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Delta: writing your first Delta essay


This is a step-by-step guide to writing your first Delta essay.  It will take through the process this way:


In what follows, you will be advised to look at some other guides on this site.  All the links come at the end in the order in which they appear in the text.


Choosing your topic

The choices and their implications

Remember that you have to do 4 assignments in all:

Two assignments focus on language systems.  They must be different areas.  You can choose from:
Grammar (i.e., a structure or set of allied structures)
Lexis (with the focus on systems, not reading etc.)
Phonology (with the focus on systems, not speaking skills)
Discourse (again with the focus on systems, not on reading, speaking or writing)
Two assignments focus on language skills.  There must be one of each sort and you can choose from:
Receptive skills: reading or listening
Productive skills: writing or speaking

Some centres will insist that you do one or the other for your first Language Skills / Systems Assignment (hereinafter, LSA).  Usually the choice is systems.  Other centres will give you a freer hand.

There are implications because your choice of what to cover in LSA 1 will affect what you can do later.

It is important that you think about your choice for the topic of each assignment carefully.



In most centres, you will do an unassessed diagnostic lesson before you get to LSA 1.  That is Stage 1 of Part A of the Professional Development Assignment.
There is no reason at all for you not to use the same topic for any of the assessed assignments.

You may already have something firmly in mind for your first assignment.  If you don't and are staring at a blank word-processing screen, the place to go now is the in-service training index.  There you will find guides to different facets of the systems of English.  Choose one, work through the guide, and you have made a good start.  There are also less technical guides in the initial plus index that you may want to follow, especially if you are choosing a less familiar area.

OK.  Now you have a topic, you need to review the advice in the guide to writing a Delta Background Essay before going on to specifics concerning each section.

There is more information in the short guide to choosing your topic for an assignment.


The title

The title is the first important decision to make.

think write Mini-task: Why should the title of the assignment be so important?
Click here when you have made a note of something.

Most people are happier dealing with something non-slippery for the first assignment, so we are going with systems here as our example.  In particular, from here on, the example will be based around this title:

Helping learners at B1 level understand and use modality for obligation and lack of obligation.

We have done four things here:

  1. We have made it clear that we are focused on systems (structures for expressing obligation or its lack)
  2. We have limited ourselves by level (B1)
  3. We have said that we will focus on both understanding and using the structures
  4. We have implied that we won't only be looking at modal auxiliary verbs

The title alone has already got us well on the road to meeting criteria 2a and 2b for the Delta Background Essay.  (Now might be a good time to download the guide to the Background Essay criteria, linked below and here.  It is a PDF document that will open in a new tab.)

Now we have the cover page and footer for our assignment:

title page

and that makes us feel better already.


The introduction

This is the part where we meet criteria 2a, 2b and 2c at Distinction level.

We need to say:

Notice that we have

  1. set out our stall clearly (and avoided accusations of leaving certain important things out)
  2. drawn on personal experience
  3. drawn on research
  4. said why being able to handle the structures is important for learners in general, not just our learners

It's looking like a distinction, already.


The analysis

You will be unsurprised that this section will not tell you exactly what to write.
The analysis is contained in the guides on this site so if this is an area you want to address, you should start with the index to modality in the in-service section.

You'll need to research a bit and focus on expressions such as It's (very) important to ..., It's (absolutely) vital to ..., It's not (at all) necessary to ..., It's important not to ... / to avoid + -ing etc.)
The first thing to be sure of doing (note that modal adjective, by the way) is to define your key terms.
In this case they are modality and obligation.
The first signals the speaker's perception of events or states.
The second can be roughly paraphrased as
    I state that it is necessary to do something, not necessary to do something or necessary not to do something.

