5 Tips for Motivating 1st or 2nd Language learners to Write

Passion Turns the Writing Wheels, Round ‘n’ Round

Wheels go round and round

What is writing? Why do we write when we can speak? What are the things we write about when we do write? 

They say that before speaking, make sure your brain is connected to your tongue! That is because once the words leave your mouth you can’t put them back in.

When we write, however, we can erase, re-write, polish, add or subtract words. We also write to remember things or put our thoughts down on paper. These include things like shopping lists; diaries; journal papers, blogs, books, novels, movie scripts and yes, even homework assignments.

There is a certain amount of contained passion in whatever we write. If we are writing a shopping list it is for items we don’t want to forget because they will make our next meal just right or provide us with a delightful midnight snack. 

When we write in a diary or journal we write things we may not be able to tell anyone but ourselves. We may write about things that we want to remember or share. We write about interesting ideas or things we create. Writings may even accompany our doodles. And best of all they offer the opportunity to polish and perfect our words by adding metaphors and imagery. 


Does writing fuel the passion of your students? Are they passionate enough about anything to want to express it on paper voluntarily? Maybe you should ask yourself what would your students fight for, cry for, or even die for? 

Have them take an inventory and write a list of the things they are most passionate about. That is a starter to get the writing process going. 

Once they have done this then let them choose one of the topics for a writing assignment. If they have really expressed the things they are passionate about they will have at least one good topic.


There may be students who seem to have no passions and are very lukewarm about writing anything. In this case we must go to plan B, when your students shrug their shoulders and expect you to give them a topic. 


You can provide a list of famous people to choose from as an inspiration. It’s pretty sure that the famous people you introduce to your students were passionate about something. They most likely had something they would fight for, cry for, or die for. These are the people we most admire. They are the heroes we wish to emulate because they are the people that fought for, cried for, or died for something they believed in. Let these be the topics for your students.


Reading and Writing are two language skills that go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. When you read something, you know that somebody wrote it and when you write something perhaps someone will read it. If it is written with passion, just like a good song, then you will enjoy both the reading and the writing sides of the process.

Remember that good biographies aren’t just a matter of birth dates and dates of major events in the person’s life. Biographies that inspire have life situations that you can empathize with. Have your students search for the struggles and successes in the biographies. Chances are that if these people were famous, they went through a few struggles and challenges. What gave them the fame they earned? Why are they remembered?

Your students can find these types of biographies and read them for interesting facts. This improves their reading skills and offers them an opportunity to formulate the thoughts that come to their mind about their subject.

Try to make sure the reading level of the text is only minimally higher than your students can easily understand.  
Readings that are too difficult kill motivation, our greatest ally. Readings that are only slightly challenging maintain motivation and don’t cause stress. The readings should bring about an emotion of empathy for the life of the person in the biography. 


First Tip (changing 3rd to 1st person):
After reading and going over a biography and acquiring vocabulary from the content, have students rewrite the biography by putting it into first person as if they were stating their own biography. (basic skill)

Second Tip (modifying outcomes with an addendum):
Have students write an addendum to the biography (which is now in first person like an autobiography). Then have them add the addendum about what they could have done to change the outcomes of their lives. This section can start with something like: If I could go back I would…..(advancing skills)

Third Tip (projecting themselves into the future):
Using the model biography/autobiography as a template, have them write a biography about themselves, by projecting what someone in the future might write about them. Your students will be able to apply creativity and personalization which is still scaffolded by the original biography but has now become their own story. ‘What would others say about me in my invented biography’?

Fourth Tip (editing correcting and revising for viewing):
Edit and revise any of these writing assignments to polish them. Mount the featured best ones on a bulletin board for public viewing. Reinforcing core skills through writing and editing.

Fifth Tip (staged reading):
Have students rehearse reading any of the biography versions to present in front of the class. A vote and prize can be given for the best reading. (oral proficiency)

Please comment and share tips on how you motivate or bring students into your content or prescribed content.

2 thoughts on “5 Tips for Motivating 1st or 2nd Language learners to Write

  1. This is a great idea to tell the students to write in the first person. Then it becomes all about their own lives and they are more invested in what they write. I try to get students to do the same thing.

  2. And it is so easy for any teacher to tweak topics that may be in their textbooks and switch writing or commenting to first person. This not only scaffolds grammar but validates the individual student.

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