Category Archives: *ESL Writing

These postings include writing activities, teaching techