ESL Writing Activity: Color-Coded Writing

Fun ESL Writing Activity Color Coded Writing

Duration: 15-20 Minutes

Type: Pairs/Small Groups

This helpful activity comes from Tanya Ward Singer and helps ensure that all students are participating in a writing collaboration. You can read more about it in Tanya's book EL Excellence on page 211 and is just one of many excellent activities in the book that you can use with your students.

What you will need:

  • Colored Pencils or Markers - 1 Color for Each Student in a Group
  • Big Sheets of Paper - 1 Sheet for Each Group
  • A Writing Topic of Any Kind


Students work together with a partner or in a small group to complete a writing assignment. The catch is that when a student contributes, that student writes in her or his own color. All colors must be represented by the time the students are finished, showing that each student has successfully contributed.

How to Organize:

  1. Put students in pairs or in small groups. Tanya recommends starting with pairs before trying it with groups of 3 or more.
  2. Give each small group a sheet of paper.
  3. Give each student in a group a different color to write with.
  4. Provide the topic on which students will be writing.
  5. Students collaborate however they please to complete the writing assignment.
  6. All colors must be represented.
  7. Tanya also mentions that if students are struggling to involve everyone or need more structure, you can require them to take turns writing one word each in a single sentence response until they get the hang of it.

1 question I'd like to ask Tanya: What do you do when you see a page that doesn't have all students represented? Especially when there there may not be a lot of time in class for a complete re-write, what do you do?


  • This activity hits on one of the biggest problems I see when observing teachers: getting everyone involved. Too often, when I observe classes where students are involved in small-group writing tasks, many students are not participating in any meaningful way. It is difficult to identify the amount of collaboration happening in small groups at times when you are in the thick of it. This activity makes collaboration easily visible.
  • All students are participating at the same time. There is very little waiting around.

Used this activity before or have a variation? Share about it in the comments below!

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