ESL Writing Activity – Roving Paragraphs

ELL Writing Activity - Roving Paragraphs

Duration: 15-20 Minutes

Type: Group

This wonderful activity comes from Carol Salva and gets students speaking, listening, reading and writing. You can read more about it in Carol's book Boosting Achievement in part 4 which covers lots of really practical teaching strategies. You can also read about it in this article from Kirsten Foti. 

What you will need:

  • Sentence Stems for a target concept.
  • The sentence stems work best if the responses they elicit are interchangeable like 3 reasons, 3 aspects, 3 explanations. For instance: There are three important things to know about this topic. First... In addition... Finally... This way students can steal each other's sentences and use them in later sentence frames ?. See below for Carol Salva's explanation!
  • Space to move around


Students complete sentences using sentence stems you have provided them. They then "rove" around the classroom to find a partner. Once they partner up, they read their sentences to each other. You then give them the next sentence stem and repeat the process until each student has completed a paragraph on the target concept.

How to Organize:

  1. Prepare the sentence stems you want the students using in advance. You can choose helpful transition words and other academic vocabulary to include in your stems. 
  2. Start by giving the class the first stem they need for their paragraphs. "Martin Luther King changed the course of history in three ways. First..."
  3. Students write down a sentence using the sentence stem and signal to the teacher that they have finished (pencils down, strike a pose, stand up, etc.)
  4. Students then get up and "rove" around the classroom in order to find a partner. You can have all students raise their hands and only put their hands down once they have found a partner.
  5. Students then read their sentences to each other.
  6. You then provide the second sentence stem, like "Furthermore..." which takes a response similar to the first sentence frame.
  7. Students can choose to "steal" sentence ideas from their partners to use in the second sentence frame.
  8. Students then repeat the process, only this time they read both sentences they have written to their partners and can steal any sentence for their third sentence frame which could be something like "Finally...".

* I wrote Carol to check on the accuracy of my description of this activity. She pointed out something that I had originally misunderstood: students "steal" sentences from their partners to use in later sentence frames. That little tweak can make a big difference, especially for newcomers. In Carol's words: "When we do it this way, they [the students] only need help with their first sentence. I can actually help my most struggling students with their first sentence. Then they can do the rest of the activity independently because they can borrow sentences from other people." 


  • This activity can help even weak students complete a solid paragraph on a topic using target vocabulary and good sentence structure.
  • This activity gets students out of their seats and interacting with other students which is great for motivation and energy levels.
  • All students are participating at the same time. There is very little waiting around.
  • Students practice speaking, listening, reading, writing, target vocabulary, paragraph structure, the list just keeps going ?. 

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

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