Speaking and writing are two components of language development. With elementary-aged students, the typical progression I see is that they 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. Integrating the two provides English Language Learners with additional speaking practice and helps improve their writing. 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)
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. They can then practice saying a few phrases or sentences in English before moving onto writing.
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. Another strategy is to 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?
Pictures are one way to focus students attention for speaking and writing. For ELLs, they help give them something concrete to talk about when they are first generating ideas.
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.
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 more exposure to the topic and might not feel like they need that support.
Use graphic organizers to support writing
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.