Writing can be one of the most difficult aspects of ESL teaching. Because of the complexities of writing, many teachers simply avoid the area, instead concentrating on reading and pronunciation. Writing is, however, essential to ESL students, especially those in higher levels, and while it may be hard to get started teaching it, the rewards are more than worth it.
Give them lots of things to read. Depending on what their native language is, ESL students may have a hard time grasping the concept of sentences and idea flowing because of the way their native language structures stories. By giving them access to reading material, you’re showing them samples of what they can do in English and helping them target their writing.
Choose a type of writing appropriate to the students’ level. Lower levels could write a short Thank You note, while more advanced students can work on a cover letter to go along with a resume. By choosing topics that are relevant to their lives as well as their capacity, you’re also encouraging them to bring their own knowledge into the mix.
Make it a game. Rather than focusing on the grammar side of writing, find activities that require your students to write, such as a PenPal exchange program like IECC, where teachers can connect students and classrooms to people all over the world. While eventually you want your students to write with no mistakes, this could be a great way to encourage writing in shy or hesitant students (see Resources below).
Use activities and worksheets. Websites such as the ESL Teachers’ Board have a variety of games and exercises you can use to teach writing to ESL students. Examples include helping them compose answers to job advertisements, creating comic answers to letters and writing letters to friends and family (see Resources below).
Bring sentences for them to complete. Lower-level students may have a hard time formulating ideas on their own, so you can push them along by giving them a topic to work of, such as “This summer, I’m hoping…” or “After work, I will…”. Then let them write the rest of the sentence on their own.
Emphasize the importance of using simple constructions. English can get confusing once you start introducing lots of commas or other punctuation inside a single sentence. For beginner ESL students, it may be easier to stick to short sentences without complicated clauses.
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.