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Monday, October 29, 2018

Buying Something from Amazon?

Please make your purchases through Amazon Smile!

Through Nov 2, AmazonSmile is donating 5% (ten times the usual amount) to Sentinel English Language Institute Inc when you shop at smile.amazon.com/ch/26-0595093. #AmazonSmile #StartWithaSmile

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Difference a Little Teaching Makes

MITESOL, the Michigan chapter of TESOL International Association, puts out a periodic online newsletter called MITESOL Messages. 

The latest issue (August 15, 2018) carries a description of the Seli River Writing Project in an article called “Grappling with Text,” Scroll down to the section “Updates From the Field."

Let us know what you think!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"My Life" Booklets 2018



It's time to say, "Well done!" All the students in the Seli River Writing Project's Young Writers clubs who have completed five final drafts by June 2018 have received personal booklets called "My Life" containing their writing.
Here we see students who received these booklets in Joe Town (near Waterloo), in Dankawalie (near Kabala), in Sussex, and in Lumpa (near Waterloo).

I love that although every part of everyone's book is uniquely theirs—from the photo to the dedication, the table of contents, the text, and the about-the-author page—the whole club already knows and has played a role in everyone else's stories.
Everyone wrote about their personal experiences, and brought their first drafts to the group for oral feedback to help them revise what they had written. They returned to their friends later for peer editing. For this reason, the students in these photos are aware that their accomplishments are not totally individual: they achieved what they did with the help of their fellow students as much as that of their facilitators. While such cooperation to achieve a task is common here in Sierra Leone, it is rare in formal school settings. Instruction in Sierra Leone is generally still very competitive.

This year, we gave out thirty-three "My Life" booklets, which is a record for SELI Young Writers clubs.
The facilitators shared the photos you see here on our WhatsApp forum, but those of our facilitators who do not have smart phones cannot access WhatsApp. The schools whose clubs received "My Life" booklets were Dankawalie Secondary School (Falaba District), REC Bassa Town, Abundant Grace Int'l. School (Sussex), New Apostolic/Wenner Kuhhnle (5:5), Heaven Homes (Joe Town) and the Seventh Day Adventist Primary school (Samuel Town). All but the first are in the Western Rural Area.

Congratulations to everyone involved!


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Young Voices 6.2



Enjoy reading the latest issue (6.2) of the newsletter of SELI's Young Writers clubs, Young Voices. All the children write about their true personal experiences, so you get an idea of what their lives are like as you read. All live in rural areas, some close to the capital city and some very far from it.

We welcome your comments!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Leading Young Writers Workshop 6

This is us, LYW6, all seventeen of us. We have spent the last three days together at SELI in Tengbeh Town, in Freetown, working on what process writing is, and how to use it in after-school SELI Young Writers clubs as well as in writing classes. You see us gathered here just before certificates were awarded.

There are teachers here sent by nine schools included in the Seli River Writing Project—schools located in Joe Town near Waterloo, Goderich, Lunsar, Kabala, Gbenikoro, Yiraia and Dankawalie.
For some, this was a refresher course; for others, it was a training for club facilitators needed to replace teachers who have moved on. And for three schools, it was an initial training to open a new club. It was marvelous having the experienced facilitators present! They shared their knowledge and learned new tricks.

We spent the three days working on writing theory, how to run clubs, English grammar and usage, and the elements of process writing that can be introduced one-by-one into writing classes without much fuss.

Part of each day was conducted like a process writing workshop, so the teachers could experience themselves what they would be asking their students to do. For our mini lessons each day, we used The SELI Wordbook. In the photo, you see a content conferencing group, listening to one person read his personal experience aloud as the others write questions they plan to ask him when he is finished.

Thank you to the SELI donors who made this training workshop possible, and to this wonderful group of teachers and their schools for appreciating the importance of writing!


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The SELI Wordbook

We've come up with something new and exciting, that will soon be heading for our writing clubs.

The SELI Wordbook is a consumable, 26-page workbook produced by the Sentinel English Language Institute (SELI). It was written for Sierra Leoneans who are comfortable speaking Krio. It presents the sixty English words that have been found to most frequently beset junior secondary students when writing about topics of their choice, and it pairs these words with their borrowings in Krio. Students learn to articulate the differences in meaning and use, between the English and Krio word in each pair, and to improve their English use of these sixty common words.

The book is being sold for Le 10,000 (less than $2.) The minimal profit accrues to SELI, which is a nonprofit educational organization. Included are suggestions for teaching the book in class in ten-minute mini-lessons. This would be its ideal use; however, the book is also suitable for independent study. SELI hopes that use of The SELI Wordbook may contribute toward a more widespread awareness in Sierra Leone that the way a language is taught to native speakers differs from the methods used by teachers who effectively enable its acquisition by speakers of other languages.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

It was hard for schools to operate smoothly with elections going on in the early part of this year, but we're looking forward to catching up now. Here's one way we're doing that.

We'll have a mixed group, which will be great to work with. We'll be training new facilitators from schools that have never had a club; we'll be refreshing experienced facilitators from schools that have had clubs for several years, during which we've made changes to our approach; we'll be training new facilitators from a school that has had an ongoing club for years; and we'll be retraining facilitators who never were active, from a school whose club has lapsed.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Photos from Kabala

Usually, the photos I have of our SELI Young Writers clubs are the ones I've taken when I visit the school. Sometimes we get photos from the facilitators themselves, instead. Take a look!

