Tips for Writing a Product Instruction Manual

For an instruction manual to be effective, it needs to be logically organized, easy to navigate through and written in clear language. People don’t typically read an entire user manual, according to Online-Learning. It’s more likely that users will pick up a manual looking for information about one specific detail.

When you’re writing a product or service manual, the target market for the product is the audience for the user manual. Keep your language in line with the average reading level of your target audience, and limit technical lingo unless you know the main readers are likely to have knowledge of industry-related terminology. For example, a user manual for operating a computer for an average person may explain basic details about how to operate it, while a user manual for a complex computer add-on may be geared toward a user with advanced technical knowledge. Overall though, keep sentences short and simple. Focus on explaining how to use the product in a way that answers common questions about it.

Use Short Headings

Headings that are highlighted with bold lettering make it easy for users to scan through sections of the manual and find specific information. It’s best to choose one type of phrasing and use it throughout the manual, according to Microsoft. Try leading with a verb and then the details. For example, ‘Add the Headers’ and ‘Format Each Header the Same Way’ both lead with a verb and then the details, which makes it easier for users to follow the formatting and find the information needed.

Write in Active Voice

When you write a product user manual, you’re talking directly to the reader, according to Online-Learning. So, using language that skirts around a topic could be confusing to the reader. For example, if you’re trying to tell someone they need a Phillip’s head screwdriver, you would, ideally, say “You’ll need a Phillip’s head screwdriver” rather than “To complete this task properly, a Phillip’s head screwdriver may be needed.” When you make it clear who will be performing the task, it draws the reader in and makes the manual more relevant to the reader.

Adding Steps

If you’re adding a step-by-step tutorial, you should number each step and begin each step with an imperative verb, according to Microsoft. Use full sentences and avoid fragmented sentences to make sure the message is clear. Hold each step-by-step procedure to seven or less steps, if possible, and keep each step as simple as possible. If you notice step-by-step sections getting too long, see if you can break them into more than one procedure to reduce the number of steps.

When to Use Right Angle Brackets

If you’re writing a user manual for something computer related, where the user may click through a series of steps, right angle brackets may be used shorten the commands and to indicate the click pattern, as noted by Microsoft. For example, directions with right brackets may look like this: Select Dashboard > User Accounts > Register New Account.

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An aerial shot of students writing in notebooks at a table, with school supplies on it

Building Strong Writers: Activities & Writing Strategies for ELL Students

Why is writing so hard? This is a question that teachers hear on a daily basis from students. There is no denying that writing is difficult. However, for English Language Learners (ELLs), writing is made even harder because they are doing a task outside of their native language.

We have compiled a list of the best activities and writing strategies for ELL students that are designed to alleviate your ESL students’ struggles.

A teacher sitting with two students helping them with a writing exercise

  • Before You Begin

To determine which strategies will work best for your students, ask these four questions before they start writing:

  • Do they already know how to read in their first language?
  • How similar is the student’s home language to the English alphabet and syntax?
  • How often does the student have the opportunity to practice reading and writing in English?
  • How much background knowledge does the student have about the writing topic?
  • The Importance of Scaffolding Writing for ELLs

In education, scaffolding is a teaching method where teachers help students complete tasks just beyond the point that they could achieve by themselves. It was developed by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who theorized that children learn best when an adult helps them expand upon what they already know and can do.

His theory birthed the concept of a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)—the area between what is known and unknown where students can achieve a task with guidance from a knowledgeable teacher. Over time, teachers gradually reduce support until the students can do the task themselves.

There are many benefits to scaffolding instruction for students:

  • Tasks are simplified to make them more manageable.
  • Student frustration is reduced.
  • Students are better able to focus on learning objectives.
  • Students build confidence in their abilities.

Scaffolding your instruction is key to the success of all students—especially ELLs.  When you make connections to what students already know, learning becomes more meaningful . Determining where and when scaffolding techniques are to be used (and later removed) is crucial in helping students reach their learning goals.

  • ELL Writing Strategies for Scaffolding

ELLs benefit from scaffolding throughout the writing process. Below are a few types of scaffolding writing strategies for ELL students that can be used at any grade or language level.

1. Model Texts All ELL students need to see plenty of examples of the kind of writing you want them to produce. Model texts could be selected from high-quality literature, teacher-generated,  or student-authored pieces. Whatever text you select, make sure that it clearly demonstrates your learning objective.

