Teaching ESL Students How to Write an Autobiography: Project & Examples

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers of English as a second language (ESL) learners will learn strategies for teaching students how to write an autobiography. Project ideas and examples are included.

Writing Autobiographies

Your ESL students probably come from all corners of the globe, and they undoubtedly have interesting stories to tell. One way for them to tell their stories is by writing an autobiography about their lives. This type of project helps students get to know one another better, and it also teaches writing skills in a fun and creative way. Let's start look at some ways that you can support your students during this project.

Provide Support

In order to excel at writing an autobiography, ESL students at all levels of English proficiency will probably need instructional accommodations. There are many strategies for supporting your ESL students with major writing assignments.

Use Models and Templates

One of the best strategies for showing students how to do something is to give them examples. Show students real-life examples of autobiographies from the library. You can even look for picture books, bilingual books, or books written in students' native language.

You can use other students' work from previous years or higher-level classes to give the class an idea of what you're looking for. It's also a good idea to provide students with an outline, graphic organizer, or template to help them keep their writing organized.

Provide Sentence Frames and Word Banks

For beginner and intermediate students, sentence frames can help model the correct way to use the English language so students can focus on their writing. Some examples of sentence frames that you can give students for autobiographical writing include:

  • I was born in _____.
  • One of my favorite memories from childhood is ...
  • My favorite hobbies are...
  • I have _____ brothers and _____ sisters. Their names are...
  • One of the biggest challenges I've ever faced was...

Project Options and Examples

One way to provide ESL students with differentiated instruction is to offer them different options to demonstrate their learning. Following are some ideas for autobiography projects that can be adapted for different levels of proficiency:

Picture Books

Let's say you have a new student who recently arrived in the United States and speaks little to no English. She has arrived in your classroom while students are working on writing autobiographies. What should you do?

Allow the new student to work with another student, preferably one who speaks her native language. Tell the new student not to worry about writing in English--she can use pictures to convey her ideas. She can also write in her native language if that seems appropriate.

After looking through her work, you can help her create a list of words that she can use to label her illustrations. For example, if she has drawn a picture of her family at the airport, she can label the drawing with words like 'suitcase' and 'restaurant.'

Poetry

For students who aren't quite ready to produce extensive writing, you can offer them the option of writing an autobiographical poem. Poetry is shorter and often uses simpler language than other forms of writing, so beginner students may find this option appealing.

One type of poem that lends itself to this activity is a portrait poem. Provide students with a template that they can use to fill in their responses, such as:

_____ (first name).

Son or daughter of _____.

_____, _____, and _____ (adjectives).

Who feels _____.

Who needs _____.

Who loves _____.

Who fears _____.

Resident of _____.

_____ (last name).

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