Elaine Garan in Smart Answers to Tough Questions discusses writing. In her chapter, Reading Aloud, she states “students develop new vocabulary just from listening to stories….(it is) especially important for ELL and for students who need vocabulary development. ….especially ELL (students)…need to hear the difference between conversational language….and the more structure language of print……this strengthens …writing skills.


I liked what Regie Routman (Writing Essentials…)had to say about making students accountable for their own comprehension and having them writing in small spiral notebooks and answering questions posed for their silent reading time. As indicated before, my class is highly divergent meaning that the levels go from very low to very high. My low students struggle every week to keep and the high students are bored silly. Students meet two times per week for the semester. How can I, during this really short time period, effectively help both groups? Stephan Krashen, Phd and expert in the field of language learning has said time and again that reading is key to learning the language. That would be learning the language to both speak it and to write it. Given that we work out of Oxford U Press workbooks each week, we teach to the test and there is exactly one Literature class on the whole campus with a few students each semester, what can I do to create a bridge to reading which will  ultimately help student write better and be more fluent?

I think putting responsibility into their hands is really key.  This week I will start to show the Goodreads Listopia of Young Adult Reading books. Three of the books on the list are actually coming out in movies very soon. Those are Mockingjay (of the Hunger Games series,) The Hobbit and the Maze Runner. I can show a trailer from the movie, which should intertest students,  and then show the book on the Goodreads list. These books can be got from eBook reader sources like, ITunes and others. Also, the big bookshop over here, Koyobo book will usually stock books when a movie is coming out. Well known books are often translated into Korean and then also sold in English. I want them to read the books in English but will accept them reading in Korean. Hopefully, they will move to reading in English. I may ‘showcase’ a book a week and then go backwards to Harry Potter and The Lightning Thief which came out a few years ago. The Giver, Divergent and Twilight are all sold here too. I am not that hot on Divergent or Twilight series but if it gets them to read, it’s all good!

This summer, I taught a group of Japanese students who were are about 16 or 17 years old. They were in the US to learn English and some culture. The specific class I taught them was supposed to be a research and writing class. Students had been given topics about US History  and they were supposed to research the topics and write on them. We dutifully trekked to the library every day for them to do their research on the computers. I informed the class I needed their first papers the next day.

The following day I got a half dozen really nicely typed papers which I began to review. One paper after another after another was a copy, word for word and line by line of text the students had pulled from the Internet. I thanked them for the papers; did not grade them and handed them all back. I began to explain (without using the word plagiarism) that they couldn’t do this. They couldn’t just copy down what another person had written off the Internet. They were all stunned. I honestly think I was telling them something they had not heard before.

After a number of false starts, they students finally settled into finding articles on the Internet in Japanese, translating those into English and reporting on what the article had said. I gave them very basic instruction on how to reference an Internet article and they copied and pasted the site line on their text. I told them that was good enough. Given where we had started from, I did feel like it was enough.

The most alarming part of this story, really, was the student continual dependence on their Smart phones to ‘help them write’ their papers. They had so lost confidence in their own abilities to put pencil to paper they were almost helpless without the computers. My instincts tell me this problem goes far beyond just Japanese students. I talked to students about developing their own voice when they wrote which may or may not have sunk in.

One of my friends is an English teacher at a community college campus in the LA area. She indicates that plagiarism has become such a bad problem that all the professors are now utilizing a computer program to screen all papers for lifted text. She has told me that she will flunk a student for plagiarizing someone else’s work. How did it all get to this? Computers are no doubt a staple of modern-day life. Unfortunately it is sometimes a little difficult to tell who is the servant and who is the master.

HELPING STUDENTS DEVELOP WRITING SKILLS  – This is an excerpt from Purdue Online Writing Lab as guidelines to give particularly to ESL students to help them to avoid the unintentional pitfalls of plagiarism which can have extreme consequences on American campuses.

(Purdue University students will want to make sure that they are familiar with Purdue’s official academic dishonesty policy as well as any additional policies that their instructors have implemented.)

