Tips for Enhancing ESL Paragraph Writing Skills (Elementary)

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Did you know that when children write well, they actually do better in school and even in their jobs later on? 

Going from jumbled ideas to well-crafted paragraphs is like turning chaos into beauty.  

Writing is very important for students learning English as their Second Language, also known as ESL (and ENL, EAL, ELL). It helps them develop their use of words and sentences correctly. Plus, it helps students understand the language and culture more fully while building their confidence in using English.

This post contains some practical tips and valuable activities (psssst…..lots of FREEBIES throughout!) that you can use in your classroom to help ESL/ELL learners and really any student who struggles to write a paragraph.

Let’s dive right in as we show you the perfect activities and ESL paragraph writing worksheets for your students!

Let’s see if you have any students similar to Mia:

Mia is a bright and curious student who was always eager to learn. She is a third grader that just moved from another country and is learning to speak English.

One day her teacher gave the class assignment to write a paragraph about their favorite animal. 

Mia’s eyes widened with both excitement and a hint of nervousness. She knew she loved animals, especially cats, but putting her thoughts into words was a bit tricky.

Mia sat at her desk, pencil in hand, and stared at the blank page. Thoughts swirled in her head, but when she tried to write them down, they seemed to slip away like sand through her fingers. She felt a little frustrated.

Seeing Mia’s struggle, her teacher came over and knelt beside her. With a warm smile, she said, “Mia, I know it can be tough, especially when English is still new to you. Let’s take it step by step. What do you love most about cats?”

Mia hesitated for a moment, then began to share her thoughts. Her teacher listened carefully and helped Mia turn her ideas into sentences. They talked about using descriptive words and organizing her thoughts with a graphic organizer and pictures. Slowly but surely, Mia’s paragraph began to take shape.

From that day on, Mia gained more confidence in her writing. She knew that even though it could be a challenge, she had the support she needed to succeed. And with every paragraph she wrote, Mia’s English skills grew stronger.

What’s the Moral of the Story?:

When children come to school speaking a foreign language, the area of English Language Arts is significantly more difficult for them. As educators, we cannot expect to teach reading and writing the same way to these students if we want them to grasp the concepts.

We have to simplify the steps, use visuals and guide them step by step to give them the tools for success. (Like this The Foundations of Paragraph Writing Activity.)

With a little hand-holding and thoughtful planning, they can progress in their writing skills and gain the confidence they need to succeed.

ESL paragraph writing activities

What Makes a Good Paragraph?

As educators, we all know that a good paragraph has a few necessary ingredients:

  • It’s written in your own words using creative writing.
  • It follows a particular theme or topic and that theme is clear.
  • The structure of the paragraph is set up to follow the pattern of topic sentence, supporting details and closing sentence. This can sometimes be the most challenging task.


Let’s look at how to break down the structure of a paragraph for children who speak English as a Second Language or are learning English.

Our favorite way to teach this is in a visual manner: Think of a paragraph like a hamburger!

1. Start with the Topic:

The topic or main idea is the entire basis of your paragraph. It is the single idea that you are writing the paragraph about. This will become part of the top bun of the hamburger. 

When teaching kids how to write a paragraph, it is important that you give them some topic or prompt ideas to write about. This helps reduce some of the decision paralysis that comes with writing. Also, make sure that the topic that they choose is something that they know a lot about. 

For example, in the above story, the teacher gave the prompt to write about a favorite animal. 

2. Topic Sentence

Once kids have their paragraph topic, then they need a topic sentence to begin their paragraph.

Think of this part as the top bun. It, along with the concluding sentence, helps hold the burger together. 

We also like to call these attention-getters.  We teach students that you want to grab someone’s attention right away so they will keep reading!

Check out the Topic Sentence FREEBIE for help with teaching this!

To help students learning English as a Second Language, we have found that giving them some topic sentence starters works well to guide them during this step of the paragraph writing process.



  1. My favorite (animal/food/color) is…

  2. I like to (activity) because…

  3. In (season), I enjoy…

  4. Today, I want to talk about…

  5. I have a special (toy/pet/friend)…

  6. One day, I went to (place) and saw…

  7. Let me tell you about my family. We are…

  8. It’s interesting that…

  9. When I grow up…

  10. In my free time…

free 5th grade writing paragraph graphic organizer

3. Supporting Ideas 

We typically teach students that the next sentences are all supporting details about the topic sentence of the paragraph. Think of these like the patty, lettuce, and other insides of a burger. These items really enhance the burger’s taste!

A supporting detail is the information that helps prove, explain, or clarify the main idea. Without supporting details, there is no evidence to back up the argument that the student is trying to explain.

It’s important to teach students to link these supporting sentences together using transitional phrases. Many students, especially students that are learning English, don’t understand the meaning of transition words or when to use them.


Try this to help guide them with transition words:


2. Use the differentiated transition word lessons to help them read through texts and identify the transition words in each.

3. Have students use only two or three different transitional word phrases in their writing at the beginning. More than that is overwhelming for struggling writers.

*We like to explain to students that transition words are typically found in one of these 4 categories: time, addition, example or concluding. These transition word activities help explain this in more detail.

teaching transition words to ESL students in writing


  • Model model model  different examples of a well-written (and some not so well-written) details. 
  • Use graphic organizers as a visual aid with the main idea in the center and the supporting details connected all around.
  • Go through real-life examples of this concept. For example, show a picture of the produce aisle in a grocery store (main idea/topic) and the individual fruits and vegetables in the bins (supporting details). Work together to write a paragraph about it. 

4. Concluding Sentence​

We teach students that a concluding sentence is usually the last sentence of the paragraph that restates the topic sentence of the paragraph. Concluding sentences are so important in writing. They provide an opportunity for the author to tie the topic sentence and the supporting details up in a perfect little bow!

The conclusion sentence should not be super difficult to come up with because you are not telling the audience any new information.

Let it be easy!

For more help with concluding sentences, have students watch this video we created on how to identify and write concluding sentences in paragraphs.

Do Your Students Need Help with Sentence Structure?

Some of your students may need more support with the sentence level of writing before moving on to paragraphs. If any of your students need help with structuring a sentence, this FREE Sentence Structure Activity may help!

The more that kids practice, the more they will start to grasp the basic parts of a sentence and be ready for more complex, paragraph writing.

Grab FREE Writing Worksheets for Paragraphs 

We have found that visual aids are the really helpful when teaching writing to students learning English.

We have put together a list of all of FREE ESL writing worksheets below:

Writing a Paragraph FREEBIE

FREE Sentence Structure Activity

Topic Sentence FREEBIE

Check out other Writing Practice Worksheets for ESL Students, Special Education & Differentiating Instruction:

We hope you found this helpful! What other tips do you have for helping ESL students when writing a paragraph?

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