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



13 thoughts on “Giving ELLs a Voice Through Writing”

  1. Shanna – I really enjoyed your post, a picture certainly speaks a thousand words, the photos really illustrated your points well (like many of your ELL, I am also a visual learner!) The strategies that you shared to illustrate collaboration between yourself and classroom teachers to empower ALL students’ writing, reminded me of a workshop we did with Gini Rojas at ISPP last year, where she was clear that all the strategies she shared were for all language learners not just ELL. It’s so true, eh?! Good teaching transcends, right!?

  2. We are so delighted to have a SPELTAC participant from another international school, thanks for joining Shanna! I particularly like how you document learning in this post and link it to readings and resources so that we can follow your learning as well as be inspired to try it out in our own classrooms. If anyone is reading this comment at ISPP, I have the book Shanna refers to in my room- it’s a great book that links English language learning with inquiry.

    Look forward to more of your posts, thanks again!

    1. Thank you Marcelle for letting me join! It is a great book that was recommended at an inquiry workshop that Holly Reardon led. The idea about creating “class news” for shared writing was a hit in my grade 2 class 🙂

  3. Shanna, thank you for sharing. Wonderful to connect with a Grade 2 teacher at another international school. I really like the way you documented the learning to show the process. I currently do a limited form of this and look forward to developing this idea in my G2 classroom. Particularly love the use of photographs and the checklist!

    1. Thanks Anita, it’s nice to meet a fellow G2 teacher 🙂 Grade 2 is my favorite! I taught 2nd for four years at my current school, but this year I’m supporting EAL grades 2-3. As a classroom teacher, I’m still working on the share time at the end of writing. We frequently ran out of time… I needed to put an emphasis on share time to finish on a strong note. Would you like me to send you some of the files for G2? I’m happy to share!

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