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

Obviously, when teaching writing the minimum 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 you and your learners’ imaginations. Here are eight activities to inspire you.

1. Messenger

Messenger programmes and apps are used instead of email to leave quick messages or to have a conversation with another person online. 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 it 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 chatting to a good friend. Explain to your friend that you have just got engaged!

2. Manifestos

Put the learners in groups of four. Explain that they are a new political party and 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, e.g. If you want a better country … 
  • 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 hand it back to the first group. You can then post the manifestos around the class and ask the learners to vote for the best one.

3. The noticeboard

Designate one wall as The noticeboard. Students write up thoughts, funny sayings, gossip – making writing English fun.

4. 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; What makes 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 about whatever they want to, rather than a set topic.
  • 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.

5. A question of punctuation

  • This activity also requires a board, but other than that it just needs the usual pen and paper.
  • Write up a short text (this can be from a coursebook) 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.

6. Circle writing

This idea is based on the children’s game ‘Heads, bodies and legs’.

  • Each student takes a piece of paper. Ask each student to write the first line of a dialogue. Some suggestions: I’m sorry, darling, I didn’t mean to …; What did you say!?; What was that?; What time do you call this?
  • They then pass the piece of paper to the student sitting to the left of them. 
  • With their new piece of paper, 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 to their left.
  • 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, making sure that the paper(s) are all passed to the left 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), to help spark the students' imaginations at the start.

7. 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. The other groups should try to guess the ‘hidden’ line.

8. Message in a bottle

  • On the board draw a simple picture of the sea with a bottle floating 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.