The Learning Hub

Developing Language and Inspiring ELL Students to Write

BY: Daria Hendrickson

My students are very energetic and curious learners who come from diverse backgrounds and who want to be challenged on a daily basis. In our ESL/Social Studies/Science class, we do a lot of writing, and this year my students’ writing has been enhanced by an amazing iPad app that I learned about on Twitter – the Write About This app.

Writing is More Fun

As an ESL teacher, my goal is to increase my ELLs’ productive language skills: writing and speaking. However, it is also important that my students work on listening and reading skills every day. What’s great about the Write About This app is that it allows me to incorporate all four language modalities: students write, read their writing, practice speaking by recording their voice, and listen to their recording to self-assess their speaking skills and to re-record if necessary! Moreover, because students can save all the writing that they produced using this iPad app, I can track my ELLs’ English language development and determine what language forms and features we need to focus on.

In addition to supporting my ELLs’ language skills, this app motivates my students to write. There are so many different writing prompts with great pictures that my students easily get inspired to write. Even my newcomer English language learners have found images that they wanted to write about!  I have also been amazed that when my students don’t have time to finish their writing, they come to my room during lunch and work on it! Isn’t it the dream of any teacher to have self-motivated students?

Last week, we used the Write About This app to create custom prompts about our school values. At our school, we focus on developing our students into motivated learners that reach their highest potential through practicing Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Determination, and Excellence. These values were new to our students this year, and it was a little hard to explain the meaning of the values to my English Learners and to point out examples in the classroom. The idea to create something on iPads to demonstrate these values came from my awesome mainstream co-teacher. She wanted to have examples so she could show them to her students next year. This is when I thought that Write About This would be perfect for this project. I assigned students one value to write about. Students were asked to find or create an image from our class and make a custom prompt using the Write About This app. My students really enjoy writing on the iPad, but this time it was writing something that we would display in the hallway for the whole school to see and read, so they worked really hard to do their best work.

Here are some examples of student writing from this year:

Click to view gallery!

Using iPads doesn’t always allow for sharing your work. Unfortunately, at our school Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are blocked. One excellent feature of this app is that you can save the work to iPad camera roll. My students then post both the writing and the recording on our class blog where they can read each other’s writing, learn from each other, and leave comments. Moreover, because the recording can be saved as a movie file, we have used augmented reality to add the recording as an overlay to students’ Write About This printouts! I print the finished work and then students use the Aurasma app to link the image to the recording. Now all students, parents, and teachers can see student work, as well as listen to the students reading it any time!

There are lots of ideas on how you could use this app with students already posted on the Write About This blog page. I know that my students will definitely be using it to write scientific conclusions during our upcoming science unit on simple machines! I know that it will help my English learners develop language, and it will be a great way for them to demonstrate their learning in the content class.

Daria Hendrickson is an ESL teacher in Minnesota who loves collaboration, tech integration and travel! She tweets @dashendric 

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