Number one for English language teachers

Minimal resources: Teaching writing

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

Adrian Tennant and Lindsay Clandfield provide us with some inspiring tips and ideas for teaching writing with minimal resources.

Obviously when teaching writing the minimal material resources you and your learners need is paper and a pen. But beyond that there are many great writing classes that can come out of your and your learner’s imagination. Here are some:


Do you know the program messenger? Messenger is a way of communicating from one computer to another in 'real time'. One person types a message on their computer and the other person can read it immediately on their computer.

Messenger is used instead of email to communicate quick messages to someone, or to have a conversation with another person through computers. It is like an internet 'chat' between two people. Have your learners simulate a messenger chat in the following way:

  • Divide the class into pairs and give each pair a blank piece of paper.
  • Explain that they have six minutes to have a conversation with each other, but that they cannot say anything.
  • They must do this in writing. One learner writes a message on the piece of paper and hands it to the other learner. The other learner writes a response and hands it back to the first learner.
  • This kind of situation may seem bizarre to the learners at first, as they might not know what to say. But once the paper has passed back and forth two or three times you might find it hard to stop them writing!
  • Variation: You can give your learners more guidance by supplying them with a role play situation each, e.g. You are a doctor. Explain to your patient that she (or he!) is pregnant.


Put the learners in groups of four. Explain that they are a new political party and that there is going to be an election in the next four weeks. The learners have to write an election manifesto for their political party. Tell them that they can be as serious or as crazy as they like. Set the following guidelines:
  • They must choose a name for their political party.
  • A manifesto is usually a set of statements about what the country needs. It also gives reasons why the country needs those things. Their manifestos should reflect this.
  • Their manifestoes should end with an incentive to vote. This could be in the first conditional (“If you want a better country…” “If you want this place to be a great place to live…”
  • When groups have finished their manifestos, have them exchange with another group. The group should read the new manifesto and make any suggestions on how to improve the English of the manifesto (peer correction).
  • They then hand it back to the first group. You can then post the manifestos around the class. Ask the learners to vote for the best one.

The noticeboard

Designate one wall as The Noticeboard. Students write up thoughts, funny sayings, gossip – making writing English fun.
Journal entries
  • Ask learners to keep an English journal or diary. This could be a cheap exercise book.
  • Have a regular class appointment with the journal.
  • Tell learners to take out their journals at this time and set them a quick writing task. Set a time limit of five to ten minutes for this.
  • Tell them not to worry about planning, just to write what comes into their heads. You can set them a topic for each journal session to begin with.
  • Here are some suggestions:
your favourite day of the week; a good teacher; how to save money...
  • It may be a good idea to set a topic connected to something that you were doing in class that week, or something topical from the news.
  • Once they are accustomed to this kind of writing, let them write whatever comes into their heads.
  • The purpose of this kind of activity should be merely to provide learners with more writing practice in English. It isn’t necessary to collect this in and correct it.

A question of punctuation
  • This activity also requires a board, but other than that it’s the usual pen and paper.
  • Write up a short text (this can be from a course book) on the board but leave out punctuation, capital letters etc.
  • Then ask your students to take turns coming up and correcting the text.
  • If you want you can add a competitive edge by dividing the class into two groups and writing up the same text twice.
  • The groups then race each other correcting the text.

Circle writing

This idea is based on the children’s game ‘Heads, body, legs’.
  • Each student takes a piece of paper. Ask each student to write the first line of a dialogue.
Some suggestions: A: I’m sorry darling I didn’t mean to …; A: What did you say!?; A: What was that? B: What?; A: What time do you call this?
  • They write the next line of the dialogue and then fold the paper so that only the line they wrote is showing.
  • The paper is then passed to the student sitting on next to them (all pieces of paper go the same direction. e.g clockwise).
  • The students then read the line they can see, write the next line, fold and carry on the process. It’s important to try and keep the pace going and making sure that the paper(s) is passed at the same time.
  • Once there are enough lines (10 – 15) ask the students to unfold the pieces of paper and read the dialogues – choose a few to read out theirs aloud.
  • It can be good to have a theme or scene (e.g Parent to Child, Teacher to Student, Wife to Husband etc).

Hide the line
  • Put your students into small groups and give each group a line. For example; And then she flew; All the student’s answers were correct!; The fifteen sisters said “…..;
  • Tell them to write a short story/dialogue including the line but hiding it.
  • Read the stories out and the other groups try and guess the ‘hidden’ line.

Message in a bottle
  • On the board draw a simple picture of the sea with a bottle floating (top above the waves).
  • Ask the students what it is and elicit, or explain, the idea of a ‘message in a bottle’ (i.e. someone is shipwrecked and sends a message asking for help).
  • Then, on the board write up the following:

I a

  • Explain that this is all that remains of the message. The students should work in pairs, or small groups, and complete (write) the message.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Thank you for the article. I use some of these activities in my class - circle writing,noticeboard- and they really work!
    I will definetly try Messenger.

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  • The articles are really interesting.
    Thank you.

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