Module Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module students will be able to:
  1. Interpret professional language [CLO 1, 2]
  2. Comprehend the use of syntax and vocabulary [CLO 1, 2]
  3. Comprehend modal verbs in an engineering context. [CLO 1, 2]
  4. Comprehend language chunks (ie: no more than, exclusive of, inclusive of, etc.) [CLO 1, 2]
  5. Interpret expectations from the professional language used. [CLO 1, 2]
  6. Interpret context from the professional language used. [CLO 1, 2]

Resources (Bank)

Description of how to be used: Used in workshop

Download: Example Assignment 1 Instructions (PDF, 296 KB)

Description of how to be used: Used in workshop

Download: Example Assignment 2 (PDF, 135 KB)

Description of how to be used: Used in workshop

Downloads: Example Assignment 3 (PDF, 1.7 MB)

Description of how to be used: Used by students on their own who show uncertainty with modal verb choices


Description of how to be used: Used by students on their own who show uncertainty with preposition use choices


Face to Face Workshop Plan

Description of Workshop

This workshop/session provides students with an opportunity to read and extract important information from assignment instructions while attending to the language patterns and the uses specific to professional engineering language.

Time for Completion

1-2 hours depending on total pages in assignment instructions


Hard copy of assignment instructions (one for each student)
Multicolored pens or highlighters
Projection device (if available)
Chart paper and tape

Workshop Preparation Instructions

You must select an assignment that all students will have in common and facilitators may do this in one of two ways. An instructor may choose to use assignment instructions that students have been given in one of their courses that they all have in common. If this is not possible, instructors may use one of the sets of instructions from the provided bank of materials.

Once ‘content’ (the assignment instructions) has been chosen, the facilitator needs to read through and mark in the assignment engineering specific vocabulary (e.g. stakeholder, constraints, objectives, procedure, protocol, etc.) The instructor should note not only the individual vocabulary words but the phrases in which they are used, (the collocations). Most of the words will occur in the same or similar phrases whenever they are used. The same should be done with document specific terminology (e.g. executive summary, recommendation, requirements, etc.), qualifiers such as exclusive of, including, excluding, no later than, by 22:00, not before, no more than, no less/fewer than, etc. The instructor should also identify uses of the modal verbs shall, must, should/should not, must not as these words are used with specific meanings in engineering. (See RFC 2119,

The session will require students to skim the assignment multiple times to identify specific collocations and professional vocabulary, so it is important that the instructor will have identified the occurrences of the material in order to help students who do not find these words/phrases salient.


Facilitator Notes:

Steps 1-4 should be given no more than 10 minutes in total to complete. Assure the students that they may miss something, but that only by forcing themselves to read under time pressure will they break the habit of reading word-by-word and begin to read as they do in their dominant language, in chunks. No one expects them to extract or understand everything from a single pass through.

Step 1: (Suggested time for reading: 1 minute per page)

Distribute the hardcopies of the instructions and different colour pens or highlighters if students do not have any. Instruct the students to skim through the instructions and mark anything they understand to be an absolute requirement for the assignment. This means they must mark instructions, that if not followed, will result in failing the assignment. They must read this quickly (suggest one minute per page).

Facilitator Notes:

The focus on reading quickly is important here. Many students, especially those students who are reading in their additional language, often read single words rather than phrases or chunks. One of the skills engineering students need is to be able to read something quickly and take advantage of several quick reads to extract relevant information. An enforced time limit helps them to break the reading word-by-word habit.

Step 2: (Suggested time for reading: 1 minute per page)

Repeat the reading process with a different colour pen to highlight/underline anything that would be beneficial to include in the assignment but is not required.

Step 3: (Suggested time for reading: 1 minute per page)

Repeat the reading process with a different colour pen to highlight/underline anything that students must not do as per the assignment instructions.

Step 4: (Suggested time for reading: 1 minute per page)

Repeat the reading process with a different colour pen to highlight/underline anything that is explanatory or provides information about the expected content.

Step 5: (Approximately 20 minutes)

Put students in groups of 2-4 (proximal is usually best so time is not wasted in moving around). Ask students to produce three lists on a large sheet of paper using their underlined/highlighted instructions as the source. Provide 1 piece of chart paper for each group, and have students make 3 lists on this page as shown below:

List 1 – Assignment requirements (what MUST be done)
List 2 – What must NOT be done
List 3 – What would be nice but is not required

Step 6: (~10-15 minutes)

Bring student attention back to the whole group. Using the lists from the groups, construct a shared Checklist. Instruct students to write a copy of this checklist down in order to use for future reference.

Facilitator Notes:

This is where the instructor can model the expected outcome/deliverable for the activity, which is a checklist that the student can use to plan and check that they have completed the assignments according to the requirements. This is also the time as the instructor moves through the list to ask students why they interpret something as a requirement, as beneficial to have, or as explanatory information. It is also when the instructor can draw attention to engineering specific use of certain words — changing them from everyday words to engineering words and the subsequent changes/shifts in meaning. This also facilitates discussion of the characteristics of engineering language (precision, directness, a level of formality or maybe even the equivalent of business casual).

Analysis of the language used facilitates noticing of specific vocabulary, collocations and how they are used. Students should be encouraged to look for these same patterns in other sets of instructions as they will help them predict what the expectations are. Noticing language patterns in order to predict expectations is a generalizable skill that evolves as students move into junior positions and part time jobs.

Supplemental Materials

If throughout this module it becomes evident that students are having difficulty with vocabulary and grammar, then you will need to provide them with some supplemental material to help them overcome those issues. There is a great chance that there will be students who will struggle with prepositions and the use of modal verbs.

If you identify difficulty with prepositions, please use the Prepositions Resource (PDF, 184 KB) that explains the use of each preposition, gives examples for each preposition. Instruct the students to study that document thoroughly. Then have them complete the Prepositions Exercises (PDF, 132 KB). Students will need to check their answers against the Prepositions Answers (PDF, 134 KB), and if they have more than 40% wrong, they will need to practice more until they reach the point that there are no more than 1-2 errors per exercise.

If you identify difficulties with modal auxiliary verbs such as can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must and ought to, please assign the Modal Verbs Exercises (PDF, 167 KB). Follow the same steps as the ones described above for prepositions.