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Self Assessment of Discursive Writing

Student self assessment using rubrics and checklists is a powerful tool for all students.  It is especially helpful to English Language Learners (ELLs).

ELLs do not necessarily come to the classroom with the same knowledge of texts types that their English proficient peers do.   English proficient students are more likely to understand through experience that certain registers, vocabulary and styles are used in different genres.  Put (over)simply, they know that a story begins with “Once upon a time…’, that a letter to the local council is not signed off ‘Love from…’  and that a recipe needs imperative verbs.  ELLs need to be specifically taught these ‘rules’ for a particular genre or type of writing in order to succeed in re-creating and innovating on them.*

Using student checklists and rubrics is a great way of explicitly showing ELLs what is needed in order to succeed at the task, and to guide their process of proof reading and editing.

One of our EAL Specialists, Naen, put together the rubric below to help the Year 7 classes who have been studying discursive writing this term.  It has helped to make all the students aware of where they are succeeding and how they can improve their work.  The ELLs have found it particulary helpful.

Click for PDF version

Have a look and let us know in the comments section how it went down with your class.

*You can read more about the challenges and solutions to writing across the curriculum in Scaffolding Language; Scaffolding Learning by Pauline Gibbons.  We have a copy on order for the EAL library at Shrewsbury International School, which teachers here are welcome to borrow once it has arrived.

Keeping English Alive Through the Holidays

Keeping English language going through the holidays for our children is not always a straightforward endeavour.  The students who need it most are potentially the ones who find it least readily to hand.  Therefore, some gentle guidance and well pitched activities from their teachers can go a long way to maintaining the forward momentum at which both children and teachers have worked so hard all term.

This post offers some ideas for specific activities as well as some general guidance to teachers, students and parents on ways to keep English alive during the holidays.


Two Example Activities

Activities which ask students to engage with a listening activity or text, then to respond in an imaginative way, provide them with opportunities to practise both reception and production skills.

1. Something Understood is a Radio 4 ethical and religious discussion programme that examines some of the larger questions of life, taking a spiritual theme and exploring it through music, prose and poetry.  In last week’s programme the presenter asked a score of writers “If you had breath for no more than 99 words, what would they be?”

Ask the students to listen to the programme on the iPlayer here, where the motivation for the project is discussed and each writer reads his or her ’99 Words’.

Once they have listened have them talk about the way that they would respond (in whichever language they like to whomever they wish) then write their own ‘99 Words’ to share with you on their return.

2. Pie Corbett is very well known in the UK for his Literacy workshops, bringing the writing process to life for primary school children.  In the video below he reads one of his poems then describes the process by which he wrote it.

Ask your children to listen to the poem and to the way Pie describes how he wrote it.  Get them to ‘notice’ things around their homes or the place where they are spending their holidays.  Once they have done that they can talk in whichever language they like to whomever they wish about their ideas, then write their own poem, in English now, to share when they return to school.

There are lots of videos of children’s writers, like Michael Rosen or Steven Herrick, telling stories and reciting poems that would make equally good starting points for holiday activities.


General Ideas

The web is where discussions happen now, probably more so than person to person.  To that end there are lots of ways we can set up web-based opportunities for our students.  By setting a theme or short task then keeping an open forum on Studywiz in which to discuss it, you can have your students continuing to engage with each other using English.  For example:

Listen to an audio book (there are many available through the school library or you can download free public domain audio books with transcripts at Thought Audio) then discuss or review them on Studywiz.

Listen to a podcast and then discuss what was learned.  For example you could try Grammar Girl , or how about her colleague Math Dude.

You Tube now has a list of categories on the left hand side of the screen.  You could choose something from a section relavent to your subject, perhaps Richard Feynman talking about how difficult it is to answer scientific questions honestly from the Science and Technology section, then ask students to respond in your Studywiz forum.

eHow.com is packed with how-to videos for all sorts of things.  Here’s one example on how to draw cubist art.  The videos are accompanied by a transcript which would allow your students to listen and read before completing the task. They could then post a photo of their efforts and an accompanying reflection on the picture to Studywiz, and seek comments from their peers.

