A Writing Strategy that Boosts Multiple Skills

Help ELL students learn a vital communication skill using a specific writing strategy. This high beginner+ ESL lesson blends reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

Writing Strategy Overview

This is a 20-minute, small group, uses a specific writing strategy – taking notes – to build multiple skills. If class time is short (and your students are keen to learn), you can assign a small amount of homework. I work in a Korean university, so student motivation can be (ahem) a bit low. That means any lesson plan I prepare that depends on homework completion usually ends on failure. For that reason, my writing strategies rarely depend on student effort outside the classroom.

This writing strategy requires students to read a short passage, scan for key facts, and write notes. If your students are up for a challenge, they can think about the wider consequences, too.

To build broader skills, add the listening component as an extension. Students listen to the same story and take more notes if required.  It seems like a simple addition, but the audio add-on can really build listening fluency over time.

a writing strategy that builds note taking skills
Are students learning the art of effective note-taking?

Writing Strategy Flow

Step 1. Set Up

Students get a bit of reading and listening homework in order to prepare for the activity, which is run next class. That’s optional. If time permits, you could add 20 minutes of class time and do the reading and listening in class.

Copy and hand out one short story for each student. Each story is a one-page (about 300 words) overview of a famous invention. I use a series of stories written for ESL students. The students focus on high-frequency words and are designed to improve reading and listening fluency.

Below, you’ll find a link to a short listening file (about 3 minutes or less) as well. I usually ask students to listen and read to their stories to improve a broader range of language skills.

Potential lesson plan resources


Shipping Containers


Printing Press

Step 2. Student Instructions

Give the following homework instructions:

  • read and listen to the assigned story
  • prepare a summary of the invention story
  • describe how the invention changed human development (describe a cause and effect connection)

Students like guidelines, so I usually suggest the summary and analysis of human impacts should be 1-2 minutes.

Step 3. Run the Activity

Now it’s time for a jigsaw. Put students in small groups of 4. Each student should have a different story.

One student begins by telling their summary. Discourage people from reading text. The other students listen and take notes.

I require each listening student to ask at least one question. Remind students to focus on the global impact of the invention.

Rotate storytelling until each student has completed their turn.


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