Teaching Writing to MLs
When you are teaching writing to multilingual learners, what do you focus on? This is a big question with many components. I think of writing as being organized in two categories, mechanics and ideas. Some students have many ideas to write about and enjoy free writing. For many MLs this can be challenging. One reason is that they do not yet feel confident that they have the language to express what they are thinking. Use reading (or have students listen to read-alouds) to model what proficient writing looks like. Then have students talk about what they read (or heard).
Students that are learning English need explicit instruction in writing mechanics. This includes spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. Sometimes this instruction can feel separated from “actual” writing. Here are some suggestions for integrating these discrete skills into the overall writing process.
- Dictated sentences- This is when the teacher tells students a sentence to write down. The focus is typically on spelling the words correctly. Sentences should use phonics patterns and high frequency sight words that students have already been introduced to. Dictated sentences are also a quick way to model what proficient writing looks like.
- Work at the sentence level- When your goal is for students to create well crafted sentences in English, keep the focus at the sentence level.
- Create simple sentences. Have students practice expanding these to add details. This models what a complete sentence is. You can target parts of speech as students expand the sentences.
- A sentence patterning chart or sentence frames are two ways to guide students in how to write a sentence. Read about more ideas for supporting sentence structure.
- Mentor sentences- A mentor sentence is chosen to use as an example of proficient writing. The best ones are short and serve a specific purpose. The teacher then guides students in activities using the sentence. Students notice features of the sentence. The teacher points out the reason they chose the sentence (to model capitalization, punctuation, adjective usage, ext). Then students imitate the sentence by creating their own examples.
- Use pictures- Even if your focus is on writing mechanics, pictures are a great way to help MLs understand what they are writing about.
- The picture word inductive model is a simple way to integrate parts of speech and sentence structure with a picture to support vocabulary instruction. Students and the teacher label what they see in the picture. You can use a different color for the different parts of speech. Then use the vocabulary to create sentences about the pictures. Use a sentence patterning chart or sentence frames as a way to model correct sentence structure.
When the focus is on students recording their ideas, encourage them to try their best but not to worry if they can spell a word correctly or think of the word in English.
- Encourage translanguaging- Translanguaging is when a student is encouraged to use their full language background. If a student is writing a story or information piece encourage them to use their home language, especially if they can not think of the word in English. This allows them to continue writing and not to choose a less descriptive word or become frustrated.
- Use mentor texts- Just as students can imitate a mentor sentence, they can do the same thing with mentor texts. In this case, students read or listen to a book, and talk about what they notice. You can guide their noticing for a specific purpose, such as telling a story, sharing information, or making the reader laugh. Then students imitate the mentor text by creating their own examples. A mentor text can be a picture book, article, or set of directions.
- Read, Speak, Write- Similar to a mentor text, using the strategy of read, speak, write (or speak, read, speak, write depending on student’s language level, text complexity, and their background knowledge.)
- Have students read (or read out loud if you would like to use a text that is above the students independent reading level.
- Use pictures from the text for a structured speaking activity. This includes having students sequence story events or sequencing the steps to complete a task. Have students answer additional speaking questions about the topic, including what they would do differently or how they would change the story.
- Give a graphic organizer or sentence frames and have students write their own version of the story or describe how to complete the task. Have labeled pictures available to support vocabulary.
- Read, Speak, Write– This set of materials includes picture cards for students to sequence and then question prompts to guide conversation. There are both simple and more detailed texts included that you can use for reading or listening practice. Then have students again talk about the text. Finally, use the graphic organizers for students to organize their ideas and write about the topic.
- Talk Read Talk Write– This book guides teachers in setting up structured conversations around reading and writing. It includes examples of sentence frames and graphic organizers.
- WIDA Translanguaging– An overview of what translanguaging is and how it looks in different situations.
- The Writing Rope– Writing can be divided into different “strands.” These include:
- Critical thinking (generating ideas and the writing process)
- Syntax (grammar, spelling, punctuation)
- Text structure
- Writing Craft (word choice, audience)
- Transcription (spelling, handwriting)
- Writing Revolution– Gives examples of how to support students as they learn writing. Starts at the sentence level and builds to paragraphs. Ideas include expanding short sentences, sorting sentences, and outlining paragraphs.
- Reading & Writing with English Learners: A Framework for K-5– This book gives examples of activities that intergrade reading and writing. The lessons take into account the diversity and cultural background of multilingual students.