2. Sentence Frames Sentence frames are sentences with strategically placed blanks for students to fill in. These are helpful for newcomers who are in the earlier stages of language proficiency, or for introducing a new type of sentence structure.

3. Sentence Stems Similar to sentence frames, sentence stems provide a prompt for students to begin writing. Sentence stems are more open-ended than sentence frames, but still offer structure and guidance for the writing activity.

4. Word Walls Word walls are an excellent scaffolding technique, as they can be customized to your language objectives. You may utilize a word wall for academic vocabulary terms or other important writing elements like signal words. You can make your word wall a more powerful teaching tool by making it interactive .

5. Graphic Organizers Beginning a writing task can be daunting for ELLs. Graphic organizers are effective teaching tools that help students visually organize information and break down writing into more manageable steps. Consider pre-filling parts of graphic organizers to scaffold for your ELLs.

  • Writing Activities for ELL Students

When teaching writing to English language learners, it’s important to use authentic writing activities that allow them to write about their experiences. We’ve compiled a list of engaging writing activities along with scaffolding techniques to help each of your ELLs build their writing skills.

How to Journal with ELLs

  • Student journaling can be an effective activity to help ELL students build confidence and develop writing skills. There are many different ways that teachers can use journaling in the classroom. Personal journals, dialogue journals, and content-specific journals such as science or math notebooks are all helpful teaching tools. For a more in-depth look at how journaling can benefit ELL students, read our article here .

Benefits for ELLs

  • Journals can be used by ELLs of any proficiency level.
  • Students have the opportunity to write in their native language .
  • When used intentionally, journals can expand students’ vocabulary and higher-order thinking skills.

Strategies for ELLs

  • For newcomers or those who have limited proficiency, consider allowing them to draw in their journals and label their pictures.
  • Use picture dictionaries or other visuals to help students bridge their understanding between words that they know in their native language and English words.
  • Provide sentence starters or writing prompts to help students get started with their writing.

A close-up shot of a student's journal entry

Sequential Writing

How to do Sequential Writing with ELLs

  • Have the students write the steps to do a familiar task like getting ready for school or making breakfast. Students can practice using new and unfamiliar words along with a routine activity.
  • Sequencing is an important skill for reading comprehension and scientific inquiry.
  • By selecting a familiar activity, you will ensure that ELL students have the background knowledge necessary for the activity.
  • Students’ home cultures can be incorporated by including the activity as homework for ESL students—have students ask their parents to tell them the steps for making their favorite meal.
  • Provide pictures for students to put in the correct order for a familiar activity. Have students practice labeling or matching words with the pictures. Reinforce keywords like “first,” “next,” “then,” etc.
  • For students with progressing language skills, divide a paper into four sections. Have the students draw and label pictures for each step.
  • Provide a sequence graphic organizer for ELL students to write the steps to the activity.

Creative Writing

How to Use Creative Writing with ELLs

  • Short, creative writing activities can provide ELLs with engaging written expression examples and ideas.
  • Have students write a social media post , like a tweet, about a current event or even as a book review.
  • As part of a social studies unit, give ELL students an assignment to write a postcard from a country that they have been learning about in class or their native country.
  • For students with more advanced language skills, have them create a fictional ad to introduce and practice persuasive writing .
  • Incorporating social media activities can enhance ESL students’ digital literacy .
  • Short, engaging activities reduce the cognitive load for ELL students while increasing their motivation.
  • Use model texts so that students are familiar with the type of writing you assign.
  • Create a word bank or personal word wall for students to reference relevant vocabulary words.

How to Use Poetry with ELLs

  • The text in poetry is both purposeful and brief, so ELL students can understand the main point without becoming overwhelmed.
  • Poetry offers opportunities for students to engage with language in a playful way.
  • Poems are an excellent way to incorporate your students’ native cultures into your classroom.
  • To scaffold, first create a poem as a group , then have students work in smaller groups or pairs to write independently.
  • Have students create word maps to help them generate relevant vocabulary or varying adjectives to make their poetry more interesting.

Writing Programs for ELLs from Continental

Continental understands there are many different writing programs to choose from when teaching writing to English language learners. Our ELL writing programs are developed with the latest research and teacher-backed activities and feature the best writing strategies to support language development.

