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ESL Writing Activities

Updated on August 5, 2015

ESL Activities for Teaching Grammar and Writing

Of the 4 language skills (writing, listening, speaking and reading), writing is the most difficult to learn to do well. We all know that writing is our own Native Language is difficult enough, without adding in the extra barrier of a foreign language. Anyone can do a poor job of writing in a second or third language, but to write well in a language that's not your own takes lots and lots of practice, as well as input and useful feedback from a teacher. I have lots of ESL writing games and ESL writing activities that you can use when you're making EFL lesson plans to improve your student's writing abilities.

I'm a university teacher in South Korea and I teach academic writing to students majoring in English. It's a struggle some days because students in Korea have never even learned how to write an essay in their first language. But, we muddle through and at the end of the course, students often tell me that even though it was really hard, they feel like they have a skill that will serve them well in life, even when writing in Korean. Don't give up even when it gets hard. Writing is important and we need to teach it!

Telling a Story in your English class

This is an activity you can do if you're talking about interesting experiences, achievements, or telling stories. Give the students a few minutes to write about something that they've experienced in the past. The examples I give them are: paragliding or bungee jumping, meeting their girlfriend or boyfriend, a special vacation, eating an interesting food, etc.

When the students are finished writing, have them put their names on the paper. Collect them. At this point, I'll usually put the students in teams of 2 or 3. Then, read the papers out loud to the class and have the students write down the name of the person they think it is. Exchange papers with another group, give answers and you have your winner.

This works well in my classes because even though there are about 20 people, they know each other well because they are all the same major and have all their classes together. If there are some students not of the same major who are repeating the class, I'll make sure to put them in a group with other students who know the majority of the students.

This could also work well for a smaller, more advanced level class of mixed-major students as a "get to know each other" kind of activity.

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running-dicatation.jpg

Running Dictation: an excellent addition to any lesson plan

An oldie but a goodie. You make up a story or use one you already know of a sentences long (less than 10). Put each single sentence on a strip of paper. Put these around the classroom in various locations. The students will be in teams of 2. One person is the reader, one is the writer. The reader gets up and reads a bit of the passage and comes and tells it to the writer. They go back to remember more of it and so on and so on. About halfway through, I'll yell stop and change up the reader and the writer. At the end, the students have to put the passage or conversation in order. When they're done, I'll check their writing and circle any mistakes for them to modify.

I change it a bit, and don't allow yelling as some do. I say that if I can hear their voices, it's too loud and inconsiderate to those teaching next to me and they won't get whatever prize I'm offering. I had one experience last year where a teacher did not state this and it was impossible for me to do anything in my class until the game was done. This was not cool and I don't want to be that teacher that pisses off their coworkers!

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Questions with follow-up is perfect for teaching ESL Writing

I've been doing this activity to help get some questions going on in my classes. The students were studying a unit about shopping and one of the activities was to write a paragraph about their favorite place to shop. I got them to do it and then they went around the circle, one by one reading their paragraphs. At the end of each student, the other students had to ask 2 questions. It made it a much more interesting activity then just the straight up writing with no follow-up. Of course, this only works for a group of less than 8 or 10. In a bigger class, however, you could divide them up into group of 4 or 6 and then just supervise the proceedings.

Teaching Writing to ESL Students

Survey Activities for ESL Lesson Planning

One of my favorite things to do is survey type activities, where the students have a sheet of paper with some questions or something and they need to find one of their classmates who fits each slot. Today, we're doing questions such as "Do you travel sometimes?" or, "Are you a university student?" Then, if their partner answers yes, they write down their name and ask them one more question to elicit an extra piece of information. They have to walk around the class, talking to everyone because they can only write each student's name in one slot.

I like it because students can get out of it, what they put into it. The students who are serious about English will actually speak English, and ask good, thoughtful questions.

The ones that aren't serious about it will just copy off their friend or only speak Korean.

I try to prep the activity well, before I turn them loose, saying what I'm looking for: only speaking English, talking to everybody, writing the answers in English. But in the end, it's up to them. As learning English should be. A teacher can facilitate but it's up to the student to really take it in. It's the same with teaching anything.

Mad lib, ESL Writing Style

To organize this game, search around on the internet for the story that the words fit into. Print out a few of them that fit with your level of students. Then, follow the directions on the sheet and have your students write down words in a certain order. Example. #1: noun, #2: place #3: number #4: adjective. Then there's a secret story that the words go into. Very funny and a good warm-up activity.

Who should learn English writing?

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Great Paragraphs 2

Great Writing 2: Great Paragraphs
Great Writing 2: Great Paragraphs

This is the second book in a 5-part series. The first book concentrates on sentences, the second one on paragraphs and the last two on essays. It's an excellent series that makes it extremely easy to teach writing to almost any level of student, from beginner to advanced. It's step-by-step, filled with the right amount of input and practice activities, complete with lots of tips for the students on how to be better writers. As a teacher, it requires not a lot of prep-time because the book is so well-designed. Highly recommended!

