Micro Writing: Writing to learn in ESL

posted in: Uncategorized | 9



I’ve been thinking lately about how to get more writing out of students. It is often something they want more practice in but when set as homework, we don’t necessarily as teachers take advantage of the task as much as we could. And of course getting a full compliment of writing assignments handed in is a rare occurrence.

I’ve recently been introduced to the terms ‘micro writing’ and ‘writing to learn’ in a very practical webinar by Ceri Jones. There are loads of great ideas on how to get your students writing and thinking more in class. You can check out the webinar here.


So what does ‘writing to learn’ or ‘micro writing’ mean?

The way I see micro writing or writing to learn is as it sounds; short, informal writing tasks: A few sentences, a definition, a facebook status update. We’re not talking about a full-blown essay but we’re a step further on than note-taking. Short but formulated and thought-out sentences that help students think more deeply about language or ideas presented in class. The idea is not to communicate ideas to others but to process and understand concepts for ourselves.

Why is it useful in class?

  • By formulating ideas, topics and language points into our own personalized writing, we are more likely to retain information.
  • Short pieces of writing can build confidence and build students up to longer texts.
  • You can get an idea of students’ understanding of a text, grammar point, listening or lexical item.
  • It allows students time to focus their ideas on a subject.
  • You can use the shorter tasks to scaffold longer pieces of writing.
  • Students can use critical thinking skills to formulate their sentences: reading, thinking, writing, rereading, reformulating and rewriting.
  • It’s a good way to squeeze writing into a class.

Some examples of writing to learn activities:

  • ‘When a discussion seems to be taking off in several directions, dominated by just a few students, or emotionally charged, stop the discussion and ask students to write either what they saw as the main threads of the discussion or where the discussion might most profitably go. After writing for a few minutes, students will often be better able to identify and stay on productive tracks of discussion. Or, after asking a few students to read their writing aloud, the teacher can decide how best to redirect the discussion.’ wac.colostate.edu
  • Have students write a problem or half a sentence that is passed on to another student whose job it is to solve or complete it. Ceri Jones used an example sentence ‘I didn’t do my homework because…’
  • Mid lesson, ask students to summarize what has happened so far. You could use this to help students arriving late to class or to make sure everyone is following the lesson.
  • Ask students to explain the lesson point of the day as if speaking to: a child, a new student, a family member.
  • After brainstorming vocabulary or introducing a new topic, get students to write a definition of a word. Compare definitions with other students in the class and clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Ask students to comment on a funny photo, much like they would on facebook.
  • Ask students to comment on a facebook update. You could hand out strips of paper in class to do this, write the updates on the board or use actual facebook accounts if feasible with your group of learners.


Do you have any other micro writing classroom activities?

9 Responses

  1. Julie Mizrahi

    Another excellent post with some great ideas. This is becoming one of the first sites I turn to for inspiration and lesson plans. Keep up the good work ladies.

    • Cheryl Malanek

      Thanks Julie! Let us know how you get on with the micro writing activities.

  2. Sahar Hikmet

    I want to know what do you mean exactly by this micro writing.

    • Cheryl Malanek

      Hi Sahar
      Micro writing is something that shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes. Asking students to write a few sentences to clarify and get to grips with a topic, vocabulary or an idea. Not only does it help students gather their thoughts together, it helps you as a teacher check if a student has truly grasped the point you are trying to make. 5 minutes of writing scattered throughout the class can be a lot more beneficial and a lot less daunting for a student than sitting down to write a full-blown essay. Check out Ceri Jones’ webinar for some more ideas.

  3. After reading and article called “writing for writing and writing for learning” I decided to include in my classes the first idea as warm up: draw a girl’s face and a boy’s face. When stds get to class they have to write what they have in their minds, eg “I feel like …” Or “today I’m …” each group wrote on the face that represented them. After some classes I gave the boys the girl’s face and the girls the boy’s face and according to the writings they had to write a profile. Students got involved in the activity, looking up for vocabulary in the dictionary and checking grammar. I’m sharing this experience because your article has made me think again about motivating stds to write!! Thanks a million!

    • Cheryl Malanek

      Hi Raquel
      Great idea for a warmer! I’m going to try that one out myself. I like the idea of writing a profile for the face using all the words the students came up with.

  4. Great post. This will be perfect for the groups of students I work with.

  5. Great post! My students blog for writing practice and it works beautifully. Most them really enjoy it. I use blogging for reflection and often to check for understanding. It certainly helps build confidence, creativity and critical thinking skills.

  6. Hey great article. Micro writing is a new concept for me, and one which I will incorporate into my ESL classes. Thanks.

Leave a Reply