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English Language Learners

Children’s Writing in ESL

In teaching second language learners how to speak and read English, it is important not to neglect their writing development. Here are some strategies for teaching ESL children to become writers.

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Children whose native language is not English are present in ever increasing numbers in elementary schools in the United States. Educators, therefore, must provide opportunities for these learners to develop English- as-a-second-language (ESL) skills and to learn school content-area material.

In elementary schools, particular emphasis has recently been placed on helping ESL learners become more proficient writers of English to ensure their academic success in English language classrooms (Allen, 1986; Rigg and Enright, 1986; Urzua, 1987).

What do we know about how ESL children develop as writers?

Studies of the writing development of native speakers influenced other researchers to investigate the writing development of second language learners. The following conclusions may be made about ESL children’s writing development (Edelsky, 1986; Hudelson, 1986, 1987; Samway, 1987; Urzua, 1987):

  • ESL learners, while they are still learning English, can write; they can create their own meaning.
  • ESL learners can respond to the works of others and can use another learner’s responses to their work to make substantive revisions in their creations.
  • Texts produced by ESL writers look very much like those produced by young native speakers. These texts demonstrate that the writers are making predictions about how the written language works. As the writers’ predictions change, the texts change.
  • Children approach writing and develop as writers differently from one another.
  • The classroom environment has a significant impact on ESL children’s development as writers.
  • Culture may affect the writers’ view of writing, of the functions or purposes for writing, and of themselves as writers.
  • The ability to write in the native language facilitates the child’s ESL writing in several different ways. Native language writing provides learners with information about the purposes of writing. Writing ability in the native language provides second language learners with both linguistic and non linguistic resources that they can use as they approach second language writing. In addition, second language learners apply the knowledge about writing gained in first language settings to second language settings.

What should schools do to promote ESL children's writing?

Children develop as writers when they use writing to carry out activities that are meaningful to them. Teachers need to provide time for writing on a regular basis; they need to encourage ESL children to write; they need to promote writing by responding to the content of the text rather than to the form; and they need to provide multiple opportunities for writers to engage in writing for reasons that are real and important to the individual writer.

Suggestions for specific classroom activities include the following:

  • Use diaries or journals to promote fluency in writing and to help students see writing as one means of self-expression (Kreeft et al., 1984).
  • Utilize personal narratives and writing workshop techniques to help learners become comfortable with the craft of drafting, sharing, and revising their pieces (Samway, 1987; Urzua, 1987).
  • Make the reading-writing connection by exposing ESL learners to a wide variety of literary forms in reading and then provide opportunities for learners to construct their own forms to share with others (Allen, 1986; Flores et al., 1985).
  • Incorporate various writing activities into content-area units so that ESL learners will experience the kinds of writing that will be expected in disciplines across the curriculum.
Excerpted from: Hudelson, S. (1988). Children’s Writing in ESL. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. Based on S. Hudelson, WRITE ON: Children Writing in ESL. ERIC/CLL “Language in Education” series monograph. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.
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