Creative Writing For the ESL Student

Creative Writing For the ESL Student

Creative writing is a form of writing that expresses feelings and emotions or thoughts and ideas, in an imaginative way rather than just as a means of conveying information.

Learning English as a foreign language can be a frustrating experience for many students. It can also be a dry and boring experience if the only writing that is done consists of lists of conjugated verbs or pages of vocabulary.

By introducing an element of creativity into written lessons when learning English, students can not only have more fun learning a language, but also speed up their learning process and boost their confidence. Creative writing exercises can help to dispel some of a student’s frustration by helping them to realize how much they already know. After just a couple of lessons student’s know enough to begin writing simple, yet imaginative stories.

In the early stages of language learning, one of the first lessons taught is often learning how to greet other people, using characteristic words to describe what they look like. These early lessons can incorporate some creative writing by having students write a short paragraph, or poem about a friend. Creative writing at this stage does not have to be grammatically correct. The aim is to use and experiment with the vocabulary and to have fun grouping the words together to describe something or someone who exists. Descriptions don’t even need to be truthful as students can have fun being cheeky and using their creative license.

As students progress with their language learning, so the creative exercises can become more challenging. Students can use aspects of story telling, for instance, by writing a piece that recalls a childhood memory in order to practice spelling and grammar use. They can also improve vocabulary by focusing on one concept, for instance beauty or sadness, and then writing down every word that means the same thing. Using those collected words to then write a poem or a narrative paragraph that incorporates some or all of the words is beneficial as well in advancing the learning process.

Students often know more than they realize. By exploring creative writing exercises they can be encouraged to write what they know, and realize how many different sentences they can form, or ideas they can express, using this technique. Self esteem along with confidence in the language, grows as students are encouraged to break out of the text-book style of learning by repetition.

Students who practice their new language skills creatively can be further encouraged by reading texts similar to those being written. For instance, students who are practicing poetry can be introduced to similar poems styles, such as a Haiku, either in printed books or those written by other ESL students. Creative reading opens up the language to more than just learning new words and how they fit together. Creative reading, whether it’s reading newspapers and magazines or stories, novels and poems, helps the student to experience the language being used as part of everyday communication, and thus grounds the language in the wider world, outside of the classroom and the textbook. Getting the student to connect with the language emotionally by understanding and relating to written creative texts, brings the new language to life in a way that conventional language learning, without elements of creative writing, cannot manage.

Three Creative Writing Exercises

For students of English as a second language, creative writing is a way to learn to play with words and experiment with expressing thoughts and feelings. Creative, or imaginative writing, allows students to practice communicating using everyday language as well as rehearsing the vocabulary used in specific situations, such as when shopping or asking directions. Using creative writing as part of a teaching plan allows ESL teachers to gauge the progress of each student and make sure a student’s foreign language writing abilities are keeping pace with their speaking skills. Here are three specific exercises a student can practice to enhance their creative writing ability:

Keep a Journal

Each student keeps a diary or journal in which they record everyday events and activities. The exercise can be adjusted to allow for different levels of language ability. For instance, ask beginner students to record just one or two words each day to describe the weather, or an item of clothing they are wearing that day. Have more advanced students write in complete sentences, detailing one or more of their daily activities.

Practice Punctuation

Make up two characters to write about and have them discuss a film that the student has recently watched. Have one character love the film and the other character hate it. Write the dialogue between them as they discuss what they thought of the film. Use the correct punctuation for dialogue throughout. Make the exercise more challenging by using two characters who are complete opposites, such as an old lady and a little boy. Adapt the exercise for beginner students by asking them to simply describe characters or actors within a film they have seen.

Past and Future Tense Poems

Writing short poetry verses is a good way to learn how to use the different tenses in the English language. Write a short poem in the past tense that describes what you did yesterday, then write a short poem in the future tense that describes what you have planned for tomorrow. In the past tense you will use phrases such as I went, I saw, I was, We were, and for the future tense you will use phrases such as I will, I am going, I want to, I will and We shall.

ESL Written Exercises

Interesting Things for ESL Students

Speaking and listening exercises, writing and ESL games.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

Exercises to help students learn numbers, verbs, punctuation and other practical aspects of language learning.

Guide to Grammar and Writing

Resources to teach the different parts of sentences.

University of Victoria Study Zone

Exercises for various levels of English study from beginner to advanced.

The New Okanagan College

Movies and sound files to help with pronunciation.

Eva Easton

Sound files to help ESL learners improve their pronunciation.

Resources for Teachers


Lots of writing exercises and links to teaching resources for ESL teachers and students.

Diamond Poems

Examples of diamond shaped poems written by ESL students.

Study English Today

Large resource site full of ideas that teachers can use, and exercises for students to learn with. Included as section on the use of idioms in English.

Creative Writing for Language Learners

Discusses the benefits of teaching creative writing in language classes.

ESL Teaching/Learning Resources

Informative site for teachers with a number of different writing resources to practice.

Helping ESL Writers Grow

A resource article for teachers with tips to helping ESL writers grow.

Creative Writing Resources

Better English for Everyone

Creative writing using photographs, discussions and interactive exercises.

Center For Writing Studies

A list of links containing resources for writing in English.

Enlgish Writing Resource

An English writing resource page from the Ohio University Department of Linguistics.

Creative Writing Websites

A government list of creative writing websites for students or teachers learning a second language.

Frankfurt International School

Contains links to constructive and helpful creative writing exercises for ESL students.

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