Sunday, April 21, 2013

ESL Writing Classes That Are Fun and Educational

Mark Twain
Mark Twain
by Aaron Whirl

Perhaps the biggest difficulty of ESL writing classes is the monotonous nature of writing and students' natural aversion to putting pen to paper and producing essays.

Writing is an art form, yet it is often treated as a punishment in classroom settings. Imagine if teachers required students to draw or paint as punishment for talking in class. Sounds ridiculous, right?

If writing is viewed as an art, then it is no more absurd to use writing as a form of punishment, as many teachers have done when assigning students, for example, one hundred sentences for behaving badly in class.

This is the surest way to turn students off of writing, perhaps for a lifetime. This is one of those cases where the best solution is simply to remove a negative rather than adding a positive.

By treating writing as an art form and ceasing to use it as a form of punishment, students may be much more likely to find themselves interested in putting pen to paper and churning out creative and interesting essays.

OK, but how can you make writing actually enjoyable for students? One way is with writing games or activities.

For example, you can give students the first few sentences of a story, then have each of them write a few sentences to continue the story, after which they pass their papers clockwise and continue writing their peers' stories, until all of the stories have been completed.

Although these stories inevitably become nonsensical and quite silly, it is a writing-intensive activity that the students can actually have fun with.

Once each student's paper has travelled all the way around the class, you can have them rewrite their stories, correcting any grammar mistakes that they find.

Another way to make writing more enjoyable is to have students keep a journal, and devote 10 or 15 minutes of each class to simply writing whatever they want to write about. As a teacher, you may not even need to read these or grade them; they could be the students' own private journals.

The fact that they are writing freely, without the burden of grades and deadlines, may help them learn to enjoy the writing process.

In addition, it may be a good idea to assign students a long-term writing assignment. They can start by creating a character, and you can give them a theme to write about (a homestay, or a trip to a new planet, for example).

Students can continue writing their story either every class or every week, and the teacher can provide guidelines each time regarding what they should write about (for example: "Today, I want you to write about something unexpected that happens." Or "Today, I want you to describe something that you saw which made you sad.")

Finally, a love of writing comes from a love of reading. Introducing students to wonderful English writers can open their minds and inspire them to write.

Bring in Mark Twain essays, short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, or any piece of writing from any talented writer. This will help get their creative juices flowing and teach them that writing can be much more than a tedious classroom subject.

Why not bring some fun ESL writing activities or creative ESL writing worksheets to your next class? Your class will be more enjoyable, and your students will be better writers because of it!

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