Writing might seem like a daunting task for ESL students.
But writing exercises can totally spice up your classroom and teach your students to express themselves in new ways.
Writing encourages creativity and imagination in your students.
There are plenty of writing activities out there in the ESL galaxy for you to choose from and adapt if you wish. Possibly thousands, but keeping your students in mind when choosing one is quite possibly the most important thing.
ESL writing should be fun and encouraging, though many of us can remember the boring essays we had to scribble out in school. So break the mold and put a dash of excitement into your writing lesson.
Developing lesson plans around ESL writing practice can often be challenging, but have no fear. With a little thought and some awesome new insights on this ESL topic, you can craft exciting ESL activities that your students will actually enjoy.
Setting Up Your ESL Writing Activity
Before letting your eager students discover the joys of writing, it’s essential that they have the proper knowledge to do so.
Normally, ESL writing activities will be carried out in the production stage of your presentation, practice and production (PPP) lesson plan. You’ll have a few short writing activities in the practice stage, but these are mainly to set your students up with the skills they need to really show off their stuff in the production stage. Production is where students are left more to their own devices—they’ll finally get a chance to try their hand at full-on English writing.
A good teaching tactic to make sure your students are ready to move into the production activity is to check in with them from time to time. Ask questions that revolve around the new writing material, questions that may only be answerable if they really comprehend what’s going on. Your practice writing activities are also great for this. Chances are, if students are having trouble with the practice activities, you’ll need to hold off on the production exercises for a bit longer.
When everyone is ready, confident and ready to start writing with little guidance, you can than introduce the pro-action writing activity. Remember, this is your students time to shine, so give them all the information they need to be successful. Delivering clear and concise instructions about the ESL writing activity is very important. You can review the structure needed to complete the task, passing out a handout or writing the outline instructions on the board. Reviewing the structure is essential and will lead to less frustration as your students begin crafting their amazing writing work.
Once all key aspects of the activity has been delivered, with a short question and answer session on what is expected, let them loose. This is your time to roam the room and feel good, watching your students go for it, using the methods and information you presented earlier. Be available for any questions or problems that may arise, you will be their editor and muse in many ways during the duration of the activity.
5 Activities Guaranteed to Get Your Students Excited About ESL Writing Practice
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1. Start Small with Tweets
Twitter, Tweeting and Tweets have become a part of mainstream social media.
These little tidbits of information have revolutionized the human experience, sharing thoughts that would otherwise be just that: thoughts. Tweets can be an effective tool in ESL writing exercises for many reasons. Though tweeting during class is otherwise frowned upon while you’re presenting new material to your class, you can harness this social media phenomenon for learning.
Chances are good that your students are familiar with tweets. That means that they’ll be able to relate immediately to the topics and tasks you’ll assign to them. Depending on the ages and interests of your students, you could even start a real-life classroom tweet board where you’ll thumbtack brief texts from students. You can also start a classroom Twitter profile, allowing your students to send their new English tweets out into the world.
Tweets are great for starting off small, limiting your students to 140 characters or less. That means they’ll need to target their writing to one particular topic of focus. The best part of all this? The structure behind tweets is almost nonexistent, so your students can get extra creative. Students will comprehend the activity without any strict structural or stylistic information.
Plus, tweets allow students to explore more casual writing and fun topics. A tweet can discuss movies, TV shows and more topics in popular culture. And who doesn’t love that?
In fact, if you love to teach with modern and entertaining materials, then you’ll love FluentU.
Tweet Writing Activity Example
A great example of a tweeting ESL writing activity is to use something related to their everyday lives.
Let’s say your students are all excited about an upcoming movie. You’ll introduce the movie trailer and let them watch it, discuss it and ask any questions they may have about it. This is great for some communicative practice as well. After they’ve discussed the movie, give them a handout with three blank tweeting spaces. Each tweeting space will give a different tweet topic. Remind them that they have 140 characters to produce a short message about the movie subject.
For example, one subject can be about the main actor, so your students will write a tweet about the actor, how he looks, his attitude or what he might have been doing in the movie trailer.
