Whether they love it or hate it, writing is an essential skill for English learners to acquire. Writing also incorporates many other skills: grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, syntax, organization, etc. For teachers, writing can demonstrate whether or not a student has truly understood a grammar target, and a student’s writing can point to specific areas he or she needs to work on (e.g., forgetting to use articles such as a or the, using the simple past when the present perfect is required, etc.).
There are many ways that writing can be incorporated into the classroom. Blogs, journals, essays, and stories are a few common writing exercises to try. At the heart of almost all writing, though, is the need for a good, well-organized paragraph. Learning the structure of a typical paragraph means students will feel like they have a “guide” to follow. Writing can be daunting, so starting with a how-to lesson is an excellent idea!
A typical paragraph involves a topic sentence, four–six body sentences, and an optional concluding sentence. I’ve included an example paragraph that you can print and pass out in class while you’re explaining the structure of a paragraph. I find students catch on more quickly when they can see an example. Download the example paragraph PDF.
1. Topic Sentence: A topic sentence serves as the introduction to the paragraph. The topic sentence must include the topic! It is usually a general statement about what you’ll be discussing in your paragraph.
2. Body Sentences: This is the main part of the paragraph. The body sentences should all relate to the topic of your paragraph. You should try to never go off-topic. Sentences in this section include examples, explanations, or facts about the topic. You can usually include personal examples (except in some academic essays).
3. Concluding Sentence: A concluding sentence isn’t always necessary, but it’s a nice way to wrap up a paragraph, especially if it’s long. A concluding sentence can be a general observation about the topic, a thought toward the future, or a personal opinion.
Marking endless paragraphs or essays can be very time-consuming for teachers, so luckily there are ways to speed up the process that benefit both the teacher and the student.
1. Correction Key: I always mark with a correction key so that students truly have to think about their errors and try to correct them on their own. What a difference from the days when I just corrected it for them directly! Most students will not even go over your corrections, so using a correction key ensures they will try to understand their mistakes—this also helps them remember to not make the same mistake next time. A sample of the key I use is included for you to download and use in class. Feel free to print it out! Download the Writing Correction Key PDF.
2. Peer Editing: They say that the best way to learn a language is to teach it! The same principal applies here. The occasional peer edit means students have to analyze and consider all aspects of another’s writing, including grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. I give students a correction key (such as the one above) that they must use when they correct each other’s writing. Peer editing can also motivate students to be more careful with their writing (in my experience, students are more worried about mistakes that their friends might see).
3. Circulating (during in-class writing tasks): In my classes, I would sometimes allot 15–30 minutes for students to start (and possibly finish) their writing homework. This was valuable for me because as I circulated, I could point out specific errors to students and explain them. Correcting writing on paper doesn’t allow for much explanation, but when you’re correcting verbally, you have the opportunity to explain errors in more detail. Also, students can ask questions (one-on-one) at that time.
While circulating, I would often note down some common errors that several students were making, and then go over them as a class later. This is a good way to correct students without singling anyone out. Even if I marked their writing entirely at home, I’d often bring in a list of common errors into class the next day so that I could explain them in more detail.
More Writing Resources
Activity: My Acceptance Speech – Listen to some sample Oscar speeches, then have a Classroom Awards show where students can write and present their own speeches!
Lessons: This week’s Spotlight lesson was Movies – Writing Lesson. This guided writing activity gives students an interesting topic along with four questions to get their creative juices flowing. In Sprout English’s Project Depot – Writing section, you’ll find 18 guided writing exercises on many common, interesting topics—the perfect follow-up to a lesson on paragraph writing!
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