Instructing Global Learners: ESL Writers

Provides MU community with tools to assist in fully integrating international students and fostering intercultural competence for all students.

Working with ESL/ELL Writers

When working with ESL (English as a Second Language) or ELL (English Language Learner) writers:

  • It is better to correct them individually and not in front of a class or a group.
  • It may also be a good idea to send them corrections via email so that they are able to see errors and how to correct it.
  • Be sure not to overwhelm multilingual writers with corrections. Perhaps give 3 or 4 positive comments and 1 or 2 pieces of constructive criticism. 

If a student is clearly struggling to express his or her ideas, please direct the student to the Writing Center or ESL instructors in the Office of International Education for additional writing support.

The table below details strategies to address common writing issues (from the Norman H. Ott Memorial Writing Center).

Common Issues

  • Some international students do not learn the same rules about plagiarism that are taught in the U.S. They may not know that it is wrong.


  • Be sure to talk about academic integrity for a few minutes on the first day of class and include specific information about it in your syllabus.


  • Carefully look at the writer's use of sources and point out problems (missing in-text citations, weak paraphrasing, over use of quotes, etc.).
  • Spot check your multilingual writer's work against the sources, especially if the writing does not "sound like" the writer.
  • Teach, model, and have the student fix any problems you notice with sources. Understand that some multilingual writers have never written source-based papers in English before. 
  • When writers are relying too much on sources, explain that writers are expected to use their own voice and ideas.
  • Clearly and directly explain the concept of plagiarism and its consequences. 
  • Prioritize content and organization before addressing grammar, punctuation, and wording errors. Focus on repeated errors that interfere with comprehension of the content and organization.  
  • Only focus on 2-3 types of grammar errors at most. Identify an example of an error, refer the writers to written resources that explain rules, model the corrections, and then have writers find and self-correct additional errors of this type.
  • When addressing wording, identify confusing words/phrases and sentences. Ask writers to explain what they mean. 
  • When faced with long, hard-to-understand sentences, explain the value of being clear and direct, and show writers how to be more direct.
  • Don't dismiss the writer's overall writing abilities because of these types of errors, but also don't minimize the importance of these kinds of errors. 
  • Explain and demonstrate the linear, deductive method of organization. Realize that some writers may not know what this means an may come from first-language backgrounds that do not use this method of organization.
  • Focus on poorly written/missing thesis statements and topic sentences. 
  • Focus on problems with use of coherent techniques (i.e. repetition of key words, old before new information, transitional words, etc.).
  • Identify major, repeating problems in content, organization, grammar, punctuation, and wording. 
  • Model once how to correct the major problems and ask writers to demonstrate that they understand and can fix their problems in their writing for you.