 
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Writing about people in your EFL classroom

This past week, I've been teaching about appearance and is/has. For example, "He is tall and average weight" or "I have short, curly, brown hair." An activity that worked really well was the following:

I found 6 pictures from magazines, clearly showing only 1 person. I gave each picture a number from 1-6. Then you can get the students(alone or in teams) to make or you can give them a sheet of paper with the numbers 1-6 and ABCD/each number. The A=age. B=weight. C=hairstyle/color. D= whatever question you want.

Then, the students need to walk around the class, looking at the pictures and making a sentence for each number/letter. The first one or two teams that are done filling in their entire sheet, with no mistakes is the winner.

Does this make sense? If not, leave me a comment and I'll explain further!

Story Starter for ESL students

This is a group writing activity. Each student gets a story starter. Example: I can't believe it... The most embarrassing thing happened yesterday.... Tomorrow, I'm going on vacation to.... I just saw a UFO.... Then each student writes one or two sentences and passes their paper on to the next student to continue the story. I do it as well and check grammar as we go along and liven up the story if it is getting boring by writing something shocking/funny. Then I read out the stories at the end. It's usually very funny. I end the activity by picking out a few of the most common grammar mistakes and talking about them with the class.

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Poems for ESL students

List some emotions: Anger/fear/ hate/love, etc. Let the students pick one and then make a poem with the 5 senses. Love tastes like..... Love smells like.... etc It's very interesting to see what the students come up and it challenges them to think in a creative way, in English.

An Interesting Experience

I get the students to spend about 5 or 10 minutes writing 3 (for the very weak students!) to 5 (the better students) sentences about an interesting, exciting, or scary experience they've had. Then, I put them into groups of 4 and they had to trade papers and write one question. Then they trade 2 more times so they've read all the papers and asked one question for each paper. Then, the student answers the three questions, in writing and I'll do a quick check and if it's at the end of the class, I'll let them go home. The weaker students will require much longer but I'll be able to help them because most of the students will have already gone.

With the better classes, who are not resistant to speaking in English, I'll do this as a walking around, finding a partner and then asking and answering a question about the story they just read. And then they can have a mini-conversation hopefully.

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Blogging for EFL and ESL Students

An easy way to improve writing skills

A simple, fun activity that you can have students do is start a blog. Set a minimum number of entries they have to do over the semester and they can write about anything that they like. Have your students give you the link and you can make comments about common grammar mistakes that you see them making. It's an excellent way to administer writing homework but avoid the paperwork trail.

Why is teaching English writing so difficult?

As an ESL Teacher, this is one of the hardest things to teach for the following reasons:

1. Sometimes teachers are not that great at writing themselves (see the poor grammar/spelling on Korean forums at ESL Cafe).

2. It requires serious content based teaching. For conversation classes, a little chit-chat here and there counts as "learning/teaching." For a writing class, it doesn't so substantially more prep is required.

3. Students can often "fake it" in a conversation class but in a writing class, it's all down on paper for the world to see and mistakes are made in an obvious kind of way.

4. The students in a writing class all have very different needs. And even if they are at similar levels in their conversational abilities, the spread in writing ability can be huge.

5. It easy to make boring and difficult to make interesting, as opposed to conversation classes that are very easy to make interesting.

ESL Writing Games and Activities

What ESL Writing Activities and Games do you use in your classroom?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Lots of good stuff...thanks so much. I'm a teacher in Japan

    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      Fantastic! - well written and inspiring

    • PennyHowe profile image

      PennyHowe 5 years ago

      I have taught children and adults here in Mexico. I truly believe that games are a great way to have fun and learn at the same time. There are some free games on my Synergy Spanish lens if you would like to check them out. Maybe you could change them to English or they may spark some ideas. Good luck and remember, make learning fun.

    • profile image

      eslpulse 4 years ago

      I liked your lens - I hope you will write more

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you for the ideas.

    • profile image

      memoonajabeen 4 years ago

      wow great lens. Please visit my lens :http://www.squidoo.com/affordable-website-content-...

    • ESLinsider LM profile image

      ESLinsider LM 4 years ago

      Oh I use a lot. Personally I often found it difficult to find, read and understand how to do some activity on the net. Many out there...but not always easy to understand and many are not that successful. I prefer to watch another teacher do it first. That's a good way to learn. Videos are good too cause you see it in context.

    • profile image

      Bartukas 4 years ago

      Great lens

    • Saundz profile image

      Saundz 4 years ago

      Thanks for the nice lens! Useful ideas :)

    • profile image

      EasySpeakEnglish 3 years ago

      Thanks for these really useful ideas.

    • profile image

      string of heart 2 years ago

      Great ideas, thanks. I am a future teacher in Uzbekistan in a second language teaching. I will use it in practice.

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