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15 Culturally Relevant Writing Practices for Multilingual Learners of English

by Eric Gómez Burgos |

Teaching writing to multilingual learners of English (MLEs) can be a challenging task. It depends, of course, on different conditions inside the classroom, such as the students’ home languages, their previous experiences with writing, their English proficiency level, their attitude toward writing, the teacher’s previous experience with MLEs, their teaching style, the writing task, and many other factors. However, the teacher is the one who can make changes in the classroom by implementing new approaches to make writing tasks more engaging and connected to learners’ experiences and culture. Here is when culturally relevant practices can be adopted to enhancing writing for MLEs in the classroom.

According to Hammond, culturally relevant or responsive teaching (CRT) is a rich approach to teaching that concentrates on the assets learners bring to the classroom. It connects the learners’ culture and experiences with the purposes and themes of the subjects at school in order to promote students’ learning and progress. This link makes sense when students can easily retrieve from their previous experiences a memory that can be connected to a new item and, therefore, be used to respond effectively to a specific language task, for example, writing. This intentional approach values the learners’ background knowledge; with this approach, it’s up to the teacher to find a way to integrate this knowledge into the learning.

Snyder and Staehr Fenner, in their book Culturally Responsive Teaching for Multilingual Learners (p. 22), identified five principles to implement CRT in the classroom. Following, I list these principles along with my suggestions for accompanying writing practices for MLEs that teachers can use in their classroom.

Principle 1. CRT is assets-based

    • Have writing tasks related to MLEs’ backgrounds to honor their cultural and linguistic experiences. (E.g., students interview a representative of their communities and write a composition.)
    • Implement writing tasks based on MLEs’ personal stories and experiences. (E.g., students create short stories or fact-files about their cultural aspects.)
    • Foster MLEs’ academic language use to facilitate learners’ writing. (E.g., students use sentence starters or content materials in their home languages.)

Principle 2. CRT simultaneously supports and challenges students

    • Have high expectations for the writing tasks. (E.g., students can select from a list of specific level-appropriate writing activities and decide which to develop.)
    • Create writing tasks that support MLEs’ critical thinking development. (E.g., students use an open-ended question or case study to write an article.)
    • Provide scaffolded support to MLEs’ development of writing. (E.g., students have written instructions for activities and a model text, such as their teacher’s letter sharing about his own culture or experience.)

Principle 3. CRT places students at the center of learning

    • Use students’ learning preferences when planning writing tasks. (E.g., students select a writing task and topic.)
    • Give MLEs the opportunity to write about the people and events that are significant to them. (E.g., students create a comic strip to illustrate a story related to their community.)
    • Offer diverse writing tasks to MLEs in the classroom. (E.g., students decide to complete a project-based writing activity.)

Principle 4. CRT leverages students’ linguistic and cultural background

    • Value students’ home languages, culture, and experiences. (E.g., students have multicultural resources available, such as magazines or newspapers, which are situated to their needs and contexts.)
    • Include the linguistic resources MLEs bring to the classroom. (E.g., students activate their previous knowledge to write through brainstorming, or through using guiding questions.)
    • Provide support to MLEs by encouraging translanguaging to maximize communication in the classroom. (E.g., students are able to utilize bilingual dictionaries and translations, and can draw from their full linguistic repertoire when writing.)

Principle 5. CRT unites students’ schools, families, and communities

    • Show commitment to multiculturality in the classroom. (E.g., MLEs’ multilingual writing products are exhibited on the classroom walls.)
    • Explore the history of students’ home countries and cultures. (E.g., students create a journal about their learning journey.)
    • Engage MLEs’ families to be involved in the students’ writing assignments. (E.g., students interview or ask their family to answer a survey about their personal experience.)

Because these practices have clear implications for teaching writing to MLEs, it’s important to consider them when planning, implementing, and assessing MLEs’ writing. Building writing routines that include a variety of student-centered tasks is an important part of promoting and enhancing culturally relevant writing practices for MLEs, and of creating a teaching practice that is grounded in CRT.


About the author

Eric Gómez Burgos

Eric Gómez Burgos is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Universidad San Sebastián (Puerto Montt, Chile) and a Humphrey Fellow in Peabody College at Vanderbilt University (2023-2024). He has experience in teaching EFL to students ranging in age from early childhood to the university level. His work in teacher education focuses on preparing EFL teachers in the areas of teaching English to young learners and field experiences at school. His research interests include teaching methods and teacher education in EFL settings.

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