Teach English Writing Skills: Before and After

Measure Writing Improvement

The English writing class is a journey. And like every great trip, we are changed in some way. This ESL activity provides the teacher with a mechanism to identify how the students’ writing has changed in the English class. And it measures learning without tests.


Step 1 Collect Resources

Choose a short writing activity; something that produces at least 1 or 2 paragraphs of writing. Run this activity at the beginning of the semester and at the end of the semester. In this sample lesson plan I use a short video.

Step 2 Explain Task

Students watch a short video. Their assignment is to write a 2 to 4 paragraph summary.

The summary should be more than a list of actions. It should include a description of the overall message/theme of the story and provide details and examples. The summary should have a beginning, middle and end.

Explain the assignment purpose. They will write a summary today. At the end of the semester, they will repeat the assignment. At the end of the semester, the teacher and student can compare the two pieces and see if there is any improvement. Compare the two pieces of writing on the basis of six writing traits.

Step 3 Provide Guidelines

Some students might need some guidance. You could write these notes on the board so that students have a better idea of what they should write about.

Character – the people in the story

Plot– the basic action

Setting – the time and place

Message – what does the story try to teach us?

Step 4 Collect Writing

After students have finished writing, collect their work. Keep it in a safe place until the end of the semester.

Step 5 Repeat Assignment

Around week 13 of the semester, I repeat the writing assignment. This gives me a little time to read the new and old student writing and make a few notes that highlight differences before final exams.

I return both pieces of writing to each student and provide individual feedback around week 14.

In almost every case, it is possible to see proof of improvement. Even with the lowest level students or those who made little effort in class, it is possible to say something good, such as the number of sentences written.

Lesson Resources

Short videos (e.g. less than 5 minutes) work well, especially for lower level students. In the past I have also used a short passage that describes a place instead of a video in higher level classes.

Below are three video suggestions. If you want more examples of good videos for the English writing class, click here and here.

The Piano

Remarkably simple story that touches on themes that define the human condition. Wonderful soundtrack as well.


The Present

A short film about a boy who learns a lesson. Ask students to think about what changes might happen in the boy’s life.

The Present from Jacob Frey on Vimeo.


Taking Pictures

A short video about a common theme. The plot is simple but there is plenty of detail to write about. Be sure to ask students to speculate about what might happen at the end of the story.

Taking Pictures (Animated Short Film) from Simon Taylor on Vimeo.

Teach writing?

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Save time. Teach well.

Cut your lesson prep time with this colossal collection of ESL resources that stimulate language learning and critical thinking. Simplify your lesson planning because teaching should be a joy, not a chore.toolbox-front-cover-3d-book-8-8


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