Do you have pen and paper on you?
More likely, you have a smart phone, tablet, or computer in easier reach. That’s because writing for the average person isn’t what it used to be. Pen and paper used to be the standard, but times have changed. Most people don’t write letters by hand or even keep diaries like they did decades ago. If you don’t believe me, think about this. Many public schools are dropping cursive writing from the curriculum in favor of typing classes. Times have changed. And while change is often challenging (most of us resist any kind of change) it can also be inspiring. Your ESL students can thrive in today’s world of writing even without a pen and paper handy. Here are some out of the ordinary ways you can give your students writing practice that will actually serve them well in their futures.
3 Out of the Box Ways to Get Students Writing Better
Keep a Classroom Blog
It doesn’t take much to call yourself a blogger. Anyone can set up a blog about anything they want. There are plenty of free sites to set up your blog including BlogSpot and edublogs. But when you mention blogging from the front of your classroom, your ESL students may balk. “I can’t write a blog! I don’t have anything to say!” The idea of keeping an individual blog is probably overwhelming to most of your students and rightly so. But what about a class blog? What if you and your students worked together to create something you can all share with the world? Not to mention giving your students some great writing practice in the process. Here’s how it works.
Set up a classroom blog on your website, your school’s website, or at a free blogging site. You will write the initial post explaining that this blog is about and by your ESL students where all of you will share your experiences and thoughts. Then introduce your students to the blog. Let them read your post and talk about how all of you will work together to develop a blog throughout the semester. Start by brainstorming with your class things students might write about: what it’s like learning English in a foreign country, the struggles with culture, what they miss most about their home cultures, what they think English speakers should know about their home countries, the differences between life here and life at home…the possibilities are endless. Encourage your students to think of topics related to language learning and culture as well as topics that simply interest them. Then assign topics to individuals or pairs of students. Set a word goal of 500 to 800 for each post. Then let students write. Preview their posts and offer feedback before giving students the go ahead to publish on the blog.
By the end of the year, you will have an interesting blog that your students have created together. You might also find that you have a few followers out in the wide, wide world as well.
Write and Produce a Short Film
I’m sure you have used YouTube in your classroom for listening comprehension activities, but have you ever thought to tap into YouTube for writing practice? Anyone can publish anything on YouTube. And it’s free, two of the great draws to the popular website. You can use YouTube to inspire and improve your students’ writing by challenging them to write a script and then produce a movie for YouTube. Start by giving your students some direction as to what you want them to write. They might write a how to script if you are studying the imperative form in English. Or you might have them write a short film based on a recent reading assignment. Or you might want to give them free reign when it comes to the topic of their film. Then put students in groups of three to four or whatever works best for the type of film they will be creating.
Have students work together to write a script and then give it to you for review. Once you give it the okay, let students film their movie either during class or for homework. They won’t need any special equipment to make their movie – most people have or can download the necessary video editing app on their phones. Then have students post their videos to YouTube. Set aside one class period for a film festival and watch each group’s film. And don’t forget the popcorn.
Record a Video Essay
Podcasts are another venue through which individuals can express themselves these days, and you can also use them to help your students’ writing skills. Have each person in class write their own podcast and then record it for publication on the Web. This I Believe is a fascinating project which invites anyone to share their personal beliefs though a video essay. Having your students make their own video essay is a great project for ESL students. Not only does it challenge their writing skills. It also gives them an opportunity to share their cultures, there personal beliefs, and their spoken English with the world. Start by having your student red the guidelines for the video essays. Give students around ten minutes to think of a personal story and a belief they might like to share with the world via This I Believe. Then have students partner up to talk about their ideas and offer each other suggestions. Students should then write their personal essay sticking to the 500 to 600 word guideline suggested by the site. Take some time for peer review in class and allow students to practice reading their essays to one another. Then, when they are ready, have students record their video and upload it to the site. You might want to have a computer available where you can bookmark each student’s video so the rest of the class can view it during free learning periods.
Writing today isn’t what it used to be.
That’s good news for the ESL teacher. With a little creativity and a lot of courage, you can get your students writing about things that matter to them and then sharing them with the world via a classroom blog, YouTube videos, and video essays. When it comes to writing, it’s time to think beyond the pen and notebook. When you do, you will be pleased to see what a positive effect it has on your students’ performance.
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