Friday, September 14, 2012

Small Group Writing Activities Are Ideal for Mainstream Classes With ELLs

Many English teachers now have ELLs in their classes since ELD courses are not as popular as they were in the recent past.  So, the concern that surfaces in such classes is how to teach writing in a class where 20% of the students speak very little English. Since teachers want to reach all their students, they never stop exploring different strategies in the hopes of finding just the right tool to make it happen. 

With this in mind, why not try small groups of no more than 3 or 4 to write on a common theme?  I did this regularly in my classes of ELLs.  Groups were carefully structured so that student support was built into each group (early advanced, intermediate, and beginner for example).  The persuasive writing topic was open ended enough that there could be wide range of responses.  One topic I used in the past was tied to space exploration.  The question was "Should we send space probes to outer space with a map back to our planet on them?  Take a position here and support it." 

Students in small groups discussed it first (a must with ELLs since often times they process through speaking first before reading and writing).  To use the results of this group work, students kept notes on a graphic organizer (double bubble is a favorite of mine ---it is an organized venn-diagram).  They then started collaborating on how to structure the argument (as per sample essays, former writing assignments, etc.).  Notes were kept in that organizer.  From that point, they began the writing as a team.  When the final copies came back to me, I didn't have 30 different essays to grade.  I had 5 (5 themes but same essay structure).  When I returned the group writings, I had them collaborate on editing them.  Over time, their writing improved to the point that they could attempt composing on their own from time to time.  So, in a nutshell, this type of support for ELLs is a must for them to grow in their language and writing skills.  It works!

Here is an example of small group writing in a high school.  It is highly effective.SMALL GROUP WRITING


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