Stimulating ideas for writing

Students often need help in thinking about ideas for writing. Try some of the following:

  • Writing about student’s hobbies/ interests – gather information or pictures to encourage writing and exploration of student’s own interests.
  • Make a photograph album – use photographs of the student’s family or of local interest and write short notes about each picture.
  • Keep a simple diary – write a sentence about the events of each day. Keep a record of appointments including names and places.
  • Keep an address book – include own address as well as other people’s. Check that the spellings are correct.
  • Collect samples of different kinds of writing. Include formal and informal writing – letters, notes, telephone messages, stories, reports, invitations, greetings cards, envelopes, curriculum vitae, forms, poems and samples of writing by other students.
  • Plan an outing or a holiday – include notes and checklists of what you have to do. Find out about events, places of interest or particular cities/countries, and write down necessary information.


Note.  Those with basic word processing skills may find writing on a computer helpful. Seeing one’s writing in print helps to build confidence.  It also means students do not have to worry about handwriting.


Stages in the writing process

Most people go through a number of distinct stages before completing a piece of writing. It is useful for students to understand this so that they can tackle the task one step at a time.


Talking freely

  • Suggest topics or themes to write on
  • Initiate discussion to draw out student’s ideas
  • Listen


Catching the words

  • Take notes for the student
  • Map out or diagram points



  • Clarify student’s purpose
  • Suggest ways of going about it (for example arranging ideas in chronological order,  identifying student’s emphasis, clarifying their point of view)


First draft

  • Scribe using Language Experience approach
  • Give spellings when requested
  • Ask for clarification
  • Remind student of other points s/he planned to include



  • Ask questions for clarification
  • Offer suggestions such as rearranging points or paragraphs, cutting bits out, elaborating where necessary, breaking into paragraphs, punctuation
  • Help to check spelling


Final copy

  • Encourage student to proof read
  • Prepare for final handwritten or printed copy



  • Support student at a reading evening
  • Share written work with other tutors and students through newsletters or publication of student writings



Analysing student writing


Once the student has got a first draft of what they want to write down on paper, the question of editing arises. This demands great sensitivity on the part of the tutor, especially since the student may have taken a great deal of time over the task. The piece might be considerably improved if certain points were clarified or elaborated, if the sentences were arranged in a different order, if repetitive information were left out, if the spelling and punctuation were accurate and the layout correct.

  • If you ask your student to write something, even his or her name and address, you will be able to discover a lot of information about their needs, as well as their writing strengths and weaknesses.
  • Encourage your student to read back his or her writing to you.
  • In order to encourage confidence and self-diagnosis, always ask students where they themselves think they have difficulties before pointing them out.
  • It is very important that you respond positively to the piece, rather than seeking to identify all mistakes, and of prioritisingthe most important aspects of the writing to work on, rather than trying to ‘fix’ everything in one session.


You might find it useful to ask these questions when studying a piece of writing:

  • Is it easy to follow the sequence of ideas?
  • Is the writer able to spell simple words? (for example from the ‘Dolch’list, see reading section)
  • Does she or he have an understanding of sentence structure, verb tenses, capital letters and full stops?
  • Is the handwriting legible and or fluent?
  • Can the student self-correct? Is she or he aware of the type of mistakes that she or he is making, for example leaving out ‘s’ at the end of words, omitting endings such as ‘ed’or ‘ing’?
  • Does she or he have a knowledge of letter sounds and their combination into letter strings and or patterns?



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