I used to think teaching writing to emergent bilinguals in a dual language program was too difficult. I felt unsuccessful whenever we had to complete a writing project. (You can read more about my journey as a bilingual educator here)
Then, I learned that writing with emergent bilinguals looks different than monolingual classrooms. Writing in the primary bilingual classroom can be successful AND it is important to not avoid it. Here are 5 instructional practices that I’ve used to support my 1st grade bilingual class writing.
1. Sentence frames & visual vocabulary
Providing a simple sentence frame and visuals of vocabulary is an easy way to help emergent bilinguals with tools that they can mix & match to create simple sentences.
Before writing, students should practice speaking using the sentence frame and vocabulary in partners or small groups.
This helps students familiarize themselves with the sentence structure and the vocabulary they will use to write their own sentences.
This is a great tool to scaffold writing. It may seem that students are just “copying” but it helps students make a connection between what they say and what they write.
Sentence frames are helpful, but they should not be the only instructional strategy used in writing. It is important to help students understand that they may use the sentence frame if they need the support but the ultimate goal is for students to write sentences independently.
2. Guided writing with emergent bilinguals
This instructional strategy is usually used in small groups but it can also be done with the whole class.
Emergent bilinguals in Kindergarten and 1st grade benefit greatly from this strategy.
Writing with this strategy is collaborative and requires all students to participate verbally and in writing. This is the format I follow for guided writing.
First, have students share with a partner one key detail or key event of a text they’ve read (or heard)
Next, select one key detail or key event that students share and re-state it in a simple sentence with 4-7 words (for example: the tadpole grows legs).
Then, have students repeat the sentence while you put one finger up for each word in the sentence.
Afterwards, ask students to name the first word in the sentence, then write it. Model how to start with a capital letter and leave space between words and punctuation. Repeat with all the words in the sentence until the entire sentence is written.
Finally, have students share their writing and create an illustration to match their sentence.
3. Dictation & emergent bilinguals
This instructional strategy focuses on either:
- word study
- mechanics ( spelling, punctuation, and fluency)
This strategy requires 3-5 days of instruction. These are the steps I follow to dictate to my students:
- Choose a language feature to focus on based on the needs and ability of your students (example: punctuation)
- Prepare a simple sentence to dictate to students (example: ¿Te mima tu mamá?).
- Dictate sentence to students. Give time to students to attempt writing.
- Teach mini lesson on chosen language features. Provide 3-5 examples.
- Provide feedback on students’ writing from step 3. Give students time to re-write sentence correctly.
- Have students practice speaking and writing the sentence with fluency in pairs.
- Dictate sentence to students again and assess their ability to use the language feature taught.
4. Sentence Patterning
This instructional strategy focuses teaching parts of speech through sentence patterns.
Emergent bilingual students use this strategy to engage with high academic vocabulary from the unit of study and apply it to build their own sentences.
My favorite part of this strategy is when students sing along. Even my most reluctant students engage in speaking through this activity. When we create the chart, I remind students that if they can say it, then they can write it.
To build our sentence patterning chart, I pull the nouns and verbs from the side-by-side bridging chart that we create throughout the unit.
To sum up, using these 4 instructional strategies have their own purpose and focus to support bilingual emergent students’ writing in the primary classroom. Which strategy resonates with you?