How to Support English Language Learners During Writing Instruction

english language learners equity writing instruction

English language learners (ELLs) face a number of challenges when learning and trying to use the English language. One of the biggest challenges for ELLs is the complexities of the English language itself. English has a number of irregular verb forms and pronunciation can be difficult for those who are not native speakers. There are also many idioms and cultural references that may be unfamiliar to ELLs, which can make it difficult for them to understand native speakers or to effectively communicate their own thoughts and ideas.

English language learners have varying proficiency levels. If your school tests ELLs, they will likely have a proficiency label. These labels can help you identify what needs each student has and plan accordingly.

There are several ways to describe the proficiency levels of English language learners, but one common way is to use the categories defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The CEFR levels are:

A1: Beginner A2: Elementary B1: Intermediate B2: Upper intermediate C1: Advanced C2: Proficiency

Each of these levels represents a range of ability in reading, writing, speaking, and listening in English. For example, someone at the A1 level is a beginner and may be able to handle simple, everyday conversations and read short, simple texts, while someone at the C2 level is proficient and should be able to understand any type of English text and speak fluently and spontaneously without much difficulty.

Supporting Beginner ELLs

What to do if you get a student who cannot speak, read, or write in English: 

  1. Start with basic letter formation: Help the child learn how to properly form each letter of the alphabet. Use handwriting worksheets or have them trace over letters to practice.

  2. Practice writing words: Once the child has mastered letter formation, have them practice writing simple words, such as their name or simple sight words.

  3. Introduce sentence structure: Teach the child about capital letters, punctuation, and basic sentence structure. Have them practice writing short sentences using these concepts.

  4. Encourage reading: Reading is an important part of writing development. Encourage the child to read books and articles at their level to improve their vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure.

  5. Provide writing prompts: Give the child writing prompts to inspire them and help them practice their writing skills. Examples could be "Write a story about a trip to the beach" or "Write a letter to a friend".

  6. Encourage daily writing practice: Practice makes perfect! Encourage the child to write every day, even if it's just a few sentences. This will help them improve their skills and become more confident writers.

Resources for Varying Levels

Inside of the Simplify Writing® curriculum, we have a variety of tools to support your English language learners while teaching your on-grade level units. 

  1. Color-Coded Essay Templates- supports students with organization of their writing

  2. Essay Sort Templates - helps students understand the structure of paragraphs and different genres of writing

  3. Sentence Frames - supports students with getting started in their writing and reducing the cognitive demand

  4. Bilingual Glossary - supports students with making connections between their home language and what they’re learning in English

  5. Pre-teach Vocabulary - supports students with learning and understanding academic language

  6. Language Proficiency Rubrics - provides a reference for students’ language abilities and proficiency-based assessment

  7. Reduced Text - strategy for increasing comprehensible input and reducing cognitive demand

  8. Unpacking Sentences - strategy for making text more accessible and supporting students in using the content in their own words

  9. Word Banks - supports students with learning, using, and understanding academic vocabulary

  10. Text Read-Alouds - Every mentor text and reference text inside of the Simplify Writing© program comes with a read-aloud option. This can help your students access the text, hear academic vocabulary spoken aloud, and provide opportunities for students to refer to the text without the teacher being there to read it to them.

Despite the challenges of learning English, most students are able to overcome them and become proficient writers. It is important for ELLs to have access to high-quality language instruction and to be surrounded by supportive individuals who can help them along the way. With hard work and dedication, ELLs can learn to speak, read, and write in English, opening up a whole new world of opportunities.

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