Research Supporting the Practice
Learning to read and write high-frequency words and patterns allows students to decode and spell many other words (Cunningham, Hall, & Sigmon, 1999). Furthermore, learning to spell is a developmental process (Ganske, 2000; Bear et al., 2004). According to Bear et al., all spellers pass through five distinct stages: emergent spellers, letter name spellers, within-word spellers, syllable and affixes spellers, and derivational relations spellers. Enabling young writers to be fluent in spelling high-frequency words frees them to concentrate on the message that they are attempting to convey and to devote their energies toward correctly spelling new and unfamiliar words. Teachers, therefore, need to devote time to the study of high-frequency words and word patterns. This can occur simultaneously in reading, writing, and spelling. Johnston (1999) contends that learning a list of core words that are based on high-frequency rimes also allows students to generate many additional words that are not on the core list.
While core words are important, teachers should not overlook words that are also found in informational texts. Duke (2000), after studying 20 first-grade classrooms, discovered that written language activities using informational texts were almost non-existent. Only 1.9 to 3.6 minutes were devoted to writing focusing on informational texts. Duke underscored the need for greater awareness of how informational texts can be used in first grade. Teachers could also build their collections of expository texts in their classroom libraries, thereby exposing young children to a wider range of printed material. Having the experience of reading expository texts should help these students become better readers and spellers. Finally, Duke reported some evidence indicating that expository text reading in first grade has a beneficial effect on the writing of science-related material.
Bear, D.R., Invernezzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2004). Words their way (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Cunningham, P.M., Hall, D. P., & Sigmon, C.M. (1999). The teacher's guide to the four blocks. Greensboro, NC: Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company.
Duke, N.K. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35(2), 202-224.
Ganske, K. (2000). Word journeys. New York: The Guilford Press.
Johnston, F.R. (1999). The timing and teaching of word families. The Reading Teacher, 53(1), 64-75.
General Research on ELL Writing Instruction
Writing has been characterized as the most challenging of the literacy domains (Juel, 1994). Nelson and Nelson (1978) underscore the difficulty of writing by describing it as "a complex of interconnected systems" (p. 278). Writing requires simultaneous use of phonological, graphic, orthographic, semantic, syntactic, and discourse rule systems (Dyson & Freedman, 1991, p. 762). Most students learn to understand speech first, and then learn to read and write; English language learners (ELLs) have to do all this simultaneously. August and Hakuta (1997) acknowledge that there is little research that sheds light upon the enormous cognitive challenge faced by ELLs who must acquire oral and literacy skills.
Yedlin (2003) identifies the prerequisite skills and knowledge that English writing demands of ELLs in the primary grades:
In order to even begin writing English, the child must be able to discriminate aurally among various phonemes (sounds) and visually among graphemes (letters), and understand the relationships between sounds of speech and letters of the alphabet. Children must also recognize and remember high-frequency words that do not conform to orthographic regularities. Children must master the motor skills necessary to form and arrange the letters and to space words evenly. They must decide what to write about and be able to generate topics suitable for school writing. Furthermore, they must access and produce vocabulary and construct discourse patterns appropriate to their topics (pp. 111-12).
ELLs who have already learned to write in another language have knowledge and literacy skills that can help them write in English, but they still face many difficulties (Kroll, 1990). To become effective and fluent writers, ELLs must overcome their unfamiliarity with English syntax (Ammon, 1985) and develop their vocabulary. ELLs typically need to develop larger repertoires of words and to learn more about the multiple meanings, connotations, and usages of the words that they already recognize and use (August & Hakuta, 1997). In order to sound out and spell English words accurately, ELLs must surmount their unfamiliarity with the English sound system (Verhoeven, 1999; Yopp, 1992) and learn to perceive "speech chunks" as strings of individual words (Ellis, 1994). Finally, writers from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds may already be accustomed to different styles of writing and argumentation (Connor, 1987). Montaņo-Harmon's (1991) research showed that Mexican students' English writing reflected the same discourse patterns that they had learned to use in Spanish. Kaplan (1967) found that many ELL compositions rated as vague, disorganized, or off-topic by U.S. teachers, actually conformed to organizational styles favored by students' home cultures.
The consensus of researchers and practitioners is that reading and listening to read-alouds has positive effects on developing ELLs' vocabulary and other facets of their second language development, including writing (Krashen, 2004; Elley, 1991). However, there is little research yet to directly link listening and reading with writing performance (Lightbown et al., 2002).
Studies by Kreeft-Peyton (1990), Hudelson (1986, 1989), Franklin (1986), Ammon (1985), and Urzua (1987) demonstrate that when in supportive contexts, ELL students in the primary grades can write productively. Kreeft-Peyton defines supportive contexts as those characterized by:
Research [Yedlin, 2003; Kucer & Silva (in press)] and Carasquillo et al.'s (2004) review of literature on writing all point to the benefits of intensive teacher modeling of writing accompanied by the teacher's explicit moment-to-moment account of thinking processes. Teachers model their composing processes by verbalizing their own thoughts about purpose, audience, genre, vocabulary choice, and spelling as they write demonstrations in class. Teachers model their revising and editing processes by rereading and evaluating out loud what they have written. Students may simply observe and listen or the teacher may engage students as participants by asking for help or opinions (Yedlin, 2003).
