Follow-up resources Let’s Talk About Teaching Session (August 30, 2023)

Visit our website to learn more about CAC academic coaching support:  https://onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca/LearnAnywhere/program/

Add our CAC “virtual tour” video to your course Brightspaces site: https://echo360.ca/media/96b32be3-4a87-4d5f-9946-c6986613d0e7/public 

Encourage students to book an appointment with CAC staff: https://uvic.mywconline.com

Access our self-paced academic coaching resources: https://onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca/LearnAnywhere/program/resources/


Register for our upcoming CAC academic coaching workshops:

“Setting up for a successful semester,” Monday September 18, 12pm; Zoom: https://uvic.zoom.us/j/97389771497 (*no passcode)
To register: https://libcal.uvic.ca/event/3734698

“Effective time-management strategies,” Monday September 25, 12pm; Zoom: https://uvic.zoom.us/j/97389771497 (*no passcode)
To register: https://libcal.uvic.ca/event/3734699


Visit the “Hidden curriculum” module on Executive Functioning for instructor resources: https://hiddencurriculum.ca/course-category/executive-function/


For more information on executive functioning  coaching supports for students, please email Nancy at cacmgr@uvic.ca or Emily at cacpc@uvic.ca.

Please feel free to add comments and questions to the “reply” field below 🙂


Practicing Learner Agency

Students speaking in a library

For English-as-an-Additional-Language (EAL) learners enrolled in first-year composition courses in Canada, navigating different academic genres can pose both challenges and opportunities. In a 2019 survey of the experiences of Chinese EAL learners enrolled in a Canadian first-year composition course, most reported feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and unsure of where to turn for academic support.[1]

One particular participant, whom we’ll call “Young,” graduated from a prestigious university in China and enrolled at a Canadian university as a senior. Although initially confident in his spoken and written English, over the course of the semester Young felt increasingly challenged by his course requirements and unable to keep pace with his English-speaking peers. As one of two EAL learners in his class, Young felt isolated, despondent, and uncertain of how to communicate with his course instructor and classmates.

Young’s experience is significant because it speaks to some of the challenges that EAL learners may encounter while undertaking undergraduate study in Canada. Indeed, Young’s example underscores how vitally important it is to respond to social isolation, discomfort, and uncertainty by forging meaningful connections with others.

EAL Students walking under trees

What is learner agency?

Connecting to and drawing on available supports is a powerful way to practice your learner agency. Although considered from multiple perspectives within various disciplines, learner agency typically refers to a learner’s capacity to exercise control over their learning processes.[2] Related studies indicate that learner agency is not innate but acquired through and shaped by larger cultural and environmental factors.[3] Simply put, learner agency is an ongoing practice that students can cultivate and improve through seeking out available supports.

Student in a group laughing at a comment.

How does EAL agency improve writing?

To meet the requirements of your academic writing course, we encourage you to leverage academic supports. For example, you might consider attending your instructor’s office hours, booking a writing centre appointment, or registering in an academic skills workshop. If your educational institution does not offer robust educational support, you might consider other assistive avenues, such as consulting online collocation dictionaries or discipline-specific resources. If, like Young, you find that you are struggling to keep up with your coursework, enacting your learner agency may enable you to identify and fill educational gaps, reframe academic challenges as opportunities for growth, and make informed choices within your writing to amplify your distinctive voice.

How is learner agency practiced?

As a course requirement, your instructor might ask you to engage with the cultural conventions of a specific genre of writing, such as a traditional research paper, academic blog post, or online portfolio. Before undertaking this task, you might seek additional information on the imagined audience for, or conventional expectations of, that genre of writing. You might also enact your learner agency by selecting a topic, perspective, or approach that showcases your unique insights or cultural experiences.

Furthermore, in addition to consulting the online databases and citational guides provided by your institution’s library, you might request further guidance from your course instructors, academic advisors, writing centre tutors, peer mentors, and friends. If you are open and receptive to help, you may soon find yourself surrounded by a trusted web of support. To that end, you might practice greater learner agency on an ongoing basis by…

  • Recognizing opportunities and barriers in your learning environment
  • Resourcing yourself by embracing challenges as growth opportunities
  • Relating meaningfully to knowledgeable and supportive mentors
  • Reflecting on your what you have learned in your writing experiences

Returning to the aforementioned challenges Young encountered as an EAL learner new to Canada, mid-way through his first semester, Young began practicing his learner agency and eventually completed his composition course with a mark that satisfied his program requirements. In response to academic challenges, Young proactively sought additional supports by booking weekly appointments with writing centre tutors, leveraging online academic resources, and seeking additional assistance from knowledgeable research librarians. Instead of shutting down or withdrawing from his studies, Young redirected his time and energy towards making the most of various learning opportunities in his new academic environment.

