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.
Essay Writing With ESL Students
Remember the first time you ever had to write an essay. Recall the steps you took for arguing your opinion. Now, imagine that you were expected to write that essay in another language you were just learning! You would have needed the process simplified quite a bit.
Looking at it from this perspective, it's easy to understand why essay writing can be overwhelming for English as a Second Language (ESL) students. The process becomes even more frustrating if topics are unfamiliar or difficult for students to comprehend. In this lesson, we will go over strategies for teaching essay writing to ESL students and then look at topics to get them started on some opinion pieces.
Teaching Essay Writing: Strategies
Before having your ESL students delve into essay writing, it's important to thoroughly teach the essay writing process to ensure that your students feel comfortable completing the process on their own.
Teaching Essay Structure
First things first; teach your ESL students how an essay should be structured. Start by introducing students to the traditional five-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
This allows students to see the big picture while writing an essay. Display a graphic organizer or anchor chart for students to refer to when needed.
Gradual Release of Responsibility
Consider going through each step of the essay writing process (outline, introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion) in depth, with plenty of modeling and whole group/small group hands-on practice. The I do/we do/you do model gives students a chance to first see how each step is completed, and then practice with peers before moving on to work independently.
- Model how to complete the essay one step at a time using plenty of examples. Check for comprehension by inviting students to comment or ask questions.
- Have students work with small groups or partners to complete sections of essays while you offer assistance and guidance.
- Gradually reduce your input and allow students to work independently within their groups while you observe.
- Once students show their understanding, allow them to complete essay writing activities independently.
Once students are writing their own essays, be sure they understand the smaller elements involved. Can they write a thesis statement? Can they provide supporting details? Do they know how to prove their point? Help students master these basics skills by providing plenty of practice.
- Dissect components of paragraphs and essays together.
- Complete graphic organizers that organize the main point and subtopics of student-chosen themes.
- Go over the steps to creating an effective thesis and effective topic sentences from their themes.
- Have student peers edit each other's work.
- Allow your students to participate in creating essay rubrics so they can understand the grading process.
Opinion Essay Topics
When your ESL students are ready for independent essay writing, it's time to offer some interesting opinion topics to get their creative juices flowing. To respect different cultural and religious beliefs when introducing topics, be flexible with your students. For each of the following topics, have your students explain their reasoning.
- Should people be allowed to text/use cellphones while driving?
- Do you think social media leads to bullying?
- Do you think social media is addictive?
- Should cyber-bullies be held legally responsible for their actions?
- Would you be able to give up social media for one month?
- Should students be required to wear uniforms in school?
- Should students be allowed to use their cellphones in school?
- Should students be allowed to learn about world religions in school?
- Do you think students should be penalized at school if they are caught being cyber-bullies?
- Should school athletes have to be drug tested?
- Do you believe children who commit violent crimes should be tried as adults?
- Should the voting age be lowered to 13?
- Do you think celebrities who break the law should face stricter penalties?
- Do you think the legal drinking age (21) should be lowered to 18?
- Do you believe in the death penalty?
Life in America
- Should parents have to get a license to have children?
- Should genetically modified foods be sold with a warning label?
- Should America convert to the metric system?
- Should everyone under the age of 17 have a 9 p.m. curfew?
- Should students as young as 14 be allowed to hold jobs?
- If you won $10,000,000, what would you do with the money?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- If you were deserted on an island, what three things would you want to have with you?
- What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited?
- Who is the person you admire more than anyone else?
For each of these prompts, be sure to discuss sufficiently to ensure ESL students understand the meaning behind the questions being asked. Once the writing process begins, provide students with ample time to organize their ideas, both orally and on paper, so they can effectively work through the main points they would like to present in their opinion essay.
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