• by Juanita C. García, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2003

Juanita GarciaIt was late March and the writing lesson with the fourth graders had been enlightening. Since the beginning of the school year, these boys and girls had prepared for their state’s mandated test. But now the test had come and gone and it was finally time to have fun.

The teacher began the lesson with a focused discussion and asked several questions. “What is writing, anyway? What kinds of writing do you do every day?” The answers varied, but cumulatively the children called out: chore lists, letters, personal journals, jokes, short stories, poems, etc.

When asked, “What is fun about writing?” most of the students agreed that writing about what interests them is fun because they get to express their feelings.

When asked, “What is boring about writing?” the students agreed that they did not like tedious, assigned topics and “timed writing.”

When asked, “What can you do to make writing better?” they responded adding descriptive words and details to make their writing come alive.

These students enjoy writing, and they understand that writing is a vehicle for expressing their ideas and emotions. Unfortunately, many children – and adults – have developed biases toward writing. These prejudices are blocks that have been internalized because of what some teachers, with good intentions, do to pressure students to improve their writing. For example, most writing tests are timed, and children often write to a prompt. Another teaching tradition that deters students from writing is focusing on the mechanics of writing instead of on the creative nature of writing.

Since last year, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) South Central Collaborative for Equity has been working with a cohort of teachers on a Louisiana campus. The goal of this professional development is to create and maintain model learning environments for language-minority students through the integration of language across the curriculum. It was designed to serve language-minority students at the school in order for them to achieve their full potential in the district’s academic programs and to meet state performance standards on a par with their English-speaking peers.

The South Central Collaborative for Equity is the equity assistance center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, to serve the educational equity needs of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas in the areas of race, gender, and national origin equity. The ongoing professional development program described here is FLAIR (Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal). See the box below for more information on FLAIR.

This article discusses writing as an integration of language in all content areas, outlines nine stages of the writing process that combines the freedom of expression with the discipline of completing and perfecting a written piece, and discusses the role of quality children’s literature.

Writing is a Process

Writing is a thinking process that is a vital tool. If students are to use this tool skillfully, they need to encounter an approach to the writing process that can become their own (Frank, 1979). Vygotsky argued that writing must be relevant to life and that reading and writing should be something the child needs. Writing is not a motor skill, but a complex cultural activity (Moll, 1990).
Frank has developed the following plan for guiding students from the beginning stages of the writing process to the polished final piece. Incorporated into the plan is a painted poems writing lesson that was conducted with second grade English as a second language (ESL) students at the same campus. Once students learn and internalize this process, it is forever theirs.

A Nine-Stage Plan for Writing

Stage 1: The Motivation

This stage evokes and captures students’ emotions. A children’s literature book is an excellent resource to use in this very important stage. Through stories, children make associations with their world and surface images in their minds.

When the teacher in Louisiana worked with second grade ESL students, she used the book, Arroz con Leche by Lulu Delacre, to introduce the lesson. She read a couple of the poems and discussed the importance of subjects in writing and had the class brainstorm subjects for their poem. After creating an exciting array of themes, the class decided on the science-based theme of volcanoes.

Stage 2: Impression Collecting

This very important stage is the gathering of words as did Fredrick, the little mouse in Leo Leonni’s book, who gathered words instead of helping the other field mice gather food for the winter. He later became their wordsmith. In this crucial stage, children are guided through the process of brainstorming words and thoughts to broaden the original idea and encourage creative thinking.

The teacher was totally amazed at the creative thinking of the children. Everything was accepted, including her ideas that modeled elaboration on existing thoughts. The teacher began by asking students, “What kinds of things would you see and hear and feel happening if you saw a volcano erupting?” she made a list of action words from their responses.

Once they had action words, she asked what colors they would see and collected a list of vibrant and brilliant color words. Finally, she asked the children what might be happening inside the volcano to make all those colors. And she collected a list of phrases such as “erupting lava” and “loud explosions.”

Stage 3: The Rough Draft

This is the stage where children write down their ideas after recording thoughts and feelings. It is important to let them write as fast as they can without stopping to correct. Talking and sharing are allowed because this generates more ideas.

The children combined words and ideas from the three lists as they were guided with questions such as: “Which color fits with lava?” “What should we put with explodes?” and “Which action word goes with the houses idea?”

Stage 4: Re-reading for Sense and Readability

Now the writers skim over the rough draft to see how it sounds. This is the heart of the fourth stage. The teacher guided the students to ask themselves, “Does it make sense?” She asked for a volunteer to read our rough draft of the poem, and the children decided on the changes.

