Creative Writing Activities for ESL Students

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When it comes to learning English, rote memorization helps ESL students learn the basics and rules of the language. It creates a foundation that is essential to building proficiency. But in order to be masters of English or any language, students should practice a little creativity to advance to a new level. An excellent activity to boost this progress is creative writing.

Creative writing help students transform the phrases they learned into something new, something that is theirs, something that can feel as natural as their native language. In particular, it helps students have a better grasp of syntax, description, and voice as well as learn how to show and not tell. Of course it’s not easy to write creatively, especially for students who are learning a new language. It’s like having students learn and practice making a tower with colorful building blocks for one week, but then the next week you ask them to try building something that isn’t the tower they know how to make. To make creative writing easier for your students, here are a few prompts and exercises to stimulate your students’ imagination.

Journal/diary of a historical figure

Have your students put themselves in another person’s shoes by asking them to write a fictitious journal or diary entry of a historical/famous figure. They can pick any person in history to imagine what a day in their life was like. Make sure to let them know that the journal entry doesn’t have to be a historically accurate depiction of these figures’ lives and that your students can have fun imagining the nuances of each figure’s life. For example, have your students consider what this person liked to have for breakfast and let them write out what that meal looks like. Or, if your student is familiar with the work of the historical figure, have them imagine what the day of their great achievement was like. Let your students have fun with theorizing!

Write a letter to their favorite fictional character

Chances are, your students have a character in media that they love. Whether it’s a cartoon, book, or movie character, ask your students to write a letter to that beloved character. These letters can be about anything: students can write a letter about how much they love this character, they can share memories and thoughts they always wanted to tell the character, they can write about any concerns and worries they have for the character’s future, and/or they can ask any questions they’re dying to ask the character. Letter-writing is becoming less popular nowadays, but it’s a great activity that teaches students how to communicate, especially in long-form. And, if you feel that it’s appropriate, you could write a return letter as the favorite characters to your students!

Essay report of a foreign planet

What if there was life on a different planet? What would the environment look like? What would the inhabitants look like? How would it be different from our planet? In this activity, have your students write about what alien planet would be like. They can pretend they just returned from a trip to space and during their travels, they explored a peaceful planet and met its residents. You can make sure your students answer particular questions about these fictional planets to help them get started, like what the planet is called and what the aliens look like. If it helps them conceptualize their ideas, you can have your students draw out the planet and the aliens. But for the sake of this activity, it is good practice to have the students try to describe the images in their heads with words. There are no wrong answers here, so let the imagination of your students run wild! 

Creating a story together

If your students feel intimidated writing by themselves, then you can work together to create a story! This exercise requires collaboration between your students or between you and your students. Start off with one person writing the first sentence of a story. The first sentence can begin with the way many stories begin—”Once upon a time…”—and then writer can finish off the sentence however they want. Once the first sentence is done, pass it to the other participant and have that person write the next sentence of the story. If there is only you and your student participating, pass the story between the two of you with each of you completing a sentence and letting the other write the next one. If there is a group participating, pass it around and let each person write the next sentence of the story. This activity teaches students narrative-building in addition to resourceful improvisation. Students can still be imaginative with the details, but every sentence needs to flow with each other. Don’t forget to set a limit to the sentences and make sure to have a definitive conclusion to your story.

Have fun writing creatively with your students and enjoy the stories and characters they create!