It’s no secret that writing isn’t high on the list of favourite exercises for any ESL student. In a world where written communication is limited to 140 characters it’s hard to blame the youngest learners for dreading any longer forms of text. While older learners don’t suffer from this generational disadvantage they often shy away from writing exercises as it predominantly exposes the many mistakes they tend to make, which is always a hard blow to the ego.
Whatever the reason, writing seems to be at the bottom of every student’s desirable skills to practice. This makes it especially hard for the teacher to motivate their pupils when the time comes to pick up the pen.
Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of activities that make practicing writing skills a lot easier (and hopefully more fun).
Level: A2 and above
This is a super easy game which provides endless fun for the learners (especially teenagers).
1. Provide each student in the class with a blank A4 piece of paper.
2. Instruct the class to start a story by writing one sentence on the top of the page. It can start with: Once upon a time… but it doesn’t have to. Only 1 sentence.
3. Next, tell them to pass this page to the next person sitting closest to them. Everyone should have someone else’s story in front of them.
4. Instruct them to read it and add another sentence. Only one!
5. When everyone’s finished writing, instruct them to pass this paper to the same person as the last time.
6. This continues until all the students have written in all the stories and the papers returned to their original owners.
7. Students read all the stories out loud and vote for the best one.
Level: A2 and higher
If you’re lucky enough to work with teenagers this is an exercise for you. There is one, age old, secret activity all teenagers will do at some point in their educational career – sending secret notes to their classmates. I’ve done it. My parents have done it. And so did you. So here’s a writing activity inspired by something that students already enjoy.
1. Tell your students to rip a 3 blank pages from their notebooks and decide on 3 classmates they’d like to address.
2. Next, ask them to write a personal message to each of the 3 classmates, each message on a separate piece of paper.
3. Fold it, write the recipient’s name and send it away.
With 3 different recipients, statistically, each student will engage in a minimum of 9 different conversations. That’s a lot of writing!
What’s left for you to do is to sit comfortably on your teacher’s chair and enjoy the 25 min break 😉
Note: it’s possible that they’ll quickly get so engaged in the conversations that they’ll start gossiping or even forget that this is still an esl task. To make it more official you may distribute empty envelopes at the beginning of the lesson. Receiving an envelope with their name (as opposed to crumpled piece of paper) will act as a visual reminder.
Level: A2 and higher
Here’s a creative exercise that always gets a lot of laughter. Students, engaging their wildest imagination, will create a character profile of a girl named Georgina.
There are two ways of doing this exercise:
Variation 1: Individual Effort
1. Draw a stickwoman on the board (a stickwoman normally has long hair).
Say that her name is Georgina (or any other female name).
2. Ask students, one at a time, to come to the board and add 1 element to Georgina’s appearance.
It can be glasses, a dog on a leash, clown shoes, a top hat, crooked teeth, forest around her. The more unique the elements the better.
3. When the whole class had a go and our Georgina becomes a very complex character, ask students to write her character profile. Basically a short bio about Georgina and her life.
4. At the end compare the bios to see who wrote the best one.
Variation 2: Class Effort
Instead of writing individually, the whole class writes the same profile at the same time.
1. Start by drawing the stickwoman Georgina on the board.
2. Ask the first student to add 1 element to her appearance, say a pair of glasses.
3. The student then explains to the rest of the class that Georgina wears glasses because she is a scientist (or a teacher, or reads too much).
4. Everybody adds that information (in the form of a sentence) to their Georgina profile.
5. The next student comes and adds another element that will usually link to the previous one.
For example, Georgina wears glasses because she’s a scientist so now she also holds a glass flask with some radioactive liquid inside because she’s a crazy chemist. Everybody writes that down.
This way the whole class is engaged in making Georgina as bizarre a character as their imagination allows.
Level: A2 and higher
They say that the most engaging tasks are 40% challenging, 40% within one’s skills and 20% creative. Perhaps this is why so many students enjoy participating in this activity. Do this one with your pupils and watch their creative juices overflowing.
1. Put your pupils into small groups of 2-4 students.
2. Show them the sequence of pictures on the screen.
3. Each group needs to create a logical story that connects all the pictures.
4. After they are finished, have the groups read their stories out loud and pick the best one.
To make things easier for you we’ve prepared ready-to-use PDFs with 3 picture sequences each:
Level: B1 and higher
Straight off the bat I must confess that popularity of this exercise is not ideal. However, it is so powerful for learning a language that I have no regrets including it on this list.
1. Put your students into pairs or small groups of 3.
2. Display a 3-5 sentence paragraph on the board or provide them the paragraphs on paper whether it’s a book or a printout.
3. Instruct the groups to rewrite this text so that it has the same meaning but as many words as possible are changed. Basically, it’s a game of synonyms, where all the words must be replaced with their close synonyms.
Peter put on his coat and walked out of the house.
Peter donned the jacket that belonged to him and left his home.
4. At the end, the groups compare their work and the one with the best paragraph gets the praise.
Level: B1 and above
This one is perfect for reviewing vocabulary.
1. Give every student one A4 sheet.
2. Instruct them to fill it completely with vocabulary. Minimum 25 words. It’s important that the words are scattered around the page in random places and not as a list. They should be medium sized, spaced and randomly distributed around the page.
3. When they are finished, tell your students to write START in the left upper corner and FINISH in the right bottom corner, so that the two words are diagonally opposite.
