• Missing WHO and WHICH/THAT: Common ESL Problem and Solution

Cover missing who Shot

*(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Sometimes I get the feeling that some of my ESL students (including advanced ones) believe that there are a limited number of “who” and “which” out there, and they are afraid of using them all up before they die.

The problem happens when students are trying to write more advanced styles with a dependent and independent clause in a sentence.

Some examples:

Mistake: The people are walking their dogs should keep them on a leash.
Correction: The people WHO are walking their dogs should keep them on a leash.

Mistake: I try to give money to charities help homeless people.
Correction: I try to give money to charities WHICH help homeless people. *

I’ve also notice that this mistake often happens when students start a sentence with there”.

Mistake: There was an accident happened near my house.
Correction: There was an accident WHICH happened near my house.

* We could substitute the word THAT for WHICH in these sentences.

Solution: Helping students with this. (Handout included.)

I’ll briefly explain the exercises in the handout.

To lead students to understand the problem, in Exercise 1, we use an inductive approach. We have pairs of sentences, one of which is correct and the other is incorrect because it is missing who or which (or that).

Missing who which EX 1 shot

When focused on the pairs of sentences, most students are able to identify the correct ones. (#1 and #4).

So now they are aware of what the common mistake is. To help them understand why it is a mistake and how to correct it, they do Exercise 2. They will see that the problem is that they have a subject and verb for the independent clause and a verb but not a subject for the dependent clause.

Missing who EX 2 shot

Here is the link to the two complete exercises that you can download for free to use with your students Missing Who Which Exercise

For the answer key, see p. 187, Exercise 5 and 6 in Pro Lingua Learning–Writing Strategies Book 2     (See Free Samples, Guides, and Workbooks)

YouTube In my YouTube video, Missing WHO and WHICH/THAT. (Helping students discover it.),   I explain how I led a student during a conference about his writing assignment to discover his (which / who) mistakes with these two sentences:

  • Daniel often asks questions are hard to answer.
  • There was an employer paid his workers well.

For more about how to lead students to discovering their mistakes, see • How to lead ESL Students to Discover their Grammar Mistakes on Writing Assignments

David Kehe

*About the free download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.

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