As anyone who has practiced anything would tell you, there is no true end to practicing because no one ever really “masters” a skill of any kind. We all practice continuously to improve. Even the old art and music masters continue to practice until their final days, seeking to become just a little bit better.
Writing exercises you can do in 10 minutes or less
Writing is a skill set anyone can improve with a bit of dedication, direction, and practice. The trick is figuring out what actions will truly help you become a better writer and which are simply a waste of time.
One of the best strategies great writers use for improvement are writing exercises — guided written activities that develop specific writing-related skills. The key is to choose daily writing exercises that align with your goals.
The best writing exercises focus on helping you improve one or two specific elements at a time. It’s similar to how athletes go to the gym to train certain muscle groups. Impressive performance is the result of targeted practice.
Below, you’ll find a list of 8 activities you can try, along with clear directions on how to start them, and short explanations of how each one will help you grow as a writer.
How to Improve Your English: 6 ESL Writing Exercises
If you are wondering how to improve your English, some often-neglected writing practice is a great place to start. Focusing on your English writing skills will improve your grammar, vocabulary, and structural understanding of the English language, which will spill over and help you become a better speaker, too. To get you started, here are six ESL writing exercises that you can use to improve your English.
1. Write a Blog Post
Blogging is a fun and effective alternative to traditional writing exercises. First, you can write a blog post about niche topics that you are passionate about, which is important because it will give you a key ingredient for writing—motivation! Second, you can receive feedback on your posts in the form of comments, which is important for improving your language skills. This may seem scary at first, but if you harness both positive and negative feedback to improve your writing, it can help you bring your English skills to the next level.
2. Write a Review
Providing critical feedback for a product or creative work requires a quite sophisticated grasp of the language. You could choose a movie, book, airline company, restaurant, or whatever interests you and write a review. There are many platforms you could use to do this; Tripadvisor is my personal favorite, but Google and Facebook are good options, too. The added bonus here is that when you submit your review, you are also contributing to the sharing economy. You never know—if the company likes it, you might even get a shout-out or some freebies from them!
3. Translate Your Favorite Song
Most people are familiar with the idea of using music to improve their English. It’s a fun alternative to traditional ESL writing activities, and the benefits of using music in language study have been scientifically proven. Neurological research has shown that music and language are processed in the same area of the brain and that there are similarities in linguistic and musical processing. In other words, musical exposure is complementary to language learning.
The Myth About Writing Skills
There is an assumption both among new writers and non-writers that writing is something that comes innately. In other words, you are either a good writer or you are not and there is no way to change that.
I was once one of those people who did not believe in learning or practicing writing. Skills that involve practice are usually associated with “muscle memory”—sports, playing an instrument, even making art.
Writing is a terribly cerebral process, and the idea of practicing something that’s all mental and very little physical seems absurd. Work out your brain? How does that work?
The fact is, mental skills can be practiced just like physical skills—your brain is just as much a muscle as your hamstring. It may be a little difficult to comprehend this at first, but it need not be. Not when you have a system that will help you practice writing well.
Take a free writing course online.
There’s a lot to think about when writing—things like Spelling, Punctuation, Organization, Logic, and Style. These aspects of language are not so important when speaking (especially in conversational speech), but they become very important when writing (especially if you want to make a good impression).
So, one of the best ways to improve your writing fast is to take an online course. A lot of universities offer writing lessons for new students, and they have made these lessons available online to anyone, for free.
- Writing in English for University Study (FutureLearn): This free 15-hour course from the University of Reading (in Great Britain) teaches you how to develop and organize your ideas, use academic vocabulary and impersonal style, and build essays using reason and examples (important for any type of university or business writing, and especially helpful for the IELTS Writing Test). FutureLearn also offers an Intermediate version of the course you can try, and a shorter (9 hour) course that focused on IELTS Academic Writing from British Council (one of the co-creators of the IELTS).
- Better Business Writing in English (Coursera): For career-minded learners, this free 20-hour course can teach you how to craft well-written reports, proposals, and business presentations. The course was developed by Georgia Tech, one of the top English-speaking universities in the world, which also offers a course in how to write professional emails and a 4-month program on English Communication Skills (with lessons on how to speak by phone or at a business event, and how to create an English CV or website).
- Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing (edX): Developed by Harvard University, this 8-week course focuses on rhetoric, which is a set of communication strategies for writing and speaking clearly, logically, and persuasively. If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk or read a “viral” article, you already have a sense of what rhetoric is, and how powerful it can be. It’s the type of writing that people love to read, share, and talk about. Writing that gets people excited, angry, or inspired.
- Writing in the Sciences (Coursera): This course from Stanford University (located near Silicon Valley, and the place where many tech entrepreneurs have studied) offers a more-technical introduction to writing topics like how to write clearly, build paragraphs, and support your claims with logic and data. What’s more, you learn the correct way to write review papers, grant requests, and letters of recommendation.
- Creative Writing (Coursera): Lastly, if your goal is to improve your skills in storytelling and fiction writing, I recommend this free course from Wesleyan University, one of the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. Over a span of 14 months, you learn how to write fictional stories and novels, as well as non-fiction essays and memoirs. Wesleyan is famous for educating highly creative people–like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote a famous rap song about the self-taught writer Alexander Hamilton:
Edit other people’s writing
Editing is a slightly different skill set than writing and requires creators to approach content with a more analytical lens. Instead of getting an article or chapter finished, the purpose is to make the writing better. Better could mean clearer, more concise, or more complete.
In some cases, good editing adds content. In others, it removes. It all depends on the particular project, paragraph, and sentence at hand, which is why it’s a skill set every writer would benefit from refining.
- Find an unfinished piece of writing to edit. Online writers groups (like Foster.co) and local meetups are a great way to do this.
- Start by reading the entire piece to understand what it was trying to accomplish.
- Next, add notes that would help the writer reach their goal. It’s important not to only suggest how you would do it, but to try and put yourself in the other writer’s shoes.
- Afterward, go through the piece again, looking for smaller areas to improve, such as grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors.
- Always positively word your comments. Writing is difficult, and a little kindness goes a long way.
Although you don’t want to edit while you write, because it will slow you down, developing the skill will unconsciously help you construct cleaner first drafts. Furthermore, you’ll get a better sense of how an editor works so that you can work well together and apply their notes more effectively.