How to Correct English Writing Errors

How to use Group Writing for error correction so that your students benefit from their peers, learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and make efficient use of their and your time.

Ross McBride
How to Correct English Writing Errors

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

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.

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Ross McBride

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  • Mohannad Ferjany

    I’ve been doing and calling for this approach for a long time and it’s proven to be very effective with my students. Cooperative learning, instant feedback & interactivity are the main merits of this method. Learners are also provided with a chance to develop their analytical and critical skills and gain self-confidence along the way.

  • Larry irvin

    born in 1941, my biggest complaint of English grammar or sentence structure, is ending a sentence with a ‘preposition’ ie: to, of, for, with, etc…..

    • Keith Folse

      This is not an ESL error. What you’re describing is a native speaker error.

  • Himyar Almisi

    is learners personality related to the language acquisition? How?

  • Adérito Hélder Sicato

    This is just valid for written tasks, and effective with written tasks – how about the spoken activities, how about the time consumed for this strategy? If the teacher has a programme to follow wasting time in group writing correction, and takes too much time to discuss and correct in this way, does it mean that the old correction techniques like the use of code are no longer valid? How far is this valid? Is there any research conducted?

  • Memmy

    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!

  • Arash

    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 errors. 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.

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Carla

    I think it’s a great idea, I do agree with Yianna, but we could use this kind of activity not so much for individual 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!

  • Leigh

    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!

  • Esma

    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 activities as there is observable interaction and peer help.

  • Luchan

    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.

  • Yianna

    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.

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