Thursday, August 09, 2007

A “Perfect” English Writing Lesson

Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking

If your English as a Foreign Language learners are anything like mine, then many of them don’t like to write in English. But since we wish to empower our foreign language learners with all four of the basic language skills, writing needs to be included in our class lessons. So, how can writing be introduced in such a way as to inspire interest and facility to our EFL classes - that is the question.

One approach that has worked for me is to have my EFL learners write a “travel” piece about the city, region or foreign country we are living in. This exercise is usually called something like, “A Perfect Day in Bogota”. For a longer written piece or an assignment, you could use, “Three Perfect Days in Barcelona” or “A Perfect Week in Quito” or wherever it is that you live.

Generally, learners love to brag about their city. By allowing them to boast about their favorite activities and places in the city, you can not only get them to write with enthusiasm, but glean some insight into their personal likes and preferences. I’ve even gotten more than a few “hot tips” on unique places or events that eventually panned out into some of my own haunts.

Procedure at a Glance

The learners write a description of their favorite local hotels, restaurants or places to eat, interesting sites to visit, unique slants on local festivals, holidays and other events. Preferred night clubs or discos, and types of music along with days and times to go, help to round out the writing.

Instead of insisting on a particular “format” or style, I’ve found it useful to allow a variety of expression in this area. Learners can use “bullet points”, narratives, essays or advert-style formats and writing. Depending on the level of the learners, I may precede the writing lesson with a class on order of adjectives, paragraph structure, the basic five-paragraph essay or a brief study and analysis of travel ads and travel articles or columns from an English language newspaper.

To Be or Not To Be

For a different type of approach, your English language learners could write a poem about their city, region or country. Often these prove to be both insightful and humorous.

Consider this slightly “tongue-in-cheek” example:

“The Feria de Cali”

Waves of December heat
are here to meet and greet
those “Gringos” who dare
our Feria to share,
while dancing to a Salsa beat.

Parades of slender, bronzed beauties abound,
as classic antique cars are found

In ten days the Feria ends
with sugar cane sweet tastes
and aguardiente-filled friends

You’ll sadly leave less heavy
than a pink and green ’57 Chevy.

Okay, so Shakespeare it’s not, but the poetry writing process worked for the learners.

The next time you’d like to “squeeze in” a bit more writing into your English class, try a variation of these ideas. You may be more than pleasantly surprised at the attitude of the learners and what they ultimately produce. Don’t forget to read aloud and post the more interesting examples. If you give the writing as an out-of-class assignment, your learners can include photos, graphics and perhaps “realia” in their writing as well.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. For more information on entering into or advancing in the fascinating field of ELT send for his no-cost pdf Ebook, “If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know”, send an e-mail with "free ELT Ebook" in the subject line. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail:

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