Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Teacher, Dwight School London
Writing essays and short stories at secondary level can be a daunting experience but when you are asked to write in a second language, it can be even more daunting. Students are asked to write small essays and significantly extended stories when they reach key stages three and four. This can be very overwhelming for an EAL student. Many students may write their essay using a translator, like Google Translate which can provide some benefit to learning; however, the benefit can be lost when huge chunks of text are copied without understanding the vocabulary and grammar structures used to write their requirement. Our role is to provide students with the tools they need for writing. Written assignments can prove useful for developing writing in an additional language (MacKay, 2006) especially when modelled from previous reading or shared writing.
Nunan (2011) explains that developing the ability to write a fluent, coherent, extended piece takes time and a lot of practice. Writing is a fundamental skill for all learners to accomplish and also serves as a cognitive as well as a physical function, whereby the student is learning to form letters or characters. Writing can help a student develop their thinking and reasoning skills, develop their arguments and support them with evidence.
There are many possible ways to approach writing, but here’s one possible approach which can help learners begin the writing process. You could deliver the following steps to support an EAL student:
Provide the student with the keywords related to the topic of the essay or short story. For example, a lesson on adjectives may lend itself to short story writing (Coelho, 2010).
Provide students with a content-based cloze activity to support new words.
Give students a writing frame, as a model of how the essay or story should be structured. For example, a lesson on connectives and sentence starters can help formulate an essay (Coelho, 2010). This can also support students to look beyond writing ‘and’ and ‘then’ (Wray and Lewis). Writing frames can help students with a variety of structures, e.g. writing to persuade vs writing a report for a Science class (Wray and Lewis).
Provide models or prompts for short journal responses. For example, if you are learning the grammatical structure of ‘used to’ you could provide a scaffolding such as my mother used to…
Ask the student to provide their own writing journal which they can decorate. This can be their personal writing book, with a focus on writing for confidence. Give the student a title such as 3 things I enjoy doing…and time the students or let them write about the topic for homework.
Students may also be required to reference their work. Find some simplified websites and books, which they can use to find their information (never leave EAL students to find the information alone on the Internet). This will also help to develop their reading skills. You will also need to model how the essay should be referenced.
Once you have prepared all the materials, students need to plan their ideas first. Allowing students to speak about their ideas will help with the organisation and development of the students’ speaking skills. This can be done as a small group, with the support of an adult. Students may need to use their first language initially, to help them develop their ideas with the topic. This should also build on their confidence and develop their language structures and vocabulary. During this time, you may also wish to use some visual images as a prompt to learning new language.
During the discussion group, give your students a set of post-it notes to write down keywords and phrases (Mackay, 2006). Using a line map, ask your students to place their post-it notes on the line to begin forming an argument.
A line map:
Students can even write in their first language if need be. Using the post-it notes, the focus will be on what needs to be said rather than how to start (Mackay).
Attached is a sample writing frame which can be used as simple scaffolds. With these your students will feel ‘safe’ and this technique is very friendly because planning should help your learners to feel more secure (Mackay, 2006). To download the writing frame: Click here!
Coelho. E (2010) Differentiated Instruction for English Language Learners, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.
Nunan. D (2011) Teaching English to Young Learners, Anaheim University Press, Anaheim California.
Mackay, N (2006) Removing Dyslexia as a barrier to achievement (Second Edition), SEN Marketing, Wakefield.
Wray. D and Lewis. M (year) An approach to scaffolding children’s non-fiction writing: the use of writing frames, University of Exeter.