First Lessons in Writing

Starting Off Easy to Ensure Later Success

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Beginning-level writing classes are challenging to teach because students have such a huge learning curve at the very start. For a beginning-level student, you wouldn't start out with exercises such as, "Write a paragraph about your family," or "Write three sentences describing your best friend." Instead, begin with some concrete tasks that lead to that short paragraph. 

Start With the Nuts and Bolts

For many students, especially those that represent letters or words in alphabets vastly different from English's 26 letters, knowing that a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period is not necessarily intuituve.

Make sure to teach:

  • Begin each sentence with a capital letter.
  • End each sentence with a period and a question with a question mark.
  • Use capital letters with proper names and the pronoun "I."
  • Each sentence contains a subject, verb and, usually, a complement (such as a prepositional phrase or direct object).
  • Basic sentence structure is: Subject + verb + complement. 

Focus on Parts of Speech

To teach writing, students must know basic parts of speech. Review nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Ask students to categorize words in these four categories. Taking time to ensure students understand the role of each part of speech in a sentence will pay off.

Suggestions to Help with Simple Sentences

After students have an understanding of the nuts and bolts, help them begin writing by limiting their choices, and use simple structures. Sentences may be very repetitive in these exercises, but compound and complex sentences are not for students at the very beginning.

After students gain confidence on a number of simple exercises, they will be able to move on to more complicated tasks, such as joining elements with a conjunction to make a compound subject or verb. Then they will graduate to using short compound sentences and adding short introductory phrases.

Simple Exercise 1: Describing Yourself

In this exercise, teach standard phrases on the board, such as:

My name is ...
I am from ...
I live in ...
I am married / single.
I go to school / work at ...
I (like to) play ...
I like ...
I speak ...

Likes

soccer
tennis 
coffee
tea
etc.


Places

school
cafe
office

etc.

Use only simple verbs such as "live," "go," "work," "play," "speak," and "like" as well as set phrases with the verb "to be." After students feel comfortable with these simple phrases, introduce writing about another person with "you," "he," "she," or "they." 

Simple Exercise 2: Describing a Person

After students have learned basic factual descriptions, move on to describing people. In this case, help students by writing out different descriptive vocabulary on the board in categories. You can then use these categories with specific verbs to help narrow choices and instill confidence. For example:

Physical Appearance

tall / short
fat / thin
beautiful / good looking
well dressed
old / young
etc.


Physical Attributes​

eyes
hair

Personality

funny
shy
outgoing
hard-working
friendly
lazy
relaxed
etc.

Verbs to Use

Teach students to use "be" with adjectives describing physical appearance and personality traits and to use "have" with physical attributes (long hair, big eyes, etc.). 

Ask students to write about one person, using the verbs and vocabulary presented in both exercises.

As you check the students' work, make sure that they are writing simple sentences and not stringing too many attributes together.

Simple Exercise 3: Describing an Object

Continue working on writing skills by asking students to describe objects. Use the following categories to help students classify words to use in their writing:

Shapes 
round

square
oval

etc.

Color
red
blue
yellow
etc.

Textures
smooth
soft
rough
etc.

Materials 
wood
metal
plastic
etc.

Verbs
is made from / of
feels
is
has
looks like
looks

Variation: Ask students to write a description of an object without naming the object. Other students should then guess what the object is. At this point, it is better if students do not use multiple adjectives in a sentence, which requires a good understanding of adjective order. It's best to keep these simple at the beginning.

For example:

This object is round and smooth. It is made from metal. It has many buttons. I use it to listen to music. 

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "First Lessons in Writing." ThoughtCo, Feb. 18, 2018, thoughtco.com/first-lessons-in-writing-1212381. Beare, Kenneth. (2018, February 18). First Lessons in Writing. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/first-lessons-in-writing-1212381 Beare, Kenneth. "First Lessons in Writing." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/first-lessons-in-writing-1212381 (accessed February 20, 2018).