As Young’s example shows, seeking academic support is not a sign of weakness but a crucial step in practicing learner agency. In keeping with Young, if you show up, ask questions, and engage in skill-building activities, you are likely to strengthen both your oral and written communication skills as an EAL learner.

Works Referenced

  1. Jing Mao, “Thriving through Uncertainties: The Agency and Resourcefulness of First-Year Chinese English as an Additional Language Writers in a Canadian University,” BC TEAL 6, no. 1 (2021): 78-93. https://doi.org/10.14288/bctj.v6i1.390
  1. Yana Manyukhina and Dominic Wyse, (2019). “Learner Agency and the Curriculum: A Critical Realist Perspective,”Curriculum Journal 30, no. 3 (2019): 223-243. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2019.1599973.
  1. See, for example, Diane Larsen-Freeman, “On Language Learner Agency: A Complex Dynamic Systems Theory Perspective,”Modern Language Journal 103 (2019): 61-79. https://doi.org/10.1111/modl.12536.


Strategies for Successful Group Work

Embracing Group Work:

Not every student enjoys group work. For many, sharing ideas with others can be a challenging  or intimidating experience; however, there are ways to make group work more enjoyable. For instance, you might participate by explaining the usefulness of another member’s idea. Likewise, you might consider adding to the comments of another member, or drawing connections between the comments of several members. Alternatively, you might relate a member’s comments back to the objectives of your assignment or course. To see these strategies at work, watch this video produced by the UMN College of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Watch “Five ways to comment in discussions:”

Preparing for Group Work:

To participate confidently in group discussion, you might consider preparing some general phrases in advance. If you need more time to think through your ideas, you might consider using a hesitation phrase (“That is a very good question…”), clarification phrase (“Might you explain further what you meant by…?”), or else request additional time to take notes (“I just need to finishing jotting down that last idea”). You might even volunteer to take notes as a means to meaningfully contribute to your group. To see students demonstrate strategies for requesting more time to think and participate in group discussion, watch this short video produced by the UMN College of Continuing and Professional Studies:

Watch “Preparing for group discussions:”

Phrases to ask for clarification:

If a group member speaks too fast, you can always ask for clarification:

  • “Could you please [ repeat / explain ] that part?”
  • “Excuse me, what does [word / phrase] mean?”
  • “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you meant by [word / phrase]…?”

You can also ask these questions to confirm that you understood a group member correctly:

  • “By X, do you mean…?”
  • “So, what you are saying is…?”

Phrases to politely redirect the discussion:

One challenge that typically arises during group work is the need to redirect the discussion back to your assigned task or topic. Likewise, another challenge that emerges is the need to express polite disagreement with the comments of a group member. While refocusing attention or expressing dissent can seem daunting, both strategies are important for ensuring the efficiency and cohesion of the group work produced.

To return to a topic of discussion, you might consider asking…

  • “Returning to [topic], I wanted to ask…?”
  • “Going back to [topic], I wondered if…?”
  • “Revisiting [topic], I had an idea about…?”

Here are some phrases you might use to express polite disagreement

  • “While I agree that […], I wonder if…?
  • “Well, I understand […]; however, I am not so sure about…?
  • “Might it not also be a question of…?”

Phrases to establish consensus:

To solicit the opinions of group members, you might consider asking…

  •  “What does everyone [think/ feel] about…?
  • “Does anyone have any [thoughts / ideas /comments] on  …?”

To offer helpful suggestions to group members, you might ask one of the following questions:

  • “How about if we…?”
  • “What if we…?”
  • “Perhaps we [could/should]…?”

Phrases to ensure others have understood you:

Sometimes group members might have trouble following what you have said and you might have to pause and ask your group if what you said was clear:

  •  “…, if you see what I mean?”
  • “…, if that makes sense to you?”
  • “…, if you follow my thinking?”

Five tips for successful group participation:

Contribute your strengths. Think about what skills you can contribute to meaningfully support your group.

Join group discussions early. Participate in group discussions right from the start. The more you join in the conversation, the more comfortable speaking will become. To begin, you might consider asking a specific question about the group assignment, for example.

Connect with a supportive peer. If participating in a group worries you, you might consider befriending a supportive member of your group. This ally might encourage group members to slow down or might intervene to ensure that each member has an opportunity to speak.

Ask for clarification. Your group members won’t mind if you ask questions. If your group assignment is confusing, or if a member’s comment is unclear, your group will appreciate it if you ask for clarification. Chances are another group member might be just as confused as you!

Remain open-minded: Assignments with group members provide important opportunities for connecting with others, producing collaborate work, and growing from each experience. Try as best you can to embrace the opportunity to learn from and exchange ideas with group members.



Created by Emily Arvay and Jing Mao© 2021, University of Victoria. Adapted from UMN College of Continuing & Professional Studies (2019). Any other use may be infringement of copyright if done without securing the permission of copyright owners.







