Writing Strategies for Intermediate Writers

Intermediate writers will benefit from scaffolds, models, and writing support that help them expand their vocabulary and language development.
1. Show not tell
This instructional strategy will help your English learners develop vocabulary and descriptive writing skills (Peregoy & Boyle, 2005; California Department of Education, 1996). First, share with your students a paragraph that is rich in description and paints a picture in their minds. Children’s literature is full of such language.
Showing and not telling helps your students learn to paint a picture with words. Repeated lessons with your students that help them begin to show and not tell will strengthen their vocabulary and narrative writing. Starting with a brainstorm on relevant vocabulary is helpful. Here are a few “tell” sentences you can start with:
She didn’t have any friends.
I love my mom.
Family picnics are so much fun.
My dog is old.
This was the scariest moment of my life!
2. Sentence combining
Many intermediate-level students use the basic sentence pattern of subject-verb-object. They need help becoming familiar with and practicing other patterns. You can create several choppy subject-verb sentences around a topic and provide examples of how the ideas can be combined into more complex and interesting sentences. Then provide the students with another set of short sentences. Working in small groups, students combine the ideas and then each small group shares their work with the whole group. You can also give limits, such as writing a maximum of two or three sentences that include all the information from the sentences you gave them.
3. Story maps
These are graphic representations of the organization of a story. They give a verbal and mental model to the structure of the story. You can help your students become comfortable with using story maps by first creating some with your students that are based on familiar stories. Providing models is an important part of helping your students to become accustomed to using story maps. These are very effective with English learners because, along with creating the structure of a story, you can help your students add the vocabulary to be included in advance of actually writing the story. It is of great help to have the words and ideas handy in written form, rather than having to search for them at a mid-point in the writing process.
4. Retelling familiar stories
Retelling known stories such as family stories or events provides the scaffold of familiarity. Students know the story well, and so the learning for them is the vocabulary that they need in order to write the story in English.
5. Buddy journals
This is a type of journal maintained between two students who write back and forth to each other. They are fun for paired English learners or paired English learners and fluent English writers who can model standard written English and expand vocabulary. Buddy journals provide a peer audience and an authentic reason to write and read. They give immediate feedback. Students generate their own topics of interest, describe events, share opinions, ask questions, and get to know each other (Bromley, 1995b).
6. Sentence patterns
Expository writing often contains patterns such as “because (of a fact or event), then (another fact),” “if . . . then . . . ” and “When . . . then . . . ” First, pointing out these types of construction in students’ textbooks and discussing how information is organized helps their comprehension. Second, you can then provide instruction and practice on how to use these in their own writing—both in narrative and expository writing (Peregoy & Boyle, 2005).
7. Writing structured paragraphs
Expository writing is structured in a way that narrative writing is not. Teach your students to use a “hamburger” approach to writing informative paragraphs. Imagine a hamburger with several layers—lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc.—sandwiched between the top and bottom of the bun. Here are the “layers”:
Topic sentence
Supporting sentence
Supporting sentence
Supporting sentence
Concluding sentence
Writing sentences on slips of paper and letting students organize them, then pasting them on a sheet of paper, is one approach that works well. Structured paragraph writing is a helpful scaffold to help your English learners write expository text.
8. Graphic organizers
Helping your students “see” and then use various types of text organization is another important scaffold for your students. As we’ve said earlier, graphic organizers are visual illustrations of pieces of text. They provide useful “maps” for writing. There are several models of graphic organizers. We’ve included some in the appendix. Remember that you must coach students in their use. You must provide repeated opportunities for your students to both identify them in their textbooks and then to use them in their own writing.
9. Content area big books
A post-unit activity is to create a group big book. Structure is necessary and can be provided in a variety of ways. You can provide scaffolds in a number of ways, too. One way is to answer “want to know” questions from a Know-Want-Learn chart that the class compiles in advance of the unit. Another way is to have each student contribute the most interesting or important fact he/she learned. You can also take “The Important Thing” pattern to provide a writing scaffold.
10. Retellings
Having your English learners first read expository text and then retell it in written form provides a scaffold for their writing. Additionally, with repeated practice, writing a retelling improves text comprehension and helps them improve their expository writing
11. What-so what-now what?
Donna Ogle’s well-known and widely-used Know-Want- Learn chart serves as the basis for this modification (Temple et al., 2005). You’ll construct for your students a chart divided into three columns and label the columns with What?, So What?, and Now What? Ask your students to identify a problem in the “What?” column (“The playground is littered.”) Then brainstorm responses with
them to “So What?” (“It has germs.” “We get sick.” “It’s embarrassing.”) Then ask them to move to possible solutions in the “Now What?” column. (“We should clean it up.” “We need a monitor.”) This information will provide a structure and vocabulary for persuasive writing.

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