Now you have to get on and do the analysis:

Here's an example of parts of an analysis, lifted partially from the guide on this site which is something you can do providing you credit it:

The modal auxiliary verb must has no future or past forms for obligation although it does epistemically in the sense of deduction where the perfect form is used, e.g.:
    He must have arrived late
so the use of have to is obligatory in, e.g.:
    I had to do it
    We'll have to see
Lewis suggests that English does not have a past form of must because

    The intrinsic meaning of must does not admit the concept of remoteness.  This being so, no form exists to express the concept in English.
(Lewis, 1986: 111)

That seems arguable on two grounds.

  1. Firstly, used epistemically (deductively here), the verb does have a past from as in, for example,
        He must have spoken good English because they understood him easily
    which is a past form of
        He must speak / be speaking good English because they are understanding him easily
    although when the verb is used deontically (for obligation, the topic of this essay) the form is not acceptable because
        He must have caught the bus
    is clearly not the past form of
        He must catch the bus
  2. Secondly, if one takes a related language, such as German, we find that the cognate verb müssen does, in fact, have a past tense as in, e.g., wir mussten (we had to).  It does not seem that a German speaker feels that the verb use is somehow more remote or less intrinsic simply because the past tense is used.  A similar phenomenon is observable in Dutch (we moeten vs. we moesten).
    Learners may be tempted to see the perfect form here as the past of the obligation function rather than the logical deduction function.  In some languages, e.g., German, they are, in fact, parallel and imply either the obligation or the deduction functions.  We may encounter errors such as
        *We must have gone to school at 9
    when had to is meant.

When an adjective implying obligation is used with an intensifying adverb, it is common for either or both to be stressed as in, e.g.,
    It is absolutely vital that the work is done today
or only the adjective may be stressed as in, e.g.,
    It is absolutely vital that the work is done today.

and rarely, only the adverb is stressed as in, e.g.,
    It is absolutely vital that the work is done today

Another issue for learners at B1 level is that of gradability in adjectives.
For example, important is gradable so we can have very important, more important etc. but imperative and vital are generally non-gradable so learners, unaware of this, may be tempted to produce, e.g., *very imperative or *very vital.  (Note, however, that in negative expressions both are gradable: less imperative, less vital etc. although this somewhat subtle point is one I would probably be unlikely to focus on unless it comes up in another context.)

Some of the above focuses on issues for learners to do with their first language(s).  That is important but you should also consider issues of style and register and much else.
For more on the levels of depth, detail and precision which are required for a systems-focused essay at this level of analysis, see the separate guide to analysing systems for a Background Essay.
For more on the levels of depth, detail and precision which are required for a skills-focused essay at this level of analysis, see the separate guide.


Reference materials

Note how, in the example above, it is quite clear from where the information comes.  You are not expected to start language analysis (or much else) from scratch.
It is also clear, however, that the writer is doing some critical thinking because a serious comment is made on the opinions of authority (Lewis).  If you are looking for a Distinction, you must read and write critically and not simply insert citation to prove you have read a book.

This site is, naturally, a very good place to start your research but you may like to go to the guide to reference materials for other ideas.
At Delta level, you need to look beyond grammars designed for learners, excellent though some of them are.  You need to look at reference grammars for a fuller picture and then select the parts of the analysis you present bearing your chosen level, focus or type of learners in mind.

issues and problems

Issues for learning and teaching

You might combine this with the analysis (as in the example above).  That's sometimes a good way to make sure that the issues you identify are closely tied to your analysis and you are not suddenly introducing a problem with a form or meaning you have not analysed.
You'll find information on this part in the guide to teaching modal auxiliary verbs (linked below) but you must also draw extensively on your own experience.
You need to mention issues for learners and teachers with:

but you absolutely must (modal with an intensifying adverb, by the way) keep your eye firmly fixed on the level of the learners (in this case, B1).  Being able to pronounce have is not a problem but being able consistently to use the schwa for to, is a problem, for example.

Examples of the identification of issues for learners are given above in the integration of issues with the analysis.
You need to remember to include issues for teachers as well as learners so a look through the guide to teacher-induced error may be useful.
You should follow up the identification of issues with an example of what happens when learners make errors.  You promised to do that in the introduction (see above).

teacher preparing

Suggestions for teaching

Tie these closely to your analysis and identification of issues.
For example, if you have identified that the negative of must comes in two forms (mustn't and don't have to) and that this is a real problem for, e.g., speakers of German and many other languages, then you need to tackle ways to present, practise and reinforce the concepts.

