Eight English Writing Activities

Looking for fresh English writing ideas?

What is the purpose of teaching writing? Write a five paragraph essay? Pshaw. Write an error-free persuasive essay? Puh-lease.

The goal, I believe, is to help ESL students become independent writers.

Over time, students require less direct assistance from the teacher in order to produce well-written, coherent, interesting text. Error-free? No, that’s an unreasonable expectation for students in an EFL context.

To that end, ESL students need basic writing tools. Below, is a list of eight skills which, if developed, can put ESL students on the path to becoming independent writers. Is it a complete list? No, not all; it is a beginning.

Writing Skills and Activities


1. Three Sentence Patterns

Most students at the high beginner level (and up) can write a simple sentence. Beyond that, many require direct teaching plus practice with a wider range of sentence patterns in order to express complex ideas, add style through sentence variety and develop an ability to notice and correct text errors.

To build that capacity, I focus on three patterns: simple sentences with prepositional phrases, appositives and complex sentences. This writing lesson teaches students all three sentence patterns.

2. Appositives

An appositive, a noun phrase that modifies a noun, is a tricky but useful sentence pattern. That’s why I developed an additional lesson for this specific sentence pattern. It might seem like overkill, but my experience indicates students need the extra time to really get how to construct this sentence.

3. Parallel Structure

There is a reason why writing textbooks often include a lesson on parallel structure: it’s not just grammatical correctness, it’s the beauty, clarity and completeness that comes with a trio of words or phrases.


4. Wordy Sentences

Teachers often ask students to edit their own text, but do we sometimes forget that editing wordy sentences is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced? This lesson shows students how to notice and repair sentences with redundant words and empty phrases.

5. Proofreading

Proofreading – the ability to notice and correct typos, capitalization errors, punctuation boo-boos and other tiny mistakes – is an essential skill if the goal is to help ESL students become independent writers. This lesson has a couple of proofing exercises with answer keys.

6. Vocabulary

Word choice is a skill best fostered while revising a draft. If students get stuck on vocabulary while writing the first draft, the writing flow becomes slow; some students can’t get past the first paragraph. This intermediate level writing exercise asks students to ramp up their vocabulary skills by paraphrasing with synonyms.


7. Writing Fluency

One of the barriers to student improvement is writing fluency. Sometimes the challenge is not the quality of writing, it is the quantity. This time repeated writing exercise can help with that effort, if repeated over an extended period of time.

8. Sentence Fluency

Sentence fluency is a specific kind of fluency. This frame activity was developed to focus on three kinds of sentences (sentences with prepositional phrases, appositives and complex sentences). However, as a frame activity, the content can be changed to suit individual needs while retaining the lesson’s flow and instructional goodness.

Sum up

If English language students, especially in an EFL context, are to become independent writers they need to learn skills that stay with them for years after they leave the classroom.

At a minimum, they should be learning how to self-correct along with writing tools that allow them add structure, clarity, and style to text. On the surface, that seems like a modest objective. The deeper truth is this: if writing teachers are able to help students accomplish these objectives, we’ve done a lot.

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The image in this post comes from Hartwig HKD and its use complies with the owner’s creative commons licensing terms.

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