Writing with the Common Core: Considerations for ELLs (Part 1)

In my experience, teachers of English language learners (ELLs) often observe that writing is the last domain in which their students develop English language proficiency. Teachers note that the pace at which ELLs develop writing proficiency has an impact on how soon students are able to exit language development programs in their schools.

Teaching ELLs to write successfully in English is indeed a challenge which is about to become even more complex with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In the next few posts, I'll turn my attention to the new writing demands presented in the CCSS and look at how the standards will impact writing for ELLs. I'll  start this week by giving you an overview of how the writing standards are organized in the CCSS for English Language Arts/Literacy as well as some initial "ELL questions" I had when taking a deeper look at the standards.

In coming weeks, I'll take a closer look at what writing, as defined by the CCSS, might mean for English language learners and their teachers. My future posts will be about the influence of culture on writing and Ayanna Cooper will write about instructional approaches in the classroom.

CCSS ELA/Literacy Writing Standards Organization

The 10 anchor standards for writing in the CCSS for English Language Arts/Literacy are grouped into four sections. For each section, I'll give a brief explanation of the standards and indicate how many writing anchor standards are contained in each section.  Additional descriptions and details are available in the standards document.

  1. Text Types and Purposes: There are three modes of writing: argumentative, informative/explanatory, and narrative. Depending on the mode, students analyze topics or texts, convey complex ideas, and/or develop real or imagined experiences or events. (3 standards)
  2. Production and Distribution of Writing: Students produce and distribute writing in a variety of ways. They produce clear and coherent writing; plan, revise, edit, and rewrite; and use technology to publish their work and to collaborate. (3 standards)
  3. Research to Build and Present Knowledge: Students focus on conducting and writing about research. They conduct a range of research projects, use relevant information culled from a variety of sources, and use evidence gathered from literary and informational texts to support their research. (3 standards)
  4. Range of Writing: Students must write routinely for a range of audiences and purposes. Their writing experience should include a variety of assignment lengths and project types. (1 standard)

Note: Some of the anchor standards for writing appear only in higher grade levels. For example, the Range of Writing standards first show themselves in grade 3.

Anchor Standards: Text Types and Purposes

Appendix A in the CCSS defines the standards' three text types used for writing – narrative, informational/explanatory, and argument. As students progress in writing, their writing can blend the three types described. I've condensed these descriptions for you here. (This chart is also available as a PDF Format.)

Type of Text Students ProduceFeatures
  • Conveys experience, either real or imaginary, uses time as its deep structure.
  • Can inform instruct, persuade, or entertain.
  • Can take the form of creative fictional stories, memoirs, anecdotes, autobiographies, etc.
  • Over time, writers provide visual details of scenes, objects, or people; depict specific actions; use dialogue and interior monologue that provide insight into narrator's and characters' personalities and motives; manipulate pace to highlight significance of events and create tension and suspense
  • Conveys information accurately to increase reader's knowledge of a subject
  • Students draw from what they know and from primary and secondary sources
  • Addresses matters such as types, components, size, function, behavior, how things work, why things happen
  • Must use techniques to convey information, e.g., naming, defining, describing, differentiating, comparing, contrasting, and citing.
  • Genres include literary analyses, scientific and historical reports, summaries, workplace and functional writing (e.g., instructions, manuals, memos, reports, and résumés)
  • Purpose is to change the reader's point of view, bring about some action on the reader's part, or to ask the reader to accept the writer's explanation or evaluation of a concept, issue, or problem.
  • A reasoned, logical way of demonstrating the writer's position, belief, or conclusion is valid.
  • In ELA - writers make claims, defend interpretations or judgments with evidence from text(s) they are writing about
  • In history/social studies – writers analyze evidence from multiple primary and secondary sources to advance a claim supported by evidence
  • In science – writers make claims through statements or conclusions that answer questions or address problems
  • Young children provide examples, offer reasons for assertions, explain cause and effect.

What Writing Means for ELLs

The level and complexity of student writing for all students, including ELLs, has increased with the CCSS. Students will be called on to write rich narratives and explanatory texts that convey complex ideas and synthesize information obtained through multiple print and digital sources to support their writing. They must create arguments supported by text-based evidence. To be successful with writing, students must be critical consumers of information they obtain from various sources and use technology to publish their written work.

As I read through the writing standards with "ELL eyes," these were my questions:

  • How will ELLs' culture as well as language impact the way in which they write as defined by the CCSS?
  • How will ELLs' writing be assessed on the PARCC and SBAC assessments as compared to native English speakers?
  • How will teachers draw from ELLs' oral language when teaching them writing under the CCSS?
  • How can ELLs use text-based evidence in their writing if they have difficulty reading grade level informational texts?
  • How will younger ELLs' developmental needs in their first and second language impact their writing?
  • How can teachers differentiate CCSS writing instruction for ELLs based on home language and level of English language proficiency?

I don't have the answers to these questions, but I hope you'll join me in my exploration of them over the next few weeks. What questions or comments do you have on writing for ELLs? Please share!

aft shield logo
nea logo


How do you propose differentiating texts that are grade level appropriate but difficult for entering and emerging (beginner in NY) level students? I have a hard time finding ways for the students to complete a writing task when they don't understand what they are reading. I have used graphic organizers and sentence starters to help students when writing, but since most of the CCSS are based on text if they don't make sense of it they cannot respond.

I would like to review information on how to get students to write at the high school level.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Subscribe to Colorín Colorado RSS