We sometimes get so hung up on teaching our students to speak that we forget about another important skill they need to express themselves. For example, when they want to leave a complaint about a foreign online shop. Or when they need to message customer support because they have forgotten their password or login. Or both. Or when they need to respond to a message in a work-related chat. Not to mention writing an email. All these things have become essential in our students’ day-to-day activities and very often they have to do them in English. Below, we would like to share a few ideas on how to make students practise writing in English and integrate it seamlessly into their lives, without causing too much stress or discomfort.
Using social media
The ways to exploit social media are endless. We can ask students to leave comments under the posts of people they follow. We can also find a post we like (there are hashtags to help us out) that ignites a discussion, choose a couple of existing comments and ask our students to start a thread with one of them. We can even suggest our students give it a try and write their own posts in English (provided they are active users and have something to say to their followers). We also have a couple of lessons where students can practise writing comments or blog posts.
Writing reviews/writing to customer service
All our students are customers or users of various services. And they are often either pretty happy with them or incredibly disappointed. Either way, they might have something to say about their experience. So we as teachers can help them communicate their thoughts and feelings and urge them to write reviews. They can either go directly to the website or leave a Google review. Along with restaurant reviews, we might appeal to our students’ other interests and encourage them to leave a film review on IMDb or a book review on Goodreads. You might start with one of these lessons if you want to make your students practise writing reviews: The power of reading or Let’s go to the movies.
Another useful thing connected to user experience and a way for our students to practise writing in English is customer service. Students often face difficulties and need help resolving something. But not everyone feels comfortable writing to a customer service representative straight away because they don’t know what to say or how to say it. Even if our students are not experiencing any problems at the moment, we can always make them remember something or model the situation for them and ask them to imagine they have to write about it to customer services. By doing so, we practise clarity of thought and politeness, and not just writing sentences. Here’s our lesson on problems and solutions which can come in handy here.
How to make our students practise writing in English with special messages
We sometimes overlook the value of these short but essential messages. Whether it’s to wish someone a speedy recovery, send greetings on their birthday or thank them for their help, it requires some knowledge of what and how to say it. Teaching it is simple: use different occasions. Someone is missing a lesson because they’re not feeling well? Make the rest of the group write something to them along the lines of ‘get well’ or ‘we missed you here’. Or when a holiday is approaching, prompt students to exchange greetings. We can even devote part of a lesson to creating greeting cards in Canva with special wishes that students come up with themselves. Here are some of our lessons that might help with writing these short but useful messages: Have yourself a merry little Christmas or Time to say goodbye.
Other online resources
An easy-to-implement way to make our students practise writing in English is online petitions. Platforms like Change.org allow anyone to create a petition on a topic they are passionate about. And if we’ve been discussing some global issues in the class, creating a petition is a great extension/homework task. However, we shouldn’t encourage students to actually post their petitions unless they are genuinely concerned about the issue. Sometimes simply showing students that they can do it is enough.
If your goal is to make students improve their debating skills, Kialo is a superb tool to help you out. It’s a public discussion platform that allows people to participate in various debates by writing their ‘pros’ or ‘cons’ comments. Students can join an existing debate or start their own. It’s also great for developing critical thinking.
We must keep in mind that writing is not only about creating concise, well-structured emails or writing a sophisticated and comprehensive essay. There are plenty of other areas of life that require this practical skill. And, of course, we don’t always have to go the extra mile to practise it. Sometimes writing is simply about that: making your students write. But now and then we need to resort to a bit of creativity and imagination to capture our students’ interest and maybe teach them how intertwined writing is with their everyday lives and how rewarding it might be to be able to write skilfully and effortlessly in English. And here at ESL Brains we hope to be your asset in trying to deliver that to students by creating more and more lessons that include writing skills practice.