Skills an ESL specialist teaches at the writing lesson

What do we teach when we teach writing?

What do we teach when we teach writing?


  • Writing
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

It is generally known that writing is one of the essential skills in ESL alongside reading, listening, and speaking. 

Let’s face it: it’s one of the least popular ones among both teachers and students. Learners often struggle with writing even in their native language, let alone in a foreign one! 

As a result, many of them develop quite a negative attitude towards writing, making it harder for us, teachers, to effectively teach it.

Even those learners who don’t find writing challenging often don’t take it as seriously as other skills. After conducting a few online surveys among those with experience learning English or another foreign language, I received the following results:

  • out of four skills – reading, listening, speaking, and writing – 90% of the respondents voted for speaking as the most important and relevant while reading and listening got 5% of votes each. Shockingly, writing received shocking 0% of the votes!
  • at the same time, in the question ‘Which skill do you find the least important while learning a foreign language?’, the majority of voters (43%) chose writing, when reading got 33%, listening – 14%, and speaking – 10%.

We can make a conclusion that teaching writing generally requires more serious preparation from teachers. Moreover, it is crucial to ensure that learners realize the importance of this skill and what it entails.

The word ‘writing’ sounds a little vague in the ESL context. What does teaching writing actually include? Is there one and only universal approach to teaching it? How long does it take to master it? 

Certainly, it is impossible to give definite answers to all of these questions. Most teachers have their own preferences, especially considering different levels, learners’ backgrounds and abilities, etc.

We could, however, narrow it down to more specific aspects of writing, which we can include in our writing lesson plans.

Tips on planning a perfect writing lesson

1. Creative thinking

What is probably one of the most challenging elements of writing is generating ideas. 

It heavily relies on imagination, and unfortunately, some learners may lack in this area. Therefore, it is our duty to help them develop it, or at least find various ways to brainstorm ideas before putting pen to paper. 

One such technique is free writing, where learners are expected to write everything that comes to their mind without worrying about mistakes.

Afterwards, they can sort out all of the ideas, prioritize and structure them, and refine the text.

Other strategies to inspire learners to think creatively are engaging them in oral discussions on the topic they will explore later in writing and exposing them to a variety of written texts. It may help them to explore other points of view and come up with arguments in order to justify their opinion.

Wondering how to assess students' writing?

2. Structure

It is not sufficient just to think of ideas and write them down.

Another skill we should implement in our writing lessons is the way we organize the text, including coherence and cohesion, using linking devices, arrangement and emphasis of ideas, dividing the text into well-organized paragraphs, etc. 

Moreover, if you are teaching writing for an exam, it is also useful to provide learners with an opportunity to improve their planning strategies and time management as the time limit can be an additional stressful factor for many students.

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3. Genre conventions

Understanding genre conventions is another crucial aspect of writing. If you are planning a writing lesson, think about the knowledge you should equip your learners with. 

Learners should have a clear idea of who their target audience is, what the purpose of writing is, and what style and register would be appropriate in each genre.

For instance, when writing an essay, it may be required to provide an introduction, topic statements, arguments, and a conclusion; while writing emails, we should address the reader and end it appropriately, etc.

4. Grammar and vocabulary

Last but not least, the language plays an important role in successful writing. No matter how many perfect ideas learners have, or how well they organize their paragraphs, it all means nothing if they cannot express them in a clear way or don’t have sufficient lexis for that.

Teaching vocabulary will enable learners to not only achieve the purpose of writing but also to enrich their text and reinforce the previously covered material.

Writing is a perfect chance to turn passive knowledge into active. This is when they can apply the vocabulary on various topics and experiment with grammar structures to express their thoughts in the most engaging way. Writing could become an opportunity to review the sentence structure, verb forms, sentence connectors, etc. 

With upper levels, it’s also a great opportunity to fully demonstrate a variety of grammar structures and their functions in various contexts, such as types of sentences, emphatic structures, advanced comparative forms, etc.

It would be beneficial to discuss with the learners what grammar forms and lexis they could use in particular writing tasks.

Some learners, especially those at lower levels, may need visual prompts as well.

When should you teach certain grammar?

Spelling and punctuation should also be taught as inseparable elements of writing. Consider incorporating:

  • spelling and punctuation exercises;
  • interactive games such as Hangman or Spelling Bee;
  • dictations (including running dictations). 

You can create a variety of your own games on this website.

Make your online classes even more engaging!

As we can see, teaching writing encompasses various aspects that contribute to learners' development as effective writers. 

By addressing creative thinking, genre conventions, structure, vocabulary, and grammar, we provide learners with the necessary tools to express their ideas coherently and confidently.

As educators, it is our responsibility to cultivate these skills through meaningful instruction, relevant tasks, brainstorming ideas, engaging activities, and teaching planning strategies, ultimately helping learners become proficient writers in the English language.

It's important for students to know how to structure their piece of writing.

It's impossible for a student to master writing without a certain level of creative skills.

Article authors & editors
  • Olha Lavrentieva

    Olha Lavrentieva


    CELTA certified teacher of General English, Teenagers



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