• The Writing Workshop: Countless Benefits for ESL Students and Teachers

Cover workshop revisited Shot

This posting includes sample lessons of a Writing Workshop that give students a lot of autonomy.*

This posting is an update of my February 1, 2019 post:  Most Important Motivator of Students: How You Can Do It

Since posting this back in 2019, I’ve heard from teachers who decided to try out a Writing Workshop with their ESL Writing classes even though they were skeptical at first. Their hesitation seemed to be doubtful that their students would actually be productive without more direct teacher control. However, they reported that their initial skepticism was quickly dispelled after seeing the same great benefits that I had described in the post below. Almost all of them stated that they couldn’t imagine teaching a Writing class in any other way in the future.

Here is that posting.

Most Important Motivator of Students: How You Can Do It

YouTube This posting is discussed on my YouTube video ESL Writing Workshop Approach

The most important ingredient for motivating students is autonomy. 1 The sense of being autonomous can produce a very positive effect on students’ attitude, focus and their performance.  Best of all, it’s very effective and quite easy to include this in ESL classes at every level.

Having autonomy doesn’t mean that students decide what is taught in a lesson.  Instead, students can experience autonomy if the lesson is set up so that they can individually choose which exercise to do first, second etc., how fast to work, when to ask the teacher a question or for help and even when to take a break.

A lesson plan template that gives students autonomy (Writing Workshop)

Teachers can organize their lesson in a Writing Workshop using many different types of materials, but it works best when using inductive exercises.  That is because inductive exercises require little or no time taken up with teacher lectures.

These are General Steps for a Writing Workshop and Sample Specific Lesson with handouts

1) The teacher briefly explains the first assignment.  Students DO NOT start writing yet.
2) S/he briefly explains the second assignment. Students DO NOT start writing yet.
3) If there is a third assignment, s/he briefly explains it. Students DO NOT start writing yet.
4) S/he returns any homework assignment that students had turned in and which the teacher had marked. They will correct these and show the teacher, but they DO NOT start writing yet.
5) If there is a group-activity, the students do that.  As each group finishes, they don’t have to wait for the others to finish.  Instead, they start the assignments individually.
6) Autonomy!!!  Students start the assignments by individually choosing which one they want to do first, second, third.   At any time, they can ask the teacher any questions they might have and show him/her corrections from the returned assignment.

Benefits of the Workshop: Pressure off of students and the teacher

  • Each student works at his/her own pace.  Assignments that are not completed during the class time are done as homework.
  • No student has to wait for “slower” students to finish an exercise.
  • “Slower” students don’t feel pressure to work more quickly because others are waiting for them.
  • The teacher doesn’t feel pressure to keep the faster students “occupied” while waiting for the slower ones or to move on to the next exercise before the “slower” ones have finished.
  • Students feel comfortable asking the teacher a question or requesting help without worrying about taking up their classmates time and/or thinking about “losing face” by asking a silly question.
  • Students who tend to get restless after sitting for a while can take a break at any time without having to wait for a “break time.”  In the Workshops, I’ve noticed that half of the students don’t ever feel a need to take a break.  They’d rather continue to work on assignments straight through.  Others can concentrate more once they’ve used the restroom or made an important phone call or checked their messages outside the classroom.

Sample Specific Lesson with handouts

  1. (2 minutes) The teacher introduces the exercise for adding details to an essay by using examples from you country.  (See handout in The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates)  Students DO NOT start writing yet.
  2. (4 minutes) The teacher introduces an exercise for reducing clauses to phrase.  (See handout Grammar point: “Before going to sleep, I always check under my bed for monsters.”  What is “going”?)  Students DO NOT start writing yet.
  3.  (1 minute) The teacher returns a paragraph assignment that students had turned in the day before.  The teacher had marked grammar mistakes, which the students will correct individually.  Students DO NOT start writing yet. (For suggestions on giving feedback on assignments, see  How to lead ESL Students to Discover their Grammar Mistakes on Writing Assignments   and • Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique)
  4.  (15 minutes) The teacher puts students in group of three.  Each member is given the handout for either Student A, B or C.  As a group, they work through the worksheet about using commas.  (See handout Grammar groups activity commas)
  5. As groups finish, without waiting for other groups to finish, they begin to work individually on # 1, 2, and 3 and/or take a break.  They have the autonomy to choose which of these assignments to start with.

They can ask the teacher for help with any of the assignments.

1 According to psychologist Edward Deci on an NPR segment:  A Lost Secret: How To Get Kids To Pay Attention

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.

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