As a secondary English Language Arts teacher working near the border, I am keenly aware that I have, and will continue to have, emerging bilinguals in my class that will need guidance in developing academic language, fostering literacy and access to the subject area that I teach. Finding lessons and activities to encompass these three areas is not easy, so I have to create, if not all, supplemental materials.

One lesson I recall that had all of these elements, started off with a goal: students will be able to write a persuasive letter. This goal is somewhat general; it provides the format and genre of the text that students are to produce. In order to get students to this point, I had to help students understand specific concepts; one such concept being what it means to persuade. In order to do this, I had students work on a concept map that included a part for the translation of the word into their native languages, as well as the opportunity to provide various examples of the word. Using a concept map and teaching content area vocabulary explicitly allowed students to be mentally prepared for the writing task.

Next, I began an anticipation activity where I projected a black and white photo of a young boy. Students had to discuss their observations about the photo in pairs and then share with the rest of the class. Student were really invested in their perception of the photo and would justify their reasoning using evidence in the photo. I revealed that the picture was of a Syrian refugee and then we read an article. I then gave students an article with the news story related to the boy in the photo. I added footnotes for vocabulary words to help develop their academic vocabulary and we discussed the article as a class to help develop their speaking abilities. In order to foster students’ literacy and develop academic language, students were given an informative article about the Syrian refugee crisis that helped build some background knowledge. Then we discussed how certain elements were forcing Syrian people out of their homes and their country. Students were then given a story about a Syrian child living in a refugee camp. They all had their own child to read about and write to.

Before they began writing, students were given a model response to read, analyze and evaluate. After discussing the letter and breaking down the prompt students were given a graphic organizer to help them visualize how letters are structured so they would be able to organize their letter effectively.

While a lot of support was given to students, the support paid off. All students wrote and structured their letter well. They demonstrated their understanding of writing persuasively as evidenced by their effective creation and support of a claim.