  • My Language Journal

My Language Journal is a series of personal journals that provides ELLs with opportunities to practice their writing skills and develop their vocabulary through visual learning activities. My Language Journal can be used for grades K–12.

  • Uses personal writing prompts to engage ELLs
  • Customizable word logs help make learning meaningful
  • Topics for social-emotional learning (SEL) and content areas
  • Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary support
  • The Write Track for English Learners

The Write Track for English Learners focuses on writing development to help ELLs develop their written communication skills. It also helps students gain confidence with classroom writing assignments and state testing requirements. It’s designed for grades K–12 and English language proficiency levels 2–5.

  • Provides complete instruction for a variety of writing areas
  • Step-by-step instruction with guided practice and peer review
  • Correlated to English language development (ELD) standards
  • Interactive eBooks with online answering, instant scoring for immediate feedback, and performance reports

The Write Track Student Book, Level E

Instructional ELs workbooks feature a gradual release model to help English learners make gains in classroom writing.

A young girl sitting at her desk writing.

Writing can be difficult even for native English speakers. Thankfully there are many ways to help ESL students not feel overwhelmed and discouraged. By using these writing strategies, you can help your students begin to feel more confident in their English language skills.

Thank you to Ellen Richardson, our ELL contributor, for consulting on this blog post.

520 East Bainbridge Street Elizabethtown, PA 17022 Phone: 800.233.0759 Fax: 888.834.1303

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  • English Learners

Writing Strategies for ELL Students

Teaching writing to english language learners.

English language learners bring a wealth of strengths to the classroom but encounter distinct difficulties in developing writing skills in English. Studies show that ELL students perceived cognitive and linguistic deficiencies and sociocultural differences as challenges when learning to write in English.

Therefore, teaching writing to English language learners requires direct instruction on topics like grammar, syntax, and vocabulary but also calls for consideration of students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds to make connections between languages.

Navigating through this unique set of challenges can be overwhelming for both ELL students and teachers. How can teachers equip ELL students with the skills to be confident and capable writers? Consider the following writing strategies for English language learners.

A note on language: we employ the common phrases multilingual learner and English language learner , along with the acronym ELL , but we also recognize that this is imperfect nomenclature. Students who are learning English do not fit neatly into a single label.

How to Help ELL Students with Writing

Multilingual students are expected to master the English language by first forming sentences, then penning paragraphs, and, eventually, writing complete essays and reports. Students need support in maneuvering through and understanding the writing process as they learn English. The following strategies will help you guide students through the writing process, so they can develop the skills to plan, draft, and revise their English writing.

Prewriting Stage

The prewriting stage is the perfect time to scaffold writing for ELLs and create cross-cultural connections. Because this stage involves generating and mapping ideas, students may require additional guidance. During the prewriting stage, review students’ background knowledge, build on students’ vocabulary, and brainstorm with the following strategies.

Before putting thoughts to paper, engage students in a discussion to talk through their ideas. Talking can also help students put words and phrases together as well as activate prior knowledge. Multilingual learners can then draw from their experiences to connect to the writing topic at hand.

As a class, brainstorm vocabulary words that could be useful for your next writing assignment. From there, create a word bank that students can use and display it in your classroom. Consider adding drawings and pictures next to the words to further help ELL students. Students can also write the word bank in their writing journals to refer to in the future.

Graphic organizers are great tools to help ELL students map out their thinking for a writing project. A graphic organizer like the sandwich chart guides students in writing an essay that has three key details and a concluding sentence. A flow chart helps students sequence a story from beginning to end. Model how to use a graphic organizer and meet with ELL students in a small group to review the process.

Seeing how to write before jumping into a writing assignment is beneficial for all students and even more so for multilingual learners. Consider modeling to expose students to specific writing styles, like narrative or persuasive, as well as demonstrate the writing thought process. Write a piece using age-appropriate language, share your thinking aloud, and read the model writing to students. Then display the model writing so students can refer to it later.

Make writing practice meaningful and interactive with dialogue journals. Through dialogue journals, students get to have regular written conversations with their teacher or peers. This student-centered approach creates an authentic way for students to build writing fluency and letter writing skills. Plus, it allows ELL students to build relationships with their teachers and classmates. As for teachers, dialogue journals serve as a great way to assess students’ progress and provide direct feedback and praise.

