A Guide to Teaching Essay Writing to Your ESL Students

Group of multiethnic college students writing at desk in classroom
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As your students become more fluent in their new language, it’s a good idea to start focusing on more complex forms of writing. Essays are a great way for ESL students to practice researching, organizing information, and clearly representing their ideas. However, writing an essay in a second language can be difficult, so your students are going to need some help.

Have the Basics Down First

Before you begin teaching your students how to write an essay, you should make sure they have basic sentence formation down. Show them how to write simple, compound, and complex sentences. Start with a simple sentence, then instruct them on how to make it into a compound sentence, and then a complex sentence. Then you can move on to conjunctions, prepositions, and conjunctive adverbs.

Picking a Good Topic and Thesis

“The best way to teach essay writing is to have students become engaged by allowing them to pick a topic they are interested in,” writes David Muse, ESL teacher. Guide them towards something they can actually argue for or against. Once the student has a topic, it’s time for them to brainstorm and do their research. Teach them how to look up facts and statistics that will support their argument. Explain to your students what a thesis statement is.


Show you students how to write a proper introduction. Teach them ways to get the reader hooked and interested in reading on. Give them some ideas for how to hook their reader. Some good ones include a relevant quotation from one of their sources, an interesting fact, or even a joke, depending on their topic. Explain how an introduction should introduce the reader both to the central argument, as well as the main points that will be used to defend that argument.

Main Argument

Your students will probably find it easiest to stick to the traditional three main body paragraphs format. Each one of their body paragraphs will be concerned with one of their supporting arguments. They must explain each point and back it up with evidence from their research. Show them how to explain complex points by using shorter, more simple sentences to improve clarity. Teach them the rule of three. The rule of three is the idea that people will remember something better if they hear it reiterated in a group of three. A good example is “Stop, look, and listen.”

Wrapping Up

In the conclusion, your students will sum things up by reminding the reader of their main points. This is their last opportunity to really drive home their thesis. Make sure they know they should not be introducing any new points in their conclusion, but they can include a quotation or thought for the future. Quotations are useful because they lend some authority to the essay, and that’s a good way to end things.


Writing an essay in an unfamiliar language can be difficult, but your students can achieve it if they have the proper instruction. Remember to get them up to speed on the fundamentals of writing first. Follow this guide to teach your ESL students essay writing.

Grace Carter is an educator and curates teaching lessons, and improves the quality. She also teaches creative writing.


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