Intellectual challenges in American academic writing

There are some intellectual challenges that all students are faced with when writing. Sometimes these challenges can almost seem like contradictions, particularly when addressing them within a single paper. For example, American teachers often instruct students to:

Develop a topic based on
what has already been said and written
BUT    Write something
new and original
Rely on experts’ and authorities’ opinions BUT     Improve upon and/or disagree with those same opinions
Give credit to previous researchers BUT  Make your own significant    contribution
Improve your English to fit into a
discourse community by building upon what you hear and read
BUT  Use your own words and your own voice

High school students might not face the same harsh punishments as their college friends, however; most of them are college-bound and they should learn the rules about this issue sooner rather than later.



Common Core

State Standards
for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

for California Public Schools

Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve

Reviewing the Common Core Standards, particularly for writing, it appears to me that my ELL students are generally operating at about the 1st grade American grade level. Probably a little higher for reading.  A first grader should “be able to make logical inference and support conclusions drawn from the text. They should be able to identify central themes and explain how and why people do things. They need to be able to analyze how two texts are similar and use illustrations and details from a text to describe key ideas.”

Given that my students are Korean and are raised speaking, reading and writing Hangul; the 1st or 2nd grade level is not too bad. Hangul does not use Roman letters but rather their own unique symbols that are similar to Chinese symbols. The only English spoken here is generally Konglish which is just hybrid English words that have taken on a Korean pronunciation (computer, coffee, sofa, etc.) So,  not only do students have to learn a new language in terms of listening, speaking and reading, all the word symbols are completely different. There is no commonality between English and Hangul at all. So, the average person learning to speak French, Spanish or German would have an easier time of it than trying to learn Hangul.


Referring back to my lesson plans with The Princess and the Pea (Oxford University Press,) we would first watch a short video that told the fairy tale. Then we would read the story. The book is created as  story script, like a play, with different parts. I would have one student be the Princess, then the Prince, the Queen and then the King. Each would get to wear a crown (their favorite part.) The ‘actors’ would read their scripts and other students would read along. I tried to always pick the highest students to read so that they wouldn’t struggle so much and also as an example to the lower student that ‘it could be done!’

MINI-WRITING TASKS:  I would create a series of typed words that corresponded to the text such as: Queen, King, Princess, he, she, they, did, do, left, is, are, in, out, etc. etc. I typed the words up, laminated the sheet and cut the individual words out.  Then I keep the words in a metal can and would take the words out and scatter them on a bench. Then,  I had students come up with their printed worksheets (saving paper,) pick out several words and then write a sentence for me. I usually asked for three sentences. They would bring them up to the board. Once again, doing group corrections, I would write corrections on the whiteboard so that all the students could see them and correct their own papers.

ART AS DOWN TIME: I used  art as a ‘wind-down’ activity which related to the reading, I had a bench with lots and lots of colored construction paper. I also used scissors, glue, markers, etc. and would have the students design castles (like in the story) or stained glass windows with paper. Students could get extremely creative with their designs and came up with some really good stuff. I just wish I had saved some of their pictures for myself. We would post the pictures up on the bulletin boards and they were able to see their own art posted up and know everyone else could see it too. I played various classic music pieces which they did this and it was a very happy activity. They mostly loved it!

HIGH SCHOOL AGAIN Internet site, 9/2014.)

Wow! This article made me feel a whole lot better. Most students hate writing! It’s not just me!

Teaching ESL/EFL Students to Write Better

Yesim Cimcoz
hcimcoz [at]

A majority of students dislike writing. When faced with a writing task, most students will react with comments like, “oh no not again” or “this is so boring”. A teacher who does not try to see the real message behind these comments could easily become discouraged. Eventually, both the teacher and the students will ‘hate writing’. To prevent this from happening the teacher should consider what students actually mean when they say “boring”, and the possibility that students are actually expressing their insecurity and lack of confidence in completing the task. Writing is a skill that has not been accorded the attention it deserves in high school education. Students have not been taught to make their ideas flow on paper. They don’t know how to write, feel stupid when they can’t find the right words, fear criticism and want to avoid the emotional turmoil experienced when faced with a topic and a blank piece of paper. Teachers who want to help their students gain confidence in writing should try to follow a writing process that takes the student from insecurity to success.

