Integrating Speaking and Writing for ELLs

Integrating Speaking and Writing for ELLs

speaking and writing with ELLs

Speaking and writing are two components of language development. With elementary-aged students, the typical progression is that students progress more quickly in speaking than in writing.  This is most likely due to the fact that all students at that age are learning writing, while speaking is a natural way that children socialize. For older students, some may be more comfortable writing down ideas before speaking.

Integrating speaking and writing provides English Language Learners with additional and opportunities for vocabulary development. Here are some strategies for integrating speaking and writing.

Start with Speaking 

Using speaking as a springboard for writing is an effective strategy for all students, but particularly ELLs, as it helps to build their oral language skills. Many students are less intimidated to speak than write. Talking helps to put all students on an equal footing and builds background knowledge around the upcoming topic (Motley, 2016)

For students that are reluctant to speak try giving them time to draw before speaking. This can be in the form of a quick sketch. A student might not know the English word for what they are trying to describe. A picture allows them something concrete to use as they are talking.

Allow Students to Use their Native Language

For some ELLs, particularly newcomers and those with lower language levels, speaking in English may still cause anxiety. Consider allowing ELLs to talk in their native language to first generate ideas if they have a peer that also speaks that language.  This is known as translanguaging*. Students can then practice saying a few phrases or sentences in English before moving onto writing.

For students that are literate in their native language consider having the student write in their native language first. They can then move on to speaking and writing in English.

Give all Students the Opportunity to Talk

In many classrooms, students with low language levels do a large amount of listening but not much talking.  When students are encouraged to raise their hands to give an answer, those that are unsure if they know the answer might choose not to take part. Talking in a large group can be intimidating for ELLs as well.

Some ways to give students more opportunities to talk include

  • using think-pair-share
  • All respond- give students a whiteboard or paper. After asking a question students write or draw their answer.
    • Then students take part in think-pair-share
  • Ask a question, give all students time to think, and then randomly call on a student.
    • You can also do this after think-pair-share so that students hear what some of the small groups were discussing.

Listen to student conversations and provide feedback

As students are talking, the teacher can ask questions to extend the conversation. You can also see which students have background knowledge about a topic and which will likely need additional support when they move on with the writing.

Students can also learn how to provide feedback to their partners. Consider posting sentence starters for student talk that can be used to give feedback.

I agree/disagree with you that ______.  Can you tell me more about _____?  I did not understand ____. Can you tell me that again? 

Use Pictures

Pictures are one way to help students focus their attention on speaking and writing. For ELLs, they help give them something concrete to talk about when they are first generating ideas.

Fairy tale retelling cards

Label Pictures

Take a picture and work with students to label what they see and other details.

Picture Word Induction Modle (Gonzalez, Valentina, and Melinda Miller 2020)- Lable the parts of the picture. Give students time to practice making simple sentences about the picture. Model writing about the picture using the student sentences.

Sentence Patterning Chart (Gonzalez, Valentina, and Melinda Miller 2020)- Create columns with words organized by parts of speech that connect to the picture. Read the words as a group. Give students time to practice creating sentences using the new vocabulary.

Use Sentence Starters

Sentence starters and sentence frames help students to use academic language and speak in a complete sentence. They can help to extend a conversation and encourage students to use more complex language than they otherwise would. They are often the most successful when they are presented as an option but not necessarily required for students to use. This way if students have an original way to formulate a sentence they can. Sentence starters are helpful for both speaking and writing.

park bench covered in snow

One benefit of having students speak and write about the same topic is that when they are first speaking they can use the sentence starter as it is written. Later, when they move on to writing they have more exposure to the topic and might not feel like they need that support.

Use graphic organizers to support writing

sequencing GO

Graphic organizers are a great tool for helping students to organize their thoughts. After filling out an organizer, students can talk about what they wrote with a partner. This gives them the chance to say their ideas out loud and get feedback. Then they move on to writing a final draft of their ideas.

Additional Ideas & Materials

For even more speaking and writing ideas to use with ELLs check out my post Supporting ELLs Writing through Listening and Speaking.


Motley, N. (2016). Talk read talk write: A practical routine for learning in all content area. San Clemente, CA: Seidlitz Education.

Gonzalez, Valentina, and Melinda Miller (2020). Reading & Writing with English Learners: a Framework for K-5. Seidlitz Education.

*Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers

5 thoughts on “Integrating Speaking and Writing for ELLs

  1. Hi, I love your lessons! I want to buy your Speak then Write Mega Bundle but I want to use it for distance learning. I know you said you are making it digital, when you buy it will there be a digital option or not yet. Thanks so much! You do great work!

    1. If you buy the bundle then you will have access to any set that has a digital option. I am adding in the digital link to all of the print versions including the Speak then Write Mega Bundle.

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