Writing Classes for ESL Students

Writing classes for ESL students can be fraught with challenges and frustrations for both you and your students. Despite those challenges, writing is an essential skill that your students need to be comfortable with. 

Writing? Yeah.Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts for ESL teachers to help your ESL students develop their writing skills.

Writing classes for ESL students: Don’ts

Expect everyone to take to writing

Some students will be able to construct creative sentences, tell stories, and capture your interest using written word naturally; others will take to it once a few barriers come down; for others, writing will never be their most comfortable means of communication.

With these students, do your best to encourage them to learn how to communicate an idea with the written word – after all, it is a skill they will need for the future – but don’t make a big deal of the fact that they are not as strong writers as some of their classmates.

Find the ways of communicating that they do excel at, and accept that for some students, writing is not something they will particularly enjoy.

Let your students rely on templates for their writing

It might seem like it will make things a lot easier to give your students a fill-in-the-blank template, or to give them a slew of examples that they can basically copy and change a few words here and there.

I know I’ve been guilty of those things, for the sake of keeping writing time moving along. Ultimately, in the long run, it’s doing a disservice to the students.  You want your students to be able to write in their own words, construct their own sentences, and understand how to communicate their own thoughts.

Beginner students will benefit from simple templates, just because they probably don’t yet have the knowledge of grammar and spelling to construct sentences on the spot.  But after a certain point, if you rely on templates, you’re curtailing their ability to pull together what they have learned.

Over correct your students’ writing

If your students know that anything they write is going to come back to them rife with red pen and in need of a re-write, they’ll be a lot more hesitant in their writing.

Letting their creativity flow means being able to write at the level they are at, without having to spend time obsessing over grammar or spelling.  Unless what they are writing is meant to be a polished piece to put in a portfolio or send home to parents, only correct things that make it glaringly difficult to understand.

Writing classes for ESL students: Do’s

Give your students lots of building blocks for their writing

Fill-in-the-blank templates stifle students’ creativity and block their ability to learn how to construct their own thoughts on paper.  However, most of your students will still need some direction when it comes to writing.

A good way to do this is to write some relevant words, ideas, and sentences on the board for them.  Work with the class before you start writing to make a list of relevant vocabulary words, transition words, and even a few individual sentence patterns that they might use.

Consider these things as building blocks that you are giving them, and it’s up to them to construct a paragraph or essay from them.  If you have some students who are really struggling, you might want to give them an opening sentence that they can copy to get them going, but leave the rest to them.

Give length limits

Set clear lower and upper length limits for their writing.  This might be a number of sentences or paragraphs or pages.  Encourage students to write as much as you know they are capable of.

Just because your lower limit is, for example, half a page doesn’t mean they can just stop there if they have time and are able to write more.  Also, keep an eye on those students who love writing so much that they will ramble on for 5 or 6 pages without a clear direction or closing.

Those students will benefit a lot from learning how to be concise and communicate an idea within a certain page limit, so stick to your upper limit, as well.

Encourage Them To Write About Their Interests

Anyone will enjoy writing more if they can write about something that is personally interesting to them.  When you give writing prompts, give a few different options, and make them open-ended enough that students can incorporate their interests and personality into the writing.

Encourage them to write about different interests so that they don’t get into a rut, but as much as you can, give them room to explore topics and ideas in a way that appeals to them, rather than forcing them to write about something that they have no interest in.

While there is no magic formula to getting ESL students comfortable writing, these do’s and don’ts will go a long way toward breaking some of the barriers that keep students hesitant to put words to paper.

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