Outside the school’s VLE students can be encouraged to make use of other child-friendly spaces on the web.

Ask the children to keep a blog of what they are doing over the break, or tweet in English what they are doing using a predetermined hashtag.

Keep a video diary using MailVu and email each video to your friends or to your teacher.

Live Mocha is a social network for language learning. Suitable for Senior school students.  An article explaining LiveMocha is here

On Lang-8 students keep an online journal in English, and native speakers read and correct it for them.  They reciprocate by correcting the work of other people learning their language.

At Voicethread students can recount things that they are doing during their holidays, summarise and review books they have read, comment on the posts of other users, and so on.  Voicethread allows other users to comment in a variety of ways on videos posted, making it an interactive, language-for-purpose activity. There are many English language ones that our students can contribute towards, or teachers can set up their own. Here’s a good example.  And here is an introduction to using Voicethread.

There is a lot of great stuff on English Central. Students can watch differentiated videos, get speaking practice and analyse new vocabulary.

Use Quizlet to maintain academic vocabulary through creating flashcards.


Advice to parents

Parents often ask what they can do to help their children develop their English during the holidays.  There are two key pieces of advice I tend to give:

Play with English speaking friends, or for older students, join an art club/football club/cooking class held in English.  This is real-life, genuine English for purpose.  If you only choose one strategy this should be it.

Read, read, read.  This is the language as it is used by people who are very proficient. It exposes the reader to the ways that sentences are structured and to the ways words are used to construct ideas.


In summary

Language activities during the holidays should be fun, authentic and purposeful.  English language learners will get much more out of an activity or task that makes them want to use their English rather than forces them to.

You Tube for Schools

This looks interesting…

Looking forward to exploring it.

Tumblebooks: interactive reading

Making reading fun and accessible for ELLs makes for more more reading, more exposure to the langauge, development of prior knowledge, more productive lessons and ultimately a better learning experience for our children.

The TumbleBook library has hundreds of books available to view online with accompanying audio, gentle animations, activities, and teachers’ notes to bring the reading experience alive for young or reluctant readers. 

I could see this being used as a great resource for our younger ELLs.  Teachers could set listening to one of the titles as homework, in advance of using the book in a guided reading session.  Equally, it could be used as a review activity for children to re-read/hear the story after studying it in class.  Or just as a way to promote reading.

TumbleBook library can be acessed here and the username and login can be found on the library page on the school’s intranet.  Teachers, parents and students all have access rights.


Writing Scientific Conclusions

A colleague in the science department has done a fabulous job of researching and preparing ways to help her ELLs improve their ability to write clear and concise conclusions to experiments carried out in her class.

Her planning document (here) sets out nicely the steps needed to produce a well written conclusion.  It’s a very good example of how science learning intentions and English development can be combined.

It does this first by having student investigate and discuss a scientific concept, verbalising their observations right from the start.  After this the students’ verbalisiations, which construct the knowledge, are guided by the teacher into a written text through shared writing.  They are then empowered independently to write a conclusion of their own.

Having discussed the investigation, then been part of the shared writing process, students will have more secure knowledge of the scientific concept being covered and a clear idea of what their written conclusion should look like. 

This teacher has also produced a writing frame (here) and an exemplar conclusion (here) to help the students further.

Grammar Activities

We often get asked for help with improving grammar and syntax in ELLs.

Of course, refining the precision of language is done through lots of exposure to, and use of, authentic language – not decontextualised grammar drills.  That said, giving your students ‘Bell Work’ (a small task they do as they enter the classroom and settle for the lesson, which needs little or no introduction) that requires them to think about grammar and syntax and discuss with their talk partners about solutions to a grammar-based challenge is no bad thing.


The attached pdf contains a host of daily activities that you can use in your class. Basically, each day the students have to manipulate a sentence in a different way; for example add an adjective, up-level the verb and so on.  The pdf gives you the task for each day and sentences for your students to work with.  There are 30 weeks worth of activities!

I would recommend making this richer for ELLs by asking them to discuss their responses with their talk partners and critically evaluate those responses.  You can very easily adapt it to suit your age phase or subject.

Let us know how you get on in the comments box below.