Category Archives: *ESL writing

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

Getting Students to Write More Interesting and Unique Ideas in Essays

Argumentation list

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

After your students do this exercise, reading their essays will be much more stimulating for you.

I felt a bit deflated while reading an essay by Jojo, one of my higher-level students. His title was “It’s Best to Marry Someone from a Foreign Country.” From reading his previous essays, I knew he had the potential to be a very good writer with interesting ideas, but on that essay, he just supported his opinion with content that I would expect from students at lower levels.  For example, here is his list of simple support for marrying someone from a foreign country:

  • We can learn a foreign language more easily.
  • We can enjoy eating different kinds of food.
  • We can go easily to a foreign country for vacations.

Although I don’t believe that we, as ESL instructors, should expect our students to keep us stimulated with deep ideas,  (see my posting “Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays) we should encourage those students who have the potential to push themselves to write beyond the mundane. This is especially true for our students who are planning to take English Comp and other academic classes with native speakers.

An exercise to help students develop awareness for writing more advanced and unique ideas (handout)

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Mistake: He SURPRISED to see it snowing. (Adjectives that look like verbs.)

 

Questions

 

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

When students see an –ed at the end of a word, they tend to automatically assume it’s a verb, and this assumption can lead them to grammar mistakes.

(* mistakes—These sentences are missing a verb.)
*Kai embarrassed during his speech.
* Rumi interested in horses.

To help students in the most efficient manner, I will sometimes paint with a broad brush.  So I simply tell my students that these words are adjectives: surprised, embarrassed, confused, interested and shocked. They need a verb with them.

(correct): Kai was (v) embarrassed (adj) during his speech.

Avoiding unnecessarily complicated information

It’s true that those words can be can be used as verbs, for example:
– It embarrassed (v)  Kai that he forgot some of his speech.

But in all my years of teaching writing, I rarely see students use them that way. They almost always use them as adjectives, so I don’t waste their time/mental energy talking to them about using these as verbs. Instead, I just generalize and tell them that they are adjectives.

Four-step exercises to teach these to students (Handout included.)

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Simple Technique ESL Students can use to Impress Their Academic Instructors

 

impressed instructor

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

Imagine that you are mainstream instructor (e.g. Psychology, English Comp, Economic), and as students enter the classroom, some stop to talk to you.

First, Josh approaches you and says, “That article you told us to read was so boring.”

Later, Ryan mentions to you,  “I found some interesting information in that article you told us to read.”

Of course you want your students to give their honest opinion, but it’s only natural that you’ll probably have a better impression of Ryan than Josh.  That positive impression could even have a favorable outcome for him when you are assigning grades.

This post is about a writing technique that our ESL students can use in their mainstream (academic) classes which can make a positive impression on their instructors.

Most instructors in any field think that their subject area is very interesting. For example, psychology, history, economics, English lit and engineering instructors often think that their subjects are the most interesting and important ones in the world. Needless to say, they love to hear their students say that they also think their classes are fascinating. Thus, our students can use this insight to stand out in the minds of their instructors.  And it could affect their grade in a positive way.

In addition, it involves good critical thinking.

Here is how it works and a handout activity to practice it.

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One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers.

Reading Journals

This is one of the best things we’ve implemented in programs where I’ve taught for three reasons:

1. It has helped students improve their reading and writing skills, and grammar, and vocabulary.
2. It adds NO EXTRA WORK for teachers.
3. It costs relatively little money.

As most teachers in the field already know, one of the best ways for students to improve their skills is to do more reading.  (See A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More a detailed example).  However, adding more reading assignments usually means more work for the teacher—in the form of worksheets or quizzes or  feedback in some way—because students need to be held accountable for actually doing the assignments.

Here is the Perfect Solution

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Tools for Describing Someone with Details: Inductive Writing Exercises (Low-Intermediate to Intermediate Level)

Person description

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

When written with enough details by students, a person description can be fascinating for teachers to read and can give them great insight into their students’ lives.

And, best of all, after they have learned some specific tools, students tend to have a lot of fun writing these.

Needless to say, when we talk about a person-description writing assignment, most people first think about physical appearance.  However, that is only one aspect of a person that students can include in their papers.  There are several other characteristics that they can describe, for example, habits, routines, plans, likes, and dislikes.

Teaching These Tools Inductively

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Common Teacher Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers.

I conducted a survey of 26 students to find out how they felt about getting red marks, which indicated grammar mistakes, on their writing assignments.  I was motivated to do this after some colleagues had told me students get upset or dejected when they see these, so they only marked a few mistakes, and one even changed to a different color, thinking that, like her, students associated red marks with something negative.

Three types of marks on students papers

When I give students feedback on their writing assignments, I want them to notice three things:

  1. Good writing points.  These are ideas, details, examples, expressions, sentence styles, grammar that they did well.  I underline these in GREEN to indicate good.  (See Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique  for more details.)
  2. Weak grammar points.  These are grammar mistakes or wordings that they should revise to improve their papers.  I try to indicate these in a way that seem like a puzzle that can be stimulating for students to discover. I use RED to indicate these.  (See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills  for more details.)
  3. Places to improve content.  These are places where students could improve their papers by adding details and/or including examples. I use BLUE to indicate these.    (See “Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays and The Huge Advantage International Student Writers Have Over Their American Classmates for more details.)

The survey question to students: If you could only have one type of mark on your papers, which one would you choose?

Color code survey

If those colleagues who thought students were upset by red marks (grammar mistakes) were right, then it would seem that the students would not choose that option, and in fact, probably prefer the Green (good parts) option.   Spoiler Alert: that didn’t happen.

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Most Important Motivator of Students: How You Can Use It

autonomy

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

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.

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

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