Writing Strategies and Activities

Writing is the language skill most similar to speaking because it requires students to be productive. Like speaking, writing provides students with the opportunity to express their ideas and feelings; this is also why many students enjoy writing and learning how to write well. The problem is that, unlike  speaking, students cannot use facial expressions or other gestures to convey meaning to the reader. Careful teaching of adjectives, and other elements of writing such as the  particular words and phrases used with each type of writing will help students in these areas

As with the other skills, writing requires practice, so at every chance you should provide students the opportunity to practice their writing skills. Provided here are  guidelines for activities and strategies for writing.  There are also lesson plans for writing essays.

Visit Modes of Writing (additonal information). Current Lesson offers a writitng topic as does the Previous Lesson Plans.

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The Paragraph Format

A paragraph is a basic unit of organization for writing a group of sentences that develops one main idea.

There are three parts to a paragraph: a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.

The Topic Sentence

The topic sentence is the most important sentence in the paragraph. It conveys the paragraph’s main idea, and it controls and limits the ideas that can be discussed in that paragraph.

Supporting Sentences

Supporting sentences develop the topic sentence. They give the reader more facts about the main idea, including examples of the way the main idea works and reasons the reader should believe the claims the writer is making in the paragraph. All supporting sentences must be related to the topic sentence.

The Concluding Sentence

The concluding sentence is the last sentence of the paragraph and  is called the concluding sentence because it signals the end of the paragraph.

The concluding sentence is similar to the topic sentence in that they are both general sentences. The concluding sentence can be written in two ways:

it can restate the topic sentence in different words or it can summarize the main points in the paragraph.

A concluding sentence often begins with “In conclusion…or In summary…”  There are very good concluding sentences that can communicate the end of the paragraph without using these phrases.

Example of a Paragraph

An ongoing topic of discussion throughout the world today is the spread of American popular culture around the globe. Some people argue that this influence is a threat to national cultures. Other people believe that Hollywood films, popular songs sung in English, and fast food restaurants represent an emerging “world culture” that is not true American culture. In conclusion, I feel that by observing the cultures of other countries in the coming years, it will be clear as to which side of this argument proves to be true.

Outline of a Paragraph


Before you write your paragraph, you should organize your ideas and write them down in an outline form. Use the following format as a guide.

I. Introduction

Topic Sentence (Main Idea)



II. Body

Support: _____________________________

Support: _____________________________


III. Conclusion

Concluding sentence_______________________

The Essay Format

The Essay has three parts:

  1. The introduction
  2. The Body
  3. The Conclusion

The introduction of an essay has two parts:

1. General statements

2.  Thesis statement

General Statements

General statements  (sentences highlighted in green in the sample essay) give the reader background information about the topic of the essay. These statements should get the reader interested in the topic of the essay. The first two or three sentences of an introduction should make general statements about the topic, and they should lead up to the thesis statement. The number of general statements you will actually use in an introduction depends on how long your essay will be. Usually, you should have at least two or three general statements in an introduction.

Thesis Statement

The thesis statement (blue sentence) states the main topic of the essay and sets forth what will be said in the body paragraphs. The thesis statement is often the last sentence in the introduction. Sometimes it is followed by sentences describing the organization of the rest of the essay.

The Body

Supporting sentences develop the thesis statement. They give the reader more facts about the main topic, including examples. It also provides reasons the reader should believe the claims the writer is making in the thesis statement. All supporting paragraphs  must be related to the thesis statement.

The Conclusion

The last paragraph of the essay is the summary paragraph. It restates the thesis and supporting ideas in the body of the essay.  The concluding paragraph is the last chance the writer has to convince the reader of the validity of the information presented.

The concluding paragraph should include:

  1. a restatement of the thesis statement, using some of the original language
  2. a summary of the main points from the body of the essay.
  3. a final statement that signals that the discussion has come to an end.

Example of an Essay

Superstitions in My Country

“In the Middle East, especially Syria, where I come from, people believe in some superstitions. Some of these superstitions are so strong that they are almost customs. These superstitions are about protecting against evil and bringing good luck. Two of the most popular superstitions are concerned with the evil eye and throwing water.

