Sunday, December 4, 2011

Do You Have Students Who Struggle With Essay Writing?

I have yet to encounter a room full of students who love to write essays:) Most teachers would agree with me here. So what can we do to make the process less intimidating for them? Weave in some technology of course:)

ELLs often times encounter some difficulties with the linear writing style of English. Occasionally, this style may conflict with the one they learned in school in their own countries (if they are older students). For teachers to ease them into the linear style, they need to show students how all writing styles share the same purpose-to communicate a position or convey a message. This approach validates what students bring from their home cultures. Students will be adding to their knowledge base on writing styles and NOT starting from ground zero! Tapping into prior knowledge makes a world of difference in building writing confidence of these students.

One tool that is especially effective is from the National Council of Teachers of English. The link is to READWRITETHINK, but since the site can be a bit overwhelming to navigate, I have pulled out only the one interactive that will be addressed here. PERSUASIVE ESSAY INTERACTIVE assists students in developing a visual graphic organizer that maps out an essay outline piece by piece. Teachers can also print out a blank layout first to explain the process to the students. With a document camera, the teacher could create an outline with the class as a team effort. Here the ELL would have the support of peers and teacher in working with the outline. Once the class completed one together, teachers might have students work in small groups or with a partner to take a new sheet and develop an outline on a new topic from several that the teacher has developed ahead of time for students to work with. Students could then share their outlines with other groups. Teachers would then call on random groups (this approach holds everyone accountable to do the work) to share their work under the document camera.

Now, students would be ready to try the process on their own with the understanding that they could ask for peer or teacher support any time along in the process. From my own experience with this interactive with my ELLs, students wrote well developed outlines which in turn led to good first drafts. Once the initial drafts were reviewed by two other students and myself, the next two stages of the drafting process were worked on. Let me say that the final stages are far easier to complete than the initial one where students have to plan out the essay. This generator made a world of difference for my ELLs and it will for yours as well:)



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