Ten Tips for Coaching Multilingual Writers

  • Briefly explain the coaching interaction–that you are going to ask a lot of questions to help them think through their ideas, and that you’re going to help them think through their writing choices. Many students may be unfamiliar with the peer tutoring model, so they may expect you to give them authoritative advice about their writing. A brief explanation of how we work together can eliminate a lot of potential frustration.
  • Emphasize the assignment. After you read the assignment sheet together, ask students to explain it in their own words to make sure they have identified the critical instructions and tasks. “So how would you paraphrase the assignment? What’s the instructor asking you to do?”
  • Emphasize the content and organization. During the goal-setting phase, students will often say they’d like to make sure their English is okay. This is a legitimate concern, but it could be a waste of time to correct sentences that may disappear during revision. If students ask you to “just check the grammar,” validate that you’ll be happy to help them identify language problems, ask what other concerns they have, and then work together to prioritize their concerns. Much more detailed advice can be found on our “Just Check My Grammar” handout.
  • When it’s time to read the draft, ask if students would prefer to read or to listen. Some students may find it helpful to read their own work aloud, but others may find it to be an extra processing burden. In other words, students may be so focused on correct pronunciation or reading proficiency that they are not able to concentrate on (or notice) anything about the draft. If you read, you allow the student to attend to various aspects of the draft while they listen.
  • Encourage students to mark anything they’d like to discuss after the reading. If they make a lot of marks, ask what they think is the most important thing to discuss first. Start there.
  • While you’re reading, ignore mistakes that do not interfere with your understanding. The text may have a lot of minor errors that are noticeable but not confusing. Read the text exactly as it’s written, but read naturally through the minor errors, without stopping over every little thing. If you stumble a bit over a slightly confusing error, the writer will probably notice your hesitation. If you can move forward, do so and return to that error later if necessary. If you encounter a sentence that is so malformed that you really can’t understand the idea, say to the writer, “We’ll definitely come back to this sentence,” and keep on reading.
  • Concentrate on the macro-structure—the entire piece of writing. Is it focused, developed, and organized? Can you follow the major structure? You may be distracted by a number of errors, but keep in mind that multilingual writers, like native English-speaking writers, benefit from thoughtful questions and genuine reader response. Pay sincere attention.
  • If some language related issue seriously interferes with your understanding or with your ability to read the sentence fluently, pause and start reading the sentence again, and then keep reading. The writer will likely mark that as a place to return to in your discussion.
  • Emphasize vocabulary development. Encourage students to pay attention to groups of words that often occur together (“lexical chunks” or “collocations”). If you find vocabulary errors, ask students for alternatives and give them time to think of a few before you make suggestions. If necessary, provide several choices for rephrasing instead of a single alternative. Use language resources–look things up in learners’ dictionaries. However, if there really is only one way to say it, by all means, provide the correction. Encourage students to use their native language as a resource. They (and you) can work with translation when they are truly at a loss.
  • Emphasize proofreading strategies. When students are ready to focus on language, ask several questions: What do you normally have trouble with? How do you normally proofread for that? What are you specifically concerned about in this draft? What did you have trouble with when you were writing? etc. Prioritize errors that are most confusing, and then discuss the less confusing, but perhaps more frequent, errors. If the correction is rule-based, work with the rule and proofreading strategies. If it is item-based, like an idiom, try to elicit the correction, but provide it if necessary. Again, see our “Just Check My Grammar” handout for a more detailed discussion of addressing language concerns.

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