Category Archives: ESL Writing

These postings include writing activities, teaching techniques and strategies for evaluating writing skills.

Innovative Approach to Writing: Introduce a new Unit with a Listening Activity

Best Friend Surprised Image

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

It can seem like our students have about a 20-second attention span.  So we try to squeeze in introductions to new Writing units during that period of time before they start thinking about text messages, their lunch, tonight’s date, last night’s date …

There is an effective and stimulating method for getting students to immediately interact with a new Writing unit through a listening activity.  We want them to feel engaged as they focus on the format and techniques that they will use when they eventually write an essay in this mode.  This approach does it in a user-friendly, enjoyable way.  Also, a side benefit is that students internalize some new sentence styles and new vocabulary.

First example of this approach

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Writing Class Person Description Activity: Fun, Lively and Productive

 

 

Describe classmate image

This is a paragraph that a student secretly wrote to describe one of her classmates.  All the students are circulating around the periphery of the room, reading description hanging on the wall with no names on and trying to determine who is being described in the paragraphs.  Each student seems very focused on reading the descriptions, searching for the classmate who is the object of the description but also looking out of the corner of their eyes to see what kind of reaction others are having to the description that they secretly wrote just an hour earlier.  There is energy in the room, a lot of interacting and a lot of laughing.

Describe your classmate activity

In brief, the steps for this activity are:

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Saving Mental Energy: Give Two Grades on Essays

Thinking

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.) Essay Evaluation Form

Imagine that you read Mari’s essay in which she developed her ideas exactly the way that you had hoped she would.  But her grammar was very weak and even caused some confusion.  You are torn about what grade to give her.  You know that her grammar skills are not strong enough to succeed at the next level, so you don’t want to mislead her.  But you also don’t want to discourage her since her content was so good.

What grade should you give Mari?

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Teaching the Most Interesting Type of Essay Introduction (an Inductive Approach)

 

Dramatic intro image

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Handout Dramatic Introductions

Most people like stories.  And essays that start with a story are often the easiest to enter.  Like these written by a couple of students:

     “A few months ago, in the middle of the night, when I was staying at home, I heard my house’s gate was shaken violently by someone.  There, I saw a woman who was carrying her baby, standing with panic and asking for help. …”

       “The 40-degree Celsius weather was miserable when we were going on the trail to my grandmother’s house in Bucaramanga, Colombia.  We had been traveling about seven hours and were in El Pescadero, which is the curviest and dizziest part of the trip.

These dramatic introductions are not only enticing for the reader, but they are also fun for the students to write; it gives them a chance to use their imagination and creativity.

At the same time, a good dramatic intro isn’t just a story.  There are three characteristics of especially good ones:

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Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills

editing with codes

Learning to be a self-editor

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Some student’s reactions to this technique that teachers use to mark their assignments:

“I like this technique because it helps me apply what I learn to future writing.”
“This technique makes correcting essays like a puzzle.  It’s actually fun.”
“I’m not stressed when I see red marks.  I know that it’s going to be an interesting challenge.”

Because this technique gives students a chance to discover their grammar errors, we have found students have greatly improved their self-editing skills.  And self-editing skills will be of great value to them as move beyond ESL courses.

Here is a description of the technique along with a handout exercise that will introduce students to it.

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A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More

 

Reading while eating

Reading every chance you get.

An international student, Emily, was really struggling with the grammar in her writing assignments.  Even though she worked with a tutor, she was continuously making basic mistakes.  In the fall, the program reluctantly promoted her to my higher-level Writing course.  I found her to be the third lowest of 17 students in the class in being able to apply grammatical accuracy to written work.  Ten weeks later, she was the second best.  I was totally amazed!

At the end of the Fall term, she passed my class and then took English Comp (English 101) during the Winter term.  She got an A.

I had a chance to talk to her about her remarkable turn-around.  What she did is not beyond what other students can do.  After that opportunity that I had to talk to her, every term, I share with all my students her story.  Here is the PowerPoint that I use to do this in case you’d like to tell your students about how a peer of theirs was able to improve the grammar in her writing in a relatively short time.  True story about improving grammar in writing thru reading

I’ll summarize what she had done below.

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Give the Writer not the Editor Control during Peer Editing in Writing Class

Writer peer editor

Writer has control during peer editing

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

After a peer-editing session, a student said, “My peer editor was kind of rude.  He was too critical and told me to change my grammar in places that were not wrong.  He also told me to change my thesis statement.  But I think I already had a good one.”

Another students said, “My peer editor read my essay and filled out the checklist.  She said she found nothing that needed to be improved.  I was surprised because I think some parts were weak.”

There is a peer-editing process which can alleviate the problem of the over-critical editor and under-involved one.  In this process, the peer-editor is NOT expected to find places to improve; instead the writer solicits specific advice.  In other words, the writer has control.

The peer editing activity below involves critical thinking on the part of the writer.  Unlike the common peer-editing format of the instructor providing questions /checklists for the peer to complete while reading their partner’s essay, in the approach described below, the writers themselves decide what advice/help they would like from their peers.

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