Teaching ESL Writing Skills: 3 Activities That Work
Teaching ESL writing skills is just as important as teaching speaking, listening, and reading; however, most teachers find that writing is more difficult to teach than other skills. In addition to that, speaking and listening typically have more priority in the curriculum.
Teaching ESL students writing skills is also tricky because the instructions you give need to be simple and clear, and your example or modeling of the activity needs to be on point. The lower the level you are teaching, the more guidance you will need to provide to your students so they can complete the activity successfully.
Before we delve into specific ESL writing activities that work, let’s briefly look at the best ways to teach English writing skills.
How Do I Teach ESL Writing?
Improving the ESL writing skills of your students is an effort that needs to come from both you – the teacher – and your students. Business English and Academic English students may readily understand the importance of writing in English; General English students may not. That is why it is key for you to make these students understand why they should not only focus on their speaking, listening, and reading skills but work on their writing skills as well.
One way you can teach ESL writing is by incorporating writing regularly in your class. You shouldn’t just do one writing assignment per module. Work towards that assignment from the beginning of a module and have your students write something at least once or twice a week (this depends on how often you have them in class).
The amount of guidance you give your students should depend on their level and English proficiency level. For beginner students, you will most likely need to give them writing prompts and example sentences they can use. For more advanced students, you won’t need to give example sentences per se, but perhaps templates or a writing style guide to help them.
How Do I Make Writing Lesson Interesting?
Let’s look at the top 6 ways to make ESL writing lessons interesting:
- If you are a writer, share some of your writings with your students. If you are not a writer, you can do your own version of the assignment and share that with them before they start writing or afterwards.
- Use real examples for writing assignments. Instead of just writing for the sake of writing or doing the same type of story or essay over and over again, see how you can adapt the writing lesson to have them write emails, invitations, comic book strips, a series of text messages, reports, cards, and so on.
- Some students may not be able to make their thoughts clear when they have to write them down. Let students know they can include a picture or two to impart key information. This way they won’t think their assignment is a loss just because they can’t put thoughts into words. Offer them the opportunity to explain their illustration and ask if they can write down some of what they are trying to say.
- Show off great writing. You can read great writing pieces out loud to your class or even try to get some great pieces “published” to showcase in your classroom or around school. Try not to just read pieces from the same perfect student time and again; if another student whose strong suit isn’t writing did something particularly well (even if it isn’t the whole assignment), praise that too!
- Inspiration is key. If you are a writer, you’d know how important inspiration is and how dreadful a blinking cursor and no thoughts to put to the screen is. Similarly, give your students inspiration too! This can be in the form of pictures or photos, a video or song, or even setting up some kind of theme-related scene in your classroom.
Specific ESL Writing Activities that Work
Let’s look at the top 3 ESL writing activities you can rely on in your classroom.
The Newspaper Activity
Best for: intermediate+ students
Have the students look at stories in a newspaper or online and choose one they like. Have them write a “Dear editor” letter in response to the story. They can voice their own thoughts with regard to the subject matter, voice their approval or disapproval to the happenings in the story, request more information, and so forth.
Another related newspaper activity could be to have students bring in a few catalogues from stores or advertisements. Have them look at all the products for sale. Let them make a list of the products they would like to buy for Christmas, for example. Have the students identify why they’d purchase that product for the student assigned to them.
Best for: beginner+ students
Before the writing starts, play an association game with your students. You can play as a class or in smaller groups. Start with a word and then each student takes a turn saying a word that is associated with each next word. An example may look like:
House – kitchen – food – restaurants – celebration – family – friends – playing games
The associations can be personal to each person and may not necessarily make a lot of sense. Once each student has mentioned about two associations, let them write a letter or story that incorporates every word.
Best for: Intermediate+ students
One activity can be writing how-to instructions for everyday actions, from making breakfast to getting to school. You’ll teach them how to think and write logically, which can later on play a role in writing longer-form texts.
While this is better suited for intermediate and advanced students, with guidance, you can adapt this activity for your more beginner students too!
Writing is just as important as speaking, listening, and reading, and when you and your students understand this, writing activities will be easier to implement in class. A key reminder for you is to keep your instructions clear, model the activity well, and provide the level of guidance your students need. The more you incorporate writing into your ESL lessons, the easier teaching it will become and the more your students’ writing skills will improve.
About the Author
Denine W is a freelance EFL teacher, writer, and editor/proofreader. She taught EFL to young learners (from kindergarten to high school students) in Taiwan and to adults and young learners in an online EFL environment. In whatever free time is left, she likes to read, plan her next trip abroad, scrapbook, and do online grammar quizzes.