The process approach to writing is ideally suited to the second language learner since listening, speaking, and reading can be so naturally integrated with it.


Pre-writing is essential for the writer whose first language is not English. Especially at the lower levels of proficiency, students have a limited lexicon and therefore often have difficulty expressing their ideas. Therefore, teachers or other students may need to assist second language students to generate vocabulary and grammatical structures relevant to the topic. Models and samples are often helpful.

  • Brainstorming — depending on the students’ level of language, the writing down of ideas can be done by the teacher or by native English speaking students; the teacher may need to provide some guidance by asking questions to elicit vocabulary and structures associated with the selected topic
  • Word banks generated by the students or as assigned by the teacher
  • Drawing and sketching — enable students to illustrate ideas for which they do not have the language
  • Discussion with native English-speaking peers or with the teacher
  • Note-taking (often with the use of charts)
  • Graphic organizers for eliciting, organizing and developing background knowledge
  • Dictations — give learners some alternative models for addressing a writing task
  • Researching and gather data by viewing videos, reading, talking, interviewing, and searching reference books or internet


At the drafting stage students write their ideas down using some of the notes, language, and structures generated during the pre-writing activities. Second language students especially need to be aware that their first draft does not have to be perfect and that the purpose of this activity is to get words on paper. Spelling will often not be accurate and there may be many grammatical errors. Some students may also insert words in their native language.

  • Using notes taken during pre-writing activities — provides students with a starting point and a skeleton of ideas; especially useful for second language learners whose ideas are restricted by their limited vocabulary
  • Sentence completions — may address the different ways to begin or end a paragraph or a story or may focus on vocabulary needed to describe or narrate a story
  • Journal writing — allows students to take risks and experiment with language; it can provide a starting point for a longer writing assignment


Second language learners will also need assistance during the revising/editing stage from teachers and from other students. Changes in writing will need to address word usage and clarification of ideas, as well as grammatical accuracy, punctuation, spelling and capitalization. It is important to remember that second language students may have difficulty recognizing their own errors or the errors of their peers. A self-assessment checklist may help them monitor their own writing. However, care should be taken with peer editing groups. In addition, it is important that correction be done in a comfortable environment.

  • Peer or group reviews of mixed ELLs and native English speakers
  • Language expansion and sentence combining activities — enable students to move beyond subject/verb/object format by encouraging students to combine two or three different statements in various ways to make their sentences more complex
  • Rearranging words within sentences
  • Using dictionaries, including personal dictionaries, and other resource materials such as grammar books and textbooks
  • textbook

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