Painlessly Teaching Writing in EFL

Teaching writing can be painful if not done correctly

Of the four skill areas emphasized when teaching English as a Foreign Language (speaking, listening, reading and writing), most teachers fear writing the most.

But—like the ‘bogeyman’ shadow in a child’s bedroom—teaching writing is really nothing scary at all.

After this post, writing might be your favorite subject!

It is true that teaching the skill of writing may require of your students a bit more effort, and you a bit more time and patience than the other skills.  However, that all pays off once you’ve got a handle on it—then, teaching writing may become your favorite skill area.


If you use a sensible method and some good materials, like the ones I link to below, your students will be thrilled by the steady progress they make.

Writing equals thinking

The thing is, writing takes a bit more thinking than most activities in listening, reading, or even speaking.  And often, students come to class believing they are good writers already—and they may be good writers, but are they good writers in English? You may find, to your dismay, that students proudly present you with writing assignments chock-a-block full of tortured prose, or even gibberish.

To get your students to an acceptable level, let’s say the level they need if they want to study or work abroad or if they need to use written English in their job, you’ll need to build up their skills without breaking down their level of confidence.

Begin at the beginning

By far the best tactic for teaching writing is to start at the beginning. As Maria in The Sound of Music said, that’s a very good place to start!  Go back and review the most basic skills. Sure, you may have a few students who roll their eyes at you and tell you, “Teeeaaaacher! We know how to do that!”  And they may know it, but you must check, because it’s difficult to build a castle on an uneven foundation. If you are in the situation where your students and you are at odds over what they know and how well they know it, make sure you don’t crush their enthusiasm for learning with your corrections. Tell them you think their writing skills are good—you just want to make them better.

Two well organized writing manuscripts show the way:

Sentence Writing and Intermediate Writing

I strongly urge you to download these two writing-related e-books that I link to in this blog post. These manuscripts are highly structured manuals for teaching writing well, and are organized so that students’ proficiency will build easily and naturally as you lead them through the steps outlined in the book.

Before you take them into class however, make sure you spend some time looking at how the books are organized. Take a minute to understand the whys—Why is this lesson first? Why is that lesson next? Understand how the blocks follow one-by-one to build a strong support for your students’ writing prowess.

Of course, you’re going to see plenty of grammar in the book focusing on writing sentences. Truly, if there’s one skill where grammar is critical—it’s in writing.

Also, notice that the books are designed to lead your students to writing success a bit more slowly than your average textbook may demand. Most textbooks I’ve worked with lead the students through their paces before the learners have had a chance to master the steps. It’s much more effective if the teachers can integrate what the students learned last week with what they will learn this week, even going back further in the sequence as necessary.

And that’s what my friend and I organized these two manuscripts as a methodical approaches to building your students’ confidence and skill in writing without going too fast, or missing out any of the important pieces of the puzzle.  I hope you enjoy them!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Teaching writing is not a race. Don’t go too fast through the lessons—you won’t be doing your students any favors.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Look at these two writing textbooks and notice not only the particular exercises we recommend, but also the order in which we put those tasks.

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