You’re asked to write an English essay and you’re in panic mode. You find yourself second-guessing every sentence you write and before you know it, it’s time to submit the essay.
Have you ever experienced this? After reading this article, we hope you don’t find yourself in such a situation.
In this article, we outline eight useful writing strategies to help ESL students like you to improve their writing.
8 Writing Strategies for ESL Students to Write Better
For ESL students, it can be difficult to find the right words or phrases to articulate or follow grammar and sentence formation rules while writing essays. Here are eight writing strategies to improve your writing skills.
Read multiple times
Reading books, novels, articles, biographies, or any other kind of reading material always helps in enhancing your vocabulary, familiarizing yourself with metaphors, idioms, or even sentence structure, and guides you into constructing complex phrases.
Read everything in English that you can find -- form the words, narrate it out slowly and coherently.
Pick out words from the text that you are not familiar with and write them down. You can continue finding the meaning of these words online or in dictionaries for better understanding.
You can also underline or highlight phrases or sentences that are confusing so that later you can ask your professors about what it meant.
In short: the more you read in English, the better you’ll be able to understand and write in English.
Use sentence frames
Your professor gives you a writing assignment, but it can be intimidating to write without any help. Use sentence frames to make the writing task easier. A sentence frame is a pre-written sentence with spaces in it for you to fill in the remaining words to complete it.
Using sentence frames can help in figuring out the correct structure and the flow of the English language, and can help you in easing the pressure of not trying to come up with your own sentences.
If you are unsure about what word to use, you can write the word down in your native language, and continue with the rest of the sentences that you can fill in without any difficulties. After you finish, you can come back to the words that you don't know and try to find alternatives to make sense of the sentence given.
Work towards writing in the language you already know, while also gaining the experience of using proper grammar and practicing writing in sentence frames until you are confident and comfortable in writing similar sentences independently.
You can find sentence frame structures for multiple writing tasks such as compare and contrast, persuasive, narrative, sequence, and many other forms of writing.
Organize your thoughts graphically
Graphic organizers are a very beneficial writing strategy for ESL students to help them learn how to read and write better in English. Using this method can help you learn how to organize your thoughts, points, or even sentences systematically with the use of different kinds of graphics.
These organizers can be used for every stage of the writing process -- from brainstorming, pre-writing, drafting to revision.
Graphic organizing writing tools such as Word Clusters or Topic Wheels can be very useful for brainstorming your thoughts and finding purposeful meanings every time you get stuck on a word or phrase.
Here’s what the word clustering method looks like.
You can also use Story Maps if you need guidance to learn how to write a story on your own.
Use templates instead of blank sheets of paper to note down points, answers, and fill-in sentences. You can use these templates to model your writing method and use it as a reference.
Use the Four Square Writing Method
The Four Square Writing Method is a tried and tested writing and organizing strategy that teaches students better structure and helps them write cohesively. Through this strategy, you can also learn how to properly organize a paragraph.
In this method, a blank square is divided into 4 quadrants. In the center, you make a smaller square and write your topic sentence in it. Fill in your opening statements and support in the first quadrant and write down any important points and supporting facts that relate to the topic sentence in the other two quadrants. Leave the 4th quadrant for writing your closing statements.
This visual method will help you focus on writing, provide details and enhance your vocabulary. This will also help you conceptualize, understand and structure a piece of writing without any difficulties.
Keep sentences simple and short
A sign of good writing is crisp, short, and easy-to-understand sentences. Some people use complex words because they think they sound more academic, but that is far from the truth.
Using complicated, formal words and unnecessarily long sentences will only make your readers get confused and bored with your writing. They will most probably lose track of what you’re even trying to convey. So instead, cut short your sentences, use terms related to your topic, include transition words correctly, and keep the language simple.
When editing your work, look out for long sentences and try to divide them into two separate sentences. This will allow you to break down what you want to say in manageable chunks of words.
As an ESL student, you might not be confident about using English words and this might make you stick to one particular sentence structure, but try to vary your sentence length based on the purpose of what you want to say.
Check out this insightful video by Karen Dudek-Brannan on simple sentences
Practice makes you perfect, and what better way to enhance your English writing skills than just writing whatever you want on a blank piece of paper.
Every time you take notes, try to understand a novel, write an email or even a text message, practice it in writing first, to improve your English writing skills. Allot a period of time in your daily schedule to sit and write.
You can also practice by writing a paragraph about the day that you have had, some interesting experience, your fears, goals, likes, and dislikes, or literally, anything else to increase your speed and dexterity of writing in English.
Use online tools
If you want to be clear and make it easy for your readers to understand what you want to convey in English, it is very important to know the grammatical rules, because using the wrong verb tense or writing a sentence in the wrong order will just make your readers confused.
That's why you can find multiple websites and online tools that can help you write better in a different language, such as:
- Grammarly (one of the sleekest tools for checking grammar);
- The Purdue Online Writing Lab (comprehensive online writing source that has a dedicated space for ESL students and teachers);
- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionaries;
- Quora (you can ask questions and seek answers from people in this online community).
Keep a journal
If you still feel insecure about your language skills in English, it’s good practice to keep a journal with yourself as a daily habit to write down anything that comes to your mind, thoughts, new phrases, unfamiliar words, etc. without having the pressure to show anyone what you wrote.
This creates an opportunity to write as much as you want in English and if needed, words in your native language to understand the meaning behind the English words that you’ve used.
When you are and feel skilled enough to read, write and speak fluent English, you can go back to your journals and re-read your notes. This will show you the progress you’ve made and can help you feel more confident.
It is okay to make mistakes in your journals, because as you keep practicing how to write, you will only get better, faster, and gain momentum and fluency in your English language skills. So, go ahead, challenge yourself.
Using the right strategies and tools makes learning how to write in a different language much easier, more interesting, and a lot more fun.
These eight writing strategies for ESL students will help you become more confident about writing in English and be open to feedback.
If you’re still in two minds about writing that essay, reach out to Writers Per Hour. Our native English speakers are not just well-versed in the language but also subject matter experts.
So, write to us with your requirements and we’ll get back to you with a 100% original, high-quality essay.