Teaching writing to ELLs in high schools

For English-language learners, writing poses the greatest challenge. Margarita Calderón explains how best to support them

AS WE VISITED 2ND GRADE CLASSROOMS with large numbers of English-language learners (ELLs), we looked at students’ writing posted around the walls and read examples such as: I like my pet. I like the ears. I like the nose. As we visited 9th grade classrooms, we read examples such as: I like photosynthesis. I like analyses. I like procedures. Writing is the most difficult area for ELLs and their high school teachers, and can be particularly overwhelming in certain subjects. For example, the writing demands in math, history, and science lessons vary from those of English lessons, as does the nature of the teaching. High school teachers and administrators report that their greatest concern is students’ low writing skills. Nevertheless, it is the least researched area in education.

What we know
● Learning to write in a second language can best be accomplished through an integrated sequence of explicit instruction.
● Teachers can scaffold instruction by making sure that ELLs understand all the elements and processes for the writing tasks.
● Brainstorming that requires rapid responses puts ELLs at a disadvantage because they need additional time to pull thoughts together into sentences.

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February 2011