proudly presenting two versions of Nikita’s essay in this post:

1) Version 1 – ‘as is,’ completely intact; I have highlighted the parts I wanted him to edit.

2) Version 2 – revised based on my comments; I have highlighted the edited parts.

You are now all set to read the essays.

Version 1

Some people claim that total privacy of communications must be provided for every user, while others believe that such freedom compromises public security and private data should be accessible for authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their secrets safe. It results in people’s desire to use services with encryption, which keep data safe during transmission. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net where others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases, when terrorists used messengers with end-to-end encryption which resulted in many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent it since they didn’t have back-doors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks provoked reasonable discussion between authorities on mandating companies to lessen the encryption level and to give the government the access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, I believe that every person has a right to keep their personal information secured. To fulfill that right government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, the government has to provide public safety, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to crack data of any suspicious person to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

266 words

Version 2

Some people claim that every user must be guaranteed total privacy of communications, while others believe that such guarantee compromises public security and private data should be accessible to authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their personal information safe, which results in people’s desire to use services with encryption that keep data hidden from third party. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net because others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases of terrorists using messengers with end-to-end encryption to organize attacks, which caused many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent those since they did not have backdoors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks initiated the discussion between authorities and software companies about mandating the latter to lessen the encryption level and to give the government access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, every person has the right to keep their personal information secured. To protect that right, the government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, I believe that public safety is more important, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to circumvent the encryption to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

269 words

Nikita did a great job on both versions, didn’t he? If you have any questions for him, you can contact him on Facebook or Vkontakte.

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I try walking in my student’s shoes and write an IELTS essay

In this post, I am sharing an essay I wrote in IELTS format. I make my students write a lot of essays, but I myself don’t often practice what I preach. So I decided to walk in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework.

I have a question to all the teachers out there – how often do you write essays in English? I mean essays in IELTS / TOEFL / GRE or any similar format. (Please message me – I’d love some kind of statistics). I have to confess, I don’t*. But I make my students write a lot. Which might be a little unfair, don’t you think?

That’s what I thought when I was on a bus from my home town back to St Petersburg yesterday (a 4-hour journey). I had nothing to do, so my mind began to wander until suddenly it stumbled upon the essay topic I gave my student on Thursday.

We were discussing the article called Phoney war (New Scientist, 25 January 2017). The articles deals with the questions of end-to-end encryption and it’s importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with an essay topic for my student (a very diligent, Advanced level student who is going to take IELTS in the future).

Anyway, my mind stumbled upon this topic and started working frantically. Since I had nothing to do on the bus, not only did I decide to write this essay, I actually went through with it. The result is just a couple of lines below.

The essay is in ‘as is’ condition, which means I haven’t edited it since I got off the bus. Neither did I use dictionaries, Google or other resource outside my brain when writing it. Honestly.

“Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

It is commonly believed that people must have the right to unlimited privacy of communications. However, it can also be argued that exercising this right can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of public safety and officials must therefore be granted access to all online communications. In this essay, I shall discuss both these views and give my own opinion.

On the one hand, expectation of privacy is intrinsic to different spheres of people’s life, including online communication. Whenever people send private messages, they expect them to be read by the recipient only. Private messages are a safe environment, in which people feel free to express the views that they might not feel comfortable expressing publicly for reasons such as fear of discrimination or political oppression. If people do not resort to means of public communication, they must be granted the right to keep their communications secret.

On the other hand, authorities take a dim view of not being able to read private communications as it prevents them from ensuring public safety. The reasoning behind this view is compelling since end-to-end encrypted messages open up a range of opportunities for terrorists to plan and execute terrorist attacks. Having access to messages of terrorists or crime suspects would enable law enforcement to prevent crime and save people’s lives. Privacy can therefore be sacrificed for the sake of security.

To conclude, both approaches in the ‘privacy versus security’ debate are valid. While granting the authorities keys to open any communications would violate people’s rights, not doing so might result in deaths of innocent people. In my opinion, the decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, with the responsibility of evaluating each case lying with the court.

286 words

Disclaimer: This essay was written as a response to a task and does not fully represent my personal opinion.

I now have two questions:

How did I do?

How often do you think teachers should write essays?

*In my defense, I write a blog in English and I actually wrote a lot of essays one week before each IELTS / TOEFL test I took.

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My Fulbright application or a teachable moment on essay writing

In this post, I want to share two excerpts from my Fulbright application essay and give you some tips on essay writing.

I did it on 30 May 2014. I submitted my Fulbright application. Now, 1 year and 2 months later I am going to the USA as a proud Fulbrighter! Yay!

The program I am participating in is called Foreign Language Teaching Assistant or FLTA for short. As a participant of this program I will be teaching Russian and studying at an American university for an academic year.

