Writing Strategies for ESL Students

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.

This lesson will discuss a variety of strategies for English as a Second Language learners to improve their writing in order to effectively communicate their ideas. These strategies are adaptable for all age levels.

Mastering the Skill of Writing in English

Writing is often one of the last skills mastered by English as a Second Language students. Proficiency is usually achieved only after learners can listen, speak, and read at a beginner level. It makes sense, if you think about it. When learning a new language, receptive skills like listening and reading typically occur before productive skills like speaking and writing. In this lesson, we will take a look at some effective strategies for improving your English writing skills.


Read as many books and texts as you can get your hands on. If you struggle with reading comprehension, start with graphic novels and comic books, which pair words with pictures to help you make sense of the text. As your reading skills improve, you can start reading online blogs, newspapers, magazines, and novels.

The more you read, the more familiar English writing structures will become. This is a great strategy for helping you improve your writing.

Sentence Frames

No matter what the writing task is, using sentence frames can help improve your writing. A sentence frame is a pre-written sentence with spaces for you to fill in the remaining words. So why is this helpful?

When you use sentence frames, you can focus on producing the language you already know, while also gaining experience with correct English grammar. Sentence frames help model the correct structure and flow of the English language, and they relieve you from the pressure of producing your own sentences. Over time, this practice will lead you to be able to write similar sentences independently.

You can search online for sentence frames according to the language task. For example, some sentence frames for a compare-and-contrast response might include the following:

  • One similarity/difference between (subject 1) and (subject 2) is ...
  • Both (subject 1) and (subject 2) have ...
  • While (subject 1) is ..., (subject 2) is ...

You can also find sentence frames for persuasive, narrative, sequence, and many other forms of writing.

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers provide graphic support and help you plan and organize your writing. There are organizers that can be used at every stage of the writing process, from brainstorming and pre-writing to revision.

Four Square Writing Method

One tried-and-true graphic organizer is the Four Square Writing Method. This strategy teaches you how to properly organize a paragraph. The paper is divided into four quadrants. In the center of the organizer, you write your topic sentence to show what your paragraph is about. Each quadrant contains one supporting fact that relates to the topic sentence, except for the last quadrant. This quadrant contains a closing sentence.

This graphic organizer helps reinforce the idea that effective writing requires organization and cohesion. Here is an example of how you might fill in a four-square graphic organizer for a short paragraph comparing two seasons:

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