“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
This insightful quote from Benjamin Franklin is never truer than in an ESL class.
So, why not give your ESL students some training wheels for writing?
Writing worksheets are rather like training wheels for beginner and early intermediate students. Once the students have gained confidence, they can then develop their skills and move on to freestyle writing at the intermediate and advanced levels. That said, there are still writing worksheets for these levels.
It’s critical to help your students build strong writing skills, as these will serve them well in their lives, travels and careers. While listening and speaking, native speakers are more likely to overlook mistakes. With the written word, however, errors jump out at the reader.
Worksheets exist to provide the aforementioned structure for ESL students, giving them information to refer back to as they move along with their writing activities. Use worksheets in your classes and watch the writing levels of your students improve dramatically.
The Complete Guide to Using ESL Writing Worksheets in Your Classroom
Where to Find ESL Worksheets
Fortunately, gone are the days when ESL teachers had to prepare their own writing worksheets and then photocopy them for class use. Free ESL writing worksheets are readily available on the Internet. In fact, there are so many sites that the challenge becomes how to find the most appropriate ones.
Type “ESL writing worksheets” into a search engine and 946,000 possibilities will appear, so make sure you bookmark the sites you may want to return to. Another way to track down good sites and resources is to check with other ESL teachers and ask if they have any recommendations.
Of course, that’s pretty much how you ended up here, isn’t it? Well, don’t worry, you’re in the right place for writing worksheet recommendations—I just want to encourage you to keep exploring until you find something that is perfectly suited to the needs of your ESL class.
You’ll want to keep that Ben Franklin quote in mind when deciding on the best types of worksheets to use with your students. ESL worksheets come in all shapes, sizes and levels. The variety is almost overwhelming and there virtually isn’t an ESL topic for which you can’t find a worksheet.
Here are some recommendations for ESL writing worksheet resources based on what you’d like to teach in class.
For printable grammar worksheets, check this site. It offers everything from basic adjective and adverbs for beginners through to homophones and question tags for advanced students. You can follow the sequence of worksheets given and let your students progress through the topics, or you could simply pick and choose what you need for specific topics.
Some ESL teachers don’t like to teach grammar formally. However, it’s important for ESL students to understand the components of English and to know how these linguistic building blocks fit together. For example, the basic syntax formula in English is subject + verb + object and this is the pattern that many beginner ESL worksheets will help students to develop and formulate through repetition.
Whereas native speakers might not be able to explain what “reported speech” or “adverbial phrases” are, ESL students have to understand the difference. So love it or hate it, grammar needs to be included in a well-rounded ESL class.
More advanced students may, in fact, know more about English grammar than their teacher. So don’t be surprised if you get a question like “Is this the augmented past participle of the verb ‘to be’?” If you’re caught in the headlights with a grammar question like this, don’t be afraid to tell the student you’ll get back to them with an answer in the next class session. After class is over, go do your homework to find out the right answer. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a worksheet that addresses that specific question to help your student learn and reinforce the key points of the topic.
Creative Writing Worksheets
If you’re looking for creative writing options, this is a good site to start with. Although creative writing might be too advanced for beginner learners, advanced students and adults will find it a good challenge.
It’s important to choose creative worksheets that are appropriate to your target group’s level and interests. Keep in mind that many native speakers can’t write creatively in their own language, so the kind of thinking required might be totally foreign to your students.
This is one more reason why students will benefit from ESL writing worksheets. Worksheets give them information, structure and a jumping off point for their writing, which is far less intimidating than staring down at a blank piece of paper. You might want to pass this suggestion on to English teachers working in the public school system who struggle to teach creative writing.
Combination Writing Activity Worksheets
It’s not always going to be all about writing. During lessons that are focused on improving grammar, reading comprehension, listening skills and more, you can incorporate writing worksheets for an extra effective boost of learning. Combination writing activity worksheets help your students put into practice whatever it is they’re learning in class that day, whether you’re watching movies, listening to music, practicing conversational skills, drilling verb conjugations or doing anything else. Handy, right?
ESL writing worksheets that highlight other skill sets include read-along (and write-along) e-books, YouTube-based exercises and writing tasks focused on watching and understanding English language movies.
Having your students interact with any learning material by writing out their thoughts is exceedingly important. There’s a time and place for fill-in-the-blank exercises, but they’re unlikely to retain information as well as if they’d written out their answers in full sentences. Remember Franklin’s words of wisdom.
If you go down the fill-in-the-blank route, then you still have options for better engagement and better learning. For example, you might have young beginners filling in the missing words of a nursery rhyme and more advanced students filling in missing words that you’ve deleted manually from an article in The Economist. Get them even more involved in the process by having them write out the completed sentences by hand on the second half or backside of the worksheet.
