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Improving Writing Skills: ELLs and the Joy of Writing

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How to differentiate writing activities:


What elements of writer's craft enhanced my story? What might I change? Did something I read influence my writing? What did I learn or what did I expect the reader to learn? Where will I go from here? Will I publish it? Chancer cautions that these questions should not be considered a "reflection checklist," rather they are questions that seem to be addressed frequently when writers tell the story of a particular piece.

Nancy Lilly, co-director of the Greater New Orleans Writing Project , wanted her fourth and fifth grade students to breathe life into their nonfiction writing. She thought the student who wrote this paragraph could do better:. The jaguar is the biggest and strongest cat in the rainforest. The jaguar's jaw is strong enough to crush a turtle's shell. Jaguars also have very powerful legs for leaping from branch to branch to chase prey.

Building on an idea from Stephanie Harvey Nonfiction Matters , Stenhouse, Lilly introduced the concept of "nouns as stuff" and verbs as "what stuff does. In a brainstorming session related to the students' study of the rain forest, the class supplied the following assistance to the writer:.

This was just the help the writer needed to create the following revised paragraph:. As the sun disappears from the heart of the forest, the jaguar leaps through the underbrush, pumping its powerful legs. It spies a gharial gliding down the river. The jungle cat pounces, crushing the turtle with his teeth, devouring the reptile with pleasure. How will Students' Nonfiction Writing Arrive? For a final exam, Sarah Lorenz, a teacher-consultant with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project , asks her high school students to make a written argument for the grade they think they should receive.

Drawing on work they have done over the semester, students make a case for how much they have learned in the writing class. They can't simply say they have improved as writers — they have to give examples and even quote their own writing. They can't just say something was helpful — they have to tell me why they thought it was important, how their thinking changed, or how they applied this learning to everyday life.

Jean Hicks, director, and Tim Johnson, a co-director, both of the Louisville Writing Project Kentucky , have developed a way to help high school students create brief, effective dramas about issues in their lives.

The class, working in groups, decides on a theme such as jealousy, sibling rivalry, competition, or teen drinking. Each group develops a scene illustrating an aspect of this chosen theme. Considering the theme of sibling rivalry, for instance, students identify possible scenes with topics such as "I Had It First" competing for family resources and "Calling in the Troops" tattling.

Students then set up the circumstances and characters. Hicks and Johnson give each of the "characters" a different color packet of Post-it Notes. Each student develops and posts dialogue for his or her character. As the scene emerges, Post-its can be added, moved, and deleted. They remind students of the conventions of drama such as conflict and resolution. Scenes, when acted out, are limited to 10 minutes. The Play's the Thing. Romana Hillebrand, a teacher-consultant with the Northwest Inland Writing Project Idaho , asks her university students to find a literary or historical reference or a personal narrative that can provide a fresh way into and out of their writing, surrounding it much like a window frame surrounds a glass pane.

A student in her research class wrote a paper on the relationship between humans and plants, beginning with a reference to the nursery rhyme, "Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies.

The student finished the paper with the sentence, "Without plants, life on Earth would cease to exist as we know it; ashes, ashes we all fall down. Hillebrand concludes that linking the introduction and the conclusion helps unify a paper and satisfy the reader.

Helping Students Devise Beginning and Endings. She brings to class two pieces of wire, the last inch of each exposed. She tells her college students, "We need to join these pieces of wire together right now if we are to be able to watch our favorite TV show. What can we do? We could use some tape, but that would probably be a mistake as the puppy could easily eat through the connection. By splicing the wires in this way, we are creating a fire hazard. A better connection, the students usually suggest, would be to use one of those electrical connectors that look like pen caps.

If we simply splice them together with a comma, the equivalent of a piece of tape, we create a weak connection, or a comma splice error. What then would be the grammatical equivalent of the electrical connector?

