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Accommodations for ELL Students in Writing

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will learn about some specific accommodations that they can provide for English Language Learner (ELL) students in their classroom. These accommodations will help ELL students acquire the necessary language skills to successfully produce written work in English.

Second Language Writing

Learning to write in another language can be a challenging endeavor, especially for those with very limited second language proficiency. In fact, writing is often one of the most difficult skills for ELL students to acquire. It makes sense; after all, would you be more successful at naming a few words in another language, such as Spanish, or at writing a paragraph in that language?

ELL students often receive accommodations to help them acquire language skills to succeed in school. Let's look at some common writing accommodations for ELL students.

Use of a Bilingual Dictionary

For writing assignments and assessments, allow ELL students to use a bilingual word-to-word dictionary that provides vocabulary words in their native language. This accommodation is typically useful for students who are literate in their first language, and who have at least an intermediate level of English proficiency.

Bilingual dictionaries can be helpful during writing practice, but it often takes a significant amount of time to look up unknown words in another language, and this can be a hindrance to student motivation. Additionally, while they provide word-to-word translations of vocabulary, dictionaries often don't teach students to use the correct form of the word. This can result in unclear writing. For these reasons, allow students to use bilingual dictionaries as a supplemental writing aid, and only if they actually want to use them.

Sentence Frames

Sentence frames are sentence templates that teachers provide to students to help them complete a writing task. Often, sentence frames are accompanied by word banks so that students can choose the appropriate words to fill in the blanks.

Sentence frames reduce the pressure associated with asking an ELL student to produce language. They help model the correct format and structure of the English language, so students have exemplary models to refer to. Over time, students will need to depend less and less on the sentence frames as they learn to write their own sentences.

For example, if you want a student to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting an apple to an orange, some frames you might provide include:

  • An apple has _____, but an orange has _____.
  • Both apples and oranges are _____.
  • An apple tastes _____, while an orange tastes _____.
  • An apple is different from an orange because _____.
  • Two differences between apples and oranges are _____ and _____.
  • Two similarities between apples and oranges are _____ and _____.

Reduced Writing Load

The practice of producing writing in your second language can be overwhelming. ELL students should not be required to produce the same amount of text as their native-speaking peers. The amount of time it may take for a low-proficiency ELL student to write just one sentence is much more than the time it would take a native speaker on the same task.

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