With the pressure of standardized tests ever present in the classroom nowadays, teachers often times rarely have enough free class time to permit ELLs to explore the fun or creative side of writing. Through out-of-the-box thinking, teachers can present students with many opportunities to explore English vocabulary, sentence structure, idioms, and punctuation in a non-threatening learning environment, one in which both ELLs and English Only students work together to deliver impressive writing samples. Carefully structured cooperative groups are a must since ELLs need language support for the activity. Teamwork is everything here while the teacher moves from group to group as an observer and not a teacher.
To start off properly here, the teacher would model through a THINK-ALOUD (a teacher pretends to allow the students to “hear” what s/he is thinking about the topic). As the teacher shares via a document camera or overhead project the poorly written paragraph (see ELL Teacher Pros, CABE Conference 2011, “The Detective” –an excerpt from our book ELD for All: Writing Enhancement for ALL Learners on our website), she starts to encourage students to react to her questions about the paragraph. Even though a million questions might go through the teacher’s mind in looking at this skeletal paragraph, she must start off slowly. One very simple starter might be to ask the students what they think of this paragraph? Would they like to read more of the story? Why or why not? After this, going slowly in identifying what must be enhanced, a teacher might ponder aloud “What more information should I have on this detective? Is it a man? A woman? How old?” Students quickly start to share their opinions with relative ease. Anxiety levels with this type of activity are very low and that is a must for ELLs to build self-confidence in writing. The activity is also a lot of fun!
It would also be helpful for ELLs (and others) to have word walls up with vocabulary columns broken up into WEAK, GOOD, and SUPER vocabulary choices. So, for example, the use of BAD would be under the column entitled WEAK. Students in their groups would look for more descriptive choices. The teacher would also have this done in three different wall charts: one for nouns, one for verbs, and one for adjectives. Never again will students wonder what a teacher means when she says, “Where are your details?”