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Body of an ELL Session

The Writing Center

Body of an ELL Session

You Cannot Do Everything in One Session

The body of an ELL tutoring session often is the same as any other tutoring session, and since they make up the majority of tutoring sessions here, that’s especially true for us! The more you work directly with ELL students, the more confident you will be with future students. 
A session with an ELL student may include many different things, but it should not include everything. That’s too much for one session! Again, allowing the first paragraph to guide how you prioritize the session is really important. Remember, though, a few key points:
You will not likely cover all of the paper. That’s not the goal.
Your job is not to correct all of the grammar. That’s their job.
Your student will benefit from your taking the time to practice the tutoring model explained in Chapter 3 (even if they think otherwise).
Their failure to seek help earlier is not your fault. 
Encouraging them to reach out and ask questions of their professor–including requesting an extension, when appropriate–is an important lesson to teach them.
For better or worse, there are many grammatical issues that arise commonly (see Figure 7). Because they are common, it is useful to be able to recognize them easily and have a name to put to them. The following chart outlines the grammar errors most commonly encountered with ELL students:
Figure 7. Common ELL Errors Chart


How It Looks


Subject-verb agreement

They is looking for fish.

For more explanations, examples, and worksheets on these – as well as a variety of other grammatical issues – take a look at:

 - Rules for Writers
 - WC handouts
 - ESL Texts


I ate a rice for dinner.

I bought book. (omission)


He arrived for the store.

He arrived the store. (omission)

Run-on Sentences

It is almost the end of the session we cannot keep going we must stop.

Sentence Fragments

Like when they find gold.

Verb Tenses

He shops yesterday.


So Many Issues…Which One Do I Tackle First?

Broadly speaking, apply the hierarchy introduced earlier in the “Triage” for Prioritizing Issues section in Chapter 2. However, with ELL writers, you may find that determining the exact order in which to proceed can be daunting, especially when the writing contains numerous micro issues. With this in mind, issues impeding clarity are your biggest concern. Among these, focus on the errors that the writer makes most often: macro first, then micro.  
This is especially true with grammatical errors, which can otherwise bog down a tutoring session but are important for the student to know how to address. The first paragraph will often provide a map in and of itself for micro issues that most plague the writer. As you read through the first paragraph, look out for errors that most impede clarity, then continue with issues that arise in patterns. Often the first paragraph introduces pattern errors; using these errors as a starting point is often effective in focusing the session and provides a basis for continued practice as time permits.
Again, your goal is to help, not to copyedit the paper, not to “fix all the grammar,” and certainly not to teach the student how to correct everything that needs correcting. This would overload your tutoring hour, and your student would likely forget. Focus on a few points, make them stick in the student’s brain, and then suggest making an appointment for another session to work on a new set of writing skills. 

Carefully Intervene as Needed

As discussed previously, practice a flexible form of minimalist tutoring and apply the sliding scale, which balances how much to work on macro or micro issues and how much to intervene or be hands-off. ELL sessions especially may require you to be more hands-on. In fact, being hands-off could make the session more frustrating for both you and your student. This is because, in contrast to native English speakers who may be familiar with a skill or concept and only need you to nudge them to recognize errors, many ELL students simply do not know there is something wrong. As a result, you may need to step in and define, model, and guide student practice more actively than you would with a native speaker. That is okay–it’s flexible minimalism, so don’t feel guilty! Keep pushing your student to learn, practice, and improve, and be ready to guide them when they make a mistake until they are able to do it independently. 

Keep the Student in the Driver’s Seat

Keep asking questions, keep pointing out error patterns, and keep making them engage. Just like in any other session, your goal is to keep them working throughout the session. Consider having them read out loud, verbally explain points you have talked about and why repeated mistakes are incorrect (this works really well with grammatical issues), and writing down notes or changes. If they start getting quiet, or if they seem to be relying on you heavily to do the work, be creative. Remember that one of your jobs is to teach them how to improve–and rarely does that happen if they passively watch you copyedit.