Teaching Writing to ESL Beginners: A Tough Job
Teaching beginners to write in English can be a very difficult job. These students often struggle to put together a sentence, so teaching them to “write” can be quite overwhelming and many teachers instead find themselves just focusing on student’s grammar mistakes. This isn’t a terrible thing, but then it kind of becomes a grammar class instead of one focused on writing.
A Writing Activity for Low-Level Students
Take whatever topic you’re studying in the unit. For example, free time leisure activities Then, make a fill in the blank paragraph on the board or PowerPoint for the students to copy.
I live in ______. In _________, people like to __________, _____________, ______________, and _____________in their free time. Young people think ____________is __________because ______________.
First, I fill in the blanks using the city where my university is (and where I happen to live) and I get the students to help me. Then, I turn the students loose to do their own hometown, which takes about 5 minutes for something as simple as this. My hope it that the students can get the hang of making some interesting, grammatically correct sentences and still use some of their own creativity and thinking power.
For beginners, it really is about examples first and production second so help your students out by giving them something solid to grasp on to when they’re just starting out with writing. When you’re teaching writing to ESL beginners, they need a lot of examples. Give this to them!
The Worst Thing to Do with Beginner Students and Writing
If you have beginner students (freshman English in Korea?), don’t make this same mistake that many of my colleagues seem to do. They give a homework assignment that consists of something like, “write a movie review” or “a short essay about XYZ.” Then, they get back page after page of gibberish that was obviously cut and pasted from a translator program. Or, they get something perfect that was just cut and pasted from Wikipedia. For beginners, think short because students will be far less likely to take the easy way out.
It’s far better to give students an extremely specific question that they won’t be able to copy. For example, “What are 3 things our university administration could change to make it better?” or, “What are 3 things you have learned in this class?”
When you’re teaching writing to ESL beginners, think specific, instead of general.
My Favorite Beginner Writing Textbook
If you’re teaching an intensive writing class (and not just doing writing as part of a 4-skills class) and are looking for a beginner level ESL writing textbook, my #1 recommendation is Great Writing 1: Great Sentences for Great Paragraphs. It focuses on the sentence-paragraph level, which will be challenging enough for beginner English students.
Trust me, there are lots of books out there but none are better than this one if you want to focus specifically on writing. It has a nice blend of process and product approaches to teaching writing. Students learn how to do things like editing, use varied vocabulary, etc. They also study the finished product and have to replicate it for themselves. It’s each to teach from and your preparation time will hopefully be minimal! There are also some excellent homework suggestions. When you’re teaching writing to ESL beginners, this is the book you need.
You can check out this ESL writing textbook for yourself on Amazon: