Writing essays and short stories at Secondary level can be a daunting experience – and even more so when you are asked to write in a second language. Students are asked to write small essays and significantly extended stories when they reach Key Stages 3 and 4. This can be overwhelming for an EAL student. Many end up writing their essays using a tool like Google Translate, which can provide some benefit to learning; however, the benefit can be lost when huge chunks of text are simply copied without understanding the vocabulary and grammar structures used.
Our role as teachers 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 and serves a cognitive as well as a physical function. While the student learners to form letters or characters physically, the act of writing also helps them develop their thinking and reasoning skills, develop their arguments and support these with evidence.
There are many ways to approach writing. Here’s one approach that can help support EAL learners begin the writing process:
Provide students with a content-based cloze activity to support the learning of 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 with formulating an essay (Coelho, 2010). This can also support students in looking beyond simply writing ‘and’ and ‘then’ (Wray and Lewis, 1996). Writing frames can assist students with a variety of structures, such as writing to persuade versus writing a report for a Science class (Wray and Lewis, 1996).
Provide models or prompts for short journal responses. For example, if you are learning the grammatical structure ‘used to’, you could provide a scaffolding phrase 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 ‘Three Things I Enjoy Doing’ and time the students as they write, 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. Allowing students to speak about their ideas will help with the organisation and development of their 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 on the topic. This should also build their confidence and help 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 sessions, 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.
Students can even write in their first language if necessary. Using the post-it notes, the focus will be on what needs to be said rather than on how to start (Mackay, 2006).
The resource accompanying this article is a sample writing frame that can be used as a simple scaffold. With this, your students will feel ‘safe’, while the planning process should equally help them feel more secure (Mackay, 2006). To download the writing frame, click on the button at the top and bottom of this article.
Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Specialist
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.