What can you do to improve your English when it’s pouring rain outside and you don’t feel like leaving the house? How about something different? Grab a piece of paper and a pen and start writing! Here are some ideas to get you started.
Like many other teachers and writers out there, I agree it’s really important to get out of the house and speak and interact in English. However, it’s also worthwhile to look at the other skills such as reading and writing.
Writing, for example, is no longer an academic task which your high school teacher gives you (if it ever was). Today people are reading and writing Facebook updates and messages, sending Tweets, writing their CV in English and updating their professional status on LinkedIn. They’re writing emails, sending texts, and drafting application letters for courses and jobs across the globe!
In short, doing some writing in English will help you improve your overall communication skills, help you achieve your needs, and have knock-on effects on your speaking and other skills.
For my own students and clients, choose one of the follow writing missions before our first lesson of the year. If you’re at another school, feel free to try one of these tasks each week this term, and ask your teacher or a friend for feedback
1. The secret diary of Mr Bean
Write a diary entry, either for one day or even better, the whole week. Choose a character or celebrity who you like and write your diary. Mr Bean is one example:
“Today I went with Teddy to the market. I saw someone stealing a banana from a shop keeper, but I managed to throw a melon at him and he stopped right there…”
Not everyone likes to write about their own private life so writing this kind of diary is one way to practise describing your day and talking about an interesting experience you had, as well as activating your vocabulary. Other celebrities you can choose from include:
- Daniel Craig
- George Bush
- Kelly Brook
- Vaclav Klaus
Other diary topics include:
- your first day at work [How did it go? Who did you meet?]
- a date that went well – or badly [Who was he/she? Where did you go?]
- the last day of the planet [How did you spend your last 24 hours? Who did you spend it with?]
- write the diary of someone you know, from their perspective [eg write the diary of an afternoon you had with someone, but from their perspective on how you got on together!]
2. Write one Facebook status update in English each day this week
I have friends from Prague and Finland, for example, who write status updates in their native language and English. When it’s in English, suddenly more people can reply and interact. Have you tried this?
If you’re not on Facebook, try LinkedIn. Write a short note about an article you found useful and share it with your network.
Still not online? Twitter is great for learning to write concisely – send out two Tweets a day this week to your followers!
Tip: see if you can keep the chain of interaction going once people reply.
3. How to get fit, quit your job and find a new lover in 7.5 days
Drafting a magazine article is one great way to practise a fun, chatty style of English, which also means adding some phrasal verbs and idiomatic language to your writing. This genre is also tested in some Cambridge exams (ahem, with different topics) so this will also help you with some English exams.
Other possible topics include:
- how to get a job
- how to learn English
- how to set up a business
- top weekend destinations in your country
You can also choose to satirise this genre by making fun of an article you have read.
4. Newt Gingrich says SORRY!
You’re a celebrity again! To practise your formal writing, compose an email or letter of apology to say sorry for your recent poor behaviour. You can write the email as a famous footballer, a politician (eg Newt Gingrich, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Silvio Berlusconi), or a rock star.
To get you started, write down 3 things which a celebrity you know did wrong last year. Maybe they had an affair, sexted other women, or stole money from the state. Got your 3? Now write your email.
Writing a formal email or letter using formal phrases you’ve done in class can help you with the FCE, BEC or CAE, among other exams.
5. Write a letter to the editor
Choose an issue in your local newspaper which is being debated right now. It could be building a new shopping centre, banning alcohol from your local beach, or penalties for young people who have committed crimes.
What is your opinion of this issue? This genre is also tested in some English exams (FCE, CAE, CPE), and gives you a great opportunity to present your opinion on an important topic or issue, while arguing your case in a well-organised manner.
6. Go to a new cafe and review it!
Another genre which is tested in international English exams is the review. Usually students are asked to review a film or a book, but we can extend it to other places which you have been to:
- a cafe or restaurant
- a fun park
- a beach or mountain resort
You can also review your local transport authority on how good their trains, trams and buses are.
If you’re unsure of how to write a review, your coursebook usually has examples of different genres of writing at the reference section at the back of the book.
If you’re feeling daring, you can also review:
- your boyfriend or girlfriend (one of my exes actually did this!)
- your family’s Christmas party or get-together
- a hotel you went to recently
- a new club which opened up in town
- a theatre performance you have seen (in the case of 2 of my students who are performers on stage, how would you write this review?)
Get started now
It’s snowing outside and it’s probably too early to go to a club anyhow. So take out a piece of paper and start writing!
Feel free to post your feedback and any suggestions on what other ‘writing missions’ you’d like to do this term by leaving a message below.