High-Step English

Rick Broadaway

   This course is for serious students who have either studied English abroad or are planning to study abroad. Instruction is entirely in English, and students are expected to use all four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) actively ? both during class time and outside of class time.

Roundtable Discussions

   The class size is usually quite small (5-10 students) with everyone sitting around a single round table to enable face-to-face discussion. These roundtable discussions are the main activity of the class with each discussion being started with a presentation made either by the teacher or one of the students. Students must prepare hard to make these presentations, and then make an effort to participate in the follow-up discussion. Despite the hard work, these free-wheeling discussions are usually a lot of fun. Students are given an “offline participation” grade after each class to reward their performance.

Thematic Units

   There is no textbook for this course; instead, the course is organized around themes, such as Body Language, Nature vs. Nurture, Human Impact on the Earth, Laughter, etc. Everyone contributes content related to the theme, which becomes the content of the course. These contributions may be in any medium (text, audio, video, etc) and from any source (newspapers, magazines, the Internet, etc). Students may also suggest themes that they are interested in. Recently, since the Beijing Olympics are about to begin, one student suggested that we study about the Olympics. Students are encouraged to think broadly when considering what to contribute. For instance, students have contributed material on the design of the Olympic torch, air pollution in China, doping, and the Greek origins of the Olympic Games. Each thematic unit of study last for three or four weeks, culminating with a writing assignment.

Writing Assignments

   Students are expected to write one short expository paper (10-15 sentences) at the end of each unit of study for a total of 6-8 papers for the entire year. These papers must follow a strict academic style of writing in which students develop a single topic or argument by giving specific information in the form of reasons, examples, data, etc. Students are given very explicit instructions on how to write these papers and extensive feedback on how to revise them. Hence, students are expected to produce quality writing. Rough drafts must be submitted online by the designated due date or receive a grade of zero; however, submitted papers may be revised any number of times and resubmitted to improve one’s grade.

Online Participation

   As mentioned earlier, students are graded for their “offline participation,” that is, how well they participate in discussions during class; however, students are expected to participate online as well. This course comes with a website, where students may login to monitor their attendance, check their grades and otherwise manage their student profile. In addition, students are also expected to use the website as a forum to continue the classroom discussion outside of class. The website is accessible from any computer with Internet access, so students may access the website from home or from a computer on campus. Students are given a grade at the end of each week to reward their “online participation.”

Glossaries and Tests

   During offline and online discussions, students may encounter words that are unfamiliar to them. If an unfamiliar word appears during class, the teacher records it and later goes to the website and adds it to the glossary for that unit. If an unfamiliar word appears while a student is preparing his or her presentation or during an online discussion, then the student adds the word to the glossary. In this way, each Unit Glossary fills with words that students (or at least some of them) do not know, and only with words they do not know. These words will then form the content of the final tests, one being administered at the end of each term.


   Students are graded on five criteria at 20% each: 1) attendance, 2) online participation, 3) offline participation, 4) writing, and 5) tests. To receive credit for the course, students must acquire at least 60% of the total percentage points. Students can and should monitor their progress online and strive to get the highest grade possible. Since there are no “last-minute” ways to earn points (i.e. special reports, re-examinations, etc.), students are expected attend to their grades carefully.

Student-Centered Learning

   Although the teacher plays an active role in initiating and maintaining discussions, ultimately the success and the pleasure of this class depend largely on the students’ active involvement almost every day. In a student-centered class students have more freedom of choice. Students are free to choose the themes of the units, the topics of discussion, topics of papers, and even the content of the tests. But with this freedom comes responsibility – the responsibility to make wise and timely choices. Students have a responsibility to choose themes and topics that they are genuinely interested in, to make contributions early, to take an interest in their classmates’ contributions, to prepare thoroughly for classroom discussions, and to check the website regularly.


   Humans are creatures that love to communicate. They love to express their ideas and emotions. They love to make others smile, laugh, cry. They like the interplay of different personalities and imaginations. That is why humans like to discuss. Of course, discussing in a foreign language adds an element of challenge to the experience. Therefore, each class is a little like a stage performance: there is a bit of tension and excitement before one has to speak. There is the thrill one feels at succeeding in expressing an idea well or at simply being understood. In this class English is not a subject of study; it is simply a tool for communicating with others. It is my hope that during this course you will gain the confidence needed to relax and enjoy the natural experience of talking with your fellow human beings.

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