ESL Writing Cohesion Exercises

Written by kristy dolha
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ESL Writing Cohesion Exercises
Focus on cohesion to improve writing skills. (writing image by Alison Bowden from

Creating carefully crafted, cohesive work is one of the biggest obstacles for the ESL writer. Give ESL students the writing skills they need early on by using a variety of cohesion exercises. Start with the basics and overtly exemplify every concept. Practice manipulating writing examples before attempting a major writing task independently. While native English speakers may find many of the lessons on cohesion tedious, ESL learners will appreciate the overt teaching of cohesion.

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Topic Clarity

Start with an example of a well-written paragraph that follows the format of topic sentence, supporting details and conclusion closely. Add sentences that do not relate to the topic sentence, and ask students to identify and remove the offending sentences. This should be done in varying degrees of difficulty.

Repetition and Synonyms

Explain that while repetition is an important factor in cohesion, when overdone, it is distracting and makes writing hard to follow. Provide a paragraph that you have prepared by removing all pronouns, synonyms and references. Instead, fill the paragraph with senseless repetition. Have students identify all needless repetition, and provide their own pronouns, synonyms and references.

Transition Words and Phrases

Provide an outline complete with a topic sentence, three main points and a strong conclusion. Instruct students to complete the paragraph by adding transition words or phrases. Explain that it is OK to add sentences to provide depth and meaning to a main point, but they should not introduce any new ideas. This exercise also prepares students to create their own outlines.

Rearrange the Paragraph

Take an exemplary paragraph, and physically cut it up, separating the sentences. Split the class into groups, and give each group a paragraph to rearrange and add transition words, if necessary. The discussion initiated within the group as they complete this activity will be the basis for comprehensive review.

Culminate Cohesion and Write the Paragraph

Put newly acquired skills to the test by assigning a student a paragraph to complete. Topics should be rigid, and you should work with carefully crafted outlines while following the above process. As students get more comfortable with the writing process, and more skilled in cohesion, allow room for greater creativity.

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