After they’ve successfully written down their tweets, you can discuss them, bring back some communicative aspects into the lesson and, if relevant, begin tweeting to the world using a class Twitter account. Your students will be more than excited to see their words on the Internet for all to read. It’s a great confidence boost for their writing!
2. Write Informative, Useful Emails
Emails have become the backbone of our world. They’re essential in both our personal and professional lives. Not many people today send real letters, written or otherwise.
Emails are the main source of communication between people around the world. That’s why email writing is a key ingredient to effective communication. This ESL writing activity is more for young adults and adult learners, since children aren’t sending too many emails, in theory.
Emailing can often be a scary task for your students, especially in a new, strange language that they don’t feel very confident about yet. You can utilize an email writing activity to help your students build confidence and get more comfortable with writing in English. There are also other scary elements to emails for your students, like proper language, structure and format. Structuring an email can be just as daunting as writing it, so spending some time discussing and looking at examples of email structures is essential.
Once your students have a good grasp on structure, introduce them to some elements of formal and informal email writing. Utilizing certain words can be the best way to approach formal and informal emails, but don’t overload your students with too much. Remember that the focus of the lesson is on actual writing and not discussing wordplay. It’s more than enough to start by covering the basics of “Sir” and “Ma’am” for formal introductions, as well as “Sincerely” or “Kind Regards” when wrapping the email up.
Email Writing Activity Example
With structure and formal/informal basics covered, you can get your students writing.
One great email writing activity can be thick with writing and communicative skills. Pair your students up and give them an outline for a specific email topic. Let’s say the focus is on an upcoming birthday party for a friend. This will lead to an informal email exchange between two people.
- Student A will be given one worksheet explaining the details of a birthday party for a friend. They’ll need to write an email to their partner inviting and explaining the key aspects of the party.
- Student B will read the email invite and develop a reply based on the information they have on their own worksheet. This worksheet should have information about Student B’s situation. Maybe Student B can’t make it to the party until later, or maybe they need to ask about a food dish or gifts.
During this time, you can float around the room and make sure everyone is focused on the task at hand. Answer any questions which may arise during the activity.
3. Create Creative Advertisements
Advertisements surround us on a daily basis and you can probably bet that your students will have a few favorite ads of their own.
This activity can be for all ages and can be adapted to most students and their needs. Advertisements are a great way to show your students how to write with flare.
They’ll enjoy analyzing a product and making use of the awesome writing creativity they have bottled up inside them after the presentation and practice stages. This great ESL writing activity can help your students use their adjectives more freely as well. Knowing when and how to place adjectives in their writing is a wonderful skill.
Utilizing advertisements as a writing lesson has so many benefits for your students and you as well. The best part about an ad writing lesson is that you’ll never run out of excellent and informative examples to show your students. There are hundreds of thousands of ads out in the world. You can find any type or topic you want with just a click of the mouse or turn of a magazine page. Examples are important when showing your students structure and how to formulate their very own ad, so utilize all those great examples out there.
Creating advertisements is also a great way to implement communicative skills by pairing or grouping your students together. Your students can develop their ideas by brainstorming with their classmates, really pushing out those imaginative thoughts and descriptive adjectives.
Advertisement Writing Activity Example
A great ad writing activity is to have your students focus on a product you bring into class. Let them see it, touch it, use it and so on. Having a tactile experience with the product they will be writing an advertisement for is essential in many cases. Students might not be so excited to write about something they can only see in a picture, so let them experience it.
For this example, you can use something familiar to them, but not too familiar since you want to keep it challenging. Maybe you have an old point-and-shoot camera lying around that you can charge up and bring into class.
Put your students into pairs and have them use the camera for a few moments to get a feel for their proposed writing object. Pass out a worksheet with some key areas for them to focus on. This is a great way to keep them organized. Have one area on the worksheet for adjectives, another area where they can write down all their thoughts about the camera and still another spot for them to note any details you’ll explain prior to beginning the activity.
Let them brainstorm in their pairs and allow them time to craft their advertisements together. Once they have all their creative writing on paper, you could allow each pair to share their advertisements in front of the class. The pair activity is a great way to get them started. You can transition this into an individual writing activity in the next lesson, using a different object for them to colorfully describe.
