How to Rock the Class with Two Short ESL Writing Activities

ESL teachers sometimes need donuts. They also need writing lessons that students can finish in 20-30 minutes. Here are two activities.

Short ESL Writing Activity #1: Cubing

A cube is an object with six sides. In this exercise, we use a cube to ask six kinds of questions about something.

Each question gives students a different way to look at an idea or object. The answers generate lots of information. That information helps students add depth and detail to their writing. 

This is a kind of guided writing exercise – because of the question prompts – so it works well with students who say they don’t know what to write.

I saw this short writing years ago and thought it was a dud. Then one day, I needed a fresh idea and tried it in class. Cowabunga!! The results were very positive. Low level students appreciated the lesson's guided writing approach. High level students liked the freedom of thought that the lesson encourages.

Six Questions

  1. DESCRIBE: What is the idea? What does the object look like? Describe it with words about the senses.
  2. COMPARE: Is it similar to another idea or thing?
  3. CONTRAST: How is it different from others? What makes it unique?
  4. ANALYZE: Divide the whole thing into smaller parts.
  5. APPLY: How can it be used? Who uses it? What can we learn from it?
  6. ARGUE: What do you think about it? Good or bad? Right or wrong? Yes or no? Explain your decision with reasons. 

Lesson Flow

Writing Activity Step 1 Explain Task

Use the Cubing questions to write a short passage about this hamburger set. Click here to open the lesson resource pdf file with the information you need for steps 2, 3 and 4.

Writing Activity Step 2

Display the hamburger picture on the lesson resource pdf file. It has a photo of a hamburger set and the 6 Cubing questions.

Writing Activity Step 3

Show students the model answer on the next page of the resource page. Give students time to read the text and see how the story answers every Cubing question. 

Writing Activity Step 4

Give students a different picture (two photos are in the lesson resource pdf file). Give students 10-15 minutes to write a short, coherent passage that answers all of the Cubing questions. 

Another ESL resource

Need a 50-minute lesson plan that combines listening, reading, vocabulary development and a bit of writing? Try the lessons on my other site: Here’s a free lesson about potato chips.

short writing activity for ESL students
Water is part of this short writing activity

Short ESL Writing Activity #1: 4 Elements 

This activity asks students to think carefully about how they describe places and things. There is also a little surprise at the end the activity.

Get the lesson resources pdf here.

Lesson Flow

Writing Activity Step 1 Explain Task

Students write a short story; probably 2-4 paragraphs. The aim of the assignment is to write detailed descriptions of places and things.

Writing Activity Step 2 Rules

Explain that there are a couple of rules. This is a time-limited writing activity. Students have 10 minutes to write a short story about an adventure. In this story, students include 4 things in detail:

  • woods
  • water
  • a key
  • a barrier

Writing Activity Step 3 Create

Students write for 10 minutes.

Writing Activity Step 4 Surprise

Now the surprise. Tell students that the 4 things in the story possess special powers. Each thing tells us about a different part of the writer’s character. This part works best with a partner.

Partner A asks:

  • How did you describe the woods?
  • Could you describe the water?
  • What words did you use to describe the key?
  • What does the barrier look like?

The code is on the last page of the pdf file.


About the activities

These activities come from two of my ebooks: If you and your students enjoyed these activities, why not buy an ebook? That would help support this website and all the free resources.

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