4. Ask them to make a sequence (or chain) of 10 words, starting at the START, and connecting the words together until they reach FINISH.
5. Finally, instruct the students to write a creative story that uses these words, one after another, just as they are in the sequence.
An example the chain could be:
The story then will use ‘apple’, next, in the next sentence ‘house’, then ‘duty’ and so on. It needs to make logical sense but encourage students to make their stories funny if they want to.
6. In the end, students will share their stories by first reading the sequence of words, and then the full story.
Level: B1 and higher
This exercise was inspired by the morning pages daily challenge introduced by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. It’s safe to assume that most of your students might be reluctant to do this task, as it involves a lot of writing, however, encouraging them to do it systematically is likely to award them with a big learning payoff.
1. Ask your students to open their notebooks. (if this exercise catches on, they might want to invest in a separate notebook just for the Morning Pages).
2. Instruct each student that you’re giving them 5 minutes to fill the whole page with random (!) thoughts. Literally, anything that comes to their heads should be written down, this also includes complaining about how much they hate this task.
3. After 5 minutes collect the papers and move on with your lesson (this task is only to develop habits of writing one’s thoughts down).
This exercise helps students fight against the writer’s block – staring at a blank page, not knowing what to write. By writing anything that comes to their head, students develop a habit of ceasing to judge their creation before it’s even created. Later, this will tremendously improve their skills for writing exams or essays.
Level: B1 and higher
Your students will find this activity a great fun as it’s something familiar and enjoyable they do in their lives anyway. Plus, the first time you’ll introduce it in the classroom, they’ll likely to freak out as Facebook is supposed to be banned from English lessons (Teacher, are you crazy?!).
To do this one well you’ll need to prepare some materials beforehand, mainly popular articles, movie posters and Breaking News headlines.
Find our free PowerPoint we’ve created for this activity at the end of this section.
1. Put your students into groups of max 4 people.
2. Display the relevant content on the screen (PowerPoint, movie poster, article headline etc.)
3. Instruct your students to create a Facebook post about it.
4. FInally, the groups compare their creations.
At the end of the activity, you and your students can vote on the best posts and have each student post a different one on their Facebook wall. This could turn into a fun discussion about who should share which post.
The next lesson you can compare how many likes each post received and the one with the most will win a price or be excused from homework.
Level: B1 and higher
Asian ebay is called LAZADA so you may want to use that name instead.
The activity is super simple and can prove very exciting for your students.
1. Put your students into small groups of 2-3 people.
2. Instruct each group to pick a unique item, be it a pencil case, a souvenir or some gadget.
Note: you can plant the idea of this exercise on a previous lesson and ask your students to bring some interesting items from home.
3. Each group creates an interesting description for their item, one that will make others want to buy it.
The descriptions should include:
Items specifications (dimensions, weight, colour, age, etc.)
Reason for selling it
Why is it worth buying
4. When the groups are finished, organise a live auction, where individual students can bid on the items.
Note: to prevent the auction from going off the rails make sure that each student has a limited amount of money. You can create fake $100 notes and distribute equal amount to everybody or use a deck of cards as currency.
The Auction procedure:
1. Display one item for everyone to see.
2. Its owners read the description.
3. Initiate bidding at the lowest reasonable price.
4. Students in the audience raise hands and suggest their prices.
5. If no one is willing to outbid, count to 3 and then bang a hammer on the desk yelling: Sold!
6. The winner of this item comes and collects it while paying the appropriate amount.
At the end, when most students own items and the rest still has some fake money, you could transition to a different exercise we call: English Car Boot Sale (link)
Level: B2 and higher
This is one of the exercises that either catches on as a class favourite or completely belly flops after the first try. Either way, the only way to find out is to introduce it during one of the lessons and see what happens.
This could be done either individually or in pairs. Some students may enjoy writing poetry as a collaborative group project, however, that has never happened to me…yet.
1. First, show them a few sample poems, as many of the (especially young) students may have never seen a poem before.
A.A. Milne – Wind On The Hill http://bit.ly/2KByJTu
Robert Frost – The Rose Family http://bit.ly/2KFubvt
Sarah – Someday http://bit.ly/2XEYeXU
John Ciardi – About the Teeth of Sharks http://bit.ly/2I4wHcR
Anais Nin – Risk http://bit.ly/2wNY2JO
Joyce Kilmer – Trees http://bit.ly/2KGJlR9
Robert Frost – Fire and Ice http://bit.ly/2K8jXUV
2. Once they more or less understand what a poem looks like, give them a topic. It can be anything: happiness, family, Earth, future, hunger, a pair of warm socks…
3. Write the topic on the board and ask students to do the same at the top of an empty notebook page. I.e. Happiness
4. Next, ask them to complete the sentence: Happiness is like…
5. Wait for the students to finish this sentence on their own, then pick one volunteer to write their ending on the board: Happiness is like a warm summer day.
6. Ask the whole class to brainstorm at least 3 words that rhyme with the last one:
DAY – away, grey, screenplay.
7. Students do the same for their sentences.
8. Finally, ask a volunteer to write a second sentence on the board which ends with one of the rhymes.
Happiness is like a warm summer day,
A magic shield that keeps life’s worries away,
9. Once they understand the gist of writing poetry, allow them time to work on their own pieces.
10. At the end of the lesson organise a Poetry Recital where volunteers share their creations.
Note: if your students struggle finding rhymes for some of their words direct them to this website: https://www.rhymezone.com/ (Rhyme Zone).