Saturday, July 28, 2012

Writing and ESL Students

Note: Normally, I do not publish my blog, English Updates, on weekends. However, I publish several other blogs during the week having to do with ideas in English education that are not current, but still useful. On weekends, I will publish samples of these ideas. RayS.

Question: How should writing be taught to ESL students?

Answer: “Teach writing at the same time as reading.” The authors suggest beginning with language experience:

“…start with a language experience approach in which the teacher or an aide transcribes a story that students dictate after they have developed it individually or collectively. These stories can be handwritten in large print on a chalkboard or paper and should be copied over by students so that they have their own record of the stories they have created and can read them later.

“Students’ stories should be written exactly as they are dictated. The teacher should use correct spelling, but preserve students’ sentence structures, even if they are incomplete or ungrammatical. Only in this way can students feel ownership of their stories.”

They should write for different purposes (“…to share experiences with a friend, tell a story, explain a concept, show a sequence of activities, persuade another person, or summarize information.”)

Comment: For older ESL students, I suggest 10-minute essays. At the beginning of each class period, students write for 10 minutes on a topic of their own choosing. The writing should be no longer than 10 minutes. They should not try to write a whole essay.

That night the teacher corrects what the students have written, completing sentence structure, correcting spelling, adding or subtracting punctuation, and altering word choice if the words are inaccurate.

The next day, the students study the corrections, ask questions about what they do not understand. That night they re-write the previous day’s 10-inute essay and keep in a folder a copy of the original and the corrected version for later reference.

Why? The teacher is modeling how to correct and edit problems in writing English.

Of course, students will also learn to write full-length essays. These essays will be corrected in the same way that the essays of native speakers of English are corrected—by labeling and explaining problems.


Title: “Instructional Approaches and Teaching Procedures.” AU Chamot and JM O’Malley. Pp. 82-107. In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

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