ELL students need structure in writing. I tried to come up with a structure for 6th graders that would provide different types of sentences too, so the students could learn sentence variety in a structured format. I would love to get feedback on the creation as well as new ideas from others.

The structure looks something like this (in paragraph writing):
First sentence- question to get the reader thinking
Second sentence- simple or compound sentence
Third sentence- include literary device like a metaphor
Fourth sentence- Dependent clause, independent clause
Fifth sentence- simple or compound sentence

As the students master the sentences in this structured format with appropriate punctuation, a teacher could then add complex sentences etc.

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Great topic and idea, Tianna. I've found myself resorting to similarly structured writing assignments with my 9th-12th grade ELL students with mixed results. You are absolutely right to point out how many ELL students, like most other students, need structure in their writing. Many come from educational systems that rely heavily on rigidly structured, teacher-centered instruction. Allowing too much "freedom" or being vague with a writing assignment can be more than just intimidating to them, it can be an entirely new educational experience all together. I've had situations where after spending ten minutes explaining how I want them to write whatever they feel with no right or wrong answer, I wander the room looking at blank pages and having students ask me, "What exactly do you want us to write?"

That said, the paragraph you designed looks like a great way to get students thinking about sentence variety. I find simple "grammar exercises" to have little lasting impact on student writing, so teaching some grammar and style within their own writing is a great alternative. I also like how you can build upon this with more complicated skills and structures.

My only fear is that the students feel the need to see a formula for all writing and use it as their crutch to write what they think their teachers want them to write. But figuring out how to balance all of that out is the heart of our job, isn't it?
Thanks for your response Robert! I enjoyed reading your reply. Since I just joined ning.com yesterday, I feel excited to know that teachers can get feedback from other teachers. I completely agree that the "freedom" in writing can intimate learners, and that is the reason I created a format. I feel that if they master these various sentence types, they will begin to feel more confident with writing in general. As they begin to feel confident, they will be able to take more risks in writing with more freedom. I do teach the students that this is merely a structure to help them get started with writing proficient paragraphs. It works well with ELL kids, because they need a starting point with writing. My students write to various prompts each day; sometimes it's narrative, expository, descriptive, persuasive, or letters. I encourage their own thoughts, because, like you, I do not want them to "write what they think their teachers want them to write." Grammar exercises that are embedded in their writing do seem to bring more lasting results.

How do you think we can increase idea formulation in ELL students? The structured paragraph writing works great for students who already have ideas and just need a structure to put their ideas into. I also find myself struggling to get some students to get an idea to write about or form an opinion based on the writing prompt. I have tried picking a topic to debate (something silly so that they will get into the debate). I expect everyone to participate, giving the pros and cons of the debate which I write on the board. I clearly explain that we all have different perspectives, and our writing should portray our various differences. No one writing should be exactly like another, because we each have our own "voice." I try to model writing about anything with passion. Their experiences are unique and because of that I cannot formulate an idea for them. Hopefully through this discussion, we as teachers can find the "key" to getting kids to create ideas from their own experiences. We will figure out how to create a new generation of passionate writers! How exciting... and challenging!
I know this was posted over a month ago, but I still would like to comment.

One thing that has helped me in helping my ELL students is to let them read former students' work. Before they have to begin working on their own, I will show them 2-3 examples of the same assignment done well by other students.

I actually like this better than giving them a formula because they can see that each student tackled the assignment differently but each was effective in their own way. They can see that each student had a voice and expressed their ideas in their own way even though they were all following the same prompt/directions.
Hi Amanda,

Thanks for your comment. Many of the ELL students I currently teach do not need a model as structured as the example above for just writing to a prompt. I would not want to see every student using the structured paragraph in every single writing piece. I'm glad you commented, so that I could clarify my original meaning. I couldn't agree with your feedback more when I am teaching voice and other writing traits. I feel as though the structured paragraph that I wrote about is really more of a modification for teaching ELL students sentence variety. Not only ELL students, but lower level writers have difficulty when have "too much freedom," as Robert Zakrzewski stated above. Beginning sentences in a paragraph requires students to first understand subject/ verb, so they can identify when they are writing paragraphs with only sentences that have subject+ verb. Then they must learn to use other parts of speech to begin sentences. Understanding the parts of speech and playing around with placement of words to portray exactly the author's meaning is difficult (obviously even for me, as I am trying to explain myself now!), but when students begin exploring sentence variety their writing can really become musically fluent. I hope this all makes sense, as I try to better explain myself.

As for teaching students to dissect prompts and use various modes of writing to express ideas, I absolutely love allowing for students to see each other's work. We spend so much time analyzing each other's writing pieces, and their writing voice has really blossomed because of this daily exercise. The document camera projects the writing on the wall for the entire class to see, and we give the writer feedback to better their writing and compliments, I was truly amazed to see how motivated kids are to write for a purpose; they know their writing can be read by their peers. So many students are now so excited to share their writing! The effects of this practice you mentioned is also confirmed in researched based practices, which I shared with my students. Knowing that they were doing writing practices that were mentioned in books made the students feel even more empowered! We talk about why it is important to give suggestions, comments, and help edit. The children understand that we learn new ideas from each other, and we learn from each other’s mistakes too. By the end of the week, all children have to have shared their writing (if they choose, they can share from their seat, instead of on the document camera). Most students choose to have the writing projected. They also have the choice of me reading it aloud if they do not want to read it aloud. The discussions that arise from this type of feedback is truly incredible. My students feel a sense of “team” because of activities like this that connect. In my master's program, I learned that in order for “feedback… corrective in nature, timely, and specific to criterion” to occur, we as teachers must spend ample amounts of time providing opportunity for feedback ( R.J. Marzano, D. J. Pickering, J.E. Pollock, 2001, pg. 96-98).

I look forward to more collaboration through blogs! It is amazing to receive feedback from other educators, hearing various perspectives, and becoming open-minded to new ideas. Thanks again for your post!


Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement.Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Chapters 1 and 12.
Check out Gretchen Bernabei's "Reviving the Essay: How to Teach Structure Without Formula". It's loaded with ELL-friendly lessons, exercises and student samples. Gretchen's website http://www.trailofbreadcrumbs.net/ also contains free resources that are available for download! You can also talk to her here on discoverwriting. Good luck!
Thanks, Manuel. I'm going to check it out now. Always looking for something new!

Yes!  This is my second year to use the "Gretchen Way" and I am HOOKED for life!  Her book Crunchtime is amazing (and so easy to read) as well!  She has a lot of resources here on the ning too.  Barry Lane is similar (they really work together a lot), so his stuff his amazing and fun too.  I only teach ELLs, so I know this stuff works--like magic!  You will be amazed at the incredible writing that pours out!  Have fun, and let me know if you have questions!! :)


Kayla Briseno

Manuel Garces Jr. said:

Check out Gretchen Bernabei's "Reviving the Essay: How to Teach Structure Without Formula". It's loaded with ELL-friendly lessons, exercises and student samples. Gretchen's website http://www.trailofbreadcrumbs.net/ also contains free resources that are available for download! You can also talk to her here on discoverwriting. Good luck!



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