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Expository Writing Instruction for Students With Language Impairment

By Mei Shen
 | Jun 13, 2017

Language ImpairmentWriting is a critical literacy skill that plays an increasingly important role in everyday life. Our students need to demonstrate sufficient writing abilities, not only to meet schools’ curriculum requirements, but also to fully participate in social and civic activities.

Today’s standards place more emphasis on expository writing as well as writing as a tool to facilitate learning. However, students with language impairment (LI) tend to find writing particularly challenging. Therefore, it is critical that teachers understand how to provide writing instruction that supports students with LI.

Teach expository writing strategies

Research has shown that students with LI can benefit directly from learning strategies for planning, composing, editing, and revising expository essays. For example, the strategy mnemonic TREE BRANCH can help struggling learners to plan and compose compare–contrast essays:

  • Tell what you are comparing and why
  • Report important similarities and differences
  • Elaborate on each point
  • End with what the reader should learn
  • Brainstorm idea words
  • Recite self-talk
  • Ask if ideas will meet goals
  • Now, write with good organization, powerful words, and accurate information
  • Challenge yourself to come up with more ideas
  • Have a look for mistakes

Revision checklists can be used to facilitate revision of both content and mechanics.

Teach writing self-regulation strategies

It is important that students with LI understand how to self-monitor and self-regulate their performance during writing. Within the self-regulated strategy development model, students not only learn writing strategies, but also how to set appropriate writing goals (e.g., generating three superordinate categories for compare–contrast essays), instruct themselves on the strategy use (e.g., “OK, now I need to…”), monitor their own writing progress on a chart (e.g., recording the number of compare–contrast text elements included), and self-reinforce their performance (e.g., “I’ve done a good job writing up this paper!”).

Provide language support during writing instruction

Language difficulties make it challenging for students to generate key ideas (e.g., superordinate categories when comparing and contrasting two subjects/concepts) and use precise and impactful vocabulary in their expository essays. Therefore, teachers need to incorporate vocabulary support into their writing instruction. For example, complicated new words need to be presented to students multiple times and in varied contexts. Scaffolds such as picture cues and visual organizers could be presented to help students understand the meaning of the words. Teachers can also provide student-friendly definitions of keywords and discuss expository texts that effectively or ineffectively use these words.

Providing writing instruction that incorporates self-regulation strategies as well as language support could contribute to better overall writing performance for students with LI. Note that substantial time should be allowed for these students to practice and internalize the taught strategies.

Mei Shen

Mei Shen completed her doctorate in special education at Michigan State University with a graduate specialization in language and literacy education. Her research focuses on providing evidence-based reading and writing instruction for struggling students with language difficulties.

Mei Shen will present a session titled “Empowering Students With Language Impairment With Effective Planning and Revising Strategies for Expository Writing” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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