Drafting Stage

ELLs come into the classroom at varying language levels, so writing will look different for every student. It’s important to differentiate writing assignments for English language learners during the drafting stage.

In the early stages of literacy and language development, ELLs will need additional support in building their vocabulary. Picture labeling provides students with visual representations and allows them to gain familiarity with vocabulary words.

With journals, students don’t need to worry about adhering to strict writing guidelines. They can jot down thoughts in their primary language, use new vocabulary, and explore different types of writing. Therefore, journals are great for drafting. Encourage students to free write in their journals, and later, have them look through entries to select a draft they want to polish.

Figuring out what to write about all while learning a new language can be overwhelming. Writing prompts alleviate that struggle by offering ELL students a framework for their writing. With prompts, students can focus their writing efforts on a given topic. Some writing prompts even provide a story starter, an opening sentence to guide students in developing their writing. Find a collection of helpful writing prompts on Shaped.

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St. Patrick’s Day Writing Prompts and Activities

40 Mother’s Day Writing Prompts

ELL students may have a limited vocabulary and knowledge of the English language, preventing them from stringing words together to form a sentence or paragraph. Plus, sentence structure varies from language to language, so ELL students can benefit from strong guidance and scaffolding to construct clear and grammatical English sentences. Sentence and paragraph frames are great tools to scaffold writing during the drafting stage. Sentence frames provide students with a framework to build a sentence using English grammar. Sentence frames can also be used to teach comprehension skills like cause and effect, for example, “If _______, then _______.” Paragraph frames provide students with transitional words to piece together a strong paragraph. Display paragraph and sentence frames around the classroom for students to use.

Revising and Editing Stages

Multilingual learners may feel self-conscious when having their writing reviewed. Incorporate technological tools and a collaborative review process to help students feel more at ease.

Peer review is a great way for ELL students to reflect on key writing skills and improve their writing proficiency. During the peer review process, students receive and provide clear, constructive feedback. Both the reviewer and the reviewee benefit from the process, as the reviewee learns how to improve their writing and the reviewer builds awareness of the writing process. For multilingual students, peer review is especially helpful as they practice listening to, reading, and writing English. Model the peer review process with students and give students a guideline on how to provide specific feedback.

After a peer review, ELL students may get caught up in misspellings and grammatical mistakes. Consider using assistive technology to ease any possible editing anxiety. Assistive technology, like word prediction and spell-check, helps students come up with words to complete a sentence and flag misspellings or errors. Tools like digital dictionaries allow students to easily look up a word’s meaning and pronunciation to build spelling, speaking, and vocabulary skills.

When teaching writing, remember to meet students where they are and create a classroom culture where students feel encouraged to explore writing.

Set multilingual learners on an accelerated path to writing proficiency with English 3D , our dedicated ELD curriculum.

Guide all students in Grades 3-12 through the writing process with Writable .

Download our free guide to using response frames with multilingual learners.

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6 Ways to Scaffold Writing for ELLs

Teenage girl writing on loose-leaf paper

Writing in school poses a unique challenge for ELL students. Beyond the obvious hurdle of using a new language, many ELL students come from oral cultures, so their writing experiences in general may be limited. Now inside English-speaking classrooms, they are expected to write up to grade-level standards while using unfamiliar words and grammar.

It should come as no surprise, then, when ELL students are reluctant to write. But you can change that. Through support and scaffolding, you can grow ELL students into capable, confident writers.

What practices grow confidence?

Although ELLs may lack writing experience, they don’t lack  experiences . Whenever possible, invite them to write about their own background, culture, interests, and memories. ELLs shouldn't be expected to write well about new subject areas without first having a chance to write about knowledge and vocabulary they already possess.

Next, adjust your expectations. Because of limited vocabulary and unfamiliarity with English grammar, ELLs' writing can be difficult to understand. Your first instinct might be to correct as much as you can, but that will make the situation worse. Overcorrecting overwhelms students and saps their confidence. Instead, read for, mark, and celebrate the “small” victories—incremental improvements that can be repeated in future writing. 

You can help ELL students achieve more and more “small” victories through scaffolding. 

What scaffolding builds competence?

