We all know that with comprehensible input, that input is the key to language acquisition. But input alone cannot tell us much about a student's level of proficiency in the language. For that, we need to measure how well a student writes and speaks the language. We'll save speaking for another article; today we're going to talk about creating a writing program in your comprehension-based classroom.
1. Introduce writing through Write & Discuss.
With all levels except level 1, you'll skip this step and have them write their first baseline writing sample as close to the first day of school as possible. This way you're getting a solid baseline reading without much influence from the instruction you are providing them this year.
But for your beginners in level 1, you'll want to slowly introduce writing to these students AFTER they have had at least 10-12 weeks of solid language input.
Starting in weeks 10-12, I'll slowly introduce writing through an activity called write & discuss. I'll write an article detailing write & discuss more thoroughly later, but for now, what I simply do is ask leading questions to co-create a story with my students, and as we co-create this story, I explain what's happening literacy-wise.
So I first tell them that we need to create a character as the first step to any story and I ask them in the target language what kind of character do we want. Once we've established what the main character is, I write it down in a sentence and students copy it into their notebooks.
PRO TIP: I prefer to type into a Google Doc and project that on my TV so that I easily have a digital copy that I can share with students and repurpose later.
I then tell them we need to describe our character and then ask them in the target language leading questions to get a thorough description of that character. As we establish a new fact about the character, I write it down and the students copy it.
Once we have a clear picture of the character, I tell them the next step in creating a story is giving the character a problem. I then ask in the target language what is the problem and take many suggestions before picking one that gives us the most potential. Again, once we've gotten the facts, I write them down, and the students copy them.
Usually, it's just about now that the end of class arrives and I will continue the rest the next day.
The next day I review the facts with them in the target language and then have them get out their notebooks and we continue with our story.
We follow the same steps of telling what we're going to do, asking leading questions in the target language, me writing it down, and the students copying it as we progress through the main parts of a story: character, problem, failure, and success.
We'll do this two or three times over the next two or three weeks before I will have them write their first story on their own.
2. Write weekly.
Writing itself does not lead to language acquisition. Only input can do that, but it does lead to CONFIDENCE which is so very important when creating language.
So once I have my students write on their own for the first time, whether that's some time after weeks 10-12 for my level 1s or the very first week in all other levels, we then commit to writing weekly without fail.
It's important to make this commitment because, in my experience, when we skip a week, the progress the students have made regresses and it may take up to three weeks to get back to where they were. Plus, although my students do not like writing weekly (let's be honest, they're kids LOL), they are much more confident in their writing when we do write on a weekly basis.
Teachers always ask me that since you're writing weekly do you have to assess it weekly? HECK NO! There's no point in that and no one's got time for that! LOL
Each week I record the number of words they write in a spreadsheet so that I can keep track of their overall progress, but then at random, I will choose two or three per grading period to assess using a rubric. We'll talk more about assessment in Step 5.
3. Write class stories together once a month.
Remember Step 1, Write & Discuss?
I will continue to co-create written stories with my students once a month to maintain guided practice and to talk them through the process and point out any special grammatical features that may come up.
I will again ask them leading questions to create this story with them, explain each of the parts of the story (character, problem, failure, success), write it down, and have them copy it in their notebooks.
I find that my struggling students benefit greatly from this guided practice and I want to make sure that I keep this up for them.
4. Give positive comments.
Studies have shown that error correction does not improve students' writing, plus it takes hours to do it. So why would you want to? Most kids look at the grade and then just crumble the paper up and toss it in the garbage and you say to yourself "there went my Saturday evening!"
The only thing that will improve their writing is more input and specifically reading input. The more they read, the better they will write. Period.
But what did I tell you the purpose of our writing weekly was in the first place? That's right: to build their confidence. Grades do not build students' confidence, but POSITIVE COMMENTS do!
So as I'm reading their writing, I'll make positive comments along the way. "Great job!" "Nice word choice!" "That's funny!" "Great story!" etc. You get the idea.
These types of comments make students feel comfortable with their writing and build confidence and make them WANT to write more.
5. Grade at random using a rubric that focuses on comprehensibility.
Grading on the number of words or accuracy gives a false sense of what a student can do in the language. Instead, use a comprehensive rubric that focuses on comprehensibility. You'll find much more success. And, as I said before, just because you're writing every week does not mean you have to grade every week. Aim to grade 2-3 per grading period.
I never tell my students which ones I'll be grading in advance as they will only try on those ones, so they never discover which ones were graded until I pass them back.
I never correct any errors either. There really isn't any point. However, if a student requests it, I'll do it happily, provided, they bring their paper BEFORE or AFTER school (not during lunch) and we go over it together. This way, we both have made a time commitment (lunch is not a commitment) and the student will benefit from the discussion we have over their paper, not just from my marking it up.
On average, less than five students per year ask to do this and they only come once or twice. I would much rather do it for these few students who may benefit from it, than for dozens of students who don't even care.
So there are my 5 simple steps to create a writing program in your CI classroom. I've followed these steps for most of my teaching career and my students and I have found much success. I know you will too!
Do you do anything differently? What do you think? Please share in the comments below!
Also, download my Writing Tips Cheatsheet by clicking the button below!