Even the most basic English language learners need to be exposed to the written code of the target language. The tasks must be as realistic as possible for these beginners.

Writing is a survival skill in both the school and the community, but writing does not develop naturally. Students need to learn to ask the following questions:

  • What is it for? What is the purpose?
  • Who is it for? Consider the audience.
  • What do I want to say? What is my point of view?
  • How can I say it? What is the code or register that I will use? (formal, familiar, etc.)

Teachers need to encourage writing behaviors that lead to proficiency. These positive behaviors include using pre-writing strategies, considering the audience, outlining and getting the ideas down on paper, paying attention to meaning and multiple drafting and revising.

Feedback is important because it has an effect on accuracy, more so than just spoken feedback. Learners may mistake spoken feedback as agreement rather than as a corrective measure. According to EunYoung Kangn and Zhaohong Han, "Unlike oral feedback, written corrective feedback clearly indicates the presence of errors."

The authors conclude: "The findings from the present meta-analysis, albeit limited and constrained, do have a clear message for L2 writing instructors, that written corrective feedback can improve the grammatical accuracy of student writing."

A topical-interactive approach to writing combines guided and free composition in such a way that the students are not overloaded with rules and regulations on one hand nor are they allowed to write extensively without proper controls on the other. The following is a student commentary on a writing course where the work is highly structured (the student's errors are left in place):

"My teacher... is my reader, my grader. Since she emphasizes on rules and limitations, she must grade according to these things. So I have to follow such rules. Then in such circumstances, I feel I did not dare to strike even a step; all around me were abysses — each step was full of danger. I felt I was restricted and I could not write anymore. I felt upset and frustrated. I lost my desireness and confidence to write."

Teachers need to address both the surface-level language-related problems and the deeper areas of meaning in teaching the writing skill. Guided writing, journals, writing groups and peer review, rewriting and developing the "monitor" all work together in the process of composition.

Most importantly, exercises should be creative as noted in Erick Herrmann's "The 4 C's of 21st century learning for ELLs":

"In terms of 21st-century skills, creativity and innovation also include techniques such as brainstorming, convergent and divergent thinking skills, and evaluating ideas to then elaborate upon or refine to maximize creative efforts.

"Students should be able to frame and reframe problems, and look for solutions to those problems, connect and combine ideas, and challenge assumptions. These skills require imagination, knowledge, a positive attitude and drive."

The content of the composition passages deals with realistic situations likely to be faced by the target group of learners. Assimilating to stored knowledge is more effective than forcing new material that has no base.

The composition strategies discussed here are an aid to active communication as well as an enhancement to the internalization of the target language. Writing is a vital link in the global communications network, and it is never too early to start composition instruction in ESL.

In previous articles, we discussed the challenges associated with writing in a new language, followed by some exercises to get started. Below, we'll continue with a few more exercises.

Activity 1: Outline

In a "compare and contrast" essay, the writer may present one side first then present the other, or he or she may compare and contrast with a point by point approach. Look at the following outline for "City by Night Tour," which presents first one side and then the other.

Expectations (positive side)

  • Comfortable limousine for transport
  • Elegant dining room
  • Expensive dinner
  • First-class show
  • A famous band

What really happened (negative side)

  • Old bus picked us up late
  • Dining room dirty, too hot
  • Dinner was stale chicken
  • Show had no class
  • Band was unknown; couldn't play

Read and discuss the outline, and then finish the model. Next, write your own essay about an experience that you did not expect. Example:

  • When we signed up for the City by Night Tour during our vacation in Metro last year, we were expecting an exciting night on the town and first-rate entertainment. The ad promised a comfortable limousine for transport to ...
  • However, the promised limousine was an old noisy bus that arrived 30 minutes late to take us to the City Lights Club for our evening ...
  • In conclusion, we paid $75 per person for an unpleasant experience that was worth only about $5.95.

Grammar is important, but grammar practice must lead into communication through writing. A structured exercise needs to be topical and relevant. To be effective, it should lead into a free writing assignment that allows learners to express their own ideas.

Activity 2: S+S

Rewrite the following pairs of sentences by combining them with adverb clauses. Remember that an adverb clause is a short statement that cannot stand by itself (a dependent clause). It expresses time, reason or concession. Use the provided words. Answers may vary:

  1. Lee is only 16 years old. He has already started college classes. (although) Although Lee is only 16 years old, he has already started college classes.
  2. He studied hard in high school. He wanted to attend State University.(because)
  3. He always behaves himself. He is older than he looks. (as if)
  4. His family lived far away from State University. He had to move away from home. (since)
  5. He arrived at State University. Classes had not yet started. (when)
  6. He was looking for an apartment. He met a student from Germany. (while)

Continue the practice. Use appropriate connecting words.

  1. They did not have a lot of money. They looked for a cheap place to live.
  2. They were at the housing office. They found the perfect place.

Activity 3: Essay

Choose a topic sentence and write a short essay:

  • Although I study hard, I often have problems with my classes.
  • When I arrived here, I was (was not) able to ...
  • In order to improve the curriculum, the college should ...
  • The most unusual person I have met since I came here is ...