When my students heard the news, they asked, “What did it take to get this grant?” And I replied, “Well, there were several stages. First, I had to write a lot of text. Then, I …” And one student said, “I am curious to read what you wrote.” I suppose many are, so I am going to let you in on one of my application essays.

One of the essays I wrote is called “Objectives and motivations”. What I wrote is too long to upload here (1274 words, no less!), so I am only going to show you my introduction and conclusion. Oh, and I see a teachable moment here, which I just can’t help using. Ok, let’s get cracking!

Here is my introduction:

lutsenko_fulbright_intro

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my introduction:

1. I start with a quote. (Admittedly, starting an essay with a quote is a bit of a cliché. But it’s still not a bad way to start. To avoid sounding too clichéd, I expand the quote and add a personal touch.)

2. I explain what my job is and what I am like.

3. I speak about my main objective.

Here is my conclusion:

Lutsenko_fulbright_conclusion

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my conclusion:

1. I repeat what my job is and what I am like (point 2 from the introduction).

2. I repeat my main objective (point 3 from the introduction).

3. I connect all the information to the quote and my addition to it (point 1 from the introduction).

And here is the teachable moment:

– Make your essay personal and unique.

– Address the topic directly and clearly.

– Organize your ideas logically.

– Be consistent.

– Unite the ideas.

Essay writing aside, I want to emphasize that everything I wrote is absolutely true. They are not beautiful words I wanted to impress the readers with. I do want to keep moving, but stay focused.

So, students, don’t be sad I’m going away for so long. You now know why I’m doing it. I’ll return.

I’ll return and do what I do at a new level and with a new mind. See you in a year!

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Paraphrasing made easy!

In this post, I am exploring paraphrasing as it is an essential skill for international exams in English.

With English being the language of international communication, there are now plenty of tests of English for non-native speakers  – IELTS, TOEFL, KET-CPE, to name but a few. Seemingly different, such tests often assess pretty much the same skills and abilities. Paraphrasing is one of them. The ability to paraphrase is vital in Speaking and Writing parts of any test of English. Why? Because it shows that you actually understand the information you are given and, more importantly, it allows you to demonstrate your knowledge of English! Many people struggle with paraphrasing. Yet, it’s not rocket science and in this post I am going to talk about very simple paraphrasing techniques. Bear with me…

First, a word of warning: Don’t get too obsessed! There are words you don’t have to and shouldn’t paraphrase! There is no need to say conventional words in a different way, like chair or passport. Nor should you try to rephrase specialized or scientific vocabulary, like genetically-modified food or greenhouse gases.

When you do need to paraphrase, here are the techniques that will help you:

1 Use synonyms.

It will have a negative effect on the economy. / It will have a harmful effect on the economy.

This looks pretty straightforward. However, you have to be careful and keep in mind that very few words in a language are completely interchangeable and the synonym you find might not suit your sentence as well as you think.

2 Use antonyms.

It is hard. / It is not easy. It’s the cheapest. / It’s the least expensive.

3 Explain a word.

Violators will be ticketed. / People who break the law will receive a ticket.

Obviously, it only works with words that can be explained in a short way.

4 Change word forms.

Many words have several grammatical forms, for example, compete (v) – competition (n) – competitor (n) –competitive (adj) – competitively (adv). Use a different one when you paraphrase.

Competition for quality jobs at postgraduate level is fierce. / Postgraduate students have to compete hard for quality jobs.

This approach is useful not only because it helps to avoid copying the original word, but also because it involves changing sentence structure and thus helps you to create a completely different sentence.

5 Change sentence structure.

This one includes several sub-techniques:

– Change the grammar.

Active / Passive: Trained scientists performed this research. / This research was performed by trained scientists.

Infinitive / Gerund: It’s easy to use it. / Using it is easy.

Subject + verb / Participle: After he left the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths. / After leaving the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths.

– Change sentence connectors.

Although the scientist spent years studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise her.

Despite years spent studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise the scientist.

/ The scientist spent years studying gorillas; however, their behavior would still surprise her.

– Change the order of ideas.

The spread of GM trials led to a series of protests. / A series of protests resulted from the spread of GM trials.

Ideally, in order to create top-notch paraphrases, you should use a variety of techniques and combine them.

Now let me try a little paraphrasing. Here is an essay topic (IELTS Writing Task 2) and below is my introduction for this essay.

Lutsenko_paraprasing

At present there is no doubt that smoking is detrimental to people’s health and causes a range of diseases, including terminal. In an effort to reduce the harmful effects of this bad habit, some countries have prohibited smoking in public places. Some people believe that this approach should be implemented worldwide. I completely agree with this opinion and shall argue that smoking should not be allowed anywhere on public premises except a number of designated areas.

