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ESL Writing Activities

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

This lesson will provide you with writing activities for use with ESL learners of varying levels. These exercises can be used one-on-one or in a classroom setting. They encourage students to express themselves in English and turn errors into part of the learning process.

ESL Writing Activities

Writing is an essential skill in the majority of school subjects and careers. It can sometimes be difficult to convince ESL learners that English writing skills are important. All too often they want to focus primarily on developing their speaking and listening abilities. However, writing well in English is an invaluable part of the learning process. These exercises can easily be adapted and used in and out of the classroom.

Writing Exercise #1: Journal Writing

Keeping a journal may seem like an obvious writing exercise, but it is sometimes ignored in ESL classrooms. If students are simply told to write in a journal, they may have difficulty coming up with topics to write about or feel intimidated by the seemingly daunting task of simply 'making something up.'

One way to avoid this is to give students a topic, a time limit, and the freedom to play around with both structure and form. For example, beginning-level students may feel more comfortable drawing pictures with short captions. Intermediate to advanced learners can be encouraged to try free writing on the topic.

Students are often eager to learn, but afraid of making mistakes. Because of this, it can be very helpful to tell students that their journals will not be graded or seen by anyone but you. Tell them not to be overly concerned with making errors; otherwise they may waste creative time looking up words in the dictionary. The important point is to practice expressing thoughts in writing without fear of making spelling or grammar errors.

Journal Writing Suggestions

Time: 10 minutes per class/session or as homework

Possible Topics:

  • Happiest memory
  • Biggest fear
  • Favorite food
  • Description of best friend
  • Least favorite holiday/festival
  • Worst movie/music
  • Greatest achievement
  • Dream job
  • Most desired superpower
  • What life will be like in 10, 25, 50 years

Writing Exercise #2: Write It!

This exercise can also work as a game. Using the blackboard or a PowerPoint display, write a list of phrases that require students to think of words. For example, name five types of fruit; name five animals with tails; etc. You can adjust the phrases depending on the required difficulty.

For intermediate to advanced students the phrases can be less focused on vocabulary building and more geared toward complex descriptions. For instance: How would you ask for directions in a new city? How do you get from the entrance of an airport to the airplane? How do you cook your favorite food?

Put a time limit on the responses and go around the room checking and correcting errors.

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