These were just sent by Alieu S. Kanu from one of their Kabala Junior Secondary School meetings last week. This young boy is revising his draft after getting feedback in a content conference, and the girl in front of him is reading the latest issue of the Young Voices newsletter in which selected pieces of writing appear from all the schools where we have clubs.

The second photo shows a content conference. Usually, each author reads his or her work aloud for the others to listen to and comment on. This author must have had trouble getting everyone to understand what he was reading, so he is showing the text as he reads.

These students go home after school to eat and do some chores, and then return for the club meeting (no longer in their school uniforms). I love everyone's total absorption in writing, and the dreamy atmosphere of these photos, showing everyone in a cloud of learning! 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Teacher Editing, Part 2

Teacher editing happens in our ESL Young Writers writing workshops just before students prepare the final draft of their personal experience pieces. It is the last of several interventions we make in the students’ writing process. The first intervention is during rehearsal and the second is when students take their finished first drafts to a content conferencing group.

In content conferencing, authors read their work aloud for peer response. Listeners ask questions to resolve any confusion they sense and help authors realize changes that would make their second drafts more effective and clearer. To put everyone on the same playing field of ideas and organization, no one is allowed to comment about anyone’s English at this stage. There’s a real stigma in Sierra Leone about making mistakes in English, and we don’t tolerate such ridicule in our clubs.

It is the group’s responsibility help authors tell their stories clearly. A facilitator should be present in every content conference to make sure the students are asking “why” and “how” or “I didn’t understand” questions for discussion, rather than flinging out gotchas (What is your father’s name? How many doctors were in the hospital? What time was it?) Once the student discussion has petered out, the facilitator can ask any important questions that the students may not have thought of. The whole interactive process is an extremely important part of the language learning that goes on in the club.

I am coming around to the point made in Part 1, that facilitators feel too much pressure during teacher editing just before the final draft. In trying to edit both storytelling and written devices, they actually pay more attention to mechanical errors such as punctuation and capitalization. Therefore, I think we will move in our Young Writers clubs toward editing grammatical storytelling devices in our content conferences. Facilitators can raise one or two of the following discourse-level language points they hear a need for, and specify the place in the story where they heard this problem(s). The whole group would benefit from a discussion of these factors that affect their oral delivery:

o   Avoid repeating a noun you have recently mentioned—use a pronoun instead.
o   First use indefinite articles (some, a, a lot of) to refer to an unknown object or person; then use a definite article (the) to refer to it.
o   Use sequence-signaling words like later, ago, and before, as well as time expressions like at night and the next morning to make chronology clear.
o   Tell your story in the past tense, primarily.
o   Distinguish the meanings of but, so and and.
o   If you want to use a person’s name in the story, introduce it the first time that person is mentioned and then continue to use the name from then on.
Note that the list contains only discourse-level grammar strategies. They are the glue—the cohesion and coherence—that makes content and organization hang together.  That’s why they belong in a content conference.


Following the content conference, students go on to revision, or writing a second draft that incorporates their changes. Every second draft should go back to the group for a second content conference, to check that the revision happened. Only those Young Writers who have made good strides with revision should move on to self-, peer-, and then an easier teacher editing.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Teacher Editing, Part I

I think teacher editing is the hardest part of ESL writing-workshop facilitating for traditionally-trained teachers to learn. 

Teacher editing in Young Writers clubs centers not on everything the teacher knows, but on the student’s voice. Ideally during teacher editing, students read aloud to the teacher, who helps them listen to themselves. The photo here from REC Primary in Bassa Town, shows what this looks like. I love watching children's growing awareness of their oral pauses and stops and shouts, and the satisfaction they get from punctuating these. Often, I’ll call an author back to a word that she has just corrected as she read aloud without noticing that the written form didn’t match what she said.

Yet what we see more often is students emerging from teacher editing sessions with whole sentences—even whole series of sentences—heavily crossed out and replaced by the teachers’ “improved” versions. This bothers me because I see a frustration in those teachers’ bold stripes drawn across the paper that I don’t feel when I’m doing teacher editing, but it bothers me more because of the effect it has on the students:

  • It dampens their spirits—the last thing at-risk students need.
  • It stifles their voices. Many of our club members come to us barely literate, but when they are asked to relate their true personal experiences, a voice comes to the fore. One of our most deep-seated instincts is to tell others about something that has happened to us. That instinct must have enhanced early communities’ chances of survival, but we tap into it in our clubs in order to help students connect that narrative voice to writing. It is our job to keep that exposed instinct safe.
  • It can lower the quality of the children’s writing. Teacher language generally stomps in with social proprieties and with categories that sweep details under the carpet, both of which distance us from the scenes the children are painting.
  • It has no instructional value. You don’t acquire language by copying someone else’s sentences into a final draft. Teacher language carries complex sentences and vocabulary that are not yet part of the students’ proficiency. True, they are sometimes acquired on the writing edge in the club, but they are more the domain of the language arts class.


The point of the writing club is for the students to learn to record their low-intermediate ESL oral voices on paper so well that anyone who reads their work aloud can reiterate their storytelling. That means they must learn to use storytelling devices such as sequence signaling and the appropriate verb tenses; along with written devices such as paragraphing, inverted commas, and exclamation marks. People want to read their experiences because they have so much to say. The literacy and literary skills we are teaching them will be with them for life. They will transfer to any other language in which they become literate. On top of all this, do the students have to talk like teachers, too?