Over the past few months, I’ve published several series of guest posts from teachers of English Language Learners: one on teaching math, another on ELLs and Special Needs, and the most recent one on teaching Science to ELLs. I also published a mini-series on evaluating foreign transcripts.

I’ve recently begun a series on teaching Social Studies to ELLs.

And, I’m simultaneously publishing a series on teaching writing to ELLs.

This first post in the series is by Julie Motta…


Julie Motta, now in her 29th year in education (25 of them serving ELs), currently teaches 6th-to-8th grade SLIFE students at Gilbert Stuart Middle School in Providence, RI, where she joyfully returned to the classroom just over 4 years ago after administering large urban English Learner Programs, Teaching ESL Certification Programs at two local colleges, developing and leading professional development, writing curriculum units, and chairing her state’s English Learner Advisory Council.


Before I explain the steps I use to scaffold the RACE Writing Strategy with my students, a strategy that is an adopted school-wide writing strategy at Gilbert Stuart, I feel I must begin by explaining that in Rhode Island, we define Newcomers as SIFE/SLIFE students. Those ELs who arrive in RI “with” literacy skills in L1 are typically labeled as New Arrival ELs. As confusing as that may seem to some, I’m sure that teachers who read this blog could easily make use of the scaffolded steps with new arrivals or SIFE/SLIFE students. Secondly, I have to thank my friend Dr. Nancy Cloud for introducing me to three amazing ladies from CUNY who developed the Bridges Curriculum for the New York Department of Education specifically for SIFE Students and afforded me the opportunity to spend time with them learning about it and the pattern books that accompany the curriculum published by the American Reading Company, since these are the books on which I build my lessons to scaffold the RACE Strategy.

Overall, using this curriculum and these books, have made me a better teacher to my SLIFE students. I can’t say enough about their value and the growth that students have made with them. I can feel the success that my students themselves feel. They are enjoying reading and writing about their reading and developing academic vocabulary in English every day. Yet, while all of this positive energy is happening in my little corner of the world at my school, the reality is that my students and many others are still far from meeting grade level standards, and my school is categorized as performing in the group of the lowest 5% of schools in my state according to ESSA, so of course, we must try to improve. Enter, RACE across all content areas to save the day with answering constructed response questions. Everyone must use it, we must all post it in our classrooms, we must all use a common rubric to score student writing, and so forth. BUT….my students are far from the same as the rest of the student population, are far from needing the same supports. So how will I implement this strategy with my students, who are arriving daily from all over the globe in some cases with no schooling experiences?

Well, like all good and resourceful educators of emergent bilingual students I find a way. We start with our leveled pattern books, which students can begin to learn to read quickly as soon as they can learn to read basic sight words. Students practice the sight words, practice reading the books, orally answer basic question, starting with DOK level 1 or 2 questions that they can give quick recall answers for out loud, or that they can refer back to for answers on the pages of the books. As students grow their vocabularies and begin to read more text, with a bit more print on a page, my oral questions for them move to higher order thinking levels as well. Then we begin to write out longer answers to the questions, all typical scaffolds for ELs.

Now, onto my scaffolded version of RACE. Rather than using the 4-letter acronym, I reduce it initially to three letters: R for Reuse the words in the question, A for Answer the question, and P for Prove you are correct. I’ll get to the E in a bit. It takes the most time to teach R. I have to do a great deal of modeling to show the students how to use the words from the question to turn them into the answer. Students want to automatically jump to the answer. Many times, I will write out the question in one long line, and the beginning of the answer in one long line right below it, and draw arrows from the words in the question to the same words in the answer right below it to show them how the words are “reused” to restate the question.

I have to do this many times before I can elicit student responses to restate the question correctly. At times, I have to emphasis the change in verb and/or verb tense when that occurs as well. Once students catch onto this, it then becomes the easiest part of the process. I should also mention that as we are learning the three parts of the answer, Reuse, Answer, and Prove, I draw an R, an A and P with a small circle around it right in front of those three parts of the complete answer and we highlight each of the three parts in a different color.


For the Answer, students can usually come up with the correct information easily with a lower DOK level question, because they have read a text that they were successful with, and they can easily find where in the text the answer is. For higher level DOK questions, I have students turn and talk, or give them some time to go through the text or multiple texts independently if we are comparing or contrasting characters, etc. For example, we really loved reading the George and Martha books and the Miss Nelson series by James Marshall. While they are just at second grade level, they are hilarious stories that the students enjoyed so much, and they lent themselves to character analysis really well, so I could ask slightly higher order questions where students had to infer and synthesize to Answer and Prove they were correct. Which leads me to Prove. We start Prove with sentence stems like:

On page____it says….

The author stated:

The picture on page ____ shows:

From what I read……

The text says……

I know this is true because……..

(or the ones that I made into this poster that I saw on Pinterest, and we are always adding to the list as we think of others that come up as we read different text).

When I am satisfied that students can prove that their answers are correct, then we will move onto more sophisticated language, but at this stage in the school year, this is where we are.  Also, later in the school year, we will begin the final letter E. However, I turn E from RACE into EYE, Explain Your Evidence, and I have different sentence starters to use for this part of the strategy. Again, we are not there yet at this stage of the school year.

This scaffolding process takes a great deal of repetition and practice. With each and every text we use it with, I model it with the first question or two, have the students work with a small group or partner to answer the next question or two, and then have them answer the last question or two on their own, using the I do, we do, you do model for gradual release of responsibility to build independence in my students. If I can offer any advice to those who may try this, don’t get frustrated, especially if when they try it on their own, they sit and stare at the paper the first few times they have to reuse the words from the question to restate it on their own. That’s what my kids did after I had modeled it for what seemed like 50 times or more. It will come to them. If I had to, I drew the arrows for them from the words in the question to the empty line below until they made the connection that they had to use those words to begin their answer, and eventually they got it! The Answers and the “Proves” followed much more easily!