Thursday 9 October 2008

Teaching Writing to ESL and EFL Students

Updated 18 February 2012

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Basic Tips
  • Teach the writing process: (pre-writing, writing, editing, and proof-reading). Start with pre-writing, so that students can get their ideas down on paper. Graphic organisers, outlines, notes, brainstorming, and lists are some ways.
  • In class: Allow plenty of time for the students to practise.
  • Daily: Short writing assignments, such as diaries, free writing or poems don’t take up much time.
  • It's the little things: Pay attention to vocabulary, structure, spelling and punctuation.
  • Variety: Try to teach different things such as descriptive, persuasive, information, narrative, or creative writing. Things like writing an essay, letters, articles, description, reference letter, review, story, persuasive essay, guidebook entry, informative essay, email, job application, compare/contrast, notes, opinion, phone messages, or leaflets are also possible.
  • Involve your students: Make it personal and make sure there’s a real life reason for writing. Keep the age, level, and reason for learning English in mind.
  • Use comics. Erase the words, photocopy the blank comics and have students fill them in.
  • Read: Don’t forget to have students read, it'll help them with their writing.
  • Organise your lessons. Make a binder with worksheets and students’ work.
  • Portfolios: Have the students create a writing portfolio.
  • Music: Try playing music while students are writing.
  • Make a question rule: Tell your students that before asking you for help first they have to ask two other students to help them.
  • Organise the classroom: Dictionaries, thesauruses, grammar books, and other reference books are great for writing.
  • Go online: Tell students about online resources such as Purdue's OWL. Some good websites for teaching writing are Outta Ray's Head Writing Lessons, Scholastic, and Teaching Ideas.You can also find good lesson plans online.
  • Examples: Look at good and bad examples so that they know the difference and can see what they should and shouldn’t do.
  • Feedback: Don’t forget to give feedback in the form of a class discussion, group correction, a meeting with the student, or written feedback.

Ways to Correct Writing
Many teachers dread correcting writing. It takes a long time, students don't really look at your corrections, and worst of all you're not getting paid for the extra time. Try drawing their attention to their mistakes and have them fix them. This saves you time and students will learn more.
  • Focus on one area: Only correct one part: organisation, register/style, grammar, vocabulary, spelling/punctuation, etc.
  • Use rubrics. They make grading much easier and help students know what they did well and what they need to improve.
  • Use correction codes: For example "gr" means grammar, sp means spelling. Have the students correct their mistakes.
  • Don't correct anything: Instead make general comments at the end. Tell them what their strengths and weaknesses are.
  • Highlight mistakes: Then have the students correct them.

General Test Taking Tips
  • Read and follow instructions. It only takes a minute or two and can save you a lot of time.
  • Forget cramming. It wouldn't work. If you don't know the information a couple of days before the test, you simply don't know it. You should study a little every day. Don't try to learn everything the night before.
  • Eat breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day and is necessary to help you think.
  • Bring your materials. Have your pencils, erasers, watch, and ID ready the night before.
  • Go early. Make sure you leave your house ahead of time so that you get to the class a few minutes before the test begins.
  • Pace yourself. Don't work too slowly or too quickly. If you finish early go back and check your answers.
  • Check your answers. Make sure you haven't made any simple mistakes.
  • Don't panic. It's just a test. The worst you can do is fail.

Specific Test Taking Tips for Writing
  • Keep to the word limit: Let your students know that they shouldn't waste their time counting every single word. They should count how many words are on one line then multiple it by the number of lines they've written.
  • Answer all the questions: There are usually a few questions that need to be answered in each writing task. Make sure you answer all of them and allocate enough words for each section.
  • Make an outline: Time is limited for writing exams, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't take the time to plan. Creating a basic plan or outline is necessary for you to organise your ideas.
  • Write legibly: Your handwriting doesn't have to be perfect but the teacher needs to be able to read it.
  • Proof-read and edit: You should always re-read what you have written and fix the mistakes. If there are no mistakes see if you can make some simple changes to make your paper better.



  1. Is it still possible to get into the free online trial course? 'Cause I have tried it and was redirected to a page of clixGalore, which apparently has more to do with marketing and not TEFL or anything that has to do with languages or teaching them. Would be nice to know if this course is still accessible...

  2. If you're clicking on the advert at the bottom of the post, keep in mind that it's an advert.


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