Coming to Terms with Reality

The first stage that students must go through is that of ‘coming to terms with reality’. It is very important that students be made aware of what their actual level of writing is at present. It is also crucial that at this stage teachers must not tell students what they believe their level to be but must provide the right feedback to enable students to see for themselves. Students who do not write well should not be fooled into believing that they do. At this stage, commenting only on the positive aspects of a student paper will only create a false sense of confidence in the student. Comments on how to improve poor areas in writing both on paper and in person can help students understand just what their writing is in need of. Once this stage has been satisfactorily completed then the teacher must move on to reassure students that it will be possible to improve their writing.


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Writing Center

Students who speak English as a second language might present unusual challenges to their instructors, but certainly none that can’t be overcome with knowledge and thoughtfulness. This page will introduce a few important considerations and a few strategies for working effectively with ESL students, along with resources for further information.

International ESL students

Language learning:

  • Often called “eye learners” because their knowledge of English has come primarily through textbook study.
  • May never have been fully immersed in an English-speaking environment.
  • May be overwhelmed by the cognitive, psychological, and emotional demands of immersion.

Grammar knowledge:

  • May know many formal rules of grammar.
  • May be very skilled at taking language tests.
  • May not be able to consistently apply the rules correctly.
  • Will probably make frequent mistakes.


  • May have had limited exposure to rapid speech, southern accents, and contemporary slang.
  • Listening comprehension may be limited at first.
  • Newcomers in particular may take a bit of time to find the right English words and structures to express their thoughts.


  • May have been taught very different patterns of organization and development, so their texts may seem incoherent or incomplete.
  • May be unfamiliar with typical US forms of writing (e.g., explicit thesis-driven argument).
  • Composing process may be laborious as they struggle to use complex grammar and vocabulary to make their writing more sophisticated.
  • Reading slowed tremendously by repeated use of the dictionary and by processing complex language of university-level texts.

Educational culture:

  • May come from a culture in which students memorize and reproduce knowledge of experts, where students’ critical contributions are unusual or even frowned upon.
  • Relationships with instructors may have been very formal and hierarchical, and asking questions seen as rude or embarrassing.
  • May come from culture similar to US, with interactive discussion, critical analysis, and emphasis on individual achievement.

Language learning:

  • Often called “ear learners” because much of their language is learned through immersion in English-speaking environments.
  • Recent arrivals are likely to have had ESL instruction in school.
  • May speak only their first language at home with family.
  • May be fully bilingual or may still be acquiring various aspects of English.

Grammar knowledge:

  • May not have knowledge of formal rules of grammar.
  • May have a more intuitive sense of “what sounds right.”
  • May be better able to generate alternative phrasings than their international counterparts.


  • Usually able to interact with ease, understanding formal and informal spoken language at natural speed.
  • May occasionally have trouble understanding or producing spoken language, but are able to quickly overcome the barrier.


  • Will be familiar with typical American essay conventions.
  • Will likely produce texts with expected organizational patterns.
  • May still struggle to write essays that are free of grammatical errors.
  • Reading may also be labored because of new vocabulary.

Educational culture:

Issues you may see as a teacher:

  • Limited lecture comprehension
  • Limited class participation
  • Reluctance to use office hours
  • Saying they understand something when it’s clear they don’t
  • Writing that doesn’t meet expectations (strangely organized, lacking expected elements, etc.)
  • Odd vocabulary usage
  • Grammatical errors (either minor or serious)
  • Potential plagiarism
  • Poor test performance

How to help students:

Lecture comprehension

Allow students to record lectures.

  • They can listen as often as necessary to fill in their notes, or they can be free to concentrate solely on understanding what you are saying at the moment, knowing that they can make notes later from the recording.

Provide an outline of your lecture.

  • Provide during class and refer to it when you move to a new topic. This helps students stay on track if they get a bit lost.

Emphasize key points.

  • Stressing key words, writing on the board, repeating yourself with emphasis, etc.

Use visuals.

  • Graphs, charts, diagrams, images can all support students’ comprehension of the lecture.

Write down critical vocabulary.

  • Especially helpful for names students need for future reference.

Post lecture notes.

  • Make notes available on the class website. Students can compare and revise their own notes for accuracy.

Class Participation

Post discussion questions or topics in advance.

  • This allows students to consider and formulate initial contributions to group discussions.

Ask questions clearly.

