Getting to the Point: 6 Short Writing Activities for Beginning ESL Students

Getting to the Point
6 Short Writing Activities for Beginning ESL Students

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 197,370 views

When you are teaching beginning ESL, English literacy, or any low level English courses, you may find your students are not quite ready for standard writing class assignments.

It makes sense. Students who are near the start of their English studies are not going to have the tools to write a five paragraph essay or take an essay exam. But completely eliminating writing assignments for beginning students doesn’t help them in the long run. For these students, short writing assignments are best. When they can write a few sentences that serve a practical purpose, they will see the progress they have made in English as well as the practical applications of that knowledge. When you have a class of beginners and are looking for some interesting short writing assignments for your students, here are some ideas.

Try These 6 Short Writing Activities with Your Beginning ESL Students

  1. 1

    The Simple Paragraph

    One of the first writing assignments any student receives is writing a composed paragraph. Just about any topic you are teaching in class can be the subject of a paragraph. When you break the paragraph into smaller elements, your students will see that four to six sentences do not have to be overwhelming. The first element of a paragraph is the topic sentence. This sentence gives the reader the main point of the paragraph. The last sentence of a paragraph, when it stands alone, is a concluding sentence. It gives some final thoughts about the topic. In between are two to four sentences that expand the idea, give examples, or argue a point. For example, a simple paragraph about fall might look like this. Note the use of color words and fall vocabulary.

    Fall is a beautiful season. (introductory sentence) Green leaves change to red, orange and yellow. People use brightly colored pumpkins and gourds as decorations. The sky is blue, and the wind is soft. (supporting sentences) I enjoy fall in the U.S. (concluding sentence)

  2. 2


    For so many students, studying English means travelling overseas. For these students, every day is a chance to experience something new. They can share their experiences with others with a simple postcard written in English. Postcards follow a standard format that can give your students practice with the simple past or present progressive tenses. They are also a great way to apply vocabulary about vacation or geography. Standard postcards have five simple parts.

    1. The greeting
    2. A sentence about where you are
    3. One or two sentences about what you are doing or have done
    4. A closing
    5. A signature

    When students follow this formula, their postcard will look like the following.

    Dear _____,
    I am in _________. We are having a great time. Yesterday we __________. Monday we ___________. Wish you were here.
    Love, _________

  3. 3


    Today we live in a world filled with technology, and no technology is more popular than email. In the past, people wrote letters to each other, but email has almost entirely replaced written correspondence. What makes emails easier to write than letters and therefore less intimidating for ESL students? They are shorter and more informal than writing personal letters. If your students have email addresses either through the school or personal ones, have them write you a short email for homework or to ask questions before the next test. You can also email your students a simple question and have them answer it as part of their homework. The topic doesn’t have to be special or complicated. Just getting a few sentences on the screen will be enough for many beginning students.

  4. 4


    Many students study English to further their business careers, but not all business English students have advanced language skills. To keep their writing practical but still keep its goals attainable, have your students write a memo. Memos follow a certain format; they must include lines for to, from, date and subject. Memo bodies are often very short; even two or three sentences is enough for a memo. Review the standard memo format with your students, and if you like show them how to use a template via their word processing program. Then have students write a memo announcing a team meeting, alerting their coworkers of an audit, describing a new product or any other subject that could be related to thier business. When your students have completed this assignment, they will find that even beginning language studies can have practical applications in the workplace.

  5. 5

    Personal Ad

    Whether your students are interested in the dating game or not, a personal ad is a simple and practical way to practice writing in English. Show your students some personal ads either from the paper or on a website like Craig’s List. Have them notice what type of information these ads contain. Then have your students write an ad of their own. Using the simple present, your students should be able to communicate enough information about themselves to attract the right person. They might include a sentence about how they look, a sentence on what they like to do, and a sentence on what they want in a match. If your students are up to it, have them submit their personal ad for publication or just post them in your classroom and have the class try to match each ad to a classmate.

  6. 6

    A Thank You Note

    Hand written notes are few and far between in today’s culture, but almost everyone appreciates receiving one. And if we think for just a few minutes, most of us can name something and someone we are thankful for. Your beginning students should be able to write a simple thank you note, and you can teach them this pattern to do it. It only takes familiarity with the simple present and the simple future to write this type of note.

    Dear _______,
    Thank you for the __________. Insert a sentence saying what you like about it. Insert a saying how you will use it. I appreciate your thoughtfulness (or generosity).

Whether your students are nearly fluent in English or they are just beginning their English studies, they want to see that what they are learning has practical applications.

These simple writing assignments might be just enough to challenge your beginning level students and at the same time prevent them from becoming overwhelmed. An added bonus is they are also practical and have real life applications. If you use them, you may see your students’ confidence increase and their motivation to learn English continue to be strong.

What writing assignments do you assign your beginning students?

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