Writing with my family: a workshop for ESL students

By Leslie Vines, K–5 English as a second language teacher

The tables in the library were covered with brightly colored construction paper, ribbons and stickers of all shapes and sizes. These items were prepped and ready to be made into books from the imaginations of K-2 English as a second language (ESL) students for our first annual ESL Writer’s Workshop for Families.

As families arrived for the workshop at Jefferson Elementary School, they were welcomed and directed to a workstation where ESL teachers led them through a quick “how-to” on writing together with their children. The library became a bustling place of creative activities for our second language families as parents were encouraged to write a book together with their children. There weren’t many rules about how this collaboration was to be done except that parents and children were to work together. Our goal was to model how writing can be done anywhere: at home, in the car, at the store—anywhere.

Another goal for the event was to show that many parts of the writing process transcend language. Writing is one of the hardest things for anyone to do, but all parents can help children think through the process, and that think through doesn’t have to be done in English. Talking with their children about what kind of book or poem they were going to write are the same strategies that we teach and model at school.

Sometimes our ESL parents feel ill equipped to help their children if they don’t speak English. But, at the event, parents were modeling and talking through how they would write a book. We want to empower our ESL parents by showing them that they can provide many opportunities for their children to write. For example, they can write the grocery list or a family recipe or a letter to the President. Families are our students’ greatest and most impactful teachers, so supporting and empowering our families is supporting and empowering our students.

This Family Writing Workshop was a meaningful and informational event that took little time and money to organize. For teachers who would like to host a similar event for families at their school, you should first choose a theme, a literacy skill, a targeted student group, and give yourself plenty of time to plan and organize. To encourage families to attend, we sent home informational flyers and talked about it daily with our students. We also put together the door prize baskets several weeks in advance so we could build excitement about who might win them. The biggest incentive, however, was the fact that all parents want to see their children have success in school, and they always want to know how to help them succeed.

Leslie Vines

Leslie is a K–5 English as a second language teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Jefferson County and a 2017 Teacher of the Year state finalist. She is perpetually seeking the best methods, strategies, practices, tools, and resources to grow as an educator.