By writing more in-depth responses, students process all those lessons on English grammar, vocabulary and syntax that you’ve been giving them class after class. They can tie everything together, figure out what information is stored properly in their brains and fill in whatever is missing afterwards.
Business English Writing Worksheets
Business English writing—such as writing emails and reports—is essential for adults who are studying ESL to advance their careers. Writing worksheets will provide them with the outlines they need to write in polished, business-appropriate language and communicate effectively with other professionals.
Start with this collection of business English writing worksheets here. Want even more variety? There’s another great collection here at busyteacher.org (a super useful site for worksheets) which covers an immense diversity of business-related topics, everything from interviews to negotiations and workplace chit-chat.
Customize Your Own Worksheets
Design your own writing worksheets! Thanks to the Internet, this is much easier than it used to be, but we’ll get to that in just a minute.
For example, let’s say the school is going to have a special event or the class is going to go on a field trip. Use the occasion to make a related ESL writing worksheet. This personalizes the experience of writing in English for the students and they’ll be interested because they’re more involved. Plus, they’ll have their own observations, opinions and firsthand experiences to build from.
If you’re using songs in your ESL class—and you should, particularly at the beginner level—make a worksheet of missing words. Then get the students to sing along as they fill in the blanks. Afterwards, have them copy down all the completed lyrics by hand at the end of class or for homework.
To make your own worksheets with the aid of technology, hop on over to Quickworksheets. This is a great tool for building customized, professional-looking worksheets in the blink of an eye. Alternatively, use the worksheet generator here by filling in the content that you want students to practice with.
Making worksheets is a great way to learn—just look at all the writing you’ve been doing to prepare them! If only there was a way to pass this benefit on to your students. Well, there is!
Have your advanced students make worksheets for beginners. By giving your older or more advanced students a kind of assistant teacher role, you’ll enhance ESL learning for both groups. The advanced students get to demonstrate their skills and the beginners get to work with material written by one of their peers. How cool is that? You could even have students at the same skill level write worksheets for the other students in their class—it’s amazing how well students retain information when they’re expected to teach or assess it.
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How to Use ESL Writing Worksheets
The main approach to using ESL worksheets is variety, variety, variety. One day you might give your students a story worksheet, the next day you’ll give them a crossword puzzle and the following day they’ll have to tackle a vocabulary match exercise worksheet.
Rather than writing worksheets being an exercise done in isolation, have the students work in pairs or small groups as often as possible.
Suppose, for example, you’re teaching an advanced class of students from Southeast Asia. Give them a blank map of the area and see how many of the 10 Association of Southeast Asia (ASEAN) countries they can fill in.
In an exercise like this, you’ll definitely want to have the students work in groups. Most will likely know the better known countries—Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore—but Brunei may be overlooked. There’s usually one student in each group who can help with trickier questions.
Another strategy is to team a stronger student with a weaker one. That way the former becomes an assistant teacher, which helps them reinforce their knowledge. Explaining a concept on the worksheet to the weaker student will help the weaker student feel better supported.
How to Assess ESL Worksheets
The initial step in using ESL worksheets is to consider the writing level of your students. If you give them worksheets that are too easy they’ll get bored. Worksheets that are too difficult will leave them feeling frustrated.
Another factor is to find writing worksheets that the students will find stimulating. Those who are interested in science or current affairs, for example, won’t enjoy worksheets about fashion or pop culture.
Ultimately, the best assessment is to ask your students. “Did you find this worksheet helpful? Did it help you better understand pronouns?”
Their feedback is important and asking for their opinion of the materials also helps to make them feel more involved in their learning process. Further, it sends a signal that the ESL teacher cares about their assessments and opinions.
Remember that learning to write in English is the most daunting aspect of becoming proficient in the language. Writing worksheets provide structure and walk the the students through the step-by-step process of how to construct proper sentences and paragraphs.
Worksheets also gives students the confidence to start writing on their own because they’re better grounded in the structure of the language.
Just know, your students are going to love having worksheets to work with.
And One More Thing…
Looking for fun ESL teaching resources? Then you’re going to love FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences.
There are many different types of videos, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it easy to watch and understand native English videos with interactive captions. Tap or click on any word to see what it means, learn how to use it, hear it pronounced and more.
For example, if you tap on the word “brought,” then you see this:
You can learn any video’s vocabulary with FluentU’s fun quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The videos are organized by genre and level, so it’s super easy to find the ones that work for you. FluentU also keeps track of your learning, then suggests videos and examples perfect for you.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.