Adult Education Writing Library

Writing resources for adult educators.

Internet Resources

Writing Instruction for Adult Literacy Learners - Full Discussion - Reading and Writing Skills - Discussion Lists

  • Writing Instruction for Adult Literacy Learners: What Can We Learn from Research with Adolescents?
  • Full Discussion
  • Reading and Writing Discussion List
  • Guest Facilitator- Dr. Charles MacArthur

Teaching Writing: A Toolkit for Adult Basic Skills Educators

The purpose of this manual is to provide research-based information and activities for high-quality interactive training and writing programs in Adult Basic Skills. Much research and experience precedes its writing. The manual's efficacy as a reference encourages customization to meet your needs.

Going Places

The Florida Literacy Coalition publication Going Places is a downloadable collection of student essays

Increase the Amount of Student Writing

Two necessary conditions for students to improve the quality of their writing are explicit instruction in writing techniques and sustained writing practice. Explicit instruction is a systemic approach to teaching that includes a set of proven design and delivery procedures or interventions derived from research. Throughout this guide, you will find descriptions of many such writing interventions.

The TEAL Just Write! Guide

The TEAL Just Write! Guide represents the culmination of two years of work identifying research-based instructional practices in the content area of writing. It also incorporates professional wisdom from participants in six online courses that TEAL provided to adult educators during the second year of the project. The intent of the guide is to increase the familiarity of adult basic education teachers with evidence-based writing instruction and to facilitate translation of research findings into teaching practices and products that will enhance the quality of instruction delivered to adult learners.

Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading

Identifies writing practices found to be effective in helping students increase their reading skills and comprehension.

The Online Writing Lab (OWL)

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University houses writing resources and instructional material, and we provide these as a free service of the Writing Lab at Purdue. Students, members of the community, and users worldwide will find information to assist with many writing projects. Teachers and trainers may use this material for in-class and out-of-class instruction.

Make Use of Frames

Using frames or templates is a great way to scaffold instruction and build learners' confidence in writing, particularly in writing tasks and genres with which they have little prior experience. A writing frame consists of a skeleton outline given to learners to scaffold their writing. By providing a few sentence starters and some rhetorical phrases common to the task or genre, frames give learners a structure that allows them to focus on expressing their thoughts. They also help learners incorporate vocabulary they have learned in a given topic and create more sophisticated sentences and paragraphs.

Cognitive Strategy Instruction: Writing

This page from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln includes a variety of strategies, addressing spelling, organization, proofing, and more.

CCSS Instructional Strategies

From the Oregon Department of Education, this page focuses on strategies that promote college and career readiness as well as language skills.

Writing Teaching Strategies from the Eureka! Agora

Find strategies including clustering, think sheets, and R.A.F.T.

Praising, Questioning, Wishing: An Approach to Responding to Writing

This strategy helps focus feedback, whether from the instructor or a peer.

The Discovering Ideas Handbook by John Tagg

This handbook by a California English professor covers the essay writing process.,

Teaching Writing by Rebekah Martindale

This list of teaching tips from an ESL instructor includes the “hamburger method” of explaining paragraph structure.

What's Right Rather Than What's Wrong: Using Journals to Teach Writing and to Build Self Confidence by Rebecca Garland

This article describes a writing teacher's experience using journals with adult education students, including overcoming anxiety, addressing painful topics, dealing with spelling, and integrating direct instruction.

Journal Writing as an Adult Learning Tool

This ERIC Digest reviews types of journals and benefits for adult learning.


Student interactives, lessons plans, strategy guides and more.

Evidence-based practices for teaching writing

The list of recommendations presented below is based on scientific studies of students in grades 4–12. The strategies for teaching writing are listed according to the magnitude of their effects.

Books and Resources

Textbook recommendations from ESL Gold

Teacher resources about teaching writing:

Micro Lessons in Writing By James Vopat

Sometimes big ideas are best taught simply. In Micro Lessons in Writing Jim Vopat makes the complex concepts of writing instruction easier for you and your students: one little lesson per page, one big idea.

A Student Guide to Writing on Demand: Strategies for High-Scoring Essays

By Anne Ruggles Gere, University of Michigan, Leila Christenbury, Virginia Commonwealth University, Kelly Sassi, North Dakota State University

Get ready to write to the prompt. Get A Student Guide to Writing on Demand and prepare for testing in a new way that: eases concerns about timed writing situations, increases familiarity with the forms encountered in testing, and boosts scores on standardized writing tests.

Writing for the HiSET® Exam

Help HiSET test-takers write high scoring responses by practicing responses to fifteen practice prompts and using evidence to support their claims.