ELL students benefit from scaffolding throughout the writing process. Start with these prewriting scaffolds, which help students build vocabulary, generate writing ideas, and understand common writing moves:   

Mentor Texts

To introduce ELL students to a new writing activity, present  simple models  that students can emulate. Read through at least one model out loud, highlighting features or techniques you would like your students to practice.

Write-Aloud Models

After sharing mentor texts and reading models, talk through your own process for completing the same writing activity as students. Follow these steps:

  • Introduce the lesson by explaining what you are modeling and why.
  • Model brainstorming. Use a quick list or other graphic organizer.
  • Model your writing process. Explain what you are thinking as you write each part of a paragraph: a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.
  • Allow students to follow the pattern of your model when they write.

Prefilled Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers  help students gather and organize writing ideas prior to writing. ELL students may need extra time to fill out organizers effectively. By prefilling parts of the organizer, you save students time and introduce useful sentence models and high-frequency words they can apply to their writing.

See an example of a prefilled cause-effect organizer.

When students are ready to begin writing, introduce these scaffolds.

Sentence Frames

Sentence frames (or sentence starters) are partially completed sentences with blank spaces for students to fill in. Frames work well for students who struggle to write complete sentences or need practice with new sentence structures.

One of my favorite family traditions is ______________.

We always ______________, ______________, and ______________.

While other people may think ______________, the truth is ______________.

See a sentence-frame activity.

Paragraph Frames

You can integrate sentence frames into a larger paragraph framework for students to complete. 

Traditions bring families together. One of my favorite family traditions is ______________. The tradition started when ______________. As a part of this tradition, we always ______________, ______________, and ______________. What I enjoy most about ______________ is ______________. For example, ______________. While other people may think ____________, the truth is ______________. I wish everyone could experience ______________ because ______________. I hope this tradition ______________.

See a paragraph-frame activity.

As the year goes on, make your frames less prescriptive, giving students more freedom to test out different sentence patterns on their own. The goal, of course, is for students to eventually write with no frames at all. 

Signal Words

Experienced ELL writers may be ready for a less rigid form of framing. Instead of giving them a set of sentence structures to fill in, present a bank of related signal words as building blocks for a full paragraph.

A writing prompt might look like this:

Describe what your ideal classroom would look like. Include at least four location signal words somewhere in your description:  above, below, near, between, on top of, under, beside .

How else can I use scaffolding?

Scaffolding, as shown above, is an essential component of any writing instruction—and not just with ELL students. You can and should use the same scaffolds with other reluctant writers. Through extra modeling and guidance, you help all students see that writing is something they are capable of doing and even enjoying.

Teacher Support

Consider this support as you help ELL students with writing.

Learning Objectives

  • Use graphic organizers to gather details for writing.
  • Create different types of sentences.
  • Build paragraphs using different types of sentences.
  • Acquire and use grade-appropriate academic and domain-specific words and phrases. 

Teaching Tips

  • When giving ELLs writing feedback, first highlight "small" victories. Show students what they are doing well.
  • When offering suggestions for improvement, focus on one skill at a time, particularly when it comes to grammar.
  • Give ELLs regular chances to reflect on their writing, asking what they're doing well in writing, what challenges they face, and what strategies help them work through problems.
  • Create opportunities for collaborative writing. When ELLs work with peers, they see how other students write, which often feels more authentic and achievable than writing produced by a teacher.

The Best Scaffolded Writing Frames for Students

Common Core Writing and ELLs

The GO TO Strategies: Scaffolding Options for Teachers of English Language Learners, K-12

Writing Handbook:   All Write

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.

  • 110.5.b.11.C
  • 110.5.b.11.D
  • LAFS.3.W.2.5
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Writing Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners K-8

Susan lenski and frances verbruggen.

  • description M any English language learners (ELLs) require extra support to become successful writers. This book helps teachers understand the unique needs of ELLs and promote their achievement by adapting the effective instructional methods teachers already know. Engaging and accessible, the book features standards-based lesson planning ideas, examples of student work, and 15 reproducible worksheets, rubrics, and other useful materials. It describes ways to combine instruction in core skills with ample opportunities to write and revise in different genres. Invaluable guidance is provided for assessing ELLs' writing development at different grade levels and language proficiency levels. -->
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