People believe that they must protect themselves from the evil eye of another person by putting turquoise beads in various places. A blue bead is pinned on newly born babies because babies are more vulnerable to an evil spirit and must be protected. Since houses must be protected too, a blue bead, usually with a horseshoe, is placed near the doorway for protection against someone with an evil eye. Also, if people have an item of special value like a car or sewing machine, they must protect it with a blue bead…

In conclusion, certain superstitions have become rituals with the purpose of protecting and bringing good luck. Because people always want to be protected and have good luck, these age-old superstitions are as strong today as they were ages ago and probably will continue in the future.”

Weaving It Together, Book 3, by Milada Broukal,

 Essay Outline

I. Introduction

General Statements: _______________________________________

Thesis Statement:__________________________________________


II. Body

Topic Sentence:__________________________________________




Topic Sentence:___________________________________________




III. Conclusion

Concluding sentences:________________________________________

Tools For Writing

Brainstorming Techniques

Before writing about a specific topic, students need to get ideas about the topic. Brainstorming can be used as a pre-writing activity, to help students think of ideas for topics. Before they begin, place students in groups and give them a handout with the following information as a guide:

When you brainstorm, you try to get as many ideas about a specific subject as you can. This will help you to get started more quickly with your writing and it will save you time much later. Two popular methods of brainstorming are listing and graphic organizers.


Example of the Listing technique used to write about the topic of superstitions

1. Write down the topic at the top of your paper.

2. Make a list of all the words and phrases that come into your head about the topic.

Don’t stop to think whether they are right or wrong or grammatically correct. Remember that you can always change the unwanted information later.

number 13

number 7

rabbit foot

a broken mirror

lucky numbers

a cross

3. Rewrite your list, putting the same ideas together.

Lucky Number: number 7

Unlucky Number: number 13

Lucky objects: rabbit’s foot, a cross/medal.

Unlucky objects: a broken mirror

4. From this list, write a draft about lucky and unlucky numbers or lucky and unlucky objects.

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are great for stimulating ideas and for classifying information. There are many types of graphic organizers, each designed to help organize different information for a particular topic. One of the more popular ones is the spider map.

Spider Map By Write Design

1. Write your topic in the center of your paper and circle it.

2. Draw lines from the topic to words associated with the topic


Great links for Graphic Organizers (for Writing, Reading, and Vocabulary):

Education Oasis

They offer charts for :  5 WHs questions and How, ABC Brainstorming, KWL Chart, Progress Report, and many more.

Write Design Online

Charts are more for the advanced learner. Styles: CerebralChart,, Fishbone Map,Spider Map and more.

Real Classroom Ideas

Helps teachers / learners set up a graphic organizer folder system for different graphic organizers.

FNO.ORG (vol. 7)

Great organizers for  young or  beginning ESL learners. Large graphics.

TIPS: Punctuation,  Grammar, Word Usage, Spelling,


CommasAlways use the serial comma between the last two items in a list of three or more joined by a conjunction:  Example: Red, green, and blue.

Adverbial, prepositional, or participial phrases are typically set off with an introductory comma.

Example: In the interim, the law stands.

When independent clauses are joined by a conjunction (and, but, or), a comma usually precedes the conjunction

Periods Periods are almost always placed within quotation marks, even within single quotation marks that set off special terms at the end of a sentence.

Colons, semicolons, question marks, and exclamation marks follow closing quotation marks unless the question mark or exclamation mark is part of the quoted material.


Avoid using the passive voice.  The passive voice is formed by combining the conjugated form of the verb to be with the past participle.


Active: The judge decided the case.

Passive: The case was decided by the judge

Postponing the actor, transforming the object into the subject, and adding wordiness through a prepositional phrase weaken writing in the passive voice.

Subject verb agreement 

 Singular subjects need singular verbs; plural subjects need plural verbs.  But the indefinite pronouns make things interesting.

Use of personal pronouns

Pronouns are words “that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose referents are named or understood in the context.”A personal pronoun shows by its form whether it is referring to the speaker, the person or thing spoken to or the person or thing spoken of. Personal pronouns are useful because words do not need to be repeated.

