Strategy 8

8. Teachers provide ample opportunities for students to talk about familiar topics and then demonstrate to students how talking better enables them to write.

The connection between speaking and writing is an especially important one for ELLs. By observing and participating in the teacher's composing processes, ELLs gain insight into many aspects of writing. Students learn that writing may begin with the intention to interact, inform, inquire, amuse, remember, persuade, or celebrate. They realize that words can be broken into sounds that are represented by letters. They notice that the teacher doesn't always try to "sound out" words but sometimes just remembers them or consults the word wall. They see how the teacher thinks about her title as a way to focus her writing. They hear the teacher consider how to begin with an attention-grabbing sentence, and they learn that the teacher is always thinking about what will interest and inform the audience. In this way, they discover the logic behind capitalization, punctuation, and paragraphing.

Finally, ELLs are privy to the teacher's self-evaluation. The teacher might say:

Let's look at my story.
Did I tell you what my favorite place is?
Did I tell you why I like it there?
Did I tell you what I do there?
Do I have details?
Did I write a conclusion? Oops. I forgot the conclusion.
Where should my conclusion go? What should I say?

Gradually, students understand that if you can say it you can write it.

Sometimes teachers use the Language Experience Approach to scaffold the transformation of oral language into written language. For this strategy, teachers ask students to tell a story about a drawing or experience and then transcribe the story. Students read and reread the story aloud. The teacher cuts the story apart into sentence strips and word cards for students to scramble and put back in order. After students can competently put the sentences and words in the correct order, the teacher prepares a version with selected words replaced by blanks for students to fill in, or students recopy the complete story.

Another scaffolding strategy is to hold a group discussion on a familiar topic such as favorite weekend activities.

Effective teachers say things like:

On Saturdays and Sundays, I like to walk my dog with my son.
On Saturdays and Sundays, I like to go have coffee with my mother.
On weekends, I like to go shopping with my sister.
What do you like to do on Saturday and Sunday?

Then teachers write a model sentence and list the students' oral contributions on chart paper, such as:

On weekends I like to___________ with ____________.

The list for the first blank might include activities such as:

play outside
play baseball
go to the movies
watch TV
play video games
eat at a restaurant
visit my grandpa

The following words might be part of a list for the second blank:

my dog
my friends
Fred and Kenny
my sister
my neighbors
my mom and dad

Beginning ELLs may need to repeat the sentence pattern and the listed items after the teacher says them in order to match the spoken and written words. Using the chart as a model, students write about their own weekend favorites. Students read their final stories to the class for feedback and discussion. They can illustrate the stories and display them in the classroom. Finally, the stories can even provide the basis for a guessing game.