You see, paraphrasing is a piece of cake. By the way, which techniques did I use?

Before I finish another word of warning: Don’t get too excited and don’t forget that your sentence must retain its original meaning!

Now paraphrase to your heart’s content.

 

Main sources used to write this post:
The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test
Oxford Grammar for EAP
Express to the TOEFL iBT Test

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The Beast or how to write essays

When I was on holiday this summer, I went to my hometown to visit my parents. They asked me to sort out my old papers and books and get rid of the ones that I didn’t use any more. As I was doing that, I found one great picture illustrating the core of essay writing. It’s from a writing workshop I took part in about 10 years ago when I was working at school. Here it is:

the-beast

This picture, called “The Beast,” shows the structure and the essential parts of an essay in a very simple way. Now, this cute beast has 3 parts – the head, the body, and the tail. Similarly, any essay has 3 parts – the introduction, the main body and the conclusion.

The introduction leads the reader into the topic and has a clear thesis statement. A thesis is the main idea or opinion of the speaker or writer who then attempts to prove it. Just like this cute beast has a very visible blue horn, your introduction must have a very clear and direct statement of what you are going to talk about in your essay.

The main body of an essay, which is usually 2-4 paragraphs long, explains and proves your thesis. Just like the body of this cute beast is separated into segments, the body of an essay must be separated into paragraphs.  And just like this cute beast’s body has smaller yellow horns, each of your paragraphs must have a clear topic sentence. The topic sentence, as its name implies, introduces the topic of the paragraph, which you then develop / explain and exemplify.

The conclusion goes over the same ground as the whole essay. In your conclusion you must restate your thesis and summarize your main points.

Ok, that’s theory. Now look at how I put it into practice. This is an essay I wrote one week before I took IELTS last year and got 8.5 for Writing. It’s on one of my pet topics =).

languages_task

Lutsenko_languages_essay

This is an essay I wrote for IELTS that’s why it only has 2 body paragraphs. I usually write 2 body paragraphs for IELTS and 3 for TOEFL. The word count is 259 words. I try not to go more than 10-30 words over the word limit.

Now that you have “The Beast” and my essay, essay writing should be easy-peasy!

Oh, by the way, it’s totally wrong about 70 words for “snow”, but I didn’t know it at the time of writing this essay. The truth is in this Wikipedia article.

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How public speaking is similar to essay writing

The world is full of opportunities to learn.

During the winter holiday, when I had a lot of free time, I discovered an incredible learning tool called MOOC, which stands for “massive open online course”. It turned out, to my surprise, that nowadays many leading universities offer their courses online free of charge. They do it on different platforms; the one I started from is edx.org.

In an amazing stroke of luck, the very first time I opened the “courses” page, the very first course I saw was Introduction to Public Speaking which, coincidentally, was to start in a week! I thought “Great! It never hurts to practice speaking!” and registered. I’m now glad I did! The course turned out to be excellent. It would take me a lot of time and effort to write about how useful the course was, so I’m not going to do it. Just take the course, I promise, you won’t regret it. There is, however, one task we did which I simply have to tell you about.

In this course we studied and prepared different types of speeches – Introductory, Impromptu, Informative,Persuasive. All of them fascinating and useful, but the most valuable one for those who are preparing for international exams is the impromptu speech.

Impromptu means “not planned or prepared”. So the impromptu speech is a type of speech you must be able to make without preparing beforehand. And the goal the teacher set for us went like this “My main goal for this speech is that you are able to quickly arrange and deliver a clear and well-supported argument. Your speech must be clear, which requires you to include previews, reviews, and transitions. Your speech needs to have, at its heart, a well-organized and solid argument.” What’s so special about this goal? Well, the thing is, it is almost word-for-word one of the assessment criteria for essays in all international exams!

Now look at the structure of the impromptu speech

What does it look like? Correct. It looks like an essay structure.
Or, in more detail:

Introduction

State your thesis

Preview of your main points

First main point

Statement of your first main point

Provide and explain two pieces of support illustrating the first main point

Conclude your first main point

Second main point

Statement of your second main point

Provide and explain two pieces of support illustrating the second main point

Conclude your second main point

Conclusion

Restate the your thesis statement and review your two main points

Conclude your speech

This structure helps you to quickly and spontaneously generate and express your ideas in a way that makes it easy for the listener / reader (for example, the examiner) to understand what you are trying to get across and why. Of course, you can change this structure a little and adapt it to your needs and time frame, but on the whole, it’s a great foundation not only for a speech, but also for an essay.

On top of all that, the instructor – Matt McGarrity – is outstanding! If you ever see this MOOC on any platform, register immediately!

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