Writing centers are a great addition to any ESL classroom.
They give students some control over their own learning, increase student motivation, and give you a chance to work one on one with individuals as the rest of your class uses the centers. Here are ten learning centers you can easily set up for your writing class that will challenge your students and allow them to have fun as well.
Use Writing Centers for Teaching Effectively
Whole Class Ongoing Story
Give your students a chance to share their creativity with each other in an ongoing story. All you need is a notebook and some imagination. Start a story yourself or write a story starter on the first page of the notebook. Students who use this center should read what other students have written and then continue the same story in the notebook. Students should not finish the story at any time. As the year progresses, the story will become longer and longer and more and more complicated. Your students will have fun trying to top each other’s imaginations in page after page, and you will all enjoy hearing the saga at the end of the year.
Write a Postcard
Writing a postcard is a short and simple writing exercise almost any ESL student can do on his own. For your center, provide students with blank card stock and crayons or blank postcards. Also display a completed postcard as a model for them to follow. Students using the center will choose a blank postcard or draw their own and then write a note to someone they love. They should also address the postcard appropriately. If you like, encourage your students to mail the postcards to friends and family after writing them.
A mail center is a great writing center for younger English learners. After you have taught your students the basics of writing a letter, give them the supplies they will need to keep in touch with their classmates. Provide paper, envelopes, cards, and mailboxes (shoeboxes make great mailboxes, and you allow students to decorate them as well) for each student in your class. Invite your students to write notes to each other and then address the envelopes and put them in a classroom postal box. If you give your students daily jobs, you might even want to have a student play mail carrier each day and deliver the letters to the classroom mailboxes.
Don’t underestimate the value of writing prompts at a learning center. Students who are planning academic futures in English speaking schools will benefit from essay writing practice. For the center, provide several writing prompts. Simply give students a list, or present the prompts in a creative way. Write them on index cards, Popsicle sticks, or any seasonal cutout. You can limit your prompts to nonfiction essay questions or include creative writing questions as well. (If you are looking for some great writing prompts, we have lots of resources here on Busy Teacher.) Also include a timer at your station. During free learning periods, students can time themselves as they write from a prompt chosen at random.
Creative writing and creative thinking are of great value in the language classroom. You can encourage both in your students with a story cube learning center. This learning center requires nothing more than a set of dice and a great imagination. (You can purchase story cubes like Rory’s Story Cubes or make your own. Simply take nine blank dice and use stickers or your artistic abilities to draw thirty-six different objects on the cubes.) Students roll all nine dice and then must write a story that includes each of the nine objects they rolled. Students will have to get creative when they roll a set including, for example, a decorative fountain, an ant and an ax.
Classmate Advice Column
Learning English isn’t easy, and neither is studying in a foreign country. If you have students in your class from different parts of the world or who have been in the U.S. for different lengths of time, they probably have great advice to offer their classmates. Give them a chance to share it with this advice giving learning center. In classic Dear Abby style, have students write letters which explain a difficult situation they are facing or which ask for advice about a particular problem. Students should sign their letter with a pen name (such as Struggling Student, Frustrated Classmate, etc.) Once an advice asking letter is written, the writer should punch holes in it and place it in a three ring binder. You might want students to write these letters on a piece of colored paper so they are easy to locate. Students who have good advice to share can then answer the letter at the learning center. These students read the letters their classmates have written, and choose one or more to answer. Then they write a reply to the letter that gives advice for the troublesome situation. After their advice letter is complete, students punch holes in it and place it in the binder after the advice asking letter. Multiple students can answer the same letters, and they should all place them after the original letter in the notebook. Students can check back at the writing center to see if their classmates have answered their letters or have any good advice for them.
If you have students who like to work with their hands, they might enjoy this double duty instruction writing and reading comprehension exercise. At your center place a general assortment of Lego style building blocks. Students will use these blocks to build an object – either realistic or abstract. As they build, they should write out a set of instructions that tell a reader how to build an identical creation. When the object and its instructions are complete, take a picture of the creation, print it, and place it in an envelope that is taped to the back of the instructions. Students then place their instructions in a binder which stays at the center. Students who want a reading comprehension challenge then select a set of instructions and follow the directions, building the same object his classmate built. Once it is complete, he removes the photo from the envelope and checks his work.
Have your students write a creative short story using a random picture as inspiration. Display a handful of pictures at your learning center. They can be pictures of anything or anyone. Students at the center start by making observations about the picture. They should make notes about what they see and what it makes them think of. Then, using their notes and the picture for inspiration, students should write a short story (you may want to designate length based on the level of your students) that goes along with the picture. If you like, have students keep their stories in a folder under each of the pictures and encourage other students to read them.
The classic game 21 Questions is great for use in the ESL classroom. This writing center takes its inspiration from that game. Students should choose an object and write 21 clues about that object. Their goal is to describe their object so that a classmate can guess what it is. Once their clues are complete, students write the object on the back of their paper. Keep a collection of the 21 lists at the center for your students to attempt or to use for inspiration as they write their own clues.
The Scene of the Crime
If you have space in your classroom, set up a fake crime scene at this learning center. Challenge your students to use the clues they see to solve a crime. They should write a police report that tells what happened at the fictional crime scene. You should keep a supply of blank police reports at the center for your students to use. You might want to include sections on the report for perpetrator, victim, crime, and recommended punishment.
Do you have any favorite learning centers for writing class?
What are they?