How to Teach Essay Writing to ESL Students

Instructor: Lesley King

Lesley has taught ESOL for many years, holds a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate degree in Instructional Leadership.

The purpose of this lesson is to provide guidance on how to teach English language learners to write an essay. In addition, review some tips on ways to help learners generate ideas and include elements to make essays stronger.

What is an Essay?

There are some students who may not know what is meant by an essay. They sometimes get it confused with a paragraph, a sentence, a story, or other related topics. This is partially due to language barriers and other background differences. For this reason, it is important to ensure that students understand what is being requested of them when they are being asked to write an essay. Explain to students that an essay is a written piece that is made of multiple paragraphs and focuses on one topic. Making this clarification can prevent the student from being confused with what product to turn in. It is also helpful to show students an example of an essay.

An essay has multiple paragraphs.

What Steps Should Students Follow to Build an Essay?

For students to begin writing a good essay, introduce them to the five steps of the writing process. The writing process guides the learner to write using the following steps.

1. Pre-writing/Brainstorming (organize ideas about the topic)

2. Drafting (create sentences & paragraphs using ideas)

3. Revising (add or remove elements to make paragraphs strong)

4. Editing (ensure punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, & transitions are correct)

5. Publishing (rewrite essay with no errors)

After introducing students to the writing process, give them a specific topic to write about. Be sure that students understand that they should generate ideas about this topic only. Once students understand the topic, they are ready to begin writing!

What Supportive Materials Can Help Learners?

Depending on a student's language ability, they may need sentence starters in order to begin the writing activity. Provide students with sentence starters that relate to the topic. A vocabulary bank can be given to students to help them stay on topic and generate ideas.

Many students are also successful using graphic organizers. These are blank templates or outlines that strengthen the ability to organize ideas related to the topic. While it is very helpful to provide students with a graphic organizer, it is also okay to have them create their own. Graphic organizers add an aspect of fun for learners because they can be creative in how they arrange their information.

Organizer for Writing
writing organizer

Along with an organizer, students should be given a checklist to remind them of what should go into their writing. This should include understand your topic, organize ideas, create a thesis, write supporting paragraphs, and add final touches.

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