Writing Lessons for ESL First Grade Students

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An Amusing Yet Productive ESL Writing Lesson

Designing writing lessons for ESL first-grade students can be an arduous and sometimes stressful process for many reasons. This is perhaps due to the students' reluctance to concentrate on the monotonous and prosaic task of engraving strange words onto a piece of paper, when they are often used to the fun and bright colors of other first-grade teaching methods. The difficulty is, of course, enhanced by the fact that the language seems alien and perhaps threatening to the student. However, this need not be the case. The imagination is an incredibly powerful tool–let’s use it to our advantage!

Story Building

Constructing stories, no matter how brief or rudimentary, can be an excellent teaching method that not only allows students to cement important vocabulary in their memory but also consolidates their grammatical knowledge. The opportunity for students to be creative will no doubt involve them far more effectively than the somewhat monotonous task of copying out sentence after sentence. This heightened engagement with the subject matter at hand, a brief story, will allow them to enjoy their learning and really profit from it.

Depending on availability of equipment, one should initially try and use either a flip chart or PowerPoint format when delivering this presentation. This chart will form the ‘template’ for your students' stories as they are created. Arrange the surface into a large grid in which the first caption is Once upon a time…, followed by sentences with gaps, which you invite the students to fill.

Simply have them fill the grid with the relevant vocabulary flashcards and short, simple sentences. This forms a basic and easy-to-understand story structure, which should no doubt bring much amusement and fun. The story can be as ridiculous or down to earth as you please, so long as relevant grammatical phrases and words are incorporated. A sample is provided below:

Once upon a time, there was a happy horse. It ate a lot of hay and liked playing football. One day it was eating cucumbers in the field when it was attacked by an angry cow. The cow was very angry because it had no food. The horse told the cow not to be so angry and in the end they played football together and ate hay. The horse was very happy but the cow was still very angry. The end.

Nitty Gritty

This exercise should not last for more than around fifteen to twenty minutes, as you want to leave enough time for the students to build their own stories. Sometimes it’s inevitable that a phrase or word will pop up in the template that your students certainly won’t know; therefore, be sure to provide translations in the margins when required. When they seem to have grasped the concept, give out printed copies of the same story structure and invite them to create their own stories. This time have them do it without the prepared flashcards! Providing that there is a clear, logical structure to your story template, with relatively small gaps to fill, the task should run smoothly.

For the more gifted students, consider giving them a slightly longer story template or allow them to figuratively ‘run wild’ by letting them compose their own story without the security of the template. For those who seem to struggle with the initial task, consider allowing them to use the flashcards from the opening exercise. Although this will not improve their recall memory, the act of copying the words down should help them to learn the spelling of each word or phrase.


Encouraging students to make use of their imagination will always lead to a higher quality of learning when teaching languages, simply because they are more engaged with the subject matter. Allowing first-grade students to build their own stories makes them feel in control while simultaneously consolidating their knowledge of grammar and important vocabulary. This simple and diverse lesson plan is easy to incorporate into any writing unit and should no doubt capture the enthusiasm of your first-grade students.