Do not introduce here teaching suggestions or materials which have no relationship to your analysis and identification of issues.  That will mean you fail under criteria 2d, 2e and 4c and you do not want to do that.

Make sure you:

You need to outline and evaluate four or five ideas but make sure they attack different targets and are of different kinds (e.g., presentation, practice, consolidation, revision etc.).

For example:

I have successfully introduced and presented the role of intensifying adverbs with adjectives of obligation using the dialogue in Appendix 4.
After introducing the characters, their roles and the situation I have played the tape once for general gist understanding.  Then I have played it again asking the learners to write down only the words emphasised by the speakers (absolutely vital, very important etc.).
Together, the learners figure out inductively from the examples they now have which of the adjectives are gradable (modifiable with very) and which require intensifying adverbs such as absolutely, wholly, totally etc.).
At this stage, the learners discuss in pairs why the speakers choose to use emphasisers and how they are feeling.  I usually give them a worksheet for this stage so that we can check the answers together at the end.  It is very important that they grasp the use and meaning here.
Then the class can go on to practise the forms by ...
A logical extension is to apply the intensifiers to the modal auxiliary verbs themselves to make statements stronger as in, e.g.,
    I absolutely have to go before six
    I really must get on with some work
etc. because here, too, as was noted in Section 3 of the analysis, the modifier is not stressed but the modal is and weak forms (see analysis of phonology) are not deployed.
I have noted, however, that these procedures can sometimes lead to learners overusing intensifiers unless the attitude of the speaker is made very clear from the outset.

Note that the writer draws extensively on personal, practical classroom experience.  It is very important to do that.
Note, too, that the writer has suggested a potential drawback and said how it may be overcome.


Help!  I'm running out of words

Do not panic.

If you find that you have bitten off more than you can chew in 2500 words you have two choices:

You may be able to combine those approaches.


Do I need a conclusion?

For obscure reasons, some centres insist that you have one.  If you do, keep it short and use it to sum up rather than repeat what you have said.  You do not have words to waste on it.  Start with In summary because that will keep you on track.
An example might be:

In summary, as my analysis has shown, this is an area replete with problems for students and subtleties of meaning, form and pronunciation which needs handling with care.  The central teaching issue is to make the context and the attitudes of speakers clear in any presentation (see the analysis of meaning) and to provide contextualised and personalised practice (see, especially, suggestions 2 and 4 in this respect).

Finally, you may like to go to the guide on getting a Distinction grade for a Delta essay.

Guides linked from the text above
the in-service guides this index is linked to all the guides at the appropriate level on this site
the initial-plus guides this will take you to the menu of simpler, less detailed guides
writing a Delta Background Essay this is the general guide to how to approach the task of writing Delta Background Essays
choosing a topic this is a guide devoted to how to choose a topic for your assignment
the assessment criteria explained for a break-down of the criteria and what they mean (new tab)
in-service modality index for links to guides in the example area
analysing systems for a guide to how to analyse systems in a Background Essay
analysing skills for a guide to how to analyse skills in a Background Essay
grammar reference materials for a list of grammar references you may like to consider using
skills reference materials for a list of skills references you may like to consider using
teacher-induced error this may be useful to you for identifying teaching as well as learning issues
getting a Distinction if you want to make sure you meet all the criteria above pass level (at least)
Other guides which may help in the process of writing a good Delta Background Essay
a style guide for a guide to writing in appropriate, formal, academic English for Delta
study skills for Delta this is a guide to the skills you need to deploy when writing for Delta
researching language online a short guide to whom to trust
hedging in EAP for how to use modality and other academic hedging tactics
reporting verbs in EAP for how to use a range of reporting conventions
types of languages for a guide to what to look for in other languages