Diana’s ELL Writing Routine: Days 6-10

Diana’s ELL Writing Routine: Days 6-10

A recap of this three-part, ESL practitioner series:

  • In October 2018, Diana introduced her FREE Google site called “Diana’s ELL Writing Practice” in Part 1 of the series.
  • In November 2018, she described what Days 1-5 look like within her ten-day ELL writing routine in Part 2 of the series.
  • In this final article, she outlines what happens in Days 6-10, which align with the fifth principle for effective writing instruction:

5. Combine explicit writing instruction with extended and varied writing experiences for a purpose

On Day 6, we look at an example paragraph that compares marriage in the U.S. to India. (I use example paragraphs a lot; hearing fluent readers is important to becoming a good reader, and it’s the same with writing.) We talk about how the main idea is supported by details and review the academic vocabulary from the previous week.

Students’ next task is to brainstorm possible topics for their own paragraph, given this prompt: “What are some differences between American culture and the culture of your native country?” I suggest some areas of focus: marriage, parenting, community, education, technology, and free time. After having time to generate ideas, they share some with the class. We choose one as an example, and they suggest details as I write them onto a projected graphic organizer. Then we come up with a simple topic sentence.

Finally, students get a graphic organizer, choose their own topics, and begin to flesh out their ideas. At this stage, the only guidance I give is helping with main idea vs. detail; I don’t check any grammar because the focus is on ideas.

Over Days 7-9, the actual writing of the paragraph goes smoothly – if volunteers are available! Students choose to write on paper first or directly on the computer. Ultimately, they will all type their paragraph in a Google document. While they work, I usually model a topic sentence again; I also refer them back to the example comparison paragraph and point out transition words. For those needing more support, I give a paragraph frame for them to fill in. Or I get them to produce or ‘talk’ out their sentence first. Then I echo back slowly what they said as they write it. Sometimes we even write the topic sentence collaboratively. I believe it’s better to help struggling students see (and hear) what a good sentence looks (and sounds) like so they don’t get totally frustrated with writing one.

After students write a first draft, they read their work out loud to me or a volunteer and we work on revising. This is one of our most important routines; they catch some of their errors and we get to ask clarifying or guiding questions. We also make sure they have topic and concluding sentences, a logical order of ideas, and that the sentences communicate what was intended. Unfortunately, there are never enough teachers and volunteers to go around! Students do end up waiting, especially those who get stuck and are not independent enough to work around the problem. I encourage all waiting students to check their own capitals, periods, and spelling alone or with a partner.

Another useful strategy is to pull in a waiting student to listen to a classmate read his/her work aloud. Often both need the same feedback, preventing me from having to explain things twice. More importantly, working in a triad helps pave the way for them to build trust with each other. If I do a good enough job with this routine, they eventually read to and help each other on their own. Problems do occur, such as when a student suggests a change that is not actually correct. I remind everyone of some basic guidelines:

  • If you don’t understand a suggestion, ask why.
  • You don’t have to follow your partner’s suggestion.
  • There is more than one correct way to write an idea.
  • People should write/type for themselves – don’t grab their pencil or computer and try to do it for them.
  • Lastly, remember to be patient with each other because we are all learning.

By Day 10, my students’ paragraphs are ready for me to review outside of class. Based on what I know about them, I either correct something directly (using the “suggesting” mode in Google Docs) or prompt a correction with a guiding question (using the “comment” feature). I do not correct or comment on every little error, as that would be overwhelming for most students. I focus on the grammar points that we have been recently targeting in class. If I have time, I write a note at the bottom in a different font and color about something they have done well.

The next day in class, students can see my feedback and make changes accordingly. Getting them to easily navigate the suggestion and comment features takes considerable time and work. If we’re lucky, there are students with higher digital literacy skills who are willing to help. Finally, after all changes are made, everyone reads their work aloud to themselves or a partner, so that they can hear the corrected sentences. This adds even more to the mental models they have of good writing – a major step in this challenging process.

Diana Mulcahy, ESL Teacher Minneapolis Adult Education
Marn Frank, Literacy & STAR Coordinator ATLAS