ESL Essay Writing Activities

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

Teaching ESL students the fundamentals of essay writing can be a very challenging process. This lesson will go over some valuable activities to use in the classroom to help make essay writing a little more fun and a lot easier to understand.

Essay Writing

Essay writing is usually not on the top of anyone's list of favorite things to do. It can be difficult to put thoughts on paper, prove a point, or create a coherent flow of ideas. Essay writing is even more difficult when it must be done in a language that is not your own. For this reason, it is crucial for English as a second language (ESL) teachers to include numerous examples, activities, and helpful strategies throughout the essay writing process so students are able to navigate through any struggles that may arise. This lesson will provide several activities that ESL teachers can practice with their students.

The Structure of an Essay

The first thing you will need to do is make sure your ESL students understand how an essay should be structured. Generally, it is best to introduce students to the traditional 5-paragraph essay structure:

  • 1st Paragraph: The introduction, which lets readers know what the essay will be about.
  • 2nd-4th Paragraphs: The body paragraphs, which provide arguments and evidence to support the main point of the essay.
  • 5th Paragraph: The conclusion, which summarizes the body paragraphs and reiterates the main point of the essay.

Keeping a visual of this structure will allow students to see the whole picture so they are aware of what they are working towards while writing an essay. It can be very challenging for ESL students to put their thoughts in order; therefore, it is important to introduce activities and strategies that can help make the writing process easier.

Essay Writing Activities

The following activities can be used in the ESL classroom to help students better understand the essay writing process. Make changes as needed to best match students' English and writing ability.

Hamburger Essay Builder

Hamburger Essay Builder Visual

This can be a graphic organizer, or piece-by-piece project, to help students better understand the structure of an essay.

  1. Give students an outline image of a hamburger
  2. Provide label sections for each of the hamburger parts (top bun, tomato, lettuce, meat, bottom bun)
  3. Have students label each part of the hamburger to represent each part of the essay (introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion).
  4. Provide students with cut outs shaped like each of the hamburger parts.
  5. Have students write out the description for each of the corresponding essay parts on their buns, lettuce, tomato, and meat.
  6. When finished, have students assemble their essay hamburger to use as reference when they begin writing their first essays.

Free Writing

Use this fun activity to have students practice their writing skills as they race against the clock. The object of this activity is to have students focus more on getting words on paper, and less on worrying about punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Make sure they know errors will not count. The goal is to write as much as possible within the time limit so they can see how much that amount will increase each time the activity is completed in class.

  1. Provide a list of interesting topics students can choose from (favorite hobby, childhood memory, future goals, embarrassing story, family tradition).
  2. Tell students they will write for a designated amount of time (2-5 minutes depending upon the age/language level) without stopping.
  3. When completed, allow students to read their writing aloud, or in pairs, so they can enjoy one another's work.

This is a great way to help take the pressure away from ESL students when it comes to writing. Be encouraging while making sure to keep the activity lighthearted and fun.

Creative Writing Activities

Have students practice their writing skills by incorporating mini creative writing lessons into your daily routine. Allowing students to write from a variety of angles will help them feel more comfortable using the English language in written form.

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