Writing is a really important skill and it’s a great way for students to improve their meaning focused output when they do not have a chance to talk. Since I’ve been in Japan, one thing I’ve noticed is that there is less focus on writing in all subjects, not just language study. There is far less creative writing, formal writing and making speeches in Japanese. My impression is that part of the reason for the difference is assessment is that writing is harder and less accurate to mark, as there isn’t a set answer. It is also time consuming to mark. (If you really want to, you can take it back to Confucius’ influence, but we won’t go there right now…)
Here are some tips to add variation to your writing tasks that will make it more interesting for the students, improve their writing and make marking easier.
All of this then comes together for overall improvement. Here I’d like to introduce a few tips for getting the most out of writing tasks.
1. Make recently studied grammar a requirement
Tell students that they need to include at least three of the recently studied grammar targets. You can mark this easily by making a framework, such as giving a point for each grammar structure used correctly and a half point for an attempt. The real benefit of this is that it creates a need for students to improve their writing through actively using their newly acquired grammar, rather than passively answering grammar questions.
Extra idea: Do the same with connecters, such as however, also, and then etc etc.
2. Encourage creativity with story starters or themes
Tapping into your students’ creativity can make them more motivated. It more interesting than the standard ‘What did you do in the weekend’ and will make marking less tiresome. One way to do this is to start the story for them or give them a theme.
Story starter examples:
- My weekend was uneventful. I didn’t do much until something really unexpected happened.
- One of my best friends is a great person, but is also a little strange.
- Conversation between two people. One likes the other person romantically, but the feeling is not mutual.
- A dialogue between three people who have some kind of problem.
- A person talking about a problem and another giving advice.
- A horror story.
- A day in your ideal life.
3. Pair marking activities
Students do some writing and then fix each other mistakes. Instead of marking the original writing, you are marking how many mistakes the other person can identify. You can even add a competitive element, by making the pairs compete to see who can correctly identify the most mistakes. This way, you just have to check that the students have corrected their partners mistakes correctly. This involves a certain amount of scaffolding, and also helps learn raise awareness of their own mistakes.
4. Group writing
Everyone writes for a minute, then passes their paper onto the next person who will fix one mistake, and then continue the story for a minute. Keep passing the papers around until they get back to their original writers.
5. Email and reply
Students write a letter of complaint to a restaurant or hotel or about an item bought online. They then swap papers and write a reply to their partner’s email. You can keep this going back and forth over several lessons with the original partners, or you can get them to swap papers with other partners, so they must read the original email exchange and then follow up by taking on the roles.
6. Speed writing
Students write for two minutes about a topic, such as the weekend or anything. This time, you don’t mark the grammar, but instead mark the number or words written. Get them to note how many words they wrote and then see if they can increase their number of words written over several classes. You can also add in a second theme of marking each other work, and see if they can increase the number of mistakes they find in their partner’s work.
You can also focus on words in a specific theme with this activity.
7. Structured essays
Introduce the idea of the five paragraph essay. Students write an introduction that includes the the essay’s theme, and outline their three main points. Next they write a paragraph on each of their three points, and lastly they sum up their points in the conclusion. Here’s a quick example of an opening paragraph.
I believe that writing is a crucial part of ESL education. Firstly, it allows students to improve their output even when they don’t have a partner to practice with. Secondly, it gives students the opportunity to use English in their every lives, such as social media or blogs. Thirdly, it gives a gives students a an outlet for the new vocabulary and grammar they have learnt, rather than just learning for the test.
8. Set different goals for writing and mark accordingly.
Sometimes focus on spelling, commas etc, but mix up what you’re checking. You can ignore the things you are not checking for. Mixing up the focus means that students can focus on different areas of their writing, such as:
– use of new language
– content and interest (the story made me laugh or I learnt something new)
– number of words written
This will help them to improve certain aspects of their writing, which will help their overall writing to get better.
Do you have any more tips for helping to improve writing activities in class? What do you think of these ideas? Leave a comment below and share the article if you found it useful. Also, check out our book of Teaching activities for additional ideas to use in the classroom, or if you just want to support us.