Think conjunction - and, but, or. Or try a semicolon. All of these show relationships between sentences in a way that the comma, a device for taping clauses together in a slapdash manner, does not. In addition to his work as a high school teacher of writing, Dan Holt, a co-director with the Third Coast Writing Project Michigan , spent 20 years coaching football. While doing the latter, he learned quite a bit about doing the former.

Here is some of what he found out:. The writing teacher can't stay on the sidelines. Like the coach, the writing teacher should praise strong performance rather than focus on the negative. Statements such as "Wow, that was a killer block," or "That paragraph was tight" will turn "butterball" ninth-grade boys into varsity linemen and insecure adolescents into aspiring poets.

The writing teacher should apply the KISS theory: Keep it simple stupid. Holt explains for a freshman quarterback, audibles on-field commands are best used with care until a player has reached a higher skill level.

In writing class, a student who has never written a poem needs to start with small verse forms such as a chinquapin or haiku. Practice and routine are important both for football players and for writing students, but football players and writers also need the "adrenaline rush" of the big game and the final draft. High school teacher Jon Appleby noticed that when yearbooks fell into students' hands "my curriculum got dropped in a heartbeat for spirited words scribbled over photos.

Take pictures, put them on the bulletin boards, and have students write captions for them. Then design small descriptive writing assignments using the photographs of events such as the prom and homecoming. Afterwards, ask students to choose quotes from things they have read that represent what they feel and think and put them on the walls. Check in about students' lives.

Recognize achievements and individuals the way that yearbook writers direct attention to each other. Ask students to write down memories and simply, joyfully share them. As yearbook writing usually does, insist on a sense of tomorrow. A Guide to Writing and Teaching. Sometimes she encourages these students to draft writing in their native Creole.

The additional challenge becomes to re-draft this writing, rendered in patois, into Standard English. She finds that narratives involving immigrant Caribbean natives in unfamiliar situations — buying a refrigerator, for instance — lead to inspired writing.

In addition, some students expressed their thoughts more proficiently in Standard English after drafting in their vernaculars. This may be useful as an activity for a volunteer or teacher's aide to use with a small group of ESL students during literacy time.

Here are the steps. After this activity, usually even beginning-level ELL students are able to read the story to others because it was their experience, it is in their own words, and they have worked with the text in a meaningful way.

This activity helps students analyze common writing errors through a personalized activity since they are trying to buy their own sentences. Once a week or once a month, a teacher can hold a "Sentence Auction. The identity of the student who wrote each sentence is not revealed.

The students are told to "bid" on the good sentences. The winner is the student with the highest number of "good" sentences. I have never "corrected" my students' writing mistakes, at least not in the traditional way. I have always told my students, "If I correct your English, I improve my English; if you correct your English, you improve yours. If I pre-set the errors I would look for, for example correct use of past tense, I would only correct past tense errors, even if I saw other glaring errors in the paper.

Sometimes this was hard to do, but I wanted to maintain the students' focus on the writing improvement we were working on. If I set a number of errors I would circle, for example, five, then I carefully chose those five and ignored the rest. When I returned the papers, the students were responsible for correcting their own mistakes. If they weren't sure how to do it, they could check with a classmate, and if no one knew, then I would assist.

Invariably the students would ask, "Are these the only errors in the paper? They might be disappointed, but they came to understand the value of correcting their own errors when they submitted a piece of writing. One of the challenges for ELL students when they approach writing is their anxiety about writing their ideas correctly and writing a lot of information in English.

This may feel overwhelming when a student is assigned an essay. In order to get students comfortable with the idea of just putting ideas on paper and not worrying about mistakes, we do regular "quick writes. They need to keep their pencils on the paper and even if they can't think of anything to write or they are worried about how to spell things, they are supposed to keep writing.

At the end of five minutes, the students count how many words they were able to write and they keep track in a log. The objective is that they will see progress in the amount of writing they are able to do in five minutes' time and hopefully apply this fluency to their essay writing.