Scoreboost for HISET: Sentence Structure, Usage, and Mechanics (10 pack)
Scoreboost for HiSET: Essay Writing and Organizational Skills (10 pack)
Pre-HSE: Grammar, Spelling, and Writing Basics (pack of 10)
Pre-Hse: Developing and Organizing Written Responses (pack of 10)
501 Writing Prompts

This book is designed to provide you with a variety of writing topics and model essays. Categories in this book cover many different types of writing: persuasive, expository, narrative, and literary response

Tools for students:

Drafting Board

This online tool walks students through the process step by step, showing them how to understand an issue before taking a side, use evidence to support a claim, and address the opposing point of view. At the end, students have a complete argumentative essay with an introduction, body, counterargument, and conclusion.

Compare and Contrast Map

This interactive graphic organizer helps students develop an outline for one of three types of comparison essays: whole-to-whole, similarities-to-differences, or point-to-point.

Essay Map

This interactive graphic organizer helps students develop an outline that includes an introductory statement, main ideas they want to discuss or describe, supporting details, and a conclusion that summarizes the main ideas. The tool offers multiple ways to navigate information including a graphic in the upper right-hand corner that allows students to move around the map without having to work in a linear fashion. The finished map can be saved, e-mailed, or printed.

Persuasion Map

The Persuasion Map is an interactive graphic organizer that enables students to map out their arguments for a persuasive essay or debate. Students begin by determining their goal or thesis. They then identify three reasons to support their argument, and three facts or examples to validate each reason. The map graphic in the upper right-hand corner allows students to move around the map, instead of having to work in a linear fashion. The finished map can be saved, e-mailed, or printed.

Resume Generator

This online tool guides students through the creation of a resume. Saving capability allows them to return to their work and make revisions. Written and audio tips throughout the tool guide students as they complete each section of the resume.


Timeline allows students to create a graphical representation of an event or process by displaying items sequentially along a line. Timelines can be organized by time of day, date, or event, and the tool allows users to create a label with short or long descriptive text. Adding an image for each label makes a timeline more visually appealing.

Add, drag, and rearrange items as needed. Saving capability allows students to return to their work and make revisions, and they can share their final work via e-mail.

ESL Writing Online Workshop

Animated videos that describe parts of the writing process and lead a student through the steps of writing a paper

Videos about Writing:

Mini Grants

Tried and True Techniques

Here's A Great New Book About Writing!

Tip from Susan Bubp

Mary Pipher's newest book, Writing to Change the World, (ISBN 1-59448-920-3, Riverhead Books, 2006) should be on the nightstand of every adult educator. Whether you're a teacher or administrator, or a little of both like me, you'll find this book to be both useful and inspirational.

One section is devoted entirely on writing to elected officials… (We're no strangers to that) According to Pipher, "Politicians pay attention to personal stories about the impact policies have on voters. They are also influenced by letters of appreciation. Many politicos said they choke up when they receive thank-you notes. I inferred from this that gratitude is in short supply for people in public life.""

She goes on to give some concrete guidelines when writing to your political representatives:

  • Respect your reader
  • Find common ground
  • Keep to what you hold in common
  • Empathize with the person
  • Say what you want to achieve
  • Say what actions you would hope the recipient will take
  • Keep your language simple
  • Avoid academic language and acronyms
  • Be hopeful
  • Use the “sandwich method” to place any criticism between two positive comments
  • Always end your letter with a suggestion for action

Every chapter is loaded with stories of the power of words. Pipher's goal in writing this book is “to help you translate your passion and idealism into action. This is not a book on how to write; rather, it's a book on how to write in order to improve the world.”

Essay Writing

Tip from Susan Bubp

One way to give students additional experience with essay structure is to cut-up an essay into paragraphs and ask students to reconstruct the essay into the whole. When choosing an essay for this exercise, make sure the introduction, body and conclusion are quite clearly denoted with transitional words like “first of all,” “next,” “in conclusion”, etc. Students can highlight the transition words to help them justify and understand their organizational strategy. This exercise works particularly well if students work in pairs so they can discuss their thinking; then everyone can come together as a large group to discuss the results. Eventually, you can try this technique with essays that the students have written.

Writing Samples

Tip from Denise Reddington

It's very helpful to get a sample of a student's writing soon after they begin a class. It's also a way for students to let you know what they are thinking. Below are some of the topics that have been successful with my students.

Please write all that you can about one of the following topics or any topic of your choice. Do your best but don't worry about spelling.

  • My Goals
  • My Life
  • What School Was Like For Me
  • What I Hope To Accomplish By Coming Back To School
  • What My Life Will Be Like In 10 Years
  • My Children
  • My Dream Job
  • My Dream Vacation
  • If I Won $1,000,000!

Writing Disabilities

Tip from Robin Letendre

Writing Disabilities, referred to as written expression disabilities, or dysgraphia, are a type of specific learning disability.

