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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Articles for Teachers

How to teach English writing skills to adult learners
By:Kate Bones <boneskate81@gmail.com>

If you teach English as a second language, you probably know how hard it is to inspire students to start writing in English. That's mainly because writing is a skill that requires them to be highly motivated. If students don't have a good reason to write, you won't be able to challenge them with such task and count on the learning experience to just happen.

The problem behind installing writing as a task in the classroom lies behind the different needs of adults taking English lessons. Most adult ESL students require this skill in order to write emails and other documents in English, often in business context. Answering this need in your writing exercises, you'll ensure that students have a good reason to start writing.

As a teacher, you want to teach your students different skills and for each you'll need to develop a different teaching strategy, filled with specifically tailored activities and exercises. Choosing the right type of exercise for writing is just half the story – the other challenge is to choose a topic that resonates with students and further motivates them to write with enthusiasm.

Here are some tips to help you effectively teach writing in English to adult learners.

Choosing the skill

Ask yourself some key questions and provide honest answers. Think about what the average age of your students is and what their reasons for taking the course are. Consider this: do they need writing skills for specific reasons, ranging from business correspondence to college application letters?

Once you do that, decide what you expect them to produce at the end of the process – short emails work for beginners, and more advanced students can be challenged with an essay. Now that you know what kind of skills you want your students to develop, you can move on and choose the right activities to match that skill.

Choosing writing activities or exercises

There are lots of writing tasks you can assign to students to train specific skills. Here are two major categories to help you narrow it down and choose the right exercises for your class.

Essays and other writing forms for international examinations

Adult students might be preparing to sit for international exams like Cambridge ESOL or the TOEFL, which as you know require written forms that meet specific requirements.

Here's what you can do to prepare them for this task:

Provide them with lots of samples of different writing tasks from previous exams. It's usually formal and informal letter, as well as a variety of forms, such as article, essay, report, review, letter or story;

Make your students practice for these options – the more they practice, the better. It's best to assign writing assignments as homework, but you can also arrange some in-class writing exercises – especially important to help students measure the time they need to complete such tasks.

How to help your students start writing?

- Provide them with writing prompts – they act as great triggers for writing tasks. It's best to simply pose a question: What is your favorite movie and why? What 3 objects would you take to a desert island? What is the best gift you have ever got?

- Ask students to write descriptions – this is a task that can be adapted to any level and age group. It can be a description of a photograph you provide, of a vacation spot your students visited over the summer or a place they like most in their hometown.

- Offer opportunities for journal writing – you can ask students to bring a blank notebook to serve as their journal. Every week, assign a different topic or suggest that they share their thoughts on current events or relevant holidays (for instance, a Christmas wish list). This is just perfect to make sure that students are writing on a regular basis, allowing you to easily keep track of their progress.

Business communications

This is a different skill you might need to develop among your adult students. They'll be applying for jobs on the global market, so it's key that they're able to use business language and clearly express themselves in English.

Writing in business context is far more complex than writing for the purpose of a language exam. Effective email communication requires several different skills, and it's key to cover them all during your ESL classes.

What sort of forms should you ask your students to write during class? It can by anything from responding to issues and replaying to emails to requesting information and answering messages about problems. You need to show them the difference between formal and informal email style, as well as teach them the basics of email writing etiquette.

Make sure to cover a wide range of such points to fully prepare your students for what's out there. Always have a few email samples available for consultation so your students get a better idea of what a proper email should look like. For practice, provide them with a specific context for communication, for example: “Write a short email to your team members to remind them of your meeting tomorrow morning”.

How to choose your topics

Once you're ready to offer your students some fantastic writing activities, you need to pick topics that resonate with your group and inspire them to write great pieces. If you're running a Business English course, refer to real-life situations to help prepare your students for all types of business contexts.

For a regular ESL course, you'll want to refer to topics that are interesting and appropriate for the age of your students. While adult learners will be interested in discussing their professional lives, culture and their hobbies, teens might feel more motivated to write about pop stars or fashion. Either way, choose topics your groups finds engaging and you can be sure that writing will be easier for them too.

Many ESL teachers forget about the importance of writing longer forms and believe that written answers to exercises are enough. But whether it's creative or business - writing is a skill every student should develop – and you should be the one to motivate them and nourish their self-expression in writing in English.

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