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This ELL article promotes proficient, independent and imaginative English writers by explicit teaching methods and four research based strategies


Language Arts  


7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12  

Title – Writing with ELL students
By – Maria D. Fernandez
Primary Subject – Language Arts
Grade Level – 7-12


      Recent results for students in our school district demonstrate that the language of instruction was not a contributive factor in our students’ language progress: there were equal amounts of students at the intermediate levels from both the Alternative Language Program and the Structured English Immersion Program. Our focus now is on using strategies to move students beyond the Intermediate Language Level, where most of them get stuck. In this article I am inquiring into:

    • What classroom practices best promote ELLs’ writing development?
    • How do teachers promote imaginative and proficient student writing?
    • How do students become independent writers?


      I am a teacher in a new dual language program. My counterpart will teach in Spanish all day with a similar population of students. We will “tag-teach”. Students will attend class in alternate languages for a day at a time. Teachers will continue each other’s lessons where the other left off. The students’ parents attended an orientation and two follow up interviews before entering the program. Some of the parents are fluent English speakers and some are monolingual Spanish speakers.
    My 2009-2010 second graders are twenty-three English Language Learners at different ELL proficiency levels. I will additionally teach twenty-one ELLs from my Spanish teaching counterpart. Thirteen of my students had instruction in a whole day English class with or without Spanish support. Thirteen of my students had instruction in an Alternative Program. On Trimester 3, they had 30% English Language instruction days: (95 min. daily + 30 min. “mixing” once/week period).

Special Considerations:

  • Assessments: writing assessments on Trimesters 1 and 2 will be on personal narrative and the last trimester will be on writing a friendly letter
  • Placement: by adjacent English reading language levels.
        15 Early Intermediate

        8 Intermediate, including 1 mainstream student

        1 retained student

        6 students receiving intensive math and reading support services

        2 speech

        3 counseling

      1 GATE student.
  • Reading DRA levels: range from level 8 to level 24 (16 is proficient) – 10 students are proficient in Spanish reading and six students are proficient or above in English reading.
  • Writing: Some students can write in complete sentences, while still developing proficiency in spelling and handwriting.
  • Technology Access: 4 laptops and an LCD projector.
  • Scheduling :
        Swun math + Beyond Basic Math Facts: 1.5 hours

        Guided Reading: 1 hour

        Writing Process: 55 minutes

        SS/Science: 25 minutes

        ELD: 1 hour

      Breathing: slowly
  • Assistance: due to budget cuts, we are to create routines anticipating for no teacher assistant in the classroom.

Four strategies supporting ELL writing development rationale:

      The strategies are embedded in the curriculum to support delivery of content standards. They facilitate student interaction and they require extensive teacher modeling/direct instruction. They ultimately develop ELL students’ written language proficiency. Reading, writing, speaking/listening are interwoven in the curriculum.
  • Read Alouds :
        In the past, I have used Read Alouds and author study to link reading and writing. Students were inspired to become imaginative writers. We read with author’s eyes when I directed students to focus on the author’s use of language. I incorporated a biography of the author so students learn about being an author. We studied Leo Lionni. We used sentence frames emulating the author’s beginning, descriptions, and endings. We used sentence frames using author’s sentences to illustrate the use of conventions, grammar and descriptive language. The students did incorporate some of the author’s strategies into their writing and they used their imagination. By the way, reading aloud also supports vocabulary development, which moves students into English proficiency.

    NCTE/IRA Standards 4, 5, 6, 11/California Writing Standards 1.3,1.4

  • Writing Process Approach :
        I scheduled time to provide student explicit and recurrent practice brainstorming, planning, writing, revising and editing their work. For 5-10 minutes, I will model the days’ writing assignment. Afterwards, students will work with partners (think-pair-share, numbered heads together, whiteboards, sentence frames, graphic organizers, etc.) and practice. Then, they will write. I will circulate, support and assess student work daily, using a rubric/checklist. Students will share their writing with a partner/group. In addition to the rubric/checklist, I will look for common needs to address grammar and conventions in the mini-lessons, such as starting with a capital and ending with a period, and leaving spaces between words. To expedite the process I will assist small groups of students with common needs.

    NCTE/IRA standard 4, 5, 6, 11, 12/California Writing Standards 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 2.1, 1.1, 1.2

        One Assessment goal is for students to evaluate their own writing. Students will use a rubric to assess their daily work.

    NCTE/IRA standards 6, 11, California Writing Standard 1.4

  • Language Experience Approach :
        This approach supports students synthesizing experiences. Through the use of sentence frames students acquire academic language, a crucial element in moving ELL students towards proficiency and independence in the English language. I will use it to summarize science or social studies experiences, to insure accuracy and ease of writing using academic language.

    NCTE/IRA standard 4, 5, 6, 10, California Writing Standard 1.1

  • Technology :
        I will also use technology to further support students in the narrative genre. Using computers was a motivator for groups of students to support each other in doing complete and accurate work. After everyone was done, students could use the computers. The Berenstein Bears story writing using sentence frames is a great reinforcer of accurate use of narrative language:
    NCTE/IRA standard 8, Educational Technology Standard 1a, 1b For Students
    Through explicit teaching, using research based strategies; I will promote students’ being proficient, independent and imaginative writers in English.


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