Ideas to Improve Writing Style

ESL student writing – especially narrative and descriptive pieces – can be flat, dull and homogeneous.

Overuse of simple verbs is one problem that can fix that style problem. Tired verbs like be, find, go, say and see are easy to write in proper. Sure the sentence is grammatically correct but writing is a lot more than just good grammar, ain’t it? Sure, it gots to have style.

Here are a couple of exercises which I uncovered in a terrific book, 500 Word Theme by Harry Kroitor and Lee Martin (1994).

Editing for Style: Tired Verbs

Read the paragraph. Pay attention to the tired verbs (e.g. be, can, go, etc). rewrite the paragraph.

bug-2The Volkswagen is unexcelled for dependability.

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More Writing Ideas

Pair Work Story Writing

Work with a partner and create a story together. Spend some time talking about your story idea. Here are the topics:

  1. aliens on Earth
  2. ghosts
  3. war
  4. monsters
  5. psychological fear and terror

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Quick ESL Writing Warm Up Exercises

Here are a few writing activities to help ESL students learn writing by getting their mind into the words and ideas. A creative head space, to use the parlance of the 1980s.

Writing Warm Up #1: Free Association

This is a five-minute activity to help students think about connections between words.


  • Students add a word to each blank. Each pair of side by side words must be connected in some way.
  • They might be opposites, synonyms or rhymes. Any connection is okay as long as the student can explain the link in a reasonably logical way.
  • Add five words between the beginning and end.

It’s a free flowing game, so it’s meant to be creative and fun.

  1. UP ___   ___   ___   ___   ___   SPIDER

  2. BLACK   ___   ___   ___   ___   ___   NICE

  3. SMALL   ___   ___   ___   ___   ___   BEST

  4. DRINKING   ___   ___   ___   ___   ___   LIGHT

  5. SUNNY   ___   ___   ___   ___   ___   AIRPLANE

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Facts About Reading

Some facts about reading and learning.

  • If a child reads as much as one million words per year, they will be in top 2% of all children on standardized reading tests. If a child reads as little as 8000 words per year, they will be in bottom 2% of all children on standardized reading tests. Therefore, if you read 3,000 words every day you will be in the top 2%. If you read 20 words every day, you will be in the bottom 2%.
  • The average person retains only 5% of what is read once, after thirty days.
  • Reading aloud and talking often to a young child promotes brain development.
  • 35% of adults in the UK don’t read for pleasure.
  • Research suggests that regular reading is associated with a 35% reduction in the risk of dementia.
  • One out of every eight letters you read is the letter ‘e’.

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