  • Speak in a way that students can understand. Try to avoid the stereotypical “foreigner talk”—excessively slow and loud speech. Just be aware that it can be difficult to understand rapid, idiomatic speech. Slow down a little and try to avoid slang.

Be patient.

  • It may take a moment for the student to formulate a response.

Be understanding.

  • Some students will be very self-conscious about their imperfect English. They may be frustrated by not being able to freely articulate their complex thoughts. They may be concerned that their native-English speaking peers will think they’re less intelligent if they don’t speak perfect English.

Be supportive.

  • Provide a word here and there if you can see the student is groping for a particular expression. If the response is slightly off, try to do something positive with it. You might rephrase the response if it’s just a bit ungrammatical. You might ask clarifying questions. You might elaborate on their response. In any case, your positive reaction is positive reinforcement of their participation.Submit a Draft Online
  • Writing performance

Provide detailed assignments with clear expectations.

  • Some students have never written a paper in the American style. Some educational cultures value long, meandering introductions. Others value placing the thesis in the conclusion. Others value having only an implicit thesis. Generally, students will write the way they’ve been taught to write. If you have particular expectations, help students by being specific and clear.

Provide examples.

  • Share successful papers if possible, and explain what made them successful. Being guided through examples will help them produce what you’re hoping for.

Discuss your students’ ideas.

  • Guide students before they begin to write and at various points in the writing process. Help them focus the topic and stay on track.

Require a draft.

  • Seeing one or more drafts allows you to provide feedback and direction at the intermediate stage.

Respond thoughtfully.

  • Respond to the content with specific suggestions for improvement (not generic comments like “awkward” or “clarify”).

Expect written accents.

  • You may notice quite a few insignificant errors, like a missing “the” or the wrong preposition or an unnaturally worded expression. Try to ignore these, just as you would ignore a speaker’s accent as you focused on the ideas they were expressing.

Correct serious errors.

  • If there are errors that truly-really and truly-significantly interfere with your understanding of the sentence, help the student by identifying them. You can write one or two possible corrections. You can identify the error and let the student generate the corrections that they can check with you later. You can ask the student to say more about that idea and help find the correct expression.

Teach citation very carefully.

  • Many international students have been taught to reproduce well-respected texts verbatim, with no citation. These texts were easily recognizable to educated readers, and the skillful writer could weave them into their own work. The American emphasis on intellectual property is truly a foreign concept for many students. In most cases, they do not want to violate our sense of academic integrity, but they genuinely do not know how to incorporate sources skillfully with citations. Help them develop this skill with feedback during the drafting stage.

This article goes over several things I have already mentioned; it  did appear that when I was teaching this summer, these students  had never been instructed in the use of citations or that they could not pull directly from the Internet without giving credit to the writer. All this seemed to be a big surprise. Also, students are ‘shy’ in general and are afraid to speak in their ‘imperfect’ English regardless of how long they have been studying. So, when I say something like “Do you understand what I just said?” They will nod in the affirmative regardless of whether they have any clue as to what was just said.

Therefore, it is important to have clear expectations, clear deadlines and clear examples of what is needed. In reflection, we would have all been better off if I had found a simple research paper example (even one of my own,) that showed referencing and sites for students to use as a sample.

Because I was told they were ‘higher’ students I was unprepared for what happened in class and did not expect what they handed in. In the future, I need to get a simple example of what I want their papers to look like (one to two pages,) give this to them before they start doing ‘research’ and go over citations and referencing first. I finally found a simple reference sheet on citations which I gave them. Mostly, I was teaching them to cut and paste the site line at the top of the Internet page and attach it to their papers.  It’s not much but better than nothing.


This site is from Washington University in St. Louis, The Teaching Center and is titled: How to Plan and Guide an in-Class Peer Review Session. Apparently, there need to be some ground rules in class before attempting to utilize peer-reviews.

  • JalIncorporating peer review into your course can help your students become better writers, readers, and collaborators. However, peer review must be planned and guided carefully.

The following suggestions for planning and guiding peer review are based on an approach to peer review that is discussed in the handout, “Using Peer Review to Help Students Improve their Writing.” This approach implements four key strategies:

  1. Identify and teach the skills required for peer review.
  2. Teach peer review as an essential part of the writing process.
  3. Present peer review as an opportunity for students to learn how to write for an audience.
  4. Define the role of the peer-reviewer as that of a reader, not an evaluator.
  1. Decide which writing assignments will include a peer-review session.
    Given the time that is required to conduct peer-review sessions successfully (see below), in undergraduate courses, peer review will work best with papers of 5 pages or less. Instructors who want to incorporate peer-review sessions for longer papers will have to ask students to complete part of the work outside of class (e.g. reading peers’ papers and preparing written comments); such an approach is likely to be more successful if students first practice peer review during class, with the guidance of the instructor.
  2. Decide when peer-review sessions will occur.
    The ideal time for peer review is after students have written a complete draft of a paper, but while there is still time for substantial revision. .

Each peer-review session will require at least one class period. While it is possible to complete a session in one hour, a one-and-one-half hour class period is preferable (see below for a detailed discussion of how to structure peer-review sessions).

Instructors should schedule the first peer-review session early in the semester to give students time to get to know one another and to develop peer-review skills. The atmosphere of trust and mutual respect that is necessary for the success of peer-review sessions does not develop instantaneously. Ideally, the first peer-review session should focus on a short piece of writing, such as a paragraph or two, so that students develop comfort with giving and receiving feedback before taking on the task of reading longer papers.

2. Design peer-review worksheets that students will complete during each peer-review session.

These worksheets should include specific tasks that reviewers should complete during the session. The guidance you provide on the worksheets should help students stay “on task” during the session and should help them discern theamount of commenting that is desirable.

The role of the peer-reviewer should be that of a reader, not an evaluator or grader. Do not replicate the grading criteria when designing these worksheets. Your students will not necessarily be qualified to apply these criteria effectively, and they may feel uncomfortable if they are given the responsibility to pronounce an overall judgment on their peers’ work.

Peer-review worksheets should ask the reviewer to begin by offering a positive comment about the paper. After that point, the peer-reviewer role in commenting should be descriptive: each reviewer should describe his response to the paper. For example, a peer-reviewer might write: “I found this description very clear” or “I do not understand how this point relates to your thesis.” The worksheet should give students specific tasks to complete when recording their response to a paper (Nilson 2003). Where evaluation is required, it should be based on the reviewer’s impressions as a reader. Examples of specific tasks include

  • indicate which parts of the paper the reader finds most or least effective, and why
  • identify or rephrase the thesis
  • list the major points of support or evidence
  • indicate sentences or paragraphs that seem out of order, incompletely explained, or otherwise in need of revision

Performing these tasks should enable each peer-reviewer to provide the writer with a written response that will help the writer determine which parts of the paper are effective as is, and which are unclear, incomplete, or unconvincing.

Do not require students to tell the writer how to revise the paper. Advanced under-graduates, students who have been meeting in peer-review groups for an extended time, and graduate students may be able to handle adding more directive responses (e.g. suggesting that the writer make specific changes).

Okay, as I see it, the article contains three important points: 1) the role of the peer reviewer is not to grade or judge the paper, they are giving a ‘reader’s reaction.’ 2) They should not attempt to tell the other person how to rewrite the paper. 3) They should try to make a positive comment and avoid harsh judgments and criticisms.

My Asian students will not have had experience with peer reviews because, as far as I can tell, no one does that kind of thing here. Secondly, students can be extremely hard and harsh on each other and that is common. I will have to emphasize that their role is not of judge and jury, or are they responsible to ‘tell’ the other student what to do. Rather, just give their reactions to the piece and tell whether they understood what was being said or not. Was it clear? Did you understand it? Is it okay the way it is or do you think it should be redone? Any ‘nice’ comments?

Koreans really do tend to live in a ‘bubble’ a lot of the time where they are extremely self-focused. This exercise will help them to see themselves as someone else sees them. A really important point.    CW

Elaine Garan – Smart Answer to Tough Questions, (2007,) Scholastic, Inc., NY, NY.

Regie Routman – Writing Essentials, (2005,) Heinemann, Portsmouth, New Jersey.  – excerpt from Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, Internet site, 2014. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , Internet site, 2014., Washington University in St. Louis, Internet site, 2014.