Heritage Speakers Write the Story in the TL

Very often we have kids who only speak the language plopped down into our classrooms and we don’t know what to do with them and it’s a pain for us to deal with.

I have already addressed how useful the Word Chunk Team Activity is in occupying these students. But we can’t use WCTA very much in our teaching – it’s just a very fun game.

Now, however, I have found a much more powerful way of engaging these students. They have to write the story in the TL. Well…they can’t. So what to do? Make them write it anyway, on the computer while you are asking the story.

They may need this skill – writing in their first language – some day.

I literally have my L1 story writer, a superstar because getting the details right is so important, sitting next to the heritage speaker L2 story writer to my right in Hub A. See this graphic:

Seating chart_3

In New Delhi I remember a German kid whose dad is French, who was placed in a beginning French class (I kid you not) but who cannot write, asked me after class to correct what he wrote. It was a mess, an error every other word. He was so grateful to be learning something! I was so grateful to have him doing something meaningful in my class! A win-win for all!



2 thoughts on “Heritage Speakers Write the Story in the TL”

  1. A native speaker “asked me after class to correct what he wrote.” I love it!
    It sounds crazy, but more advanced (native speaker) students want to edit their writing, particularly when they feel ownership over the silly stories they helped make.

    It’s maybe a thing for the English Language Arts/English as a Second Language tutorial, but I feel like editing is the key to bridging academic writing for more advanced writers.

    Editing after a traditional TPRS story can help students of varying ability levels apply incidentally acquired points of grammar that they hear in a story to their writing in a more “explicit” way, which can reinforce comprehension of L2 structure.

    I don’t have any other ESL teachers to copy (and I do love to copy and steal 90% of my ideas from this blog)… so I’ve made up my own editing system. This might not be worthy of sharing, but here goes:

    1. The whole class creates a story. We co-create an embedded text that students dictate and I type on the projector: version 1 is a simple text with the target structures and the story in it’s simplest form.

    2. This next step is a modified think aloud to incorporate TPRS’s target structures: I put on my “geek glasses” to let students know I am doing a think aloud (I’ve warned students that they don’t need to answer questions, I’m just thinking aloud; and that not all crazy white ladies talk to themselves, it’s a metacognitive strategy to re-read aloud text that we’ve written to see if it “sounds” right). I model editing for the grammar in the target structures (if any) or using the target vocabulary –usually only two or three phrases, so this only takes a minute of re-hashing pop-grammar. The whole class can sit back and watch the process modeled with our shared writing.
    3. I press “print” and the beginners re-read and use this text as an anchor text to write their own version of the story. They attempt to read aloud and edit (if preferred with a partner so they don’t feel like they are crazy talking to themselves).

    4. The intermediate and advanced stick around for version 2 of the text. They dictate another more complex version of the text: they elaborating with relevant details, delete irrelevant details, change the tense or voice, depending on where our mini-writing lesson needs to go for the day. Most points of grammar need not be directly taught, but rather modeled. This time, students join me in re-reading and listening for what “sounds right” to edit the more complicated text. I do have a basic editing checklist that includes checking for complete ideas (sentences) and adding capital letters and periods–I’m not focused too heavily on grammar, but are certain basics my kids already know, but need to reinforce each time they write.

    5. The intermediate kids then pair up and head off with their version of the text: re-read, re-create, and re-read to edit. I may also ask them to write the quiz.

    6. Finally, advanced students (approaching grade-level) are ready for one last “challenge” version of the text. This is my opportunity to add on finer points of writing: sentence expansion, organization (topic sentence, supporting details, and conclusion), choosing “powerful” words, etc. This is definitely specific to second language, not foreign, because my students would focus on writing language for mastery. To motivate these kids to write more, they type directly on the computers in the classroom and we print and publish their final copies as our “official” version of the text (they think they’re hot stuff when we read what they write the next day).

    Editing after a story is (for my kids) the key to differentiating for the advanced, nearly on-grade level students. I used to think TPRS is something I could only use with beginning ELLs, but I think process writing about stories is a much more engaging way to read advanced students.

    1. PS: when I say “advanced” students–I mean advanced. Native speakers who are almost reading and writing on grade level. Unless you are an ESL teacher, adds are, your kids won’t be ready for the academic writing I teach with my advanced students–so most Foreign Language teachers should ignore this post.

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