Writing can pose unique challenges for students who are learning English. Often, the processes involved with writing differ from the processes involved with thinking. Students have to stop and think about how to put the words down on the page and it's more evident if they forget words, such as a/an or mix up words such as of/with. With all of the osbtacles they face, it's no wonder that it's often difficult to get students to write in the ESL and ELL classroom. When planning lessons and activities that require students to write, keep in mind some of these strategies to help make them more comfortable.
Start in their Language
English language learners often form thoughts in their own language, and then translate them into English. So start the writing process by having students write in their own language. Students can respond to a prompt or compose a short e-mail or letter in their own language. Then they can use a translation program to translate it into English. The translation isn't likely to be 100% accurate, and that's where you come in. Have students look at their translations and original pieces side-by-side. Point out where the structure of their native language differs from English and where they've used words that may not have the same meaning in English. As students analyze the two side-by-side, they will begin to see how structure and thought processes differ between English and their native language. Eventually, they will become more confident in their writing skills.
Provide a Model
If you want students to write in a specific format or tone, it's helpful to provide a model. No matter what students are going to write - an essay, letter, short story, poem - provide a sample of what a good one should look like. For younger students, the site Literacy Wagoll (What a Good One Looks Like) is a good place to start. You can even make up a template and have students simply fill in the blanks with their own inforrmation until they get the format down. Will students stick closely to the format at first? Of course. The goal is to boost their confidence and get them comfortable with writing before setting them off on their own. If a model or an outline helps them, then let them use it. You can expand upon the skill later.
Say it Aloud
Often students who are learning a language are better at speaking and listening than they are at writing. Just like you use dictation activities to help students learn key words, you can use dictation activities to help students learn to write. Instead of having students write a letter or a paragraph, have students record themselves saying a letter or paragraph aloud. Students can then play their recordings back and practice writing the words down on paper. This process can help students structure their thoughts before getting them down on paper. Once students get their thoughts down, have them read their papers aloud. Listening to their words will help them identify more errors in their writing.
It doesn't take much to help students gain confidence in their writing skills. You simply have to start with areas where they're strong and build from there.
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