Mother Tongue as a Scaffolding Tool

After reading this post about using mother tongue to spark inquiry, I felt inspired to try something similar with second graders. A classroom teacher, Ms. Cheung, and I used this same idea of building students background knowledge to create and connect meanings in dual languages.

Second grade students are learning about their roles and responsibilities within communities. We divided students into groups based on their mother tongue with a grid of communities and groups they might be part of.

Students worked together to create meaning of the words in their home languages and could draw connecting words and pictures to aid their understanding.

As the students buzzed with enthusiasm, three teachers were able to support their understandings. Ms. Gigi (the teaching assistant) supported the Chinese speakers. Ms. Cheung rotated between the larger language groups (Chinese, English, and Korean) and I (EAL teacher) mostly supported the students who did not share a home language with their peers (Italian, Hebrew, and Swedish).

English speakers drew connecting words and pictures




Share out (Ms. Cheung)

Next, students began to create their own community webs (using the grid of community/group words as a word bank) and labeled their communities/groups in their home language as well as English.

Teacher example
Modeling- teacher example (me)
Working in Chinese and English to create his community web
Korean and English community web

We were so excited to see the students making connections between languages while discovering their roles in communities. As a follow-up, students will compare and contrast their groups and communities in small groups or partnerships. Thank you Jon for sharing an effective way of using mother tongue to support student learning!

Giving ELLs a Voice Through Writing


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Sharing is an important part of telling our unique stories
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Sharing stories in their home language before sketching
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Second graders sketching their small moment stories (beginning, middle, and end)

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In second grade writer’s workshop, students are beginning to write “small moment” stories (narratives). It can be daunting to write in English instead of the native language for our ELLs. According to an Ernst and Richard (When English Language Learners Write) study, they explained that talk was an important influence on the students’ developing fluency in English, both oral and literacy.

One way that really empowers students and gives them a voice to their stories is sharing with others before they write. This is so important before students begin writing. Each time we tell a story, we tend to add more details and emphasize the most important parts. Peers may ask questions or give comments which helps writers to reflect on their stories and gives writers valuable feedback.

Even though newcomers might not be as fluent when writing in English as they are in their native language, they are able to clearly write and express their ideas and emotions. Writing is developmental process in a students home language or additional language. It’s important to celebrate what students can do developmentally as a writer.

This is why students need opportunities to talk about their writing during writing and to share at the end. There should be real and meaningful purpose to write for an authentic audience (peers, community members, teachers).

A few strategies classroom teachers and I collaborate use to empower ALL students’ writing:

  • Photographs– Ask students to bring in photographs and share about what was happening in their native language at home. This allows students to be able to build connections across languages.
  • Encourage drawing– A major part of thinking. Let students do it first if they want to.
  • Model, model, model– Talk about your own life, show real pictures, use gestures.
  • Clear expectations-Checklist, rubric, is it clear for all students?
  • Sentence stems and graphic organizers– Breaks the writing down into manageable chunks (especially for newcomers).
  • Talk time– Give students the chance to talk about their stories throughout the writing process and share time at the end. This allows students to practice language structures, conventional grammar, and syntax modeled by classmates.

I love this quote about honoring ELLs’ thinking from Ladybugs, Tornadoes, and Swirling Galaxies

“The heart and soul of the kids’ writing has been watching them bring their stories to life, which goes hand in hand with our belief that by honoring their thinking we allow them to show what they know. Each and every child has a special and different story to tell, which, as they write them down, fills our classrooms with new background knowledge and reveals who they are. These personal narratives are the stepping-stones to inquiry.”

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Student checklist with pictures to help reflect on writing
A student’s story in German (home language)
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Student using a graphic organizer and photograph to tell his story
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Teacher sample/model
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Narrative graphic organizer (beginning, middle, end) with transition words