|Vol. 9, Issue 3, February 2009
Of the four language skills--listening, speaking, reading and writing--the fourth poses the greatest challenge for most ELLs. They commonly struggle with word choice, sentence structure, grammar, transitions, and organization. We have come across two models for teaching writing to mainstream students, which we adapted to the ESL classroom.
One is the Four Square method widely utilized in elementary classrooms though recommended for all grade levels by its originators, Judith S. Gould and Evan Jay Gould. The model uses a simple graphic organizer and a step-by-step approach to encourage students to collect and organize their ideas first.
According to the program, writing simple words and word lists lead to generating word clusters and phrases, then to developing sentences and paragraphs, and finally to creating a polished essay as students move through developmentally appropriate versions of the organizer (See detailed examples by Gould and Gould at www.teachinglearning.com ).
Similarly, the Step Up to Writing program also promotes a step-by-step, scaffolded approach to writing by helping all learners to master the writing process. Considerable emphasis is placed on prewriting and organizing, which is beneficial for ELLs. (See numerous books by Maureen Auman, creator of the program at www.stepuptowriting.com.)
The main scaffolding tool of the Step Up to Writing program is color-coding the various levels of written responses using the colors of the traffic light. Green means “Write a topic sentence.” Yellow encourages students to slow down and give a reason or example while using transitions. Red stands for “Stop, and explain what you just said by giving examples.” Finally, the color green comes back to remind students to revisit their topic and write a summary statement.
In our work, we combined the best features of both the Four Square and Step Up to Writing programs and created multi-level scaffolded, color-coded templates (PDF) to guide our students. We noticed that not each template will fit the needs of all students. Depending on their readiness level and their inclination to respond better to a graphic organizer or color coding, we had a choice to experiment with the various templates.
We invite Dialogue readers to do the same and let us know what works best for their students!
Jennifer Burke is an ESL teacher in the Rocky Point Public Schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Honigsfeld, Ed.D. is Associate Professor at Molloy College. She can be reached at email@example.com.
If you'd like to share your lesson plan, please send it to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.