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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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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