There are so many cool writing prompts on the internet, and specifically on Pinterest! I’ve definitely seen a few that I thought could make excellent novels and short stories, but the question I always come back to is how we can use those prompts as ESL teachers.
A lot of times, writing is intimidating for second language learners, and I want to find ways to introduce writing into my conversation classes in a way that becomes routine and normal, as well as fun and exciting! Editing and drafting and planning can come at a later time, but my focus in this article is to give you a few ideas on how to get your students writing in the first place!
To Make Your Writing Activities Even More Engaging,
Find Out How to Create Purposeful Writing Tasks for Adult ESL
Writing Prompts as a Warm-Up
Writing prompts can make great warm-up activities. You can make them super simple, by simply asking students to write a 3-4 sentence story or response, or you can make them longer and more in depth. During warm-up tasks I like to give my students a little bit more freedom and creativity, as my goal is to simply help them begin using English. If that’s your goal as well, you may want to just give your students a time limit for writing, instead of a word count or number of sentences to complete.
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If you struggle with students that come to class late, a writing prompt could be a good way to spend your first 10 minutes or so of class. The late-comers won’t miss anything super important, but the students that show up on time will get extra practice writing in English. You could even assign extra credit to the writing assignments to reward students who show up when they’re supposed to.
Writing Prompts as a Time-Filler
There are two different ways that you could use writing prompts as a time-filler activity. The first way is to use the prompts for students who complete an activity early. This is especially useful in a multi-level classroom, as you may have students who find some activities really easy and others who find them challenging. Giving students a creative and fun task to complete while they wait for others is a great use of time and an excellent learning opportunity. Plus, your more advanced students can complete the prompt according to their proficiency level, while your lower-level students will be able to complete it to the best of their ability.
The second way that you can use writing prompts in the classroom as a time-filler is to use them when your lesson runs a little short. Writing prompts can accommodate almost any length of time that you have available. If you have five minutes, make it a challenge. If you have 20 minutes, make it a more formal and structured task. Not only are writing prompts fun, but they’re actually a productive and effective time-filler. Your students won’t feel like you’re just wasting time and waiting for the bell to ring.
Writing Prompts as Homework
Writing prompts can make great homework. Your students may find it more beneficial to have time and space to think and really be creative in their response, but you do also run the risk of them finding something online to copy and use. Make sure you have clear guidelines in place and that your expectations are communicated well!
You could either have each student choose a writing prompt out of a hat or choose a writing prompt for the whole class to complete. The latter option can be especially fun to review and discuss in class the next day, as students will probably take a different approach to the prompt depending upon their interests, their experiences, and their imagination.
Writing Prompts as a Game
There are SO many different games that you could play with writing prompts. I’ve come up with two different categories of games that you could play with your students: plot twists and collaborations.
Plot twists can completely change the trajectory and mood of a story. In fact, a story without a plot twist is kind of boring! If your students are getting bored by story writing or writing prompts, try throwing a few plot twists their way. Aside from the traditional plot twists in novels (someone isn’t who they say they were, the hero can no longer fight, etc.), you could also create a few out-of-the-box requirements for their stories. Ask your students to use a specific word or words in their story that will be difficult to incorporate! Instead of choosing a single writing prompt, choose two and have students combine them in the same story! Instead of having students write a short story, ask them to write a journal entry, newspaper article, or from a different perspective (such as that of a shopkeeper, police officer, or fly on the wall).
Another way to “spice up” writing prompts and turn them into a game is to involve other students. Make the task more community-oriented, rather than individually completed. One of my favorite ways to do this is to set a timer for 3-5 minutes and have students begin writing. When the timer goes off, everyone’s story gets passed to the next person, and the writing commences. This continues until the story gets back to its original author. The result is usually hilarious!
If you have artistic students, try out Community Creations! Community Creations is one of my favorite games to play with students (especially when I’m trying to help them practice writing and being creative). My young adult students in Mongolia especially loved this game, but that may have had something to do with the fact that I had students studying to be fashion designers and artists in the class! Nevertheless, it’s a fun way to involve art and writing, give students a little bit of structure to work with, and create a funny and eclectic story as a class!
If you find some writing prompts that you think are interesting, but are scared that your students will be intimidated by it, try out one of the suggestions above! You don’t have to spend 2 hours on a writing prompt and end up with a complete novel. There are plenty of ways to use writing prompts to slowly build the routine of writing into your classroom space and to help your students become more comfortable with written English.
I Want to Hear From You!
What are your favorite writing prompts?
How do you incorporate writing into your classroom?