Substitution – An Amazing, Fun, Brainstorming Writing Activity for ELLs!

A blackboard featuring a writing activity for ELLs focused on substitution.

Duration: 10-20 Minutes

Type: Individual

What you will need:

  • Paper & Pencils (I suppose you know that ?)
  • Whiteboard/Overhead/Projector
  • An Example Text


With the students help, the teacher writes down lists of words that students can substitute into an example text to make it their own. 

How to Organize:

  1. Provide students with an example text you want them to reference. The text could show them a good example of how to structure a paragraph, how to structure an argument, how to write using similes, how to describe a scene, how to explain instructions, how to write in the past tense, how to use conjunctions, etc.
  2. Read the text together and point out the concepts you want students to pay attention to.
  3. Then choose a word or phrase that students can change to something else.
  4. Ask students to call out words or phrases that they think would fit in that place in the sentence.
  5. Write them down on the board (or write them on the overhead projector, or type them on a computer/tablet to be shown over the projector).
  6. This is a great way to get students thinking about parts of speech as well as subject-verb agreement as well.
  7. Once you have a few lists of words so that students get the idea, let students write their own texts substituting in the words they would like to write.
  8. Students can change substitute single words or they can change the entire passage.
  9. Extension: Once students have written their own sentences/passages, you can have them memorize them and say them to the teacher. 


  • This activity helps take pressure off students who cannot think of anything to write if you give them a blank page.
  • Students get to see solid examples of a concept they are required to master before they try it on their own.
  • This activity is great for building vocabulary and grammar skills.

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

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