How to Correct English Writing Errors

- - Writing errors

Do you spend too long correcting students' written work only to have them file it away without a second glance? Ross McBride suggests an alternative.

English writing can be difficult if the writer does not make use of the many English language writing resources that are available to help them. Writers can use dictionaries, style guides, spell checks, show the writing to friends, fellow students and of course their English language teachers.

How to correct English writing Errors?

The most obvious answer is teacher correction. But is teacher-correction effective? There is some research that shows English language students do not make effective use of teacher-corrections.

Every English writing teacher would like to imagine that their student takes their corrected paper home, pulls out a dictionary and grammar book and carefully goes over each correction. Unfortunately, most students only check to see how much "red" is on the paper and then file it away - never to be looked at again.

Most of the teacher's careful written corrections are actually wasted.

Error correcting takes lots of teacher time and energy and many students just do not want to see their writing compositions after teacher corrections.

Beware of the student who forgot the homework and just before the homework is due dashes off a quick paper. He makes a lot of mistakes all made in haste. The problem is that the student wants his paper to be corrected and correcting it takes four times the effort to read the "mess with multiple errors". Your policy should be: if the student does not have time to try to write it well, then you do not have time to try to correct it.

John Truscott and later Krashen have presented research indicating that grammar correction does not really help students at all.

Personally, I have seen that my students do learn from some corrections.

Except for typos and simple errors, self-correction is very difficult for English students because if they understood what was wrong they would not have written it in the first place.

One to One peer correction is not fun and it is difficult for many students to fully trust their partner's language experience or writing ability.

How can the student add to his English writing skills in a way that interacts with his previous English grammar knowledge and vocabulary?

One of many new methods is called Group writing.

Group writing helps students to benefit from several peers, helps students to learn not only from their mistakes but from the mistakes of others and makes economical and efficient use of the students' and the teacher's time.

The group writing tasks are everything from writing a paragraph to writing an essay.

Each group can get a different topic to work on or sometimes it can be the same topic and they compete with the other groups.

You can use the whiteboard, the large paper paper pads on an easel or overhead projector as long as there is one per group. One student writes while the rest of the team from one to three others offers suggestions and corrections during the writing process.

Group writing gets the students to benefit from group assistance as a peer-learning experience with more resource value than one to one peer sharing.

With the entire class looking on we examine each finished writing sample and I ask the class to offer corrections. The class really focuses on every group finished writing to see if it is correct or not. Especially if there is challenge or competition at stake.

Group writing seems to be an effective method of correcting English writing errors. Immediate feedback is quick within the groups and again when corrections are suggested in front of the entire class.

Original Post:
Ross McBride - Career Teacher and Coach
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What do you think of this article? Add a comment »

Peter on 25 January 2009

How do you account for shy learners or confident learners. How can you accurately asess what individuals have contributed?

Yianna on 26 January 2009

Sounds like a good idea but group work is not always an effective way to see an individual student's progress, which is one of the reasons for giving written work in the first place.

Luchan on 26 January 2009

I will certainly be trying this in my classroom. Despite problems that may arise when it comes to monitoring individual students' progress, I think this task will enhance not only students' confidence and understanding, but will also improve speaking ability in my classroom which comprises students from all over the world with a huge range of abilities. Accounting for shy learners and confident learners is a simple matter of observation and encouragement where necessary. Bringing students out of their shyness is as much a part of the learning process as the understanding of English - group work is one way to encourage this.

Joscha on 26 January 2009

Good idea, this one. But this strategy is certainly not able to replace, but only enrich individual writing. Quite apart from the fact that we still have to evaluate individual students, the free-rider dilemma jumps out at us. Back in school, I always used to 'be' the group, as others just left it to me. Now, as a teacher, I have quite a few students in a similar situation. Bypassing this is the real challenge.
BTW: The monitored writing of corrected versions can be fruitful, too.

Esma on 26 January 2009

Each activity or practice has their pros and cons. It is always difficult to handle group activities, that's for sure but students usually make the most out of such acitivities as there is observable interaction and peer help.

Leigh on 26 January 2009

If you're looking to assess work then group writing is not the way to go normally, however for inspiration, fun, learning and enthusiasm then group writing has to be much better for struggling students. Thanks for the idea/reminder.

Sharon on 26 January 2009

Okay, this is fine and dandy within a group writing task; however this doesn't fully address a writing activity that one truly completes by themselves. Perhaps after such a group task is done then do the students use this as a model to write their own material?

Carla on 26 January 2009

I think it's a great idea, I do agree with Yianna, but we could use this kind of activity not so much for indiviudual assessment but to see the overall level of the group, depending on how often you have the class (I teach the same group all week) maybe incorporating an activity like this once a week would be useful, even more if you make a contest with it, I have seen shy, quiet students "come to life" when a prize is involved!

Edalex on 26 January 2009

Good enough. Have you guys tried journal entries or learning logs as alternative forms of assesment? Please let me know.