Another way to assist ELLs with composing, rereading, and revising is for teachers to reference and graphically display structural features (e.g., beginning, middle, and end; setting and character; or cause and effect) and use rubrics. In such contexts, teachers use and explicitly explain discourse markers that signal what follows (e.g., Once upon a time, but, since, because, for example). Gradually, teachers involve students in interactive and shared writing activities where students gain increasing independence and teachers respond by "relinquishing control" (Carasquillo et al., 2004, p. 46).
Teachers also support students' writing by simplifying complex tasks into steps and stages that ELLs can manage (Yedlin, 2003, 2004). When well scaffolded, assignments to write reports, essays, and other genres (e.g., letters or journal entries by a historical figure) can encourage academic writing (Peregoy & Boyle, 1997). Authentic writing assignments such as invitations, letters, recipes, and simple books for younger children are highly motivating for ELLs. Maculaitis and Scheraga (1988) suggested that ELL students write easy-to-understand student handbooks for new arrivals. ELLs can be highly motivated by opportunities to write on culturally relevant topics in formats such as oral histories, country reports, and biographies of their heroes and celebrities (Peregoy & Boyle, 1997). Writing may well be the most challenging of the literacy domains (Juel, 1994), but a rich and responsive environment and well-scaffolded writing tasks can help ELLs flourish as writers.
Ammon, P. (1985). Helping children learn to write in English as a second language: Some observations and some hypotheses. In S. W. Freedman (Ed.), The acquisition of written language. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
August, D., & Hakuta, K. (Eds.). (1997). Improving schooling for language minority children: A research agenda. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Carasquillo, A., Kucer, B., & Abrams. R. (2004). Beyond the beginnings: Literacy interventions for upper elementary English language learners. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Connor, U. (1987). Argumentative patterns in student essays: Cross cultural differences. In U. Connor & R. B. Kaplan (Eds.), Writing across languages: Analysis of L2 text, (pp. 57-71). Reading MA: Addison-Wesley.
Dolly, M. R. (1990, February). Integrating ESL reading and writing through authentic discourse. The Journal of Reading, 33, 360-366.
Dyson, A. H., & Freedman, S. W. (1991). Writing. In J. Flood et al., (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts. New York: Macmillan.
Elley, W. B. (1991). Acquiring literacy in a second language: The effect of book-based programs. Language Learning, 41, 375-411.
Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Franklin, E. A. (1986). Literacy instruction for ESL children. Language Arts, 63(1), 51-60.
Hudelson, S. (1986). ESL children's writing: What we've learned, what we're learning. In P. Rigg & D. S. Enright (Eds.), Children and ESL: Integrating perspectives. Washington D.C.: TESOL.
Hudelson, S. (1989). A tale of two children: Individual differences in ESL children's writing. In D. Johnson & D. Roen (Eds.), Richness in writing: Empowering ESL students. New York: Longman.
Juel, C. (1994). Learning to read and write in one elementary school. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Kaplan, R. B. (1967). Contrastive Rhetoric and the Teaching of Composition. TESOL Quarterly 1(3), 10-16.
Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Kreeft-Peyton, J. (1990). Beginning at the beginning: First-grade ESL students learn to write. In A. Padilla, H. Fairchild, & C. Valadez (Eds.), Bilingual education: Issues and strategies. Newbury, CA: Sage.
Kreeft-Peyton, J., & Reed, L. (1990). Dialogue journal writing with nonnative English speakers: A handbook for teachers. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Kroll, B., (Ed.) (1990). Second language writing: Research insights for the classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Kucer, S. B., & Silva, C. (In press). Teaching the dimensions of literacy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Lightbown, P. M., Halter, R. H., White, J. L., & Horst, R. H. (2002). Comprehension-based learning: The limits of 'Do It Yourself.' Canadian Modern Language Review, 58(3), 427-464.
Maculaitis, J., & Scheraga, M. (1988). The complete ESL/EFL resource book: Strategies, activities, and units for the classroom. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.
Montaņo-Harmon, M. (1991). Discourse features of written Mexican Spanish: Current research in contrastive rhetoric and its implications. Hispania, 74(2), 417-25.
Nelson, K., & Nelson, K. E. (1978). Cognitive pendulums and their linguistic realization. In K. E. Nelson (Ed.), Children's language. New York: Gardener.
Peregoy, S. F., & Boyle, O. F. (1997). Reading, writing, and learning in ESL. New York: Longman.
Urzua, C. (1987). You stopped too soon: Second language children composing and revising. TESOL Quarterly, 21, 279-304.
Verhoeven, L. (1999). Second language reading. In D. Wagner, R. L. Venezky, & B. Street (Eds.), Literacy: An international handbook. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Yedlin, J. (2003). Teacher talk and writing development in an urban, English-as-a-second-language, first-grade classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Yedlin, J. (2004, January/February). Teacher talk: Enabling ELLs to "grab on" and climb high. Perspectives. Available: http://www.mec.edu/mascd/docs/yedlin.htm
Yopp, H. K. (1992). Developing phonemic awareness in young children. The Reading Teacher, 45, 696-703.