An international student, Emily, was really struggling with the grammar in her writing assignments. Even though she worked with a tutor, she was continuously making basic mistakes. In the fall, the program reluctantly promoted her to my higher-level Writing course. I found her to be the third lowest of 17 students in the class in being able to apply grammatical accuracy to written work. Ten weeks later, she was the second best. I was totally amazed!
At the end of the Fall term, she passed my class and then took English Comp (English 101) during the Winter term. She got an A.
I had a chance to talk to her about her remarkable turn-around. What she did is not beyond what other students can do. After that opportunity that I had to talk to her, every term, I share with all my students her story. Here is the PowerPoint that I use to do this in case you’d like to tell your students about how a peer of theirs was able to improve the grammar in her writing in a relatively short time. True story about improving grammar in writing thru reading
I’ll summarize what she had done below.
That Fall term (when she was my student), Emily was concerned about an academic course that she was planning to take during Winter term, so she decided to read as much as she could about that subject area before January. She went to the library and found several books. But, she realized that since she could only check them out for three weeks, she’d need to be focused in order to read through all of them over the course of three months. She told me that during that fall, all she did whenever she wasn’t doing assignments was read those books. She didn’t play video games, didn’t spend time on social media, didn’t go to parties, didn’t watch TV, etc. She just read, sometimes even while eating. Not surprisingly, she learned a lot about the subject area, but to me, the most astonishing result was that her grammar improved so dramatically during my course almost as a byproduct.
It’s not unusual to get students in higher-level Writing classes who still struggle with their grammar on assignments. Having them do more grammar exercises is not an effective means for improvement. But if they are determined to really improve, the story of Emily can give them a direction. Best of all, they can benefit from reading anything that is at their reading level; it doesn’t have to be an academic text. It can even be a novel or magazine article. They just need to be dedicated.
For a description of a way to inspire students to read more, see One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers.