Linking Writing to ELs’ Lives Using Quickwrites

Recently, I came across a mention of quickwrites (QWs) on Twitter. I immediately felt that they were a  terrific way to support English learners (ELs) as they learn to write. According to Linda Reif, author of The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Reading and Writing (2018), a QW is a short, quick response that students make to a prompt. That prompt can be a short text, a passage from a mentor text, a poem, or a picture. Students write a quick 1–3 minute reaction to the prompt.

Reif’s ideas can easily be adapted for ELs by choosing texts that are at their English language development (ELD) level.

This method gives ELs an opportunity to write quickly without censoring their sentence structure and spelling. Here is a step-by-step plan of how QWs can be adapted for ELs.

1. Provide Reading Time
Give ELs the necessary time to read the passage from which the prompt is chosen. This gives students a context for the prompt, which is usually one to two sentences long. Be sure the text is comprehensible to all of your ELs and that they understand the vocabulary.

2. Provide a Prompt
Assign a line from the text that will be their prompt. You need to decide if all students will respond to the  same prompt. Remember that the ELs in your class are probably not all at the same ELD level. We need to accommodate instruction for those students who struggle with writing so that they can participate in the instruction. You may need to simplify the language in the prompt to accommodate the needs of all of your ELs.

3. Ask Questions
Depending on the ELD level of students, ask questions about the prompt. These questions should focus on how ELs relate the prompt to their own lives.

4. Have ELs Write
Have ELs write for 3–5 minutes about the prompt. The time is longer than is recommended by Reif but necessary for ELs who might be translating from their home language in their heads. You may want to adjust the length of time for the writing activity as you repeat the QW activity during the school year.

5. Provide Alternatives
ELs who are not ready to write can take part in this activity by dictating their ideas to you or drawing a picture that relates to the prompt.

6. Have Students Share
Ask students to share their writing with a partner or small group by reading directly from the text they have written. Students can respond verbally to peers’ questions. This gives them the freedom to write without anxiety. They know from the start that they will be able to read from their writing. Model to students how this sharing should work and what kind of questions they may want to ask.

7. Utilize the QWs
Have students use the QW as the first draft of a writing idea that they can develop.

The purpose of this activity is to give all students an opportunity to build a portfolio of writing ideas and the self-confidence to write in a nonthreatening environment.We all write from ideas that are sparked by others.

In fact, I often get ideas for blogs from Twitter posts.  I recently saw a tweet from Alycia Owen, EAL Department Chair at American International School of Guangzhou in China, that sparked an idea for this blog.  Owen tweeted a creative QW that she used with her middle/high school students that connected to their lives. During this activity, Alycia had students respond to a tweet posted by bilingual teacher Valentina Gonzalez, who wrote on Twitter, “Probably my most valuable human capital, the one I’m most proud of, is my bilingualism.” Alycia posed the following questions for her students to answer:

  1. How does Valentina Gonzalez feel about being bilingual?
  2. What connection can you make to her tweet?

Student responses successfully linked their own ideas to Valentina’s quote in their QWs.

Another resource with examples of QWs for ELs is Cultivating ELLs’ Writing Fluency with Quickwrites by Tan Huynh, who is an upper elementary and secondary school teacher in an international school setting. Tan’s blogs are well worth bookmarking and following as he posts excellent information on a wide range of topics. He is very active on Twitter, so it is easy to contact him to discuss ideas.

I think QWs will work best with ELs in Grades 3–12. They make it easy for the teacher to tailor instruction to their students’ ELD levels.  Let me know what you think in the comments, below.

Reference

Reif, L. (2018). The quickwrite handbook. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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