Cinquain poems offer great flexibility in working with ELL students of a variety of language levels. The basic Cinquain formula is as follows, but teachers can modify it as needed according to the student language level. There really is no wrong way to do a Cinquain, students can put key vocabulary words together any way they like to create the message they desire.

Teachers may want to use Cinquains to reinforce new content vocabulary and concepts as well. With these writing activities to try in your classroom, the only thing left is to buy a few boxes of pencils, hand them out to your ELL students and help them discover the possibility of joy in writing.

Teachers who use a variety of activities and strategies to help ELL students become comfortable with expressing their ideas in a new language and finding success with small writing tasks, will give their students' confidence for a lifetime of self-expression. I offer this Cinquain poem to sum it up. This article from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, featured on LD OnLine, discusses dysgraphia and its warning signs, as well as strategies for addressing it for different age groups.

Reading Rockets webcast featuring Dr. Louisa Moats, and Dr. These three renowned reading and writing experts address why writing is important, what the latest research tells us, and what educators and parents can do to support our children's development as writers. Teaching Plot Structure with Picture Books. Use picture books to teach young writers how to organize plot logically. This article includes examples of basic plot structures, along with picture books that use those structures.

An Introduction to Letter Writing. This article from My Child Magazine, featured on Reading Rockets, offers samples of different styles of letters from thank-you notes to letters to Santa and style guidelines that children can follow.

This site lets you create your own handouts of words that students can practice writing. The paper is lined and the word is outlined in small dot print. Good for ELL students developing initial literacy skills.

ReadWriteThink offers a variety of fun, interactive writing activities, including the Comic Creator. Students can fill in comics with their own words and storylines.

A poetry site designed to assist instruction of ESL students in poetry and other creative writing forms. The site has links and detailed information on poetry such as Cinquain, Diamante, Haiku and Limericks. It also has further information on other types of creative writing and tips for instruction.

Language Arts Graphic Organizers. These graphic organizers can be used to prepare for a five-paragraph essay, organize sentences in a paragraph, map concepts and events, compare topics with a Venn Diagram, organize notes for a presentation, create a double-entry journal, and much more. With generous support provided by the National Education Association.

Thanks for sharing useful ideas out of your personal experience. However, younger writers must typically devote considerable attention to acquiring and polishing these skills before they become proficient.

Spelling skills can affect the words students choose because they may be less likely to use words they cannot spell. Students also need to be able to generate strong, interesting sentences that vary in length and complexity in order to convey their intended meaning and engage readers. When a student's writing contains spelling mistakes and poor handwriting, it can be difficult for the reader to understand what the student is trying to convey.

Word processing programs can make many aspects of the writing process easier for students, including assisting students with spelling and handwriting difficulties to write more fluently. Early writing instruction should begin with demonstrations of how to hold a pencil comfortably between the thumb and forefinger, resting on the middle finger. Teachers also should show young writers the most efficient and legible ways to form each letter, regardless of whether print or cursive script is used.

Because handwriting is a motor skill, it works best to practice in multiple short sessions. Students also should apply their handwriting skills in sentences and in authentic writing activities. A relatively small number of words account for 80 percent of the words elementary- grade students use in their writing.

Teachers should help students learn to spell words they commonly use. Although many elementary schools have an explicit spelling curriculum, teachers should connect spelling instruction with writing as much as possible. Students should be encouraged to learn words they frequently misspell, as well as words they wish to include in their writing.

Teachers also should help students acquire the skills they need to generate and check plausible spellings for words. Students should learn to write strong sentences that convey their intended meaning and engage readers. Teachers should focus sentence-level instruction on sentence construction, encouraging students to consider the meaning and syntax of the sentences they develop. Teachers also should explicitly demonstrate how sentence construction and sentence mechanics, such as punctuation and capitalization, interact to form strong sentences.

