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Five fun writing challenges to improve your English

BY OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS ELT


Writing is one of the hardest skills to master in a foreign language. When you’re studying at home without a teacher on hand to correct your mistakes, it can be difficult to find the motivation to practice. However, research shows that it is worth making an effort. Writing by hand has even been proven to help you remember things, which is very useful when you’re studying a foreign language.


Ready? Get out your notebook and pen, and have a go at our five fun writing challenges!


Challenge no. 1: A shopping list

Let’s start small, with something genuinely useful – a shopping list! Think of what you’re going to be cooking over the next couple of days and write your shopping list in English. Look up any words that you don’t know in a dictionary and add them to your list. This is a great way of building up your food vocabulary. A good way of organising your list is to break it down into categories, like in the example below. This will help you to organise and remember all the new vocabulary you’re learning!

A good tool to help you is our topic dictionary, which organises vocabulary based on different themes. It has lots of vocabulary for food and drink, as well as verbs related to cooking, eating and dining out. Then use your list! Take it to the supermarket and cross off the items as you put them in your shopping cart. It’s a very effective way of memorising lots of new vocabulary.


Challenge no. 2: A no-send letter

A no-send letter is a letter that you write to someone you know, but unlike a traditional letter, this letter will never be sent. This means that you can write whatever you like!

Choose someone who you have strong feelings about – this means you’ll have a lot to say! For example, you could write to your role model, telling them why you look up to them. Or you could write to your crush and tell them why you like them. Remember, you won’t be sending the letter, so you can be completely honest – nobody will read the letter apart from you!

Once you’ve finished your letter, copy and paste it into our free text checker. It will tell you what level you are writing at, as well as suggesting some word lists and activities to build up your vocabulary, so your next letter will be even better!


Challenge no. 3: A character description

This writing challenge gives you the chance to get creative! Choose a stranger or someone that you don’t know well. Maybe it’s the waiter in your favourite restaurant or the woman who works in your local shop. It could be someone who lives on your street or another student at your school. It can even be someone you’ve seen on Instagram but have never met.

Now it’s time to use your imagination, and write a character description of them! Use the following questions to give you some ideas:

  • What is their favourite food?

  • Where did they grow up?

  • Do they have any brothers or sisters? Do they have a good relationship with their siblings?

  • What was their favourite subject at school? Why?

  • Are they married? Do they have any children? Do they regret having children?

  • What is their biggest regret in life?

  • Where do they work? Do they like their job?

  • What is their favourite colour?

  • What is their earliest memory?

  • What would they buy if they won the lottery?

  • Where do they dream of moving to?

  • Who was their first love? How did they break up?

You can answer more questions of your own, add a physical description, write character descriptions for other people – it’s an exercise where there are no wrong answers, so get creative!


Challenge no. 4: A how-to guide

Do you know what a how-to guide is? It’s a list of instructions which tell you how to do something. Writing a how-to guide is a great way to learn new verbs and practise the imperative tense. So let’s get started!

Choose something routine, something you do every day. It could be something like making breakfast or getting dressed. Now that you’ve chosen an activity, think of it as a sequence of actions, and write them down. For example:

  1. First you put water in the kettle.

  2. Then you put the kettle on the cooker and turn on the hob.

  3. While the water is boiling, put a teabag in a cup and take the milk out of the fridge.

  4. When the water boils, pour it into the cup and stir the teabag around with a spoon until the water turns dark brown.

  5. Then lift the teabag out and throw it in the bin.

  6. Add a splash of milk and a spoon of sugar if you want.

Do you know what we’re describing? That’s right – it’s a how-to guide to making a cup of tea! (yes, English people are obsessed with tea!) Now it’s your turn!

If you’d like to see more examples, check out Wiki-how, where there are thousands of how-to guides, covering everything from growing your hair to making a paper aeroplane! If you’re stuck for a word, you can look it up in our learner dictionary. It doesn’t just tell you the meaning of the word, but also offers a pronunciation guide and even some example sentences so you can see the word in other contexts to make sure you are using it correctly.


Challenge no. 5: an oulipo exercise

‘Oulipo’ refers to the imposition of rules or constraints on your writing, to make you more creative. There are hundreds of different examples. One of the most famous examples is the French novel “A Void” by Georges Perec. The entire novel is written without using the letter “e”. But don’t worry – you don’t have to write a whole novel!

A popular oulipo technique is to write the same anecdote five different times, in five different ways. For example, you could write about meeting a friend for a coffee as a straightforward story, in the past tense. Then you could write it as a theatre script, with nothing but dialogue and stage directions. Then write it again – but this time as a poem. Then write it again, using only reported speech. Then write it a fifth time, in the present tense.

Another oulipo exercise is the snowball technique:

What

Is the

snowball technique? Well,

The snowball technique is

A way of writing where

Every line adds one more word.

So the first line has one word

The second line has two, and so on.

You can do this exercise as a way of

Practising your English and having fun. Give it a go!

It might not be as useful as a shopping list, but it can be a lot of fun!

So now it’s your turn, and we’ve got a challenge for you. Choose one of the five writing activities above and write your own version. Then share it with us below in the comments. We’ll post our favourites on our Facebook or Instagram channels.


Ready, set, write!

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