For ELL students, the Key to Success is Writing

Guest Author: Anabel Gonzalez

H ow can teachers help English language learners, or ELL for short, to advance their English language skills? Writing is a task that many students find challenging, but this teacher thought of a creative solution to help students write. She knew that writing is an essential building block for student learning, especially for her English language learning students. We sat down with Anabel Gonzalez, a Secondary ELL teacher to learn more about what she did to get her students to write more often.

What Inspired You to Start this Activity

My inspiration for getting my students writing came from the movie Freedom Writers. All writing in my class has a positive tone. They can share anything they would like, but it must have a positive slant. They reflect on their learning, they interpret an idiom or motivational quote, they will share experiences, but I always ask that their posts have some degree of positivity.

How did your ELL students Respond

For the most part my students have embraced blogging. Initially, blogging was a free writing exercise. As they grew, I encouraged them to show me their drafts and made needed corrections. I don’t burden them with overcorrecting, however, I do want them to take pride in their work and strive for growth and improvement.

What was the Outcome of this Exercise?

As anticipated, students made significant gains in writing, but they also grew in listening, reading and speaking. Blogging involves a great deal of reflective thought and in our class, we have discussion time prior to blogging. Having a class discussion prior to any sort of writing exercise is an essential component of brainstorming as it provides an opportunity to think through their ideas aloud.

Why is it Important to Think in Another Language?

Thinking in a new language helps develop proficiency in a target language. Once one starts to process language in thought, growth in all language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing – will occur. Furthermore, it is expected for an individual to be apprehensive when attempting to communicate in a new language, yet often times this hesitation is misinterpreted as a lower proficiency level when in fact, there is an internal growth that is difficult to measure. By encouraging learners to carefully ponder before attempting to speak, write and/or think through in their native language serves as a scaffold that will generate growth.

How Do You Discover and Incorporate New Learning Tools?

Twitter is an invaluable resource for learning about new tools and strategies. Through it, I find blogs and publications with all sorts of instructional ideas. By connecting with other educators, I am able to exchange resources that work well for my ELL students. Interestingly, most of my ideas come from resources that are not designed for ELLs, but are easily modified to my learners’ needs. Because I teach at the secondary level, I aim to prepare my students for post-secondary education and/or the workplace. I teach language in context because that’s what these young people need in order to succeed socially, academically and vocationally.

Are There Any Moments that Stand Out From This Experience?

What has really struck me about the blogging journey is that in order for students – ELL students or otherwise – to produce good content they must have a connection to what they are writing. From blogging to research, when students find some sort of personal connection to the topic they are writing about the quality of work is exponentially greater. Furthermore, one needs to be careful not to overcorrect. If students are sincerely doing their best, correcting for perfection crushes them. The freer the writing, the more they will be willing to write and the more they write the more they will grow.

About the Author

Anabel Gonzalez is Secondary ESL Teacher for the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina. She teaches students in grades 7-12 of various backgrounds, native languages and English proficiency levels. Follow her on Twitter @amgonza.