Sometimes when we think of how to teach reading and writing to our students, we focus so much on higher level skills that we can forget about the more basic ones. We may be asking our students to scan for details or use parallel structure, but to comply with our instructions they must face challenges created by a foreign system of writing. If you’re in an ESL classroom, are you aware that some of your students may read and possibly write with vertical text? Do you know which languages use a right-to-left direction? And what about the different alphabets and complex characters that other languages use? Indeed, it can be challenging to read and write in English as a second language.
One way you can appreciate what it takes for your students to read and write in English is to have them write your name in their native languages. At one point in my classroom, I had such a list posted on the side wall. I got to see “Jennifer” written in Greek, Arabic, Korean, Telugu, and a number of other languages. It served as a reminder to me to praise students’ skills in English. It may have helped build respect among classmates as well. I can add that on occasion the list was a great conversation starter…oh, and it also likely reminded forgetful students what my name was!