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Last modified on October 9, 2013


Academic writing for first year students
ALESS (Active Learning of English for Science Students)
ALESA (Active Learning of English for Students of the Arts)

The days of modernisation - of striving to catch up with and overtake the West - are over. Scientific technology is no longer simply imported from abroad, but is rather something to be created and appreciated together as one global community. With this shift from ‘modernisation’ to ‘globalisation’, the methods and purposes of studying English as a foreign language must also evolve. During modernisation, the need was on acquiring Western knowledge quickly, and emphasis was thus placed on developing the relatively passive skills of reading comprehension and translation. In today’s globalising world, however, the priority is now on communicating with people from all around the world for mutual discussion and innovation. Accordingly, the requirement now is on the more active skills of writing and speaking.

Such needs for writing skills cannot be fulfilled by ‘English composition’, which is mainly an exercise in translating from a pre-composed Japanese draft; nor is everyday conversation level sufficient for good ‘communication’. Instead of the traditional ‘English composition’ classes at the University of Tokyo, what is now essential is active training in academic writing: taking a systematic approach to the fundamentals of writing academic papers (analytical thinking, logical structure, and convincing expression), and applying it to practice by conducting one’s own research. Similarly, instead of a mere ability to ‘communicate’, what is now demanded is the ability to think and argue logically, and a sense of ethics that ensures discussion on equal terms.

The ALESS (Active Learning of English for Science Students) Program - established in April 2008 - and the ALESA (Active Learning of English for Students of the Arts) Program - launched in April 2013 - seek to realise these objectives. ALESS and ALESA are compulsory courses in either the winter or summer semester for all first year students. These classes are all taught in small groups (of about 15 students) by native speakers, and follow their own unique curriculum under the coordination of the Program Managing Director.

In the ALESS Program, taken by all science students (Natural Sciences I, II and III), students devise and conduct their own scientific experiment, and write an academic paper using the IMRaD (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) structure – the standard format for scientific writing worldwide. Students also develop essential skills for participating in international conferences, including how to deliver oral presentations and engage in questions and answers. Meanwhile, in the ALESA Program - compulsory for all arts students (Humanities and Social Sciences I, II and III) - students learn how to write logically on a wide range of academic subjects and in various writing styles, and acquire advanced presentation and discussion skills.

The ALESS Lab was created in April 2011 to facilitate students’ laboratory work for ALESS, and along with KWS (Komaba Writers’ Studio), supports the running of the program. At KWS, which is already up and running, personal tutoring is provided to ALESS and ALESA students by resident TAs (Teaching Assistants) who have been specially trained in the theory and practice of teaching academic writing in the newly established course in English Language education at the Department of Language and Information Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Other developments include the launch of ALESS: A Collection of Student Papers in 2011 to publish some of the best papers submitted by our students, and the publication of a new textbook, Active English for Science (Tokyo University Press), in 2012. In the not-too-distant future, we plan to share the achievements of ALESA as well.


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