Use of reflexive pronouns

There is a tendency to use the reflexive pronoun myself when not appropriate or necessary.


Use:George and I are responsible for this state of affairs.

Not: George and myself are responsible for this state of affairs.

Pronoun reference

Pronouns usually refer to other words, termed antecedents, which have come before the pronoun.  It is imperative to assure that the antecedent reference is clear.


Use: Officer Schwartz, who arrested Helen Dean, said that Dean was drunk at the time.

Not: Officer Schwartz, who arrested Helen Dean, said that she was drunk at the time.

Gender neutral pronoun

Gender-neutral wording is a preference, not a requirement.  Legal pronouns were traditionally masculine when the gender was unspecified.  In the last couple of decades, gender-neutral wording has been embraced in legal writing.

Using he, his or him as common-sex pronouns is widely considered sexist. It is often possible to rewrite a sentence without the need for a personal pronoun.


Use: Lawyers always bill their clients.

Not:  A lawyer always bills his clients.

Use of Subjunctive Mood

Verb moods are the indicative, imperative and subjunctive.  The indicative mood is used for factual statement.  The imperative mood is used for commands.  The subjunctive mood expresses a condition which is doubtful or not factual.  The subjunctive mood “is most often found in a clause beginning with the word if. It is also found in clauses following a verb that expresses a doubt, a wish, regret, request, demand, or proposal.


Indicative The House and Senate agree on the budget.

Subjunctive If the House and Senate were to agree on the budget…

Split infinitives

Hardliners never believe it is allowable to split an infinitive.  Others grammarians accept that verb phrases can be interrupted by a single word without disrupting the sentence.  There is little consensus, but splitting an infinitive is allowable if it does not alter the intended meaning of the sentence.


To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Word Usage

That or which?

“That is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.”  The elaborates, “that is used restrictively to narrow a category or identify a particular item being talked about; which is used non-restrictively—not to narrow a class or identify a particular item but to add something about an item already identified.”   When using which in these instances, it is preceded by a comma.

Who or which?

“To refer to a person either who or which can be used but they are not interchangeable. Who is universal; which is usually selective or limited.”

Avoid jargon

Jargon means special words or expressions that are used by a  specific profession or group  and are usually  difficult for others to understand unless they are familiar with the group or profession. Example: legal jargon.

Subject verb agreement

Adjective to verb transitions are not acceptable in formal prose. Noun to verb transitions occur more frequently but recently transformed words should be used cautiously if at all.

Avoid bias

Biased language that is either sexist or consciously or unconsciously prejudicial distracts and may offend readers


Example: Directionals such as toward, upward, forward, and backward are written without an added -s. Also many computers have a “spell-check” system you can use.


Possessives The possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, while for plural nouns only an apostrophe is added.


Foreign Words

Italics are used for short words or phrases in a foreign language if they are probably unfamiliar to readers. It is also a good idea to link to foreign words or phrases when possible.

Example: Mozart’s Così fan tutte is still popular.


The dictionary is the starting point for determining if compound terms should be hyphenated, spelled as two words or spelled as a single word. General rules for hyphenation of compound words and specific examples are provided in the Chicago Manual of Style  (CMS).

Source: CMS Library English: Punctuation

Components for  Literary Analysis

This is an excellent review of components for analyzing pieces of literature, to prepare students for writing analytical essays about a novel, short story or poem.  Depending on the  level of your students, you can decide how much you would like them to analyze the stories and poems they read.

Also note that some of the terms for Poetry can also be used to analyze novels, short stories and plays. Terms in brackets [ ] are ones I’ve added to the list.

‘Students are asked to write literary analysis essays because this type of assignment encourages you to think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written.  To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons.  Your essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance.

Another way to look at a literary analysis is to consider a piece of literature from your own perspective.  Rather than thinking about the author’s intentions, you can develop an argument based on any single term (or combination of terms) listed below.  You’ll just need to use the original text to defend and explain your argument to the reader.”

Novel, Short Story, or Play

Themes – often explore ideas that are both cross-cultural and deeply rooted in the human condition [e.g., loneliness, coming of age, love, friendship, betrayal].

