As a teacher at an International School, many of my students are English Language Learners. Even my native English speakers are living in a non-English speaking country. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. Here is this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:I have two lovelies this year who came to me silent – as in the silent phase of language development. When they arrived 9 weeks ago, they spoke not one word of English. Now, they are beginning to talk – simple sentences like “Can I go to the bathroom?” and “I need a pencil.” I even get a few sentences like “I no like it.” and “I am the lineleader!” In reading, they are able to sound out their books and have been building vocabulary a piece at a time. In math, they are able to understand most of the directions and come up with the right answer. (Find out more about the silent period in this old blog post.)
Now, the kicker – how do we transfer these new literacy skills into creating written stories? Here are some tricks we are using to build writing for these students:
1.) Label a picture: Use a picture, label all of the key components in English. Let students create a story about the picture.
2.) Conjugate a verb: Choose a specific verb and help students conjugate the verb in their home language and in English. Feel free to download the conjugating sheet free from Google Docs. Then, ask students to create a story using this verb.
3.) Sentence frames: Give students the beginning of a variety of sentences on a topic and allow them to fill in the blanks.
My name is:________________
I am _____ years old.
I am in the ___________ grade.
I live in __________________.
I have _______ brothers and sisters, named _________________.
4.) Vocabulary packets: My students complete weekly ESL Vocabulary packets on a variety of topics. One of the activities they have to do is write a sentence using each vocabulary words. At the beginning of the year I expect students’ sentences to be simple and repetitive – like I have a chair. However, as the year goes on, I encourage them to use the previous weeks’ vocabulary and the verbs they are learning to create more complex and differentiated sentences. I also encourage students to use the vocabulary they are learning in other stories they are writing.
5.) Translate the key words: Our students have access to mini iPads with the iTranslate app on them, which they are allowed to use to translate key words that they want to use in their writing. However, they are only allowed to translate one word at a time, which prevents them from trying to translate entire sentences or stories.
6.) Write about familiar topics: Students start by writing about what they know. They are allowed to write about topics that interest them, but they are also encouraged to write about what is going on at school. For many ESL students, school is the only time they hear English, so by writing about what happens at school, they are necessarily writing about events that they already have English words for.
7.) Use books: In addition to teaching vocabulary and reading skills, books can be used to model good writing. I often let students write sentences in the same format as the writing in their books, or on the same topic of their books, or using the same vocabulary as their books. There are tons of ways to use books as a springboard for writing practice.
8.) Model, model, model: Taking time to model good writing is important for all students, but especially for ESL students. For beginning students, you may need to model basics like using capitol letters and punctuation marks. You should also take time to point on the noun and the verb in a sentence.
9.) Correct, but don’t overcorrect: Take time to correct students’ mistakes, but don’t make their paper a sea of red ink. Instead, choose one important thing you would like them to work on – like verb tenses, or adding a describing detail, and work on that with your students.
10.) Conference and praise growth: Take time to sit with students and review their writing regularly. Praise the growth you see as often as possible.
Do you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips? Would you like to view an hour long presentation on this topic? I recently presented on Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo. Now you can grab the presentation for just $3.95 from Teacher’s Notebook.
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