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Chapter 10     Writing Activities

When writing is mentioned as part of an ESL syllabus, the tendency is to think in terms of higher grades and intermediate to advanced levels of comprehension.  Writing activities, however, should begin much earlier as a natural adjunct to telling stories.  Children love to hear stories and nursery rhymes. Writing these down, making up their own and combining pictures should be a natural extension in which you, as the teacher, can instil a love of creating stories and other writing.  Begin it early and it will likely stay for life.

The Necessity of Creative Writing

Tompkins (1982) suggests 7 reasons why children should write stories
1) to entertain;
2) to foster artistic expression;
3) to explore the functions and values of writing;
4) to stimulate imagination;
5) to clarify thinking;
6) to search for identity;
7) to learn to read and write.

These are very good reasons to make creative writing an important part of the elementary school classroom day. You may like to show this list to parents so that they understand the value of including writing in the YL classroom.  You have an excellent opportunity to guide children in forming good writing skills while ensuring that their writing is enjoyable for them and that they generally get to choose their own topics.

Writing helps young children to make sense of and document life around them.

Encouraging them to make notes on what they do will form the basis of good note-taking skills which will greatly assist them in later grades.

Letting children create their own stories, characters and plots provides an outlet for their active imaginations.  When they learn to turn their creative stories into writings, and possibly add illustrations or pictures, they will have the right to feel suitably proud of what they have accomplished.  Writings are good documents to show to parents and school administrators as well.

As young children make progress with their writing, you should wean them towards 'good' writing.  Whether they write a simple fantasy tale or tell about something factual, they will need to learn to use correct grammar, spelling, logic and accuracy in their writing. Grammar and spelling will come from practice.  To achieve logic and accuracy, students have to think about the story they are writing. Does everything make sense?

Children’s own writings also provide excellent resource material for reading.  Children are highly motivated to re-read the things that they themselves have written.  They are already familiar with the vocabulary used, and the concepts contained, which makes the task of reading and understanding so much easier.   These student generated texts are particularly valuable in a beginner level ESL class, where the studentsEconnection with language is so tenuous.  (And they have the added advantage of filling a potential  gap in under-resourced programmes.)

Suggestions for Teaching Story-Writing

Teachers of writing in English at the elementary level should be cautioned that what they expect students to produce and what they get may be quite different.  Knowing the elements of good fiction help a teacher to guide children's writing, but it is critical that the teacher use strategies that are appropriate for the age of the children in the class - and their language competency level.

Read as many children's books as you possibly can.  Get to know all kinds of stories and look for patterns.  For example, stories for young children often follow a pattern of something being repeated over and over until finally a different result is achieved. These types of stories are perfect to use as a framework for young childrensEown story writing.  After studying the story together, let the children retell the story, inserting their own characters, events, numbers, or whatever parts of the story provide the change within the pattern.  Making up rhyming words to complete well known nursery rhymes is another useful framework for beginner writers, which has the added advantage of reinforcing phonic skills.  Practice together first as a whole class activity, do some rhyming word activities, putting  the results on the whiteboard for a reference, then let the children create their own.  Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the _______.         The little dog laughed to see such fun and the dish ran away with the ____________.

To make the writing easy for beginners (young hands can’t weild a pencil for long), produce a booklet template, into which the children just need to fill in the gaps with their own words, and draw their pictures on the facing pages.  Even older students will appreciate something similar, with more space for their own writing.  Children are more likely to be inspired to create if you can give them some framework,  preferably concrete, such as an attractive worksheet rather than a blank page.

Diaries, book and film reviews, science project observations, and reworked tellings of old stories are all great projects for these booklet templates.

When teaching children with limited vocabularies, or begginer spellers, consider carefully how you will present the writing activity.  What preparation will they need to make their writing experience more successful?

 -  An introduction to and discussion of concepts?
 -  Resource material such as information books, pictures, or stories?
 -  An outline of the framework required for the particular type of text?
 -  A pre-formatted worksheet, lined and framed paper, booklet or concertina book?
 -  Definitions of  important topic based words?
 -  Activities to generate and  spell useful topic vocabulary?
 -  A whiteboard “word bankEof useful words to choose from?
 -  An easy reference chart of sight words on the wall?

Sometimes young children will create stories that are extremely far-fetched and silly.Temper your guidance and tips on applying logic and accuracy with the need for enjoyment. If you make it too much like work, children may lose their enthusiasm. Lose that and it will be difficult for you to get them to do any future writing.

Children often create make-believe friends and so their stories may centre aroung those characters.  Help the children to describe these invisible people. What do they look like? Are they tall? short? fat? skinny? boy?girl? What do they wear?  Is ther something special about them? Can they do magical things?  Where do they live?  How do they travel?  When you help children to write down these characteristics, you help them to give these characters form and meaning.  Encouraging them to include some of the details in their stories, helps the readers to visualize the characters as the children do.

