ESL Writing Lessons

ESL writing lessons are an important part of any English course, as writing is probably the trickiest of the skills. Apart from the normal language difficulties, the students also have to consider: spelling, punctuation, paragraphing, style, capitalization, linkers, text organization and sentence construction.

General Guidelines

As with other skills, it's important to teach the students what they need to know, before they have to produce anything themselves:

  • show the students an example or model of what the writing conventions are for their particular task e.g. business letter, movie review
  • base the writing acitivity on vocabulary or grammar already covered e.g. musn't/can't for obligations can be used to describe sports' rules, crime vocabulary could be used for a newspaper report
  • give the students set phrases that can be used in their writing e.g. I would be grateful if you could ....., To Whom it May Concern
  • let the students know how long the writing should be
  • give them an idea of the organisation of the required text i.e. the number of paragraphs, the general layout
  • the students can brainstorm some ideas in pairs before proceeding with the writing task
  • if a student's homework is too good to be true, it's worth checking in the search engines to see if they copied it from somewhere. Just type in one of the sentences from the text, and you should be able to find it
  • give writing activities for homework, as they can be done individually

Different Types of Texts

Here are some ideas of various texts that you can use for ESL writing lessons:

  • e-mails
  • letters
  • messages
  • job applications
  • creative writing
  • invitations
  • diaries
  • reports
  • meeting minutes
  • presentations
  • leaflets
  • references
  • staff assessments
  • CV's
  • summaries/precis
  • film/book/music reviews
  • letter of complaint
  • news articles
  • recipes
  • dialogues
  • instructions
  • sports rules
  • classified ads

Activities

Here are some ideas on how you can incorporate some writing activities into your ESL writing lessons......

Dictation

Give the students a short story e.g.

A man walked into the room and saw that there was a party going on. He glanced across the crowd, and as soon as he saw that she was there, he turned around and walked out. He didn't even stop to put on his coat on the way to the front door, but walked out into the snow. The next day, he never answered his phone ....

You are then going to ask the students questions, which they have to answer as comprehensively as possible. They need to write down the questions and the answers e.g.

  1. What did the man look like?
  2. What did the room look like?
  3. What was he thinking when he saw her?
  4. How was she dressed?
  5. Why was there a party?
  6. Why didn't he put his coat on?
  7. Why didn't he answer his phone?

To make this activity more difficult for advanced classes, have a pile of flashcards on the table with vocabulary that the students have just learnt, and get them to pick up a word for each question and include it in the answer.

Consecutive Story

The students each need to have a blank piece of paper. Give them a story starter e.g. 

As they walked through the forest ......

The students need to complete the sentence, and then pass their paper to the person on their left. They then have to continue the story with a sentence of their own on the piece of paper they have just received. Continue in the same manner until you've had enough. Use this to not only practice writing, but also to cover a grammar point or new vocabulary.

Error Correction

For Business English, get the students to bring in correspondence that they have actually done or are using, and do error correction with them.

Presentations

For debates and formal presentations, get the students to prepare their perspectives in writing before doing the speaking activity. Teach the students how to prepare using bullet points and logical, progressive arguments - this doesn't always come naturally to everyone.

Lesson Conclusion

Conclude a reading or listening lesson with a writing activity e.g.

  • summarize the article
  • express your opinion on the topic
  • write an e-mail in response
  • write a dialogue discussing something in the text
  • write an official report
  • use the new vocabulary from the lesson to write a story
  • write a letter of complaint (if there was something to complain about)

Instructions

Getting the students to write some instructions which the other students have to do can be a fun activity. Instructions can include how to build something with lego, how to draw something (e.g. snowflakes in winter), how to make something (e.g. paper mache plate) etc. This can be useful for practising modals like can/must and the first conditional (If you want your drawing to look nice, you will need some good crayons).

Expanding Descriptive Language

Give the students a short story using basic vocabulary (you can alternatively get the students to write their own very short story, and then choose the best from the class). The students need to adjust the story by adding and changing the text with more advanced vocabulary. You could do this as a group activity where the students each consecutively have a turn, as they pass the story from one to the other. They need to continue until they feel they cannot add or change any more.

What to teach different levels
ESL Writing Lessons

Beginners & Elementary

  • basic sentences
  • join sentences into short paragraphs
  • simple personal letters
  • simple narratives
  • gap fill exercises
  • dictation

Intermediate & Upper Intermediate

  • linkers (therefore, whereby, thus, so that, however, on the contrary)
  • punctuation - give the students a text with all punctuation removed
  • creative writing
  • formal & informal letters
  • simple reports

Advanced

All of the above, and ........ at this level your ESL writing lessons should have a  greater emphasis on style.

  • leaflets
  • film/book reviews
  • reports
  • debates
  • news articles


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