Write or Wrong? Creating Outstanding Error Corrections for Writing Students

Write or Wrong? Creating Outstanding Error Corrections for Writing Students

Nobody likes making mistakes, but as a teacher, it’s great to remind your students that mistakes are an opportunity to learn, not to be embarrassed or regretful.

After all, they’ve embarked on the long journey of language learning; pitfalls and wrong turns are an inevitable part of it, and teach us a great deal. One way of embracing and making use of mistakes is to have your students analyze and learn from them during a weekly Error Correction exercise. Here’s how to go about it:

8 Outstanding Error Corrections for Writing Students

  1. 1

    Choose Your Target Language

    Go back to your course plan, and your notes from previous classes, to see how your students’ progress compares to that which you hoped for. Error Corrections are a great chance to review and consolidate learning, so choose areas for particular focus and consider preparing an exercise based only upon those language points. A broader focus is possible, but if you’ve been working on tenses, for instance, and your students are still making mistakes, it’s best to narrow the work down and deal with one topic at once.

    Other areas of focus might include:

    • Pronouns and their use
    • Modal verbs
    • Conditional forms
    • Spelling
    • Choice of vocabulary (relative strengths and register)
    • Word order (especially for Spanish-speaking students)
    • Phrasal verbs (everyone needs practice with these!)
    • Punctuation (can be very fiddly and frustrating; limit the exercise to 3-5 types, or your students might lose interest, or worse, their minds.)
  2. 2

    Decide the Format

    You’re going to be preparing a written sheet of error correction exercises, which isn’t going to be scintillating, let’s just admit it. Add variety, so that some questions are based off a single sentence, and others from a short paragraph. Change direction by using a different grammar point, and try not to repeat too many of the same type of question; at the same time, consider relating the questions together, almost as though you’re telling a story. Here are three good examples:

    1. Yesterday she go shopping before she cooking dinner.
    2. For dinner, she made chickens with rice, but she slipped and added too many rice to the pot.
    3. The leftover rice sitting in the fridge now. How she can use it?

    There is a switch of grammar focus from tenses, to countable/uncountable nouns, and then to a mix of tense and modal verb. These three points are probably as many as would ever be needed.

  3. 3

    Decide the Working Method

    One good way to encourage communication and discussion of the topic is to have the students complete the exercise in pairs or groups. You could even make it a competition. For me, there’s nothing worse than a group of students silently filling in yet another dry, academic worksheet. So, have them work together and mull over their answers before writing them down, and also…

  4. 4

    Include Humor and Personalization

    Take the work out of the exercise by making it funny; humor makes learning experiences more memorable, in any case. Include your students’ names, real events and people (celebrities, sports stars, anyone your students will find relevant). For example, if you’re working on passive/active forms, consider:

    1. Sepp Blatter had be accused of corruption.
    2. The 2018 World Cup has give to Russia.

    Your students will be familiar with the situation at FIFA, and once the exercise is complete, it might be fun (and a useful and engaging speaking activity) to elicit some opinions about these events.

  5. 5

    Include Red Herrings

    Some of our sentences to be corrected might actually not include any mistakes at all. This adds variety and spurs debate between your students as to what might be wrong. It’s only fair, though, to let your students know that there are some perfectly legitimate sentences in the mix, and perhaps how many there are.

  6. 6

    Provide a Clear Method

    Every editor is different, and there are a hundred ways to mark up text, so model your preferred method at the outset. I would recommend:

    1. Discuss the sentence. Where are the mistakes?
    2. Underline the problems
    3. Label the problems using abbreviated grammar terminology
    4. Discuss an improved version.
    5. Write the improved version and move on.
  7. 7

    Use and Extend the Feedback

    Once your students are finished, get feedback on the exercises in whichever way you prefer. Rotating around the room works well, and gives everyone a chance to answer; students could also nominate a classmate to take the next question, or you could select at random from your class list.

    Make sure, in each case, that your students are able to explain and understand what the problem was. I’ll reiterate that: not only what was wrong, but why. A thorough understanding of the grammar, to the point that the student can explain it to someone else, is a cornerstone of independent language learning. Ask for more examples, other situations where this mistake might arise, and comparisons with the students’ L1 (first language), which are endlessly instructive.

  8. 8

    Use Error Corrections Little and Often

    For too many students, language learning has meant sitting in near silence, answering dull questions from a torrid textbook. This approach, quite understandably, is a huge turn-off for students studying abroad, or online, who are very ready for something new. So, limit these rather traditional error corrections to once, or at most twice, a week, and inject as much humor, personalization and discussion as possible, both to make the work more useful and to spice up the experience.

Learning to recognize and correct one’s own language mistakes is essential, and helps develop the practice of taking additional care and time to ensure the sentence is correctly structured.

It’s also very positive to learn editing methods, both when proof-reading your own work and that of others, and your students will benefit greatly from practicing these skills in a discursive, open environment.

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