How to Scaffold Writing with Your Adult ESL Learners

How to scaffold Writing

The following post is written for beginning ESL teachers who are looking for clarity and understanding on how to approach writing with adult ESL/literacy learners.

‘Scaffolding writing’ is a collaborative, learning-centred teaching process involving the teacher, students and their peers (in the classroom setting) with the purpose of creating written texts. This process includes studying various examples of texts, discussing the language, doing practical activities and following structured outlines. The main idea is to ‘model’ good writing practices so students can create similar text independently. Scaffolding involves a number of activities that accompany three stages of writing: before, during and after.

What to do before writing:

  • Activate background knowledge
  • Discuss audience & purpose
  • Brainstorm/list ideas
  • Examine models of good writing
  • Discuss other authors’ styles , use of words and choice of grammar
  • Make lists of words and phrases students will need to use in their writing
  • Offer real-life topics/situations for writing
  • Explain the writing process
  • Identify knowledge/understanding gaps

What to do during writing:

  • Read and re-read drafts with your students
  • Encourage students to work with other students (classroom setting)
  • Assist with spelling, word usage and grammar
  • Ask students to dictate as you write their text
  • Provide frames for writing based on appropriate texts
  • Use checklists to help students with editing and formatting

What to do after writing:

  • Discuss with students about what they have written (compare ‘before and after’ pieces of writing)
  • Discuss how well their writing serves the purpose and audience
  • Discuss what they will need to change in their writing depending on the genre and style
  • Reflect on the writing experience
  • Provide learners with authentic opportunities to publish their work (blog, newsletter, etc.)

Examples of exercises to provide guided learning through practice

Before Writing:

Guided brainstorming for ideas and general understanding of the task
Compiling lists of relevant vocabulary
Genre practice: examine and compare different models of writing to discover particular features through guided questions
Sequencing steps of the task
Grouping ideas
Exploring different ways of organising information

During Writing:

Grammar practice: offer grammatical exercises to target particular structures
Vocabulary practice: offer vocabulary exercises to explain particular usage
Cloze/gap fill activities with missing words/phrases
Re-writing exercises to see the changes in register, style, grammar or choice of vocabulary
Editing exercises
Developing a checklist for editing
Structuring paragraphs (identifying topic sentences and supporting ideas)
Spelling practice: dictations, discussing spelling strategies or dictogloss
Exercises to help students’ practices using linking devices
Re-arranging paragraphs

After Writing:

Answering guided reflection questions
Showcasing pieces of writing
Publishing writing on the class blog or in a class newsletter

For writing practice to be effective, students need to be actively engaged in all stages. Collaboration, explicit instruction and learning through doing have proven to enhance writing development.


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