Pass-it-around Writing Activity

During our last faculty meeting, my ESL team shared some scaffolding activities that help English language learners increase understanding of concepts and rich vocabulary of topics that they learn together with their proficient peers in mainstream classes.

The language scaffolding activities support the Key Principles # 1 of ELL Instruction published by Stanford University:

Key Principles for ELL Instruction #1: Instruction focuses on providing ELLs with opportunities to engage in discipline-specific practices which are designed to build conceptual understanding and language competence in tandem. Learning is a social process that requires teachers to intentionally design learning opportunities that integrate reading, writing, speaking, and listening with the practices of each discipline.

As it is stated above, teachers should design such activities intentionally so that English Language Learners in their class can access the presented curriculum to the same extent as their proficient peers.

The activity that I would like to introduce here is called: Pass-it-around Writing

Before the activity, students have to be divided in heterogeneous groups of three or four. Each group member receives a sheet of lined paper and a colored pen. Each group sits around a table. The teacher chooses a topic or prepares a few photos that he presents to the group.

Each student is asked to start writing a story based on the photo or related to the chosen topic. After two minutes of writing, the students are asked to pass their story to their classmate on the left in their group. The students keep passing the story around for a few turns. Towards the end of the first, writing part of the activity, the teacher asks the students to think about ending the story. When students stop writing, each student has one story written by him and his partners. In the second, editing part of the activity, each group chooses one story that they edit and present to the class.

Pre-teaching Suggestions:

  • It is advised to start practicing this activity orally first so that students practice coming up with story ideas based on a photo or announced topic.

More Scaffolding Tips:

  • Teacher can display a list of sentence starters and vocabulary on the board for the students to use during their writing.
  • Teacher provides students with a lined paper that forces students to focus on neat handwriting (you can find it in writing notebooks for Elementary School students).

Please note that this activity requires practice and students start producing better quality stories after a few repetitions!
Every group of students is different and requires different modification and accommodations. Have fun with the activity and be creative!

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