Among the four language skills (Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing), teaching—as well as teaching—writing is the most difficult. This is because when students write, they are asked to express their own ideas. Rather than relying on their memory, they now have to tap into their creativity. This can be especially problematic if you teach in a country like China, where public education focuses primarily on memorization and regurgitation. Try to use the following two activities to give kids the confidence to write.
#1 The Interview
Level: All (just change the questions)
Before you start writing, give each student a blank piece of A4 paper and ask them to do one hamburger fold, and two hot dog folds.
When they’re done, ask them to leave the first line blank and write the numbers 1 through 7 on the other lines. Now you will start asking students several questions and they’ll have to write down the answer to each question. After each question, ask the students to cover the answer (*) and pass the paper to the student on their right. Repeat this until all the questions. When they’re all finished, return the papers to the first writer (the person who answered question one) and ask some of the students to come up and introduce themselves (this is a good icebreaker activity too). Since only the first answer was written by the answering student, the weird answers are always very entertaining.
Fold your paper to cover previous answers
Ready to go
1. What is your name?
2. Where are you from?
3. What is your favorite toy?
5. Which famous person do you like the most
7. If you and him/her got married, where would you go on your honeymoon?
Sample Answer Sheet:
1. My name is Jack
2. I am from Jiang Su
3. My favorite toy is my G.I. Joe action figure.
4. Because I she can wear pretty dress and I can brush her hair. (This student answered Barbie doll to question 3)
5. I like Taylor swift the most
6. Because his slam-dunks are the best (remember, each question has been answered by a different student)
7. I would never marry him because we are both boys.
Kids love this activity once they get the hang of it. In fact, some classes requested the game to be played several times because they enjoyed it so much (I used different questions of course). I’ve seen it used at teacher trainings as well, and it turns out that even adults find this type of activity entertaining.
#2 The Diary
This activity is essentially an adaptation of the first one, but it requires kids to write a little more (4 short passages of 30-50 words). Before you begin, do some free talk about famous people and what their days are like. Then ask each student to write the name of his/her favorite celebrity on a piece of paper (allow the use of pinyin here because foreign names can be hard to spell). Collect the pieces and hand them out again. Students are supposed to write a diary entry for the celebrity they have just received. Ask the students to fold the paper again, but this time they’re supposed to write four longer entries. Instead of questions, they’re supposed to complete the sentence and write 30-50 words before folding the paper and giving it to the person on their right.
1. When I woke up this morning I felt…
2. I ate lunch with …
3. In the afternoon I cried for a long time because…
4. Before I went to bed, …
When they’re done, ask them the read their diary entries to the class.
I’m sure you’re all creative enough to adapt and improve these activities, but remember that by breaking it down into small parts, writing a passage will seem less daunting. The goal is to get students to enjoy using the language, so don’t be too strict when it comes to mistakes. Also, make sure students read their passages to the class. Because most of what they’ve written isn’t their own anyway, bashful students will be much more likely to participate!