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Assignment 3.2a

Teaching English Language Learners

Michael Wigglesworth

National University

August 22, 2014

MAT 674 Differentiated Instruction

Instructor: Professor Brandy Prather-Payne

Teaching English Language Learners 2

Teaching Writing to English-Language Learners

Before designing strategies for teaching writing to English-language learners it is

important to understand the fundamentals of language development. A student may

appear to a have a firm grasp of the English language when in reality they may have only

developed conversational language skills. In order to move beyond conversational

language skills they need to engage in what Randall J. Ryder and Michael Graves

describe as “language learning,” or the conscious examination of the rules of language in

a formal setting. It is this level of learning that enables the student to more precisely edit

their language output (Ryder and Graves, 2003). This is a critical skill that is necessary in

writing and it is apparent that this is an area in which many English-language learners are


It may not be practical for teachers outside of the English department to engage in

extensive lessons examining sentence structure and the rules of language but there are

strategies that can be employed that will facilitate the student’s development of academic

language skills and thus build a foundation for writing. For example, it is important that

the teacher use clear enunciation and a controlled vocabulary. It is useful to use cognates

and to point out similar origins of words. It is also important that the teacher limit

idiomatic speech and explain any words that have double meanings so as not to create

any confusion in the classroom. It is also critical to use “contextualization,” or the

creation of an information-rich environment that appeals to multiple senses (i.e. pictures,

video, music, graphic organizers, hands-on activities, etc) (Sullivan, 1992).

Ryder and Graves point out that for English-language learners, writing can be an

essential tool in language development. However, they caution that in the early stages of
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language development ELL students may engage in “code switching” and occasionally

revert to their native language. This is an indication that the student is struggling and the

teacher should allow for frequent low stakes writing activities to provide as much practice

as possible. Furthermore, the teacher should focus on the content of the writing first and

address form later (2003). This is so the student can build confidence in writing and feel

free to explore the language.

Writing Assignment

The first step is to accurately assess the English proficiency levels of the students.

The CELDT subtest scores display student levels of English language acquisition in

terms of listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. This information can be

used to design specific teaching strategies and to address student weaknesses.

When teaching the constitutional system of system of checks and balances in my

government class a variety of strategies can be utilized. Of course the following

writing assignments would follow a short period of direct instruction that utilizes

extensive contextualization techniques and other SDAIE strategies.

For those students at the preproduction stage, I would provide them with a

triangular shaped graphic organizer depicting the three branches of government

(each represented by an image of the physical structure that houses each branch).

The students, in pairs, would be provided with paraphrased excerpts from the

constitution outlining the powers of the three branches. The students would be

tasked with matching the power to the branch of government and writing the power

down on the graphic organizer (e.g. “make law,” “review the law,” “carry out the

law...”). The students could then plug in the powers that each branch possesses over
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the others branches. The language would be simplified (e.g. “The President picks or

chooses judges” rather than, “The President nominates justices”). The students are

rewriting sentences that are pulled from a bank of options. This system of

copycatting allows the, to “learn the patterns of the English Language before they

are ready to create” (Ventriglia, 2009). For students at the early production stage I

would have them create more extensive lists, comparing and contrasting the powers

of the three branches. They could provide short answers to questions like, “Which

branch of government has the power to remove the President?” Students at the

intermediate fluency level, could respond to questions like, “Why did the founding

fathers create a system of checks and balances?” or “Describe the ‘checks’ that you

think give each branch the most power.” For advanced stage English-language

students I would actually group them with native speakers and task them with

writing down explanations of how the checks and balances system can be seen in

today's modern democratic system or students could write a newspaper opinion

piece (to be published in 1787), arguing for the adoption of the new system of

checks and balances.


Each of these writing assignments is designed to provide the student with an

appropriate writing task that meets their English proficiency levels. First of all, these

assignments provide the student with the opportunity to be successful. This is key

for English-language learners, especially for those at the preproduction and early

production stages. These students can easily become intimidated and withdrawn

due to lack of success. The small cooperative groups or pairs also gives students the
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opportunity to assist each other and engage in a productive discourse, thus pushing

the boundaries of their writing skills a eventually move into the next proficiency



As noted above, the copycatting strategy can be especially effective for students

at the pre production and early production stages of language development. These

students do not yet have an understanding of the fundamentals of the English language

and therefore cannot be expected to edit and create language. The copycat strategy gives

them an opportunity to practice and become accustomed to the conventions of writing. It

also enables them to slow down and identify similarities and differences with their native

language. Eventually they will gain the confidence to attempt language creation on their

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California Department of Education (2009). History-Social Science Content Standards

for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. Retrieved on

August 12, 2014 from

Randal, J., Graves, M. (2003). Reading and Learning in Context Areas. New Jersey: John

Wiley & Sons

Sullivan, P. (1992). ESL in context. Newbary Park, CA: Corwin Press.

Ventriglia, L. D., (2009). Best Practices: Differentiated Instruction – The Rule of

Foot. Mexico City: Younglight Educate

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