Dysgraphia can manifest itself as difficulties with:

  1. Transcription: The specific to the process of writing. It is the production of letters and spelling required for a written product. Transcription draws on processes involved in retrieving letter forms and familiar word spellings from long-term member, strategically spelling novel words and motor planning to produce letter by hand.
    • Handwriting
    • Spelling
  2. Generation: The translation of ideas into written language. First, ideas must be retrieved from memory and then expressed in a way that others can understand.
    • Composition, for example, trouble putting thoughts on paper

Dysgraphia is a deficiency in the ability to write, regardless of the ability to read.

Taken from Learning to Achieve, material developed and prepared by the National Institute for Literacy Module 7

Pre-Writing is Thinking, Talking and Sharing

Sometimes students may come up with a complete blank when faced with a writing prompt. Famous authors call this writer's block. Thus, it can be very valuable to spend time practicing “thinking” when a prompt is presented. Post a large copy of a writing prompt that you want your students to think about. Give them a few minutes to read and think. Then, discuss the students' ideas, letting everyone who has an idea voice it. Take notes about their comments and post them on the prompt. Let the students argue a little if appropriate. If they are ready to create an essay, let them use the notes you have posted. Thinking, talking, and sharing can give students the confidence to begin writing. Every discussion does not have to lead to an essay. You can discuss and take notes on many topics to lubricate the "thinking" step. These discussions are very good for continuing to cement your class's sense of community.

Tip from Elise Hood

Adult Diploma Student: Journal Writing

Introducing journal writing in the Adult Diploma classroom is one way to give our students a powerful tool that they can tap into during their entire life for life-long learning, reflecting and solving their own individual problems. The students in my classes are required to write in their journal daily but I do not collect the work other than giving them points for providing entries. I call it a “free write” so that they can relax, enjoy, and even sketch in their journals if they want to. I also suggest cutting out articles from newspapers that they find interesting or pictures that they find visually enticing. This is their own journal, full of their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The journal is that “private place” we all have that lets us pour out our feelings, emotions, and dreams. As one student put it so dramatically, “I enjoy writing in a journal because it helps me to pour out my feelings or mood swings or whatever and clears out my brain for new things.” I buy each of my students a simple steno pad at the beginning of each session. I then have them decorate the cover of the pad so that the journal becomes more meaningful to them. As one student said, “There are never any red marks in the journal or wrong issues. Everything is up to you and no one can put you down.” One of my own goals as an Adult Diploma English teacher is not just that my students will enjoy daily writing in their personal journals for this session, but that this activity will build into their own personal lives, for years to come, the important ability of daily reflection, thinking, and spirituality.

Tip from Lynda Galard LeBlanc

Introducing Writing Rubrics to Adult Diploma Students

The following is the simple six-trait writing rubric grid I give to my students before we begin our writing process. Ideas and Content (1-5), Organization (1-5), Voice (1-5), Word Choice (1-5), Sentence Fluency (1-5), and Conventions (1-5). I spend forty-five minutes at the beginning of the class explaining the importance of the rubric and the language assigned to scores in each category. For example, in the category “Ideas and Content,” a high score of 5 would be accompanied by this comment: “This paper is clear and focused. It holds the reader's attention. Relevant anecdotes and details enrich the central theme or story line.” A mid-range score of 3 would be accompanied by: “The writer is beginning to define the topic, even though development is still basic or general.” And for a low score of 1: “As yet, the paper has no clear sense of purpose or central theme. To extract meaning from the paper, the reader must make inferences based on sketchy details. The writing reflects more than one of these problems.” Each student is given several examples of past papers that former adult diploma students have written. They are then asked to play teacher or editor and score the paper, using the writing rubric. I have found that the students take the assignment quite seriously because I assign points and individual grades. Experience has shown that this activity helps students understand that writing is not first draft writing, even for those who are talented. In particular, this activity builds confidence in those students who have not written for some time. The students see how radically different their second draft is from their first draft and feel especially proud of the improvements they have made in their written work. The quality of the analyses I have received over the past few years from students who have participated in this classroom exercise has been very gratifying. Student in my class are always given the option to get a pass on reading out loud if they are shy, but at the end of this writing assignment most student are so proud of their work that they actually seem to enjoy reading their work aloud to their classmates.

Tip from Lynda Galard LeBlanc

Fluency Writing

Transfer this skill from speaking to writing. Have the students discuss a topic in small groups to get ideas for writing. Limit this to about 10 minutes, leaving the students wanting to talk more. Next ask them to date a page in their notebooks and write for 3 minutes. They are not to use a dictionary or worry about spelling or grammar. The pencil and paper must be in contact for the 3 minutes. The first few times if they can not think of anything to write let them know they can write their name, address, children's names, grocery list – anything, as long as the pencil and paper are working together.

