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Writing About Nature: Enhancing English Learner Students’ Writing Skills. Presented by: Deb Kralovetz Action Research Project: Earth Partnership for Schools May, 2012. History of the Denmark Nature Center.

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writing about nature enhancing english learner students writing skills

Writing About Nature: Enhancing English Learner Students’ Writing Skills

Presented by: Deb Kralovetz

Action Research Project: Earth Partnership for Schools

May, 2012

history of the denmark nature center
History of the Denmark Nature Center
  • In June, 2000 and July, 2001-- a group of Denmark teachers participated in the Earth Partnership for schools program at UW Arboretum
  • Grants were obtained to restore an area of land behind the Elementary School for development of a Nature Center
  • September-November, 2001– teachers, staff and community members worked to plan and develop the Nature Center.
ell students
ELL Students
  • English Language Learners’ English Proficiency is measured using levels 1(little to no English proficiency)-6 (fully English proficient)
  • English proficiency is assessed annually in the areas of listening, speaking, reading and writing.
  • Typically, English proficiency in listening is the first to develop, while writing proficiency is the last to develop.
  • Denmark ELL students’ writing proficiencies range from 1-5.
  • Teachers often request guidance on how to support ELL students with writing—both idea development and mechanics.
action research question
Action Research Question

How would using the Denmark Nature Center as a

writing environment influence my ELL students’

attitudes about writing and their progress toward

English language proficiency in writing?

data collection tools
Data Collection Tools
  • District Student Writing Assessment: administered to all students in March and May to assess students’ writing progress, reported with a total score using 6 traits of writing
    • Organization, ideas, sentence fluency, word choice, voice and conventions
  • Individual Writing Survey: 3 point scale administered to each student prior to and at close of research project to determine students’ attitudes about writing and topics they enjoy writing about. Also included are 2 open-ended questions regarding where students like to write and what they view as their strengths in writing.
  • Nature Journal Writing Rubric: 4 point rubric used weekly to assess students’ writing progress throughout the research process using in 4 areas
    • Ideas, vocabulary, entry length/stamina and conventions
  • Mini lessons on journal writing to teach each skill area addressed on writing rubric. For example:
    • Looking for details in our observations-created a micro nature trail, examined objects along the way.
    • Looked for details and noted changes that occurred from day to day, after a rain, etc.
    • Life cycle of a frog
    • To develop vocabulary-verb lesson-listed actions that take place in Nature Center, explored and noted actions, journaled about them.
    • Poetry lesson-demonstrate poetry writing about object in nature, students sat, observed, and wrote their poetry.
data analysis and findings
Data Analysis and Findings
  • Student Results on District Writing Assessment
data analysis and findings1
Data Analysis and Findings

Individual Student Survey Results

1=agree/often 2=so-so/sometimes 3=disagree/rarely

data analysis and findings2
Data Analysis and Findings
  • Individual writing survey open-ended responses:
    • The place I like best to do my writing:
      • At my desk
      • In my tree house
      • Where it is not crowded
      • I don’t know
      • On the floor
      • Rocking chair
      • Anywhere
      • Inside
data analysis and findings3
Data Analysis and Findings
  • Student responses to open-ended question: The best thing about my writing is:
    • It’s my idea
    • My hand-writing
    • Having fun
    • That I enjoy it
    • I don’t know
    • That I make my own decisions on it
    • I am the author
    • Neatness
    • I put a lot of detail in it
    • No one else writes what I write
data analysis and findings4
Data Analysis and Findings
  • Student Results on Nature Journal Writing Rubric
data analysis and findings5
Data Analysis and Findings
  • District Writing Assessment March results showed 79% of students scored >2; 36% of students scored >3
  • Lowest scores were obtained in the following traits: ideas, sentence fluency, conventions.
  • One half of the students indicated they usually enjoy writing; most like to write stories and about nature.
  • All students enjoy being outdoors.
  • From week 1 to week 3, 2 students’ journal rubric scores have decreased; 2 students’ journal scores have remained the same.
  • Overall, students’ conventions scores in their journals have remained consistent throughout their entries.
  • I have not taught or stressed conventions in my lessons on journal writing.


  • were very excited about learning throughout this project.
  • asked daily if we would return to the Nature Center the next day.
  • who are normally quiet and shy seemed more open, talkative and excited when in the Nature Center.
  • energy levels and engagement in the lessons increased when we learned in the Nature Center.
  • noted our Nature Center needed some attention such as picking up litter and fixing broken bird houses
  • Time constraints/schedule changes
  • Some days I felt the students needed more time for writing
  • Students’ poetry were not the quality I expected. (May need to spend more time on this, introduce to many different types of poetry)
  • Students loved exploring-more difficult to get them to sit down to write
action plan
Action Plan
  • Continue using Nature Center as an environment for teaching writing.
  • Share research results with classroom teachers and offer to team teach writing lessons in the Nature Center.
  • Explore other curricular areas and lessons that can be taught using Nature Center.
  • Utilize the Nature Center for our school’s Project Based Learning initiative.
  • Scaffold poetry lessons to lead to better understanding and student success.
  • Include lessons on conventions, maybe to involve self and peer editing of journal entries-taking some to publishing.
  • Allow more time for each lesson--exploring and writing.
  • Add oral language component-have students share writing with other classes.
in conclusion
In Conclusion
  • According to preliminary results, this project was successful in changing ELL
  • students’ attitudes and self-confidence
  • about their writing.
  • It was rewarding observing students as they
  • explored the outdoors and discovered the
  • wonders of nature.
  • The advantages to students
  • involved in this project extended
  • beyond their progress with writing
  • skills.

Cordell, H. K. (2010). Trends in Viewing and Photographing Wildlife, Birds, Trees and Scenery. Internet Research Information Series, Part I and II.

Harr, N., Lee, R.E. & Jr. (2010). Nature Detectives. Science and Children, 48(6), 34-39.

Schultz, M. M. (2009). Effective Writing Assessment and Instruction for Young English Language Learners. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(1), 57-62.

Westervelt, M. (2007). Schoolyard Inquiry for English Language Learners. Science Teacher, 74(3), 47-51.