LIVE @ ISTE 2024: Exclusive Coverage

One writing teacher’s experience with an English language learner demonstrates the power of modeling to overcome the language barrier.

Teaching writing one word at a time


One writing teacher’s experience with an English language learner demonstrates the power of modeling to overcome the language barrier

As the writing facilitator for my district, I model writing instruction for other teachers all the time. It gives them an opportunity to see effective instruction in practice, of course, but modeling writing itself is an important component of how we teach our students to communicate effectively.

I didn’t always appreciate the power of modeling. It’s something I began to focus on after adopting the Empowering Writers (EW) approach to professional development a decade or so into my career, and these days I’m a big advocate of teaching by example. A recent experience with one of my 6th-grade students really brought home the power of modeling for me.

Related content: 5 ways to gamify writing

Plenty of access to language—but no English

This little girl had just moved to our district from Europe with incredible language skills. She spoke 15 different languages, but none of them were English. She was extremely smart and she walked around with the sweetest smile on her face all day, but she didn’t really know what was going on around her.

Bushland Independent School District is a small district with very few English language learners. She was the only one in her grade that year, and maybe even in the whole middle school, which meant that we didn’t have many resources for students facing the particular challenges she faced.

Modeling language

After six years of using the EW approach to writing instruction, modeling is something I do in my classroom every day, whether it’s writing or something else. If I expect my students to do something, I model it for them first.

With writing in particular, I believe in letting my students borrow from my sample. They can copy from me directly if they feel they need to. They can change a few words or just snatch some of the ideas to use in their own writing. In my experience, I’ve found that as students grow, they become less dependent on my examples and increasingly use their own words and ideas.

This little girl would come in and would not understand anything that I was saying out loud, but she would copy word-for-word everything that I put in my model sample. This went on for at least a solid month. One day I was monitoring, walking the room, and I happened to look down at her paper and she had changed one of the words. It was a color word. She had just changed the one I’d chosen to another color of her own.

I said, “Oh my gosh, look at you!” and she nodded her head and gave me a big smile.

Every day after that I would see her trying, or she would ask me, “What is this? What is this?”

Maybe two weeks after she changed her first word she began changing sentences, and then she started changing multiple sentences. It just was contagious for her, and for me as well.

Her speedy progress opened up my eyes to the power of modeling. Even though it’s my ideas that I’m putting on paper, I’m still laying a solid foundation for the kids in my classroom, even if they don’t understand all the elements of writing—or even the language.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

New Resource Center
Explore the latest information we’ve curated to help educators understand and embrace the ever-evolving science of reading.
Get Free Access Today!

"*" indicates required fields

Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Hidden
Email Newsletters:

By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.