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Writing for Life: Paragraph to Essay

J. Allen Gray, Kansai Gaidai University


[D. J. Henry. Longman, 2008. pp. 752. ¥8,000. ISBN: 978-020-57-2786-5.]

Writing for Life: Paragraph to Essayis a textbook that provides more than enough resources to serve as a rock-solid base for the writing classroom. It is a text so comprehensively thorough that it can leave an instructor with little preparation needed other than to flip through the pages on the way to class. As all teachers know, the right textbook will provide the foundation from which we build our courses. They play a central role in our classrooms and are powerful stimuli for generating learning (Rubdy, 2003, p. 38). This is one of those rare texts that provide just as much foundation and structure for the teacher leading a class as it does instruction and stimuli for students attending that class.

Writing for Life: Paragraph to Essayeffectively introduces students to a consistent approach that addresses the complex grammatical and organizational knowledge needed for everyday, academic, and work-related writing. The author has included a variety of well-written articles, examples, practice activities, and real-life writing situations. The textbook is divided into eight parts: Getting Ready to Write, Using Patterns of Organization to Develop Paragraphs, Writing an Essay, The Basic Sentence, Writing Clear Sentences, Recognizing and Avoiding Errors, Punctuation and Mechanics, and Reading Selections. Moving through the textbook, learners are first taught the value of strong writing skills and how to think their way through the process.

Each chapter is organized essentially in the same manner with pre-learning, during-learning and post-learning activities. Pre-learning asks students to recall their prior knowledge. The Pre-learning activity, What's the point?, activates critical thinking skills. It addresses the basic question that learners have, Why do I need to know this?

During-learning activities center on teaching skills. The activity, Developing Your Point, focuses on understanding and developing a point. Here learners receive direct instruction, explanations, and practice. The corresponding writing activities teach students how to develop an idea using a specific pattern of organization, step-by-step from prewriting to editing.

In the Post-learning activities, Review of the Writing Process and Writing Assignment, students are tested on their ability to recall and apply what they have learned. Tasks involve completing graphic organizers as they respond to reading and writing assignments.

Following all of these learning exercises is the final part of the textbook, The Reading Selections. These readings (articles, essays, paragraphs, and short stories) correspond to each of the chapters in the text and can even be used as stand-alone reading activities. Each selection emphasizes the thinking process between reading and writing. If students have little to no prior knowledge of the ideas or skills used in a chapter, one of these corresponding readings can be used as a pre-reading activity to scaffold learning.

When I used this textbook in my reading and writing classes, a majority of my students said they liked the step-by-step progression of activities in each chapter. It allowed them to understand the differences between each type of paragraph or essay. They also expressed positive comments on the ease of understanding the high-interest visuals such as color annotations, graphic organizers, conceptual maps, and photographs. Overall, my students felt confident in being able to express themselves in their writing after using the textbook.

This text is an excellent resource for learners with TOEFL scores above 400. Below that, learners may require a little more time and assistance to read through the materials or discuss the cultural inferences introduced in some of The Reading Selections. This is not necessarily a weakness of this textbook as it could facilitate more student-teacher interaction, which is sometimes lacking in a writing course.

Writing for Life: Paragraph to Essayapproaches writing instruction and learning in engaging detail by using clear directions and amazing graphics and images. Henry’s pedagogical approach encourages reflection on what has been learned. Each chapter begins by focusing on prior knowledge and experiential learning before moving into the reading and writing tasks and skills to be learned. Then each chapter is concluded with assignments requiring students to write their reactions on what they learned. Learners and instructors who value a consistent approach towards writing should find this text to be an exhaustive resource with seemingly never-ending opportunities to expand learning that is both comfortable and enjoyable.


Rubdy, R. S.(2003). Selection of materials. In B. Tomlinson. (Ed.), Developing materials for language teaching (pp. 37–57). London: Continuum.

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