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June 2014
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Quick Tip: 5 Steps for Increasing Timed Writing Fluency
by Nick David

Audience: Intermediate to Advanced

One challenge many ESL writers face is not producing enough words during timed essays. When this occurs, it can negatively impact scores. But when writers learn to write more fluently in the allotted time, this can generate time for better planning, more in-depth content, and extended opportunities for revision. Here is a five-step process that has helped my students increase their writing fluency in timed essays.

1. Keep Track of the Number of Words Written

The first step is making writers aware of how much they write, on average, within a given amount of time (usually 30–45 minutes). This is easily done with word counts in computer-based writing, but this action can be more time consuming in paper essays. For paper essays, an estimate of word length can be found by counting the number of words per line, finding the average number of words over 3 or four lines, and then multiply the average word length per line by the number of lines written.

2. Focus on Fluency Over Grammatical Accuracy

Often students who write too few words are overly concerned about grammar. In order to encourage students to focus more on fluency instead, introduce a new length component into your grading rubric (usually giving full points for 250 words or more in a 30-minute essay), and reduce the weight of grammar points to incentivize students to focus on writing more fluently. You can adjust point values based on the proficiency levels of your students.

3. Track and Encourage Progress

In subsequent essays, continue to track word count, and give encouragement to students who successfully increase the number of words they write. By tracking the increase in length, students can make goals and take ownership of their own timed writing fluency.

4. Set Limits to Word Count if Needed

However, there are also limits to the importance of fluency in essays. If students become overly concerned about their essay length after they have passed the 350-word mark or more (in 30 minutes), and this concern is negatively impacting other areas of their writing, encourage students to return to other aspects of their essays that need work.

5. Reintegrate Essays With a Balanced Writing Approach

Once students are accustomed to writing more than the minimum length standard within the time allotted, return to the original rubric without the length requirement. In subsequent essays, encourage students to still focus on writing 250 words or more, but because they can now write more in a shorter period of time, teach them, for a 30-minute essay, to spend the first 5 minutes for prewriting, 20 minutes for writing, and the last 5 minutes for revising and editing. In this way, an increase in fluency buys students time to work on other areas of the timed essay writing process.


Nick David is an ESL teacher at Brigham Young University’s English Language Center, and is the assistant coordinator of BYU’s ESL Writing Lab.


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Table of Contents
TC Homepage
Home Visits With Diverse Families
9 Listening Strategies for Active Listeners
Producing Newscasts for the ESL Classroom
Quick Tip: Increasing Timed Writing Fluency
TQ Article: Lexical Thresholds for Reading Comprehension
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