Children in ESL classes are notoriously shy about writing in general. It is really critical for their language development that they receive early and constant exposure to writing opportunities.
Here are three ways to inspire young learners to pick up the pen and express themselves.
Try These 3 Great Ways to Inspire Young Learners to Write
Free Flow and Creativity
Perhaps one of the reasons children can be reluctant to write creatively is they are insecure about their spelling, grammatical or structural skills. It is a good idea to remove these anxieties by supplying ample opportunities for creative processing that doesn’t pick apart structure and syntax. The focus should be on the expression. For some children, devising a complete sentence may be really intimidating. There are several ways you can navigate around their fears, and provide creative options. First off just try thinking about writing in a different way. Give them an opportunity to string words together in poetic ways that don’t necessarily rely on punctuation or traditional meanings. Supply them with some jumping off points, like some familiar vocabulary that they need to include in their writing. Choose different types of words, and provide an explanation or discussion of those words after the writing. An example could be: write six lines and include these three words in your poem: Mother, happy, blue. They could then share their writing with a partner or simply turn it into you.
Free flow writing is another way to accomplish a similar writing exercise and could be a bit longer. This is almost like journal writing, and can be done to varying degrees with many different levels and ages. You can devise it however you would like as long as the end product of writing is not judged on grammar, punctuation or spelling. You can give students a topic and tell them to write for five or ten minutes. Be sure to tell the students not to get hung up on the writing itself, but just to write whatever comes to mind.
Example topics could be things like:
- Tell about your day today;
- describe your last birthday;
- what will you bring to class for show and tell.
The topics can be as low level or as advanced as the students’ abilities and you can connect them to the lesson’s theme for relevance or use them to review past topics or lessons. Obviously you want to choose topics that the students would enjoy writing about (see our Creative Writing Prompts Parts 1-5!), have some knowledge base, and have some language to express themselves. Follow-up activities to free flow writing could be numerous. You could have students read each other’s compositions and use it as an opportunity for peer correction. You could also have the students read what they wrote and have their classmates ask them questions about what they wrote. A third option would be to collect the writing and go over it individually with the students. You want to make sure that free flow writing is just that, and that students don’t feel inhibited by what their writing may be lacking. The focus is on creativity. There are lots of other options to focus on grammar, punctuation, and syntax.
Illustrate Writing and Share
Combining drawing with writing is a wonderful way to engage students, especially really young learners. There are numerous ways to do this to facilitate a feeling of freedom and to allow students to express themselves in two modalities. One possibility would be to have the students do something like a scaled down graphic novel. Depending on the country you are teaching in, these may be hugely popular. Tell students to choose a hero and a villain (great vocab lesson), and then write one scene or frame of a story. Once they have a few frames written, they can accompany that with as simple or as involved drawings as you would like them to get into. They can then share their creations with one another, and you can easily make this an ongoing project making sure that the language objectives are clearly defined. Another way to incorporate illustrations is to have each student draw a picture. You could give them a topic or leave it wide open. Give them a time limit, and collect all of the pictures when they are done. Then redistribute the pictures making sure that no one gets their own. You can then have students write on any number of topics. They could describe the picture that they see or create a story around it. The purpose is again to be creative and to make writing a pleasurable activity that students want to engage in.
Create a Story as a Group (storyboard)
Often in higher levels, an inventive writing activity is organizing a collaborative effort among students to write a story. You can adapt this for younger audiences by also including drawings. This could be an entire week long lesson where each day students engage in a different part of the writing or drawing piece. It is also a wonderful way to remind them of all that they have been learning regarding writing, structure, and syntax. Start by introducing the concept of writing and illustrating a story together. Review the elements of a story and brainstorm with the class all the things the story will need to be complete (characters, setting, plot, conflict, etc.). Then it will come time to determine what the story topic is going to be. Decide ahead of time how you will present this—by dictating it, brainstorming about it, or choosing randomly out of a hat. Then put students into groups. This is up to the teacher’s preference. Assign the students their daily task per group and be sure to give them deadlines. The students among different groups will have to work together so that the story has some flow. Sometimes doing the illustrating or storyboarding first will provide the students with a guide to follow when they write. Think it through and determine what will work best for your particular group. The end product could be copied and bound so that all students have a book that they wrote.
Writing is not just about structure and practical elements.
It is also about self-expression and creativity. Opening students up to the world of the written word doesn’t have to be painful or frustrating. With a little creativity and spirit, even your youngest learners will pick up the pen and surprise you!
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