Writing for new to English learners

In conjunction with this section, you will find it helpful to read the sections on both Spoken English development and Reading because the development of each of these areas is crucial to successful writing in English for EAL learners.

New-to-English learners come into classrooms with differing experiences of literacy in their first language.  Very young children may not have any experience of writing in their first language(s) whereas some 6 and 7 year olds may have begun to develop their first language literacy skills and be able to write at an age-appropriate level. Pupils in later phases may well be fully literate in their first language and therefore ready for more accelerated learning targets in English.  The support needs of pupils will differ according to their prior knowledge and experience of literacy, and of writing in particular, so it is important that teachers familiarise themselves with the background information about each pupil’s first language skills in order to best utilise these to support their on-going learning.

Some pupils in Key Stages 1 and 2 may be familiar with a script that differs markedly in appearance from English and with differences in punctuation marks.  Arabic and Urdu are both written right to left and use a different script; Chinese languages are not alphabet-based and instead use a system based on characters; languages like Hindi and Nepali hang from the line rather than sit on it.  Phonological differences exist between English and many other languages that can cause problems to the new-to-English learner who may struggle to distinguish and to reproduce (orally and in writing)  the sounds of English, whilst syntactic differences can cause problems with word order, prepositions, tense and articles, to name but a few.  Often, such difficulties relate to the features of the first language so having a basic understanding of a child’s first language can be helpful in identifying the root cause of issues such as these.

When children are in the early stages of acquiring writing skills in English, it helps if tasks are rooted in concrete experience and are supported by visuals.  This makes writing tasks more meaningful and enables pupil participation and success.  Where possible, tasks should link with whatever the rest of the class is doing.  In this way, peers will be able to support and to see that the pupil is participating in the same curriculum as them.  Where possible, bilingual support from a Teaching Assistant who shares the same language as the child can be invaluable as a means of giving the child greater access to the lesson through the use of first language as well as the freedom to express themselves in first language.

The following table sets out activities that will support primary aged pupils but is likely also to support pupils in secondary schools. See links to English curriculum documentation supporting EAL writing activity for primary and secondary pupils after the following table.

Guiding principles when planning support for children who are:

  Guiding principles when planning support for children who are:
  Not literate in first language Literate in first language
Reception/Kindergarten Age
  • Opportunities to engage in mark-making activities alongside their peers
  • Access to print that uses a range of different scripts
  • Access to good models of writing (age, interest and culturally-appropriate)
  • Opportunities to engage in emergent writing activities
  • Opportunities to express their ideas in first language, and later in English (orally – ICTs such as Talking Tins can be very useful here)
  • Opportunities to engage in emergent writing activities alongside their peers (in first language or English)
  • Access to print that uses a range of different scripts
  • Access to good models of writing (age, interest and culturally-appropriate)
  • Opportunities to express their ideas in first language, and later in English (orally – ICTs such as Talking Tins can be very useful here)
  • Opportunities to engage in emergent writing activities, including the use of first language
6-7 years
  • Opportunities to engage in emergent writing activities
  • Access to print that uses a range of different scripts
  • Access to good models of writing (age, interest and culturally-appropriate)
  • Access to good role models for writing (peer and adults)
  • Plenty of oral rehearsal prior to writing
  • Plenty of opportunities to engage in meaningful speaking and listening activities to give them experiences they can draw on in their writing (including the use of first language)
  • Prompts such as pictures to sequence or diagrams to label
  • Matching activities and games that can be played collaboratively with supportive peers to provide opportunities for practising key vocabulary
  • Use of ICTs such as talking photo albums which enable children to sequence a series of pictures/diagrams/photos and record an audio narration on the same page (in L1 or in English) in preparation for writing
  • Access to print that uses a range of different scripts
  • Access to good models of writing (age, interest and culturally-appropriate)
  • Access to good role models for writing (peer and adults)
  • Plenty of oral rehearsal prior to writing
  • Plenty of opportunities to engage in meaningful speaking and listening activities to give them experiences they can draw on in their writing (including the use of first language and also the support of parents)
  • Opportunities to discuss, plan and draft in first language
  • Prompts such as pictures, sentence starters and writing frames to help structure their writing
  • Matching activities and games that can be played collaboratively with supportive peers to provide opportunities for practising key vocabulary
  • Feedback (from peers and from practitioners) to help them identify strengths and suggest how to improve their writing
  • Supported proof-reading to help correct specific grammatical errors (see section Personalising Provision for more information about how to do this)
8-11 years
  • Access to print that uses a range of different scripts
  • Access to good models of writing (age, interest and culturally-appropriate)
  • Access to good role models for talking as part of the writing process and for written recording (peers and adults)
  • Plenty of oral rehearsal prior to writing (in first language and later in English)
  • Plenty of opportunities to observe/engage in meaningful speaking and listening activities (including the use of first language)
  • Use of ICTs such as talking photo albums which enable children to sequence a series of pictures, diagrams and/or photos and record an audio narration on the same page (in first language or in English) in preparation for writing
  • Prompts such as pictures and diagrams to provide a visual link between key words and ideas and the written word
  • Resources such as word mats so they can copy high frequency or key words with increasing independence
  • Feedback (from peers and from practitioners) to help them identify strengths and suggest how to improve their writing
  • Recasting: orally repeating back what a pupil has said to provide a model of correct use of English in context
  • Supported proof-reading to help correct the specific grammatical errors (see section Personalising Provision for more information about how to do this)
  • Opportunities to discuss, plan, draft and write in first language.
  • Access to print that uses a range of different scripts
  • Access to good models of writing (age, interest and culturally-appropriate) in first language and English
  • Access to good role models for talking as part of the writing process and for written recording (peers and adults)
  • Plenty of oral rehearsal prior to writing (in first language and later in English)
  • Plenty of opportunities to engage in meaningful speaking and listening activities to give them experiences they can draw on in their writing (including the use of first language)
  • Prompts such as pictures and diagrams to provide a visual link between key words and ideas and the written word
  • Resources such as word mats so they can copy high frequency or key words with increasing independence (dual language where possible)
  • Recasting: orally repeating back what a pupil has said to provide a model of correct use of English in context
  • Feedback (from peers and from practitioners) to help them identify strengths and suggest how to improve their writing
  • Supported proof-reading to help correct the specific grammatical errors (see section Personalising Provision for more information about how to do this)

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