Anonymous on 27 January 2009

I'm surprised at the hesitant and negative responses. No effective teacher would interpret this strategy alternative as replacing independent writing. It is simply that - an alternative, another strategy to add to your methodology cache. Students learn in many ways and if you aren't mixing up your instructional strategies a bit, you won't be addressing the different learning styles of your students.

Jimmy on 27 January 2009

Hello, I like the idea. For me it will be useful. I don't teach native students, and I have to be honest, they do not like to write at all. Maybe they think they will feel bad if I correct them a lot, using this technique they will feel more confident because the group will commit the mistake. Thanks for this.

Arash on 27 January 2009

After years of teaching and applying different methods of correction I came up with this idea and it really worked. I am really happy to see that another teacher has the same idea. This method is different for two reasons: First, it's so practical. You can find the commonest type of errors in a class and ask the students themselves to correct their own erros. Second, they try not to repeat those errors in such a contest. Another important advantage of this method is that in addition to their writing, they improve their speaking.

Emmanuel on 29 January 2009

A good method for correcting spelling and punctuation blunders. I have used it class and it worked well. You have to make sure the students act as directed.

Memmy on 30 January 2009

I think this is a great class activity because it can build teamwork, create varieties, and change the classroom dynamic as well. I am planning to try this activity at least once this term and see how it works. Thank you for the refreshing idea!

Jane Wong, Hong Kong on 1 February 2009

What's your class size? Will the students get bored while correcting too many grammatical, spelling or other kinds of mistakes? I think the level of difficulty of the writing task is crucial.

Ashraf on 3 February 2009

It's really hard to teach young children the skill of intensive writing. They only draw the shapes of letters and words they see. I teach ESL learners and I appreciate any articles that may help. Thanks a lot.

Anonymous on 6 February 2009

Can you be sure that in group writing work, all students will make contributions to the task?

Anonymous on 8 February 2009

Collaborative learning is a fantastic means of encouraging esl students to discuss their ideas before writing, assisting each other and learning from their's and other's mistakes. Not all tasks need to be individually marked neither is there a need for formal asessments on a daily basis - it takes the joy out of learning. Variety is the spice of life - I like this approach!

Abi on 14 February 2009

I often do this method in class, and I find it more effective than individual writing. This is a good method particularly for lower level classes. I think students in higher level classes prefer to write on their own since they need to know their flaws. Perhaps putting them in groups afterward and make them correct and discuss each other's works can be as effective as group writing. Don't forget to challenge students with interesting topics to stimulate their creativity.

Viv on 8 March 2009

I find that my beginners love to use my white board pens and write on the board. The fact that they are up at the front seems to spur them on to greater efforts. It probably works because this is a culture where they would not normally be allowed near the whiteboard!

Catanho on 17 March 2009

A classroom is a lab where one has the opportunity of trying/performing a set of experiments with our students. The main goal is to develop autonomous learners. Experiments can and should be subject to reformulation. I teach English as a 2nd language in Portugal and I´ve been working with such a diverse range of students with different learning paces and styles, and all in the same classroom. Mr Ross's contribution got me thinking. Bearing in mind my kind of classes, it will surely promote cooperative learning in the way that Mr Ross emphasizes team work. There are no miraculous formulas, but where there is a will, there's a way. I've always had students write short essays on various topics. They get them corrected and are supposed to deliver the corrected version. In spite of my efforts and hopes, not to mention time, the results haven't been widely positive as some just worry about copying and delivering them back to me. I'll adopt this strategy, by first making up teams which include students of different levels of ability, then I'll have them learn the two most important rules when working in a team, namely give suggestions and respect their mates' suggestions. The most able students will be expected to help their mates with the grammar issue, as it's the basis of both oral and written communication. Lack of considerable grammar knowledge and vocabulary condemns either a guided or free essay.

John in Bangkok on 23 March 2009

Thanks for the article and helpful comments everyone. I will do more group writing in addition to the individual writing. Since you gave me some good ideas, I wanted to share one with you about individual writing. The brain has a few "interfaces" to the language center within it. So, I try to have the students use as many as possible to correct and improve their writing. After they complete a writing assignment, I then pair them up (or at their group) and have them read it aloud. In hearing what they wrote they often self-correct many things by speaking/listening/reading. Their partner also listens and offers suggestions. Then they swap papers and read them aloud to each other again, and fix more. I have found this to be quite effective. Basically, take a writing, speak and listen to it, and correct. I then take the writings and highlight the errors and in the next class they group correct each other. Once corrected, I have the students read their paper aloud again, to send the updated and correct info to the language center in the brain. Cheers.

Houda on 10 April 2009

Hello... I am an English teacher in Algeria. I've never done group writing but it seems to be interesting, so I will surely use it in class. I want to know how you correct a writing task? Do you start by correcting the form of a paragraph or an essay then move to the content and the mechanics? Thanks for the nice article and the useful comments.

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