Error correction: having SS do your work.


To pot the redThe best way to correct your students is, naturally, getting them to correct themselves. Moreover – I see it as THE ONLY way to really achieve the results (and it is especially true of getting rid of fossilized errors).   There are a few problems here, however (a free material shared below, click “more”):

  • the students  will only notice a limited number of own errors (mostly those arising from a lack of attention), so –
  • the resulting variant of, eg,  the essay will still be too far from acceptable with weaker students; in addition –
  • they may feel uncomfortable and abandoned by you, hence – discouraged,  as in many cultures it’s common to rely on the teacher’s motherly care.
  • in any case, self-correction is not as easy as it may seem.

Therefore, it’s wise to use a “transitional” technique, fostering the learner maturity on the one hand, developing their noticing skills, and guiding their thinking, structuring the errors revealed so they are not overwhelming, and helping the learner to take some action eliminating them, on the other.

Here I’m sharing a material based on an effective technique I learned a long time ago and has used it every now and again. I forgot the source already – but it may be familiar to you. I’ve applied it recently to work on my 1-2-1 TOEFL student’s essay  (weak but ambitious intermediate), but is surely adaptable for groups (peer correction/help involved), and any other kinds of writting.

Here’s the essay: To my mind it is right to use animals for medical research or to test cosmetics (1).

The worksheet: essay self-correction_noticing worksheet

Here is the technique and the lesson outline based on it:

  • do not mark any errors on the student’s paper, but, instead,
  • re-write their essay (letter, story etc) so that retains as much as possible (!) of the original, but is written in a more or less acceptable 🙂  and more natural English. We must take care here not to change the original too drastically as it may be highly discouraging and demotivating for the student. Then,
  • get the student to compare the 2 versions. They must try to understand why your wording is better in every case. Then,
  • provide any clarifications as needed, and
  • classify the corrections into categories, eg, vocabulary, grammar, style, punctuation, confusables… – depending on the range of problems. Finally,
  • make some steps towards de-fossilisation and remedial. In this material, I have used the classical gapfill exercise made from the same edited version. I always (!) get my SS to re-read the edited variant aloud and “with emotion” 🙂 so the visual-kinestetic memory works. This polishes things up. Follow that up with a make-your-own-sentences exercise or a similar semi-creative thing, then use the corrected language in a light-hearted discussion, and set them a homework assignment (another essay) in which they are to use some (or all) of the language corrected.

This will provide enough intensive and varied work for a whole lesson and result in quite a few things improved (especially the little odds and ends your coursebook never focused on). To add listening comprehension, I ‘d recommend reading the ‘clean’ version aloud as the student(s) compare it with their work (give the text out afterwards for a more detailed analysis).

As usual, I’ll be really grateful for any feedback – and happy  if this material becomes useful to someone (it did help my dear SS).

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3 comments on “Error correction: having SS do your work.

  1. I like the concept, I just wish I had enough time to rewrite all my students’ homework! I can really see it working though ~ giving the students responsibility for their own work is essential, but we’ve got to ensure that the work is of interest to them. For instance, I teach a Business English class, and I attempted a self-correction exercise… truth be told the students weren’t interested in Business English in the first place, so weren’t very committed. Self-correction and peer correction tho are great ways to drag a sleepy student from their slumber and reliance on the teacher to mark their work. Would you ever let them decide their own grades?
    P.S. your site is very fetching

  2. waykate says:

    Hi Tim – thank you for your comment. I agree – it’s sometimes a challenge to inspire a student with ESP. Busines English and TOEFL do appear downright boring and useless… provided we teach Business English and TOEFL for their own sake. Instead, I try to teach topics, not subjects, and ideas, not exams, meaning that when preparing for TOEFL we learn and discuss such a lot about the surrounding world – as TOEFL involves a great variety of specialized fields – that it becomes genuinely interesting. The same is true about business. In addition, if SS want to speak/write neatly and correctly, they won’t reject the self-correction exercise provided we managed to persuade them that it really works better than anytrhing else – and I find it does. Inspiration is the key to success here, too. 🙂

    Now- I do let them decide their own grades. I’m not obsessed with grades, you know – I do without them more often than not. Grading their own work makes them even more responcible and objective, I believe. And with a group of students, you could try re-writing one selected essay per lesson only, as long as SS don’t mind (it could be anonymous), and make it an all-class/small group work. Still useful.

  3. Sally says:

    Hi – I found this post really interesting but like the comment above, I just haven’t got the time to work individually with a group of 10 students like this, which is such a shame. I’ve taught quite a few TOEFL courses and I have to say that I am learning on the job so to speak. Our school uses Northstar but some of the texts are too simplistic so I supplement with Longman. That said I know that the students get bored endlessly practicing skills for reading, listening etc and I’m keen to liven the lessons up BUT I know they have to practice to pass! I’m never really sure I’m adding value in the lessons because it takes time and commitment to pass with a high grade and most of my students are either working full-time, have families, are still at High School with loads of homework and they just don’t get the amount of extra-curricular work needed to get a high TOEFL score. What to do?

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