Teachers of English as a Second Language must instruct their students in all aspects of the language, including reading, speaking, listening, and writing. Among these, writing is perhaps the most difficult and challenging for students to learn. This is especially true in the modern age, where abbreviated text messages and short online blurbs have gradually come to replace long, formal essays. Indeed, sloppy and informal writing has become the norm in this modern age, and even native speakers of English often tend to have difficulty writing essays with proper grammar, punctuation, and formatting.

In this environment, it can be tricky to get students writing well and enjoying doing so. Many teachers, seeing the difficulty inherent in teaching writing, simply give up and give out standard writing assignments that provide little inspiration for the students. On the other hand, taking the time to devise interesting and constructive writing lessons can be very rewarding and fulfilling, if done effectively.

ESL writing classes are a chance for teachers to not only teach students the rules and techniques of proper writing, but also, ideally, instill in them a love of writing and an appreciation for the aesthetic pleasure of the written word. Too many ESL writing lessons are dry and involve memorization or repetition. Indeed, writing is often used as a form of punishment in classes, such as when students are forced to write 100 sentences as a punishment for talking in class. This only serves to reinforce students’ dread of putting pen to paper.

Instead of taking this well-worn approach, which inevitably turns students off from writing, ESL writing teachers should expose their students to the great writers of the past and the present. This means bringing in novels, plays, and essays by gifted writers such as Steinbeck and Hemingway or talented playwrights such as Shakespeare or Ibsen. Students will naturally respond to such pieces of art, even if their English levels are not good enough to understand every word. Of course, doing this requires a teacher who is familiar with such works and is ideally also a good writer.

Exposing students to the famous writers of years past is a good way to instill in the children a true appreciation of the power of the written word, and after that, all a teacher needs to do is give them a chance to try out their own writing abilities by bringing in fun and relevant ESL writing activities or assignments. Many children use their free time to write a journal or diary, for example, which proves that writing can be an activity that students can actually enjoy, rather than something that is necessarily tedious. By crafting inspiring writing lessons, teachers can reinforce this natural love of writing and transform their students into the next generation of novelists, playwrights, and journalists.