On the basis of their sentence
frames, students can create a coat
of arms (see fig. 1) and then write a
paragraph about their names. These
pieces of writing provide the class with
an opportunity to learn about one
another and to value other cultural
The biopoem is another getting-to-know-you activity that builds community. Bookended by students’ first
and last names, the poem enables
students to share personal information about their likes and dislikes,
hopes, and dreams (see fig. 2). Students simply complete the template.
Afterward, they can share their poems
with the class, or you may choose to
display the finished products with students’ photographs.
After students are familiar with the
format, they might write biopoems in
the voice of a character from a work
of literature. This activity helps ELLs
to establish agency as writers; it also
develops their academic writing by
teaching them how to use parallel
structures and relative clauses.
2. Provide solid strategy
Strategy instruction has been iden-
tified as one of the most effective
approaches to improving the academic
reading and writing skills of students
and in advancing English language
development for ELLs (Conley,
2008; Graham & Perin, 2007; Short
& Fitzsimmons, 2007). Teaching
strategies to students helps to make
texts comprehensible and provides
them with a clear focus on language.
It affords students opportunities to
affirm or correct their understanding
and use of language, helps them
retrieve new language features and use
these features for academic purposes,
and provides them with the means
of learning language on their own,
outside of class.
Although the Common Core standards acknowledge the importance
of strategy instruction, the standards do not define the full range of
metacognitive strategies that might
be useful to students nor do they
delineate the support ELLs might need
to master such strategies. It’s up to
teachers to decide which pedagogical
approaches will help their ELLs
become strategic readers and writers.
Let’s look at two specific ideas.
FIGURE 1. Coat of Arms
If my name were an animal, it would be sloth because
I am very lethargic.
If my name were a plant, it would be maple tree
because of my reminiscence of childhood in Canada.
If my name were a song, it would be immigrant song
because of how the song describes the distant lands
like all the unknown that I fear.
Reprinted by permission of the Publisher. From Carol Booth Olson, Robin C. Scarcella, and Tina
Matuchniak, Helping English learners to write: Meeting Common Core Standards, grades 6–12, New
York: Teachers College Press. Copyright © 2015 by Teachers College, Columbia University. All rights