Strategies for written communications with course instructors

Hands typing on the keypad of a computer

Writing professional emails to course instructors:

Many students find it difficult to compose polite yet direct emails to their course instructors when requesting permission to extend an assignment deadline or when seeking additional clarification on assignment instructions or course expectations. Below is a list of common phrases you might consider using to ensure professional, respectful, and effective written communications with your course instructor.

Subject lines for emails
  • Briefly include your name and purpose in your email:
  • For example: ENGL135(A02) meeting with Emily, Weds Oct 8 at 1pm
  • *Include your course and section number in your subject line
  • * Use the name that matches your attendance sheet to avoid confusion
Phrases for email greetings
  • Hello Dr. [or Professor] [First + Last name],…
  • * Even if your professor typically uses their first name, it is considered a sign of respect to address course instructors by their full name
Opening lines that mention the last contact between you
  • Thank you for your email (yesterday / this morning / last week) about…
  • Thank you for your quick reply regarding…
  • Thank you for sending [me / the class] additional information about…
  • Thank you contacting me about / giving me feedback on / inviting me to …
  • I just read your email about [add topic] / I just received your request for…
  • It was a pleasure to meet you last week.
  • I apologize for my late response to your last email about [topic].
  • Thank you for finding the time to meet me / talk to me / attend…
Opening line with the subject of the email
  • I’m writing to you about [the meeting / your presentation]  yesterday…
  • I am writing to you in [connection with / with regards to / concerning]…
  • I’m writing to [ask you about / to confirm / to inform you / to follow up on / to let you know]…
  • (This is) just a quick note to say…
  • [As promised / As discussed,] I’m writing to …
  • I’m writing (to you) because [I have just found out that / I need to]…
  • I am sorry to bother you but I neglected to [mention / ask] you about…
Closing lines when a reply is urgent
  • I look forward to hearing from you.
  • Please let me know if [it is acceptable to / you can / you need to]…
Closing lines that invite more communication
  • If you require further information [about / before you / to help you] …
  • Please do not hesitate to contact me / please feel free to contact me.
Closing lines that mention next meeting
  • I look forward to [seeing / meeting you] then.
  • See you [soon / on Monday / next week].
  • I hope we have [the chance / the opportunity] to meet soon.
Closing lines for (large) requests
  • Thank you in advance.
  • Any help [you can offer me] / Any feedback you can give me [on this]…
  • Any assistance [in this matter] would be [appreciated / gratefully accepted].
Closing lines when responding to complaints
  • I hope that is acceptable to you?
  • Please accept my apology for [any inconvenience caused / this delay].
  • Thank you for your [patience / understanding].
Social closing lines / Friendly closing lines
  • Have a good [evening/ day/ weekend/ holiday/ vacation].
Other closing lines
  • Thank you again for [your help / bringing this matter to my attention].
Useful closing greetings for emails
  • Best regards,
  • Sincerely,
  • All the best,
  • Best wishes,
Mentioning attachments
  • For your reference, please see the [document / data / diagram] attached.
  • Here’s the [file type] that [I promised / was previously mentioned].
  • Could you [possibly]…?
  • Would you mind…?
  • I was wondering if you [could / would be able to]…?
  • I would be very grateful if you might…?
  • I would really appreciate [some help with]…?
Asking for information
  • Could you possibly tell me…?
  • My [first / next / last / final] question is about… ?
  • If possible, I would also like know more about …?
  • My three main questions are [add in list form]…?
Answering questions
  • In answer to your [first / third / last] question about…
Making arrangements and rescheduling
  • I would like to meet on [add date and time], if you are available then?
  • I’m available on [add date and time], if that is convenient to you?
  • I’m afraid I cannot make out meeting on [add date and time].
  • Would [add new date and time] work for you? 
Replying to complaints
  • First of all, I would like to apologize for…
  • Please accept my apology for any inconvenience caused.
  • [In the future / From now on], I will be sure to…
Student smiling at computer screen
Useful phrases for requesting extensions on assignments
  • I am [writing / contacting] you to request an extension on…
  • Due to extenuating personal circumstances, I cannot submit…
  • This extension would enable me to turn in my completed assignment by…
  • Thank you for your time and consideration.
Tips to keep in mind when requesting an extension:
  1. Do not wait until the night before the assignment is due to request a deadline extension.
  2. Keep your email short, polite, and to the point because instructors are often awash in emails.
  3. Include your name, student number, and request in your email subject line.
  4. Do not give lengthy reasons, descriptions, or excuses. Often, this is not a persuasive strategy.
  5. Ask for slightly more time than you need: if you need two days, ask for four.(*You want to avoid asking for an extension on your extension).
  6. Be prepared to wait several days before your instructor responds to your email. Be patient.
  7. Do not send a follow-up email unless an unusually long period of time has already elapsed.

Created by Emily Arvay and Jing Mao© 2021, University of Victoria. Any other use may be infringement of copyright if done without securing the permission of copyright owners.