Students also need instruction on how to use a variety of sentence structures in their writing. Students should be introduced to typing in 1st grade. By 2nd grade, students should begin regular typing practice. By the end of 2nd or 3rd grade, students should be able to type as fast as they can write by hand. Instruction in typing should be accompanied by instruction in how to use a word processor. Students need both the skill and the will to develop as writers.

In a supportive writing environment, teachers participate as writers, not simply instructors, to demonstrate the importance of writing. By taking part in writing lessons and activities, teachers convey the message that writing is important, valued, and rewarding. Teachers should model how the ability to write affects their daily lives, demonstrate the importance of writing to communicate, model the perseverance required to create a good piece of writing, and express the satisfaction that can come from creating a meaningful text.

For example, a teacher could draft a letter or an email to a friend in front of students, thinking out loud to make the invisible act of composing — which occurs internally for experienced writers — more visible to students.

Teachers should provide opportunities for student choice in writing assignments — for example, choice in selecting writing topics or the freedom to modify a teacher-selected prompt. One way to foster choice is for students to keep a notebook in which they record topics for writing. Teachers also need to provide instruction and opportunities for students to practice writing to prompts.

Teachers can encourage students to collaborate throughout the writing process by brainstorming ideas about a topic, responding to drafts in a writing group, or helping peers edit or revise their work. Collaboration also can take the form of collaborative writing, whereby students jointly develop a single text. Students need to know whether their writing is accurately and appropriately conveying its message. One way students can determine this is by sharing their writing and responding to written and verbal feedback from the teacher and their peers.

Although teachers should provide feedback to students through teacher-student conferences and rubrics, peers also should be encouraged to participate in the feedback process. Students also need to be taught strategies and appropriate language for written feedback. We will incorporate more writing into our classrooms by have students write about composers, artists, atheletes, and summaries of books read.

Some very useful strategies for young learner. That said, the article continually expands further with some excellent choices: There is a stress on time development daily and over time to develop writing confidence and excellence.

Thanks for the sharing, I also found a useful service for forms filling. It looked much better typed than hand-written. I think that writing is the best tool for children to express every feeling and emotion. This way we are able to understand them and guide them towards more knowledge. Author Interviews Meet your favorite authors and illustrators in our video interviews.

Book Finder Create your own booklists from our library of 5, books! Themed Booklists Dozens of carefully selected booklists, for kids years old. Nonfiction for Kids Tips on finding great books, reading nonfiction and more. Skip to main content. You are here Home. Provide daily time for students to write Level of evidence: Minimal Providing adequate time for students to write is one essential element of an effective writing instruction program. How to carry out the recommendation The panel recommends a minimum of one hour a day devoted to writing for students, beginning in 1st grade For students in kindergarten, at least 30 minutes each day should be devoted to writing and developing writing skills.

Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes Level of evidence:


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Teach students the writing process 1. Teach students strategies for the various components of the writing process. Students need to acquire specific strategies for each component of the writing process. Students should learn basic strategies, such as POW (Pick ideas, Organize their notes, Write and say more), in 1st or 2nd grade.

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Write! for Students No-distraction writing tool for your productivity for just $ ($ regular price) Read the blog post to find out more about Write! Student Lifetime license. Step 1. Register. Minimal information is required to sign up for Write! Student .

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Grades K – 12 | Student Interactive. Acrostic Poems. This online tool enables students to learn about and write acrostic poems. Elements of the writing process are also included. Student Models. When you need an example written by a student, check out our vast collection of free student models. Scroll through the list, or search for a mode of writing such as “explanatory” or “persuasive.”.

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The curriculum teaches % of the writing and grammar Common Cores, and other state standards, with writing instruction that spirals across all grade levels. Practice makes perfect. Students build critical writing skills from instructional modeling and daily writing practice. 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing. Summary: Few sources available today offer writing teachers such succinct, practice-based help—which is one reason why 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing was the winner of the Association of Education Publishers Distinguished Achievement Award for Instructional Materials.