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Teaching Writing to Young ELT Learners




Girl smiling and writingKaren Frazier, co-author of Let’s Go, looks at how to get children writing in English.

Writing, in any language, can be so much fun! It’s exciting to send messages and letters to people in a language that they understand. Everyone enjoys describing events in their lives, talking about pictures and places, and sharing their thoughts and ideas. Many also like to create stories and songs, too! So, how can we, as teachers, help our ELT students develop this type of enthusiasm for sharing and writing in English?

Children enjoy the beginning stages of writing, when they are learning the letters or characters. Young learners are very willing to work at tracing letters and words. They are usually eager to learn how to print their names and the names of their brothers, sisters and pets. It’s this interest in writing that we want to maintain as we help our students learn and continue to develop their English writing skills. Yet writing can be a challenging skill for children to learn. So what can we do to help them retain their interest in writing while they develop their skills and confidence in writing in English?

To be able to write in English, students must have a basic foundation and understanding of the spoken language. To get our students prepared to write, we need to provide opportunities for them to recycle and review the language they already know. They need to know how to identify and talk about objects and people in English in order to write something about them. Of course, they must also know how to write the alphabet letters so that they can learn to spell words that they know. Finally, they need to know some basic sentence patterns in order to write sentences that are meaningful to them.

Students must also be able to read some words and sentences because the skill of reading goes hand-in-hand with learning to write. Reading provides the opportunity for students to become more familiar with language patterns, and it develops their vocabulary. Yes, reading, as well as listening and speaking, are important in helping our students learn to write. So our writing activities should always include these skills as part of the pre-writing steps.

Steps for Beginner Writers:

1. Use pictures to stimulate comments and discussion

Have students draw their own pictures or bring in photos. Or, you can provide pictures for them from magazines, the internet and other sources.

Some of the first recognizable pictures that most children draw are pictures of themselves and their family. If they have pets, they often like to draw them. Favorite places, like houses and landscapes with the sun, are also among the first things that children like to draw. Therefore, as you prepare your young students for writing activities, primarily focus on having them draw these types of pictures.

2. Have students describe and talk about their pictures

Be sure to provide plenty of chances for your students to talk about and share pictures. Children enjoy talking about people, places and events that are important to them. Let them share their pictures and thoughts about these pictures with each other. This also gives them a great opportunity to review and practice their English. It helps them remember what they already know and builds confidence.

3. Help students write down what they have said

For young writers, this often means that you will do much of the writing at the very beginning. You write down the sentences that your students use to describe their pictures. Then you can have the students trace the sight words or the key vocabulary. As the children develop more ability and confidence in their writing, they can start writing the descriptions on their own under their pictures. They may start with one or two words in the beginning and will gradually start to write a sentence on their own. More confident and experienced students of English can write their own longer descriptions of their pictures (two to three sentences). The main goal of this step in writing is to encourage and capitalize on the natural interest that children have in describing what they see.

4. Have the students read each other’s captions and descriptions of the pictures

After they read, they can share ideas with each other in small groups. Then you can have them work together in small groups to add another sentence to the description.

5. Have students use their descriptions to create their own little books

As beginner ELT students become more skilled in writing words and sentences, they can expand on their own one-sentence descriptions by adding extra words, like adjectives, or one or two more sentences. If you have them describe several of their own pictures, they can then put them together to make their own small book. This is a great motivator for the students. They will enjoy reading their books and will be look forward to writing more. You could also let them take their books home to share their stories, and new writing skills, with their families.

You can also motivate your students of all levels to write by providing them with real-life writing exercises. For example, they can write about something that happened while they were all together in your English class. Start by talking about what happened as a class and then encourage each of the students to draw a picture and write a sentence or two about the event. Next have them share their sentences with the class and finally combine all the sentences into a story. It becomes a small book that was written by the class.

Other types of real-life writing activities include making lists of vocabulary words, making lists of things to buy at the store, and writing notes, text messages and emails to friends. You can also have your students create their own comic strips or keep a simple journal in which they share thoughts in English with you.

These are just a few of the ways you can keep your students engaged in writing in English. There are many activities that can be used which give children a realistic reason to write. Whatever activity you choose to use should be one that is motivating and that taps into your students’ interests. Doing this will help keep your students enthusiastic about writing in English.

It would be great to hear your comments on this blog. I’d also love to see you at my free webinar on teaching writing this Friday, 19 April. You can sign up here.

Visit Let’s Share for more videos, blogs and upcoming events by our Let’s Go authors.


    • You are very welcome, Chary! I am happy to share ideas. We can all learn from each other as we strive to be better teachers.

  1. This article was brought to our attention by a fan. We have posted a link to it on the Facebook page for our teaching resource “Question Quest: The Language Card Game.” Thank you very much for sharing this information.

    • I’m happy to share this information with you and am pleased to know that you have shared the link to it. I look forward to taking a look at your teaching resource “Question Quest: The Language Card Game”. Thank you for letting me know about that.

    • I’m pleased to have my blog included with the blogs on the Slovak Chamber of English Teachers blog. I look forward to reading the other blogs that are posted there. Karen

  2. It was great when I read your idea. But at what age should we ask children do their writing?

    • Hoa, I believe that the important thing is to be sure that students have some oral language skills first and that they are developmentally ready to hold a pencil and write. This usually occurs around the age of 5 for most children. At that age, students can trace and begin to write the alphabet and simple words. By the age of 6, they are ready to write simple, meaningful sentences like ‘I like cats’. Karen

  3. […] Karen Frazier, co-author of Let’s Go, looks at how to get children writing in English. Writing, in any language, can be so much fun! It’s exciting to send messages and letters to people in a langua…  […]

  4. Hi Karen, Thanks for sharing interesting and helpful but after reading ? am still not quite sure as to when or at what age to start teaching kids to write. You said that the kids should have a basic foundation and understanding of spoken language, how is that assessed? ? mean e.g Would one year of English lessons in preschool 10 hours a week, then the following year 10 hours a week in grade 1 should this be enough, to then start introducing writing in grade 2? ? would be grateful if you would give me your view on this. The school ? am teaching at insists that the kids learn to write in their mother tongue first even though the kids start learning English in preschool they don’t start writing until grade 3. Thanks, Sally.

  5. Three Most Important Tips For Teaching Young Learners | sucess Today

    […] Teaching Writing to Young ELT Learners | Oxford … – Hoa, I believe that the important thing is to be sure that students have some oral language skills first and that they are developmentally ready to hold a pencil and … […]

  6. Writing equates to being proficient in verbatim as well and in being able to express your thoughts out loud and not just keep things to yourself due to loss of words.

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