‘Okay, now I want you to write a comparison of…’ or ‘write an evaluation of …; or ‘write a description of…’ How many times have you heard or asked this question? Only for your EAL learners and possibly non-EAL learners to stare at you as they try to pluck up the courage to ask you ‘How do I start?’ or ‘What does compare / evaluate / describe mean?’ or ‘How do I write a comparison / evaluation / description?’ It is unfair to expect learners to write successfully if they do not have access to model texts. Model texts can provide (a) an outline of how to structure a text (b) specific language features of the genre e.g. the language of comparing, evaluating or describing etc. (c) subject / topic specific vocabulary. All of these are particularly valuable for EAL learners and arguably all learners!
This is where a vital stage of the Teaching and Learning cycle, something I wrote about in a previous blog post, comes into play.
Modelling and deconstructing is a vital part of scaffolding writing tasks for any learner not just EAL learners. John Hattie (2010) talks about the importance of showing learners successful models in his book Visible Learning. Showing learners successful models of tasks is vital classroom practice and should be incorporated into our lessons and schemes of learning.
Pauline Gibbons (2009) states that modelling the genre aims to build learners knowledge of the language of the genre that you want them to write in. It is vital that we support our EAL learners in building knowledge of the different types of language that they will need to be successful in their mainstream subjects. It is also crucial that any such activities are closely linked to what they are learning in the mainstream.
If we take the example question at the beginning as a case in point, to show our learners how to write a comparison we should first show them a model comparison text and then plan activities that support deconstructing a comparison. Through deconstructing the text your learners will build a success criteria of how to write a comparison that will include:
- A clear explanation of what a comparison is and what its function is.
- How to structure a comparison including how to start, what to include and how to finish.
- What are the key language features of comparison and how they can be included in a piece of writing.
There are a wide range of strategies and approaches that we can use to model and deconstruct a text. Some of my favourite strategies include:
- Graphic Organisers which show how a text is organised.
- Jigsaw Reading can be used to support learning about the structure of a piece of writing.
- Language Features Displayed will scaffold the language features needed to successfully write in the modelled and deconstructed text.
- Running Dictation can be used to model the language features used.
- Snowball can be used to model the language features used.
- Split Headlines can be used to model the language features used.
- Dictogloss is a great strategy for modelling and deconstructing texts. This strategy has so many benefits to showing our EAL learners how to write successfully that I always recommend it to teachers that I work with.
- Monster Cloze After looking at successful models and deconstructing texts you can use this strategy as an effective way to check understanding and scaffold writing.
- Split Dictation can be used to model the language features used.
If we use a combination of these strategies then we will no longer have blank faces staring back at us when we ask our learner to ‘write a comparison‘ or write in any genre that you expect your learners to write in. We will provide our learners with the language they need to successfully write.
Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy, and thinking. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hattie, J. (2010). Visible learning. London: Routledge.