Other Types of Writing

Creative writing is not the only type of writing that needs to be taught.
Think about your writing habits as an adult.  What percentage of the writing you do is fiction?  What other types of texts do you regularly create?  An average adult, unless they are a writer by profession or hobby,  probably writes very little fiction in their lifetime, if any at all.  The majority of  their writing will be non-fiction:  Shopping lists, memos, diaries, things to do, instructions, letters to friends, business correspondence, holiday postcards, emails, orders, forms, recipes, labels, records, reports, requests, thankyou notes, information, observations, evaluations, birthday and christmas cards, passing on news, knowledge, information, directions.....

Creative writing is, without a doubt an important and valuable activity in the EYL classroom.  However it is equally important to foster childrens ability and interest in all kinds of non-fiction writing too.

The value lies in four main areas:
1: direct relevance to childrens own life
2: intrinsic motivation and reward
3: takes advantage of childrensEnatural proclivity for role-playing adult activities
4: teaches skills that will be essential to them later in their studies, and, eventually, in their adult lives.

Opportunities arise daily for writing projects which relate directly to what is going on in the classroom, or in individual childrens lives.  These are things that the children can easily understand, both conceptually and linguistically, and which, therefore, are more likely to captivate their interest and attention.  Mother’s day, Billy’s birthday, your assistant is off sick...write a card.  The flouro light isn’t working....write a letter to the caretaker.  Children having problems with othersEinfringements on their rights....draw up a class rules poster.  Been to the museum...create an information display.

Think of the motivation, the intrinsic reward, for children writing a shopping list for a party, a craft project,  for making a pizza,  which they, or their teacher,  will then use to make the purchases for the project.  When they write a letter to the Bluebird Crisps factory to complain about the broken chippies., and are sent a carton of chips for their trouble.  When they send an email to a potential penfriend and get a reply, complete with photo.

 ChildrensEtask in life is to learn how to be an adult.  It is unnatural to try to push them solely towards creative writing, at the expense of allowing them to experiment with all the other types of writing that they see their important adults doing.  Young children love to act out their parents roles.  Give them materials for a Post Office corner, and let them play.  Watch them scribble little notes to put in envelopes, stamp them, address them and post them in the box.  Let them write you a memo to remind you to finish reading that book..  Write down a recipe, send a cheque, make themselves a passport, a drivers licence, write out a speeding ticket.
Provide your students with the materials, inspiration, encouragement, and opportunity, and they will teach themselves through play.

As children progress through school, they will need to be able to write letters, reports, essays, observations, lists and notes.  They will need to be familiar with the formats, conventions and language types used for different purposes.  Practice and encouragement in these areas will help them to succeed in all their subjects, as well as broaden their knowledge of the practical applications of the English language.  Create a class newspaper, record bus numbers,  keep a “tadpole (or seed or caterpillar) diaryE   make a raincatcher and record the months rainfall, write a weather report, a book report, a movie review, make notes during groupwork to report back to the class...The possibilities go on.

Giving Feedback

Teachers who have had experience teaching creative writing will have no difficulty giving feedback. But, not all teachers have taught writing and may find this to be a challenge.  Our recommendation is to take a course in creative writing or at least read a good book on the subject. is a good place to begin.  It offers a free online writing course and many tips on various aspects of story writing.

Peer Feedback

Peer feedback is an area where your guidance will help students to provide insightful comments and critiques.  Students have to be prepared for adverse criticism as well as the congratulatory kind.  This may happen with the students of the opposite sex.  Comments may also be coloured by how well the student making them gets along with the writer.  Student writers will have to learn to deal with rejection in a constructive manner.  Here your guidance will be invaluable as nothing affects enthusiasm more than rejection.


Before beginning a writing assignment, students should be told what they will be assessed on.  What criteria will you use?

Grammar: Spelling, punctuation, capitalization
Structure: subject/verb agreement, tenses
Organization: Plot, introduction, story line, conclusion (with older, more adept students, coherence, unity and support of details also becomes important).
Communication: How well the writer conveys the idea of the story, accuracy, logic.


If students in your class are given a writing assignment, you may want to consider publishing the results in a little class booklet.  Publication is the ultimate aim of most writers.  Seeing a finished version of their work will enable students to take pride in their efforts; to share their accomplishment with family and friends; and to build enthusiasm for future work..

Before any work can be published, students have to go through the same process that any writer uses:
- Revise (change, add details, description, support).
- Edit (correct grammatical errors, syntax, verb use, et. al.)
- Proofread (spelling, accuracy)

For young learners, you will likely not want to put them through the full process of First, Second, Third and Final drafts. Nevertheless, learning to write correctly is a vital part of learning English.

If you are having particular success with one type of writing assignment, you may like to share that with other teachers.  Sometime ago, the author wrote a short story and then, as an assignment, had students write alternate endings.  The story, along with three alternate endings, was published by the International Journal for Teachers of English Writing Skills (IJTEWS). This journal is now published by Robbie Dean Press and can be accessed through the following link:

Chapter 11
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