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Teaching Writing to English Language Learners

Luke Holm earned bachelor's degrees in English and philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.

Teaching English to ELL Students

It can be quite difficult for foreign students to get acclimated to a new culture. Difficulty with language and communication often pose some of the biggest problems for these students. To help English Language Learners (ELLs or ELs) develop as better writers, it is the teacher’s duty to provide effective practices that enhance the student’s comprehension and reciprocation of the new language. Some practices that should be examined are cooperative learning environments, diversity in cultural milieu, and student-engaging instructional conversations.

How do you build cooperative learning environments?

How do you build cooperative learning environments?

Cooperative Learning Environments

It is important to provide a cooperative learning environment for ELL students so that they may interact with other students and share materials with other members of their group. When each group is given a specific function, not only will the ELL student be given a determined goal to accomplish with their group, but also the students will achieve a higher level of learning when they are not merely copying work from each other.

As topics and transitions progress, later in the semester, it is important to relate material and subject matter to experiences the ELL students are familiar with. By doing so, the ELL student will be better motivated to work in their new environment; one they might find threatening. As students feel more acclimated in their classrooms and around their peers, it is also important to provide cooperative activities that promote intellectual discussion. For ELL students, it is important for them to be well versed not only in written rhetoric but also in verbal rhetoric. Here, we learn that single-response questions and answers provide no benefit for the ELL student. They need to engage their environment and do so in an aware and cognitive fashion.

What writing assignments do you give your students?

What writing assignments do you give your students?

Writing Assignments for English Language Learners

Many English Language Development (ELD) textbooks require ELs to copy down sentence frames in response to the material they read or discuss in class. Copying down the frames allows students to learn the syntax and conventions of writing in English. Over time, the frames tend to have a gradual release allowing students to provide more of their own information, rather than copying down prescribed sentences. This approach to learning how to write is effective, but can also be limiting for a more advanced learner. It is the teacher's job to determine where their student is at in their education and provide them with material that promotes constant academic (and social) growth.

As ELL students develop, it is important to remember that their language acquisition is a gradual developmental process. Because of this, there are certain writing assessment practices that may be beneficial to the learner, and possibly the teacher as well. After receiving a paper from a new ELL student, it is important to focus on fluency rather than correctness.

How do you assess your students?

How do you assess your students?

Assessing ELL Students

Since learning a new language and applying it to a paper is a difficult task, the teacher must remember that the student is engaging in a process; one that should be expected to develop over a period of time. It is also important to have meaningful interaction with the student when evaluating their end product. Instead of merely giving a letter grade for their work, teachers should give ample opportunity for a revision process. If the work submitted is the final revision, then teachers should take some time and provide feedback that promotes positive growth both for the student and for their work.

For ELL students, this feedback should be both oral and written. Since the language may be new to the student, oral feedback provides not only social interaction but also an auditory display of what the problem or situation may be. After the student has been debriefed about their paper, it is also important to provide a written response to their work. Providing a written response will help the student clarify what you meant during your oral discourse, and will allow for the student to look back on the information provided at a later date.

Writing Strategies for English Language Learners

Education Is an Experience

I feel that it is important that teachers realize school is not all about grades and right and wrong answers. A student’s schooling is not only an educational experience but also a learning and life experience. In particular, when dealing with an ELL student, the teacher should be very subtle in his ways when first approaching or engaging the student. ELL students may feel as though they are in a threatening environment and may seclude themselves from society because of fear and anxiety when learning a new culture and language. As long as teachers promote productive growth that engages these students, ELLs can strive toward a brighter future.

© 2018 JourneyHolm