Stages 5, 6 and 7: Sharing for Response, Editing, and Mechanics Check

These stages involve getting reactions, suggestions and affirmations; changing and reworking the piece; and checking for spelling, grammar and any other possible errors.
After the poem was read aloud, the teacher asked questions, such as, “Which lines do you like just the way they are?” “Should any lines be dropped?” and “What should come next?” The revisions were made, and the class decided on the punctuation.

Stages 8 and 9: Final Copy and Presenting

The children worked in cooperative groups to write and illustrate their own team copy of the painted poem. Then they showed off their finished pieces to the teachers who were observing the lesson demonstration.

This part is very important because in the context of the classroom, the teacher is the primary source of encouragement and support and it is here that the ESL students learn the power of language (Altwerger and Ivener, 1994). The children showed pride in their poem and a high self- esteem. Here is their poem:

Volcano explodes!

Red, yellow lava turns into stone.

Destroys houses and peoples’ lives!

Crashes and kills and people die!

The Role of Quality Children’s Literature

Impression collecting is a phase of the writing process that is the exciting collection of thoughts, feelings and memories. Quality children’s literature nurtures ideas for student writers. Literature surrounds students with rich examples of language and helps them develop a storehouse of images and story patterns to draw upon for their own self expression.

Literature consists of two parts: story and language. Good quality literature captures children’s interest through the storyline and models creative expression through the language. We all use language to make sense of our lives, and children must internalize the language around them in order to create a unified vision of the world.

The richer the textual and linguistic environment a child lives in, the more developed and sophisticated the child’s vision and ability to express that vision can become. This is especially true for second language learners who need maximum exposure to both the native and second languages in order to grow (García and Bauer, 1998).

Writing is Expression

Writing is a form of expressing thoughts and feelings. It is a transaction that has the power to unite or separate people (Farnan, et al., 1994). It is communication, and it is interrelated with reading. It is the product of a creative mind with the freedom to express and the discipline of perfecting a written piece.

The nine stages above follow a more natural and productive path to encourage students to become effective writers.

The following poem by one of the fourth grade students demonstrates her abstract thoughts about the word emotion and the power of expressing thoughts and feelings.


Cry with laughter,

Weep with joy,

Be happy as can be,

For sometimes in your life sorrow must be.

When students are actively engaged in authentic, purposeful activities that capture their interest, promote interaction and facilitate communication, and convert those into words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs, then they are well on their way to successful reading and writing. Their exploding volcanoes of feelings and experiences will gel into poems and scientific essays.

Focusing on Language and Academic Instructional Renewal

Increase your students’ reading scores. Weave reading throughout the curriculum. Recapture your students’ love of reading. With FLAIR, IDRA gives you a process for redesigning and re-energizing your reading program that is more responsive to the characteristics of diverse learners in your school or district. FLAIR promotes:

  • Student data-based decision-making using state and local standards for mastering on-level reading comprehension objectives
  • Integrating literacy skills in content-area teaching
  • Supporting continuous vertical and horizontal communication among teachers in the school
  • Empowering teachers by equipping them with certain knowledge and resources to make better classroom and instructional decisions
  • Creating a “family” environment where everyone feels responsible for student success
  • Using reflection and action as two critical instructional practices of successful reading programs
  • Learning new ways to assess program effectiveness

All students become successful readers!

FLAIR capitalizes on the campus leaders, mobilizing the principal, teachers, librarians and support staff as a force to tailor-make a reading program that is research based and that results in better achievement for all students.

This reading program helps people in the school community work together to transform every classroom into a powerful learning environment, where students and teachers are encouraged to think creatively, explore their interests and achieve at high levels. In turn, it uses the school’s philosophy and process to create its own vision and work collaboratively to reach its goals.

“I was used to teaching in blocks. FLAIR helped me to integrate math, science and social studies with authentic literature.”
– FLAIR teacher

“Many programs came to our district, and they just told us what to do. What I like about this program is the follow-up process. IDRA will follow us from the beginning to the end.”
– FLAIR teacher

“Our students are more excited about learning.”
– FLAIR teacher

For more information about bringing FLAIR to your school, contact IDRA at 210-444-1710; feedback@idra.org; or http://www.idra.org.


Altwerger, B., and B.L. Ivener. “Self-Esteem: Access to Literacy in Multicultural and Multilingual Classrooms,” Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students (Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 1994).

Farnan, N., and J. Flood, D. Lapp. “Comprehending Through Reading and Writing: Six Research-Based Instructional Strategies,” Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students (Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 1994).

Frank, M. If You’re Trying to Teach Kids How to Write, You’ve Got to Have This Book (Nashville, Tenn.: Incentive Publications, Inc., 1979).

García, J., and H. Bauer. “Do You Want Your Students to be Reader? All it Takes is 15 Minutes a Day,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 1998).

Moll, L.C. Vygotsky and Education (New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Juanita C. García, M.A., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2003 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]