Character – representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction

• Protagonist – The character the story revolves around.

• Antagonist – A character or force that opposes the protagonist.

• Minor character – Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.

• Static character – A character that remains the same.

• Dynamic character – A character that changes in some important way.

• Characterization – The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.

Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character’s history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.

Point of View – pertains to who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author’s intentions.

• Narrator – The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.

• First-person – Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.

• Second person – Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom.  You see clutter everywhere and…”)

• Third Person (Objective) – Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character’s perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.

• Omniscient – All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story.  This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.

Plot – the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story

• Foreshadowing – When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).

• Suspense – The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown

• Conflict – Struggle between opposing forces.

• Exposition – Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.

• Rising Action – The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict

• Crisis – A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end

• Resolution/Denouement – The way the story turns out.

Setting – the place or location of the action.  The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters.

Structure – The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.

Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.


Allegory – narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.

• William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the decline of the Old South

• Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- man’s struggle to contain his inner primal instincts

• District 9- South African Apartheid

• X Men- the evils of prejudice

• Harry Potter- the dangers of seeking “racial purity”


Alliteration occurs when a series of words in a row (or close to a row) have the same first consonant sound.

For example, “She sells sea-shells down by the sea-short” or “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers” are both alliterative phrases.

In the former, all the words start with the “s” sound, while in the later, the “p’s” take precedence. Aside from tongue twisters, alliteration is also used in poems, song lyrics, and even store or brand names.

Source: Dictionary


An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, a place, event, literary work,  myth,  or work of art, either directly or by implication.

Source wikipedia


It has rained so long, it seems as though it has rained for 40 days and nights. (This is reference to Noah’s Arc which is a well-known event.)

1.) Harriet Tubman was called the Moses of her time.

2.) To act or not to act, that was Maria’s dilemma.

3.) The final game was John’s Waterloo.

Source wikiAnswers

Connotation – implied meaning of word. BEWARE! Connotations can change over time.

• confidence /arrogance

• mouse/ rat

• cautious/ scared

• curious/nosey

• frugal/ cheap

Denotation – dictionary definition of a word

Diction – word choice that both conveys and emphasizes the meaning or theme of a poem through distinctions in sound, look, rhythm, syllable, letters, and definition

Figurative language – the use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves

• Metaphor – contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as

◦ You are the sunshine of my life.

• Simile – contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as

◦ What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun

• Hyperbole – exaggeration

◦ I have a million things to so today.

• Personification – giving non-human objects human characteristics

◦ America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British.

Imagery – the author’s attempt to create a mental picture (or reference point) in the mind of the reader. Remember, though the most immediate forms of imagery are visual, strong and effective imagery can be used to invoke an emotional, sensational (taste, touch, smell etc) or even physical response.

[The following terms are usually used in analyzing poetry.]

Rhythm – often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem. Rhythm is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work.

Meter – measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem

Foot – grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line or poem

• Iamb – unstressed syllable followed by stressed

◦ Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech

▪ How dolove thee? Let me count the ways

• Spondee – stressed stressed

◦ Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm

▪ Blood boil, mind-meld, well- loved

• Trochee – stressed unstressed

◦ Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling

▪ Whilenodded, nearly napping, suddenly there cametapping,

• Anapest – unstressed unstressed stressed

◦ Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”

▪ Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

• Dactyls – stressed unstressed unstressed

◦ Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem

▪ Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

• The iamb stumbles through my books; trochees rush and tumble; while anapest runs like a hurrying brook; dactyls are stately and classical.

Structure – The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems  are not necessarily formless.

Symbolism – when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.

• Cross – representative of Christ or Christianity

• Bald Eagle – America or Patriotism

• Owl – wisdom or knowledge

• Yellow – implies cowardice or rot

Speaker – the person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.

Tone – the implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.

Source: Roane State Community College

Lesson Plans for Writing

These are handouts you can give to your students, as you teach them each different types of essay writing.

Article: Racism and Ignorance by Carol Spindel

Level: High-intermediate to advanced.

Materials: Article, handout of the particular mode of writing learners are currently practicing,  and the  essay questions.

Objective: To increase students’ awareness of the tools for writing, essay format, and the various modes of essay writing.