At the end of the given time have the students read what they have written out loud to themselves. It is fun to listen to all of the voices! Initially the students may feel a bit silly but as you continue the activity in each class they become comfortable with it and look forward to it. Dating the page each time allows the students to look back and see how they have progressed.

Tip from Christine Powers

Pass the Plate

This strategy helps students to think creatively and generate a wide range of ideas on a certain topic.

To do this strategy, you will need a plastic disposable plates, as well as water-based markers.

To begin, place students in heterogeneous groups (mixed ability groups).

Explain to the students that you will announce a word. One of the group members is to write the word in the center of the plate.

Once the word has been written in the center of the plate, tell the students that they have 2 minutes to generate as many synonyms for this word as possible.

The caveat is, each student is to write at least one word on the plate. The plate is to be passed around as quickly as possible. If a student cannot think of a word, they can pass, but as soon as they think of a word, the plate is to be passed to them.

Tell the students that points will be earned for each word on the plate, but bonus points will be earned for those words not found on any other plate.

You can decide beforehand what the point value will be for each word they write, and for the bonus words.

When the activity is done, just rinse off the plates and use again.

From Robin Letendre

Group Writing

One way to get students writing and working together is to brainstorm ideas for writing topics together. Be sure to write all student ideas on the board. This activity really helps students get started. They have a list of ideas as well as the correct spelling of words they might use. Students can write a paragraph together of individually. This method works well in a multi-level classroom. Some students may write a paragraph while others develop an essay.

Topics that work well with this activity include:

  • The Characteristics of a Good Parent, Good Student, or Good Teacher
  • The Best Season of the Year
  • What I Like About Living in New Hampshire / What I Don't Like About Living in NH
  • The Qualities of a Good Husband or Wife
  • What Makes Someone a Good Friend?

Tip from Denise Reddington

Response Papers

Many students find it challenging to recognize, analyze and respond to an opinion piece. Using a rubric that provides an outline assists students in achieving clarity in their thinking and their writing. Initially, it is best to choose an editorial or essay that is very clearly arguing one side of an issue. Prior to reading the article, students should be fully informed of the arguments on both sides. Students are motivated if the topic is personally meaningful to them. Once an understanding has been firmly established, the outline should be introduced and explained:

  • Title, Author, Source, Date
  • Summary of article
  • Author's Opinion
  • Student's Opinion

Only after this groundwork is covered is the article introduced. Students may use a highlighter to look for the required components and salient points as they read. If students have particular difficulty with comprehension, it may be best to write the first response paper together as a class. It should be emphasized, however, that the student's opinion is entirely his own and will be fully credited as long as it is defended adequately. Once the response papers are completed, further lessons might focus on bias, persuasive language, and reliability.

An example of this process from a civics class focused on recent legislation passed in New Hampshire expanding the right to use deadly force against an aggressor (SB88.) Rep. Tim Copeland, a NH Representative, visited class to explain the implications of the new law. Rep. Copeland shared his personal opinion regarding the law. Students had prepared questions to clarify any confusion. Students were given the choice to write their response paper on Rep. Copeland's presentation, or on an article provided. Students had strong opinions on this topic and a lively discussion followed the writing assignment!

Tip from Debby Kanner

Using a quote to start the class

A simple method that I have woven into our weekly activities in the classroom is to write a famous quote on the board before the students come into the classroom for the evening. I try to select a famous quote or passage that has meaning to the students and one that they can relate to in their own personal lives. This structured activity helps me as their facilitator in the classroom to keep the students focused as soon as they sit down in their seats. The main benefit, however, is that the students find it an easy way to earn bonus points by participating in writing a short free-paragraph. It also engages them in a lively short discussion with their classmates.

I find the main benefit of this quick activity for me, as their teacher, is that it also builds compassion, empathy, and even at times spirituality within our students. This is something, as we all know, that does not necessarily get much attention in their own personal lives. It also gives our students a chance to earn some free writing points. Some students who were engaged in this worthwhile activity have then proceeded to turn a simple free-write paragraph into further research for extra credit.

Here is an example of a passage I selected from Thoreau's Walden:

We can never have enough of Nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and decaying trees… We need to witness our own limits transgressed.

The students are required to write a short paragraph. They will then discuss the passage for five to ten minutes as a cooperative learning group. This easy procedure not only helps me with class management and focus, but it has also promoted many memorable discussions that add a different dimension to the assigned syllabus. As teachers, it is important for us to remember that adding moral education and spirituality in a simple way weekly can also help develop our students into thinking NH citizens. This, of course, is ultimately every teacher's goal for his or her students: for them to become life-long learners.

Tip from Lynda Galard-LeBlanc