Category Archives: *ESL Writing

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

Powerful Tool for ESL Writers: Giving Examples in Essays.

Cover Examples shot

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

A researcher asked people in a retirement home what they regret.  He found that older people regret not the things that they did, but rather the things they didn’t do, for example, never learning to salsa dance, never traveling the world or never learning to play a musical instrument.

That paragraph, from Brain Briefs by Markman and Duke, I think illustrates the importance of examples. Imagine what we’d wonder about had they not included three examples.

I have found a great improvement in the clarity of my students’ writing and in my enjoyment of reading their papers after they’ve practiced using examples and then applied that tool. I’ve often noticed that they seem liberated by this tool. If they are struggling with how to explain something, they can almost always come up with an example to do it.

In this post, I’ll include:

  • Samples of places in a paper where an example would be helpful.
  • Samples of how students at different writing-skill levels successfully used examples to explain everything from simple ideas to abstract ones.
  • Effective and simple ways for teachers to indicate to students where to include them in their papers and to encourage their use.
  • Exercises to help students develop this tool that you can use with your students.
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ESL Writing Workshop: Tremendous Benefits for Students and Teachers

Blog Workshop Cover Shot

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

In this YouTube video, I describe the Writing Workshop Approach to teaching ESL writing skills. This approach has been successfully used by a large number of teachers. Some of the many benefits include motivating students by giving them autonomy and allowing teachers to conference one-on-one with students during the class time rather than outside class.

Here is the link to the YouTube video:ESL Writing Workshop on YouTube

Here is a link to where you can read more about the steps in the workshop approach and find a specific model lesson plan with free downloadable exercises/activities.

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When Marking Only Half of a Student’s Essay Makes the Most Sense.

Editing student

I learned an important lesson from one of my Writing class students. I originally thought that AJ was a pretty good writer, but the grammar on her second essay was a disaster. In class the next day, I showed her paper to her with all the grammar mistakes coded and asked her if she was surprised by them. With a look of embarrassment on her face, she said she wasn’t surprised because she hadn’t taken enough time to edit her paper.

This story about AJ is connected to a common myth about marking grammar on students’ papers: Students will feel discouraged if they see that they have a lot of grammar mistakes. Contrary to this myth, when I’ve asked students, “Do you want me to mark every grammar mistake on your essay or only the most serious errors?” I have found everyone has responded, “I want you to mark them all.” 

(See Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers for more about my survey of students’ attitude.)

However, the idea of marking all the grammar mistakes can present a dilemma for us Writing teachers. Are we just enabling students like AJ by, in essence, becoming their personal editor when, in fact, they could have found the majority of those mistakes on their own had they taken the time to proofread the essay?

(See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills for more about marking students’ grammar mistakes more effectively.)

This is how my experience with AJ changed how I approach marking grammar on essays.

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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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