Techniques to Teach Writing Effectively: Teaching English Language Learners (ELLs)

Last time we discussed the first part of an article posted on Education Week’s website about how to teach writing effectively, especially about how to demonstrate the writing process. This week we turn our attention to how ELLs can use their growing knowledge of English with their own cultural history, to become effective writers.

Irina McGrath, PhD, is an assistant principal in Kentucky’s Jefferson County school district and an adjunct professor at the University of Louisville, Indiana University Southeast, and Bellarmine University. Here are her suggestions for improving writing skills among the ELL population.[1]

A supportive learning environment

Writing can seem a daunting experience, especially among students asked to write in English, but for whom English is not their native language. The key is to establish a supportive learning environment right at the beginning of the school year, and that means emphasizing the importance of writing for everyone in the class, including the teacher.

McGrath encourages her students to write in both English and their native language, while she writes alongside them to show that writing is a continuing journey, one that needs hard work, dedication, and determination, no matter how accomplished you are. When the students observed her own struggles, it gave them the courage to keep going and perfect the work.

Through this process, the students understood that mistakes were an expected part of the creative process, and that they were valuable opportunities to learn and grow. This led the students to feel more comfortable taking risks and experimenting with their writing, viewing errors as steppingstones toward their continued progress.


McGrath provides scaffolds such as sentence stems, sentence frames, and word banks to help support her students, and she encourages her students to use translation tools, but only to help them generate ideas. These scaffolds empower them to independently tackle more challenging writing assignments and improve their confidence in completing assigned writing tasks. Assignments are shared in writers’ circles, where they discuss the hard work employed in each writing piece, offer suggestions to improve the pieces, and celebrate each other’s success.

The most successful writing lessons integrate reading and writing into a single, larger process. The trick is to read like writers to understand how the words and phrases are constructed to make meaning, as well as to use “mentor” texts (e.g., short stories or articles) to observe how professional writers use words, descriptive language, and sentence structure to enhance their work. These are all lessons students can apply to their own work to improve their writing skills.

And instead of overwhelming students with information, it’s important to break down the writing process into meaningful segments and teach them through mini lessons. That allows them to master the content in smaller chunks that are more easily digestible. By the end, they should be able to address a writing assignment from beginning to end without too much difficulty.


Next week: More on mentor texts


To read part 1 of this blog series, click here.



[1] Ferlazzo, Larry. (February 16, 2024). “How to Help Students with Their Writing. 4 Educators Share Their Secrets.” Education Week. Retrieved from


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to

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