ESL Writing Exercises & Teaching Strategies

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.

Writing is an integral part of learning English as a second language; therefore, ESL students must have practice developing writing skills in the classroom. This lesson will provide exercises and strategies for teaching writing to your ESL students.

Teaching Strategies for Writing

While not all ESL students aim to perfect their English writing abilities, it is still very important for these skills to be taught in the classroom. The strategies used for teaching new skills can either make, or break, a lesson. These instructional strategies will help you effectively deliver the content your students need for successful writing skill acquisition.

Lesson Sequencing

You would not expect someone to cook a gourmet meal before that person learned to use an oven; likewise, you should not jump ahead when it comes to teaching writing skills to your ESL students. You want to make sure you work from the basics onward. Within each writing element, strategy, or skill, instruct the appropriate content in the right order.

For example, when teaching the writing process, you would teach prewriting, drafting, editing, revising, and publishing in that order, and not the other way around. Each step in the process should be taught in its entirety before the next step is introduced. This way, students are given the tools they need to successfully navigate through the content being delivered.

I Do, We Do, You Do

When introducing new writing skills or practices into the classroom, aim to incorporate clear explanation, modeling, guided practice, collaborative practice, and independent practice.

  • Explain the writing skill or practice that will be covered. Give reasons why this skill is important, and explain the objectives of the lesson.

  • Model the skill or practice (I do). Talk through the process by clearly identifying all of the steps you take. For example, if you are explaining how to use a graphic organizer as part of the writing process, you should actually model how to complete the organizer.

  • Guided and Collaborative Practice (We do) - Work with students as you complete the skill/practice with their guidance, asking for clarification along the way; then observe and offer guidance when needed, as they collaborate on the skill/practice with others.

  • Independent Practice (You do) - Once students have developed a strong understanding, have them work independently to master the skill/practice.

Visuals and Examples

Use plenty of relevant visuals (e.g., anchor charts and strategy posters) so students have easy access to writing rules, processes, strategies, and elements. Anchor charts are posters that record key concepts, cues, and guidelines during the learning process so student thinking and understanding is represented visually. Break down descriptions and concepts piece by piece, so students are able to work through the processes on their own, step by step.

For example, if teaching about writing a paragraph, have a color-coded anchor chart that breaks down the parts of a paragraph; but also, have an example paragraph written on color-coded sentence strips to match the colors on the anchor chart. For every element of writing you teach, make sure there are visuals and examples to help assist in student comprehension.

Writing Exercises

You will want your ESL students to partake in both academic and real-world style writing exercises. Aim to familiarize students with writing independently, writing through collaboration, and writing using technology (e.g., word processors, e-mail), so they develop a well-rounded set of skills.

Journals

Have students keep a journal for either personal use (brainstorming, getting thoughts onto paper, reflecting, or reviewing) or for communication purposes (teacher-student communication or peer journal communication). Allow students to use journals for simply practicing writing. In the beginning, this can be used to develop a writing baseline so progression can be tracked. As students advance in their writing skills, begin assigning journal topics or prompts for grading and assessment.

Speed Writing

Use this exercise to promote free writing, where students just write without worrying about topic, grammar, punctuation, or formatting. This is used to get students comfortable with using their imagination when it comes to writing.

  1. Give students an easy writing topic, question, or prompt.
  2. Explain they will have 5-10 minutes (choose according to student age and language level) to write as fast as they can without stopping. Let them know grammar, punctuation, etc. are not important.
  3. Give reminders as time is running out, before telling them to stop.
  4. Allow students to look over their writing and, if desired, share with a partner for review.

This can be used as a prewriting/drafting exercise, which, as students become more comfortable with writing, will lead to practice with editing, revising, and publishing.

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