Pre-writing task: ask students if they understand what racism means; if in their countries, the sports teams have the names of aboriginal tribes; if some people in their communities object to these names. If students don’t have any ideas, provide a definition for racism, then a few examples, along with examples of some U.S. teams that have names of Indian tribes ( The Redskins).

While-writing task: place students in groups and have them underline or high-light any new vocabulary words and look them up. Review the words as a class.

Next, give students the essay questions. Each group chooses one question, and begins brainstorming ideas for an essay.  Students should name the type of essay they are planning to write. For example, the first question could be a Narrative essay, explaining the reasons why colleges and universities began using Indian tribal names for their sports teams.

Then, as a class, discuss the ideas from each group, write some of them on the board.

Post-writing task: For homework each student chooses a question and writes an essay for that question.

Students read their essays in class.

Directions: The following questions are based on the article Racism and Ignorance. Choose one question and write an essay, using one or more of the modes of writing.

In the United States American Indians continuously struggle for recognition and the rights afforded to non-Indians. For years, several well established universities have used the tribal names and symbols of Indians to represent the schools’ athletic teams and their mascots. Recently several of these institutions have decided to change the names. However, many of the alumni of these schools have protested the name change.

1. In your opinion, why would the alumni of a university protest the name change of the school’s athletic team from an American Indian name to one more neutral?

2. What rights are the aboriginal tribes of a country entitled to?

3. In your opinion, should these institutions contribute to scholarship funding for American Indian schools as a way to compensate for the misuse of the tribal names?

4. Do you think using the tribal names in a commercial way affects the people in the tribe? If so explain in what ways

Article: What is Intelligence, Anyway? by Issac Asimov

Level: High-intermediate to advanced.

Materials: Article, vocabulary worksheet,  handout of the modes of writing for reference, and essay question.

Objective: To increase students’ awareness of the tools for writing, essay format, and the various modes of essay writing.


Pre-writing task: ask students if they understand the meanings of I.Q., or intelligence; do they have similar types of tests in their countries, if so, what are they used for (to gain college entrance, or for a job position)

While-writing task: place students in groups give them copies of the article, and have them complete the vocabulary worksheet. Review the words as a class.

Next, give students the essay questions. Each group chooses one question, and begins brainstorming ideas for an essay. Students should have an idea of the type of essay they are planning to write.

For example, the first question could be a Compare and Contrast essay of why IQ tests  are necessary vs. the reasons they are not necessary.

Then, as a class, discuss the ideas from each group, write some of them on the board.

Post-writing task: For homework each student chooses a question and writes an essay for that question.

Students read their essays in class.

Writing Assignment for Asimov Article

In the article What Is Intelligence, Anyway? Asimov states, “ My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.”

1. Write an essay in which you discuss the significance of this statement, and explain why you agree or disagree. Provide examples to support your answer.

2. Do you think that there is a distinction between being smart and being intelligent? Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the two.

Activities for Writing Practice

To Help students practice there are several activities you can use on a daily basis.

One Minute Essay

At the end of each class give students the following question and allow them one minute to free write. For students at a lower-level, allow 2-3 minutes. Collect the essays and review them, but do not mark them. For the next class review any errors that students made. Students usually like this activity.


“In one minute summarize what you have learned in class today. Mention anything that was not clear to you, as well as any questions you may have about the topics discussed today. Write in complete sentences.”

Adjectives: Definition

An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun by describing, identifying, or quantifying words. An adjective usually precedes the noun or the pronoun which it modifies.

Here are some examples, the adjectives are bolded.

The wall broken wall was old.

The children look happy.

His hair was gray.

After, ask students to go through the photos and choose a picture. Have them write a description of the photo.

For your more advanced students, review Description writing here.

Writing Jigsaw

Bring in an article from a newspaper of magazine. Make sure that there are enough paragraphs to divide into the number of small groups of students. Give each group a paragraph. They are to read the paragraph, then write a summary. As a class, each group presents their part.

Additional Activities:

For younger students or beginners visit Scholastic Resources.

A collection of  Writing lessons (high-intermediate-advanced) is available here.