Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing with ELs

Writing may seem like the last step in language and literacy development, but according to Katharine Samway’s book When English Language Learners Write, research shows just the opposite. Young children, whether native English speakers or not, can begin to write before being able to read and even before being orally fluent. Of course, children understand more than they are able to write, but even English learners are fully capable of expressing complex thoughts in writing.

With this in mind, we’ve searched for ways to help your ELs get their thoughts out on paper. Whether your students have never before picked up a pen or they’ve already got the basics down, this list of research-based writing activities has something for everyone.

Don’t discount those crayon-scrawled drawings. Remember, the first writing systems were little more than graphic representations of ideas. Have your students draw a picture of a story and explain it to the class. This allows them to tell a story (first on paper, then orally), interact with their peers, and gain self confidence.

Mixing Observations
In a science class, don’t limit English learners to writing in paragraph form. Mix styles of writing (lists, pictures, captions) to allow multiple vehicles for meaning. This way, students can record their observations in a variety of ways, which may help them express more complex ideas.

If your students hesitate to write, it doesn’t mean they don’t know how. Some students simply don’t know what to write. Help them gain confidence in their abilities by allowing them to write and retell a beloved story they know.

You’re familiar with the word wall—take it one step further to teach sentence structure. Place basic headings at the top of the wall: article, noun, verb. When your class learns a new word, write it on a blank card, and put it under the appropriate heading. You’ll start to form funny sentences as time goes on. Once students are familiar with the most basic sentences (like, The mouse laughed), add new headings: adjective, adverb, direct object, and prepositional phrase. Students will love creating new sentences, and pretty soon they won’t have to use the wall as their sentence reference.

Journal Responding
Imagine Learning English provides students with important writing opportunities too. After every story students listen to or read, they receive an age-appropriate printout to help them explore their reactions to the story or article. When younger students read about a spooky adventure, they are asked to write about or draw a time they were scared. When older students read about Benjamin Franklin, they can use a word bank at the bottom of the printout to help them discuss ways they can help their community.  

Access blackline masters of these printouts in the Level 1 Resource Guide and the Level 2 Supplemental Guide.

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