Category Archives: ESL Writing

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

Most Stimulating and Engaging but Often Over-Looked Essay Mode

Definition Essay Korean

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

A frequent type comment by teachers, “I always look forward to reading these essays.  They often give me new insights into my students and their cultures.”

A frequent type comment by students, “When I heard that we would write a complete essay about one word, I thought it would be impossible.  But after I chose a good word, I really enjoyed writing this.”

Another frequent type comment by students, “This was the most challenging essay for me, but in the end, it was the most rewarding.”

Many ESL Writing books and instructors overlook this essay mode because they don’t realize its secret potential.  It’s the Definition Essay.  The potential lies in the type of words that the students write about.

Traditional Definition essays can be very unstimulating for the students to write and for the teachers to read.  There are two major reasons for this:

(1) The category of topics from which to choose provides little opportunity for ESL students to feel truly invested in it.
(2) The students are given few specific or poorly designed techniques which they can use.

The Dynamic Definition Essay: Category of Topics and Specific Techniques

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Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique

success

          “I feel proud of myself when I see these.”

         “They are helpful because I feel that you are encouraging me and understand                 what I’m writing.”

These are two of the comments students wrote in response to my survey question: “On your essays, I underline in GREEN words, expressions, sentences, ideas, details and examples that were good.  Are these GREEN underlines helpful to you?”

Most Writing instructors like to give students positive feedback on their essays in addition to indications of where they have grammar mistakes or where they have content problems.  These positive comments often are in the form of a message at the end of the essay.  However, there are a few problems with giving feedback in this end-of-the-essay manner.

First, it takes time and extra mental energy to write these in a style that will be meaningful to students.

Second, they are usually too general to be of much use for students to apply to future writing assignments.

And third, it requires the teacher to write with clear handwriting, something that many of us don’t have a talent for.

In one program, on their essay rubrics, they now “include a section where students can earn points for successful language use rather than being strictly penalized for only misuses.”  This is admirable, but it (1) involves extra work and calculations for the teacher and (2) doesn’t specify exactly what the student did successfully in the essay.

The technique of using green underlines is very user-friendly time-wise and energy-wise for the teacher to use. 

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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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