4. Form Informative Reports
Another great ESL writing activity to put into your book of lessons is report writing. At some point in every student’s life, they’ll have to generate some kind of report and many have already done so in their native language.
Report writing is an essential part of life, academia and business, so you can build on the structure they may already be familiar with. Report writing can enhance your students’ careers and even get them higher scores on ESL exams.
Report writing also contains a communicative element. Not so much during the writing activity, but later, allowing your students to present their reports in front of the class and field questions about the presentation material. This is another skill builder for your career-minded students, since many of them may be working in international companies and that’s why they’ve chosen to study English with you. Presenting their report is also an excellent way to build confidence in your students in both communication and writing.
They’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t after a few report writing exercises and presentations. Building on these skills is the cornerstone to ESL.
Report Writing Activity Example
In many ways, a report writing activity isn’t as intensive as other writing tasks. Your students won’t have much communication in pairs. The need for exciting visuals isn’t as necessary. Report writing is more about the research and structure that go into it.
First, you’ll want to introduce the topic that your students will write about. This topic is generally carried over from the presentation and practice stages. What have you been talking a lot about in class? Do you discuss any topics related to popular culture, current events or social issues? Use your class’s more commonly discussed topics as jumping off points for report writing.
Showing them proper structure is important. You can reinforce the report writing structure that you presented and they practiced by handing out a worksheet outlining proper report structure. You could even have it on the board for them to reference. Essentially, you just let them craft their report using the material provided, but with a little twist. Give them an issue or problem to discuss in their report. If you and your students discussed bears eating fish in Yellowstone Park recently, give them this as a topic and throw them a curveball for the report. For example, you might ask them, “what if there were no more fish?”
This simple question and twist on the topic will cause an imagination explosion. This is perfect when it comes to report writing and now they must really think and put their informative thoughts into a formal report structure. They’ll need to write strong topic sentences with great supporting sentences that link everything together. Keep your students on their toes in report writing and you’ll have students eager to write more reports.
5. Craft a Class Newsletter/Newspaper
This ESL writing activity is a bit more intensive and will allow your students to employ many different aspects of their ESL knowledge. Crafting a class newsletter will build collaboration, communication, listening, speaking and, of course, writing skills.
This project could be a lengthy, ever-changing ESL writing activity that’s fun and exciting for your students. Sharing their class information with the world will keep them excited for the next writing lesson.
There are many layers of class participation involved in this.
Communicative skills will be very important during the creation of the class newspaper or newsletter as students start brainstorming what content to include. You can break up your students into paired writing teams or keep them in a more freelance writing position, whichever you choose. It’s just important to remember that group participation is essential for the success of this activity.
You and your students must get into some fun, in-depth brainstorming about which topics to choose, how the newsletter should be formatted and so on. It’s a great way to get everyone involved and enthusiastic about writing, taking away the daunting aspects which cloud ESL writing in the classroom. Plus, they can share their pride for their class’s English progress.
Newsletter Writing Activity Example
First things first, you must decide if you want pairs or single writers for each topic. Often times this is decided for you, depending on the class size. Let’s say that you have a large class and you put your students into pairs. Each pair will be given a topic for that week’s newsletter and you’ll explain the details involved with their topic during presentation, going over each pair’s topic together as a class. After all, this is a class newsletter.
Once the pair is clear on their topic, you’ll give each of them a specific handout relating to their topic during the practice stage to begin the creative brainstorming they’ll do with their partner. The topics should be general at first: food, travel, news, fashion, technology and so on. This will ensure that each student is focused on one topic. Each week, the topics can change from one pair to the other, giving your students experience writing on various topics.
After your enthusiastic writing pairs have developed their outlines in the practice stage, you can move them into production and let them co-author their article for publication in the newsletter. Once all articles are ready to go, you can go over them with the class and everyone can discuss and have some great communicative practice as you piece the weekly newsletter together.
Next week, a new topic is assigned to each pair and on it goes. Once the newsletters are finished and printed, they’ll get to take them home to show their stuff off to friends, family and colleagues.
They’ll have writing work that they can be proud of. And isn’t that what we want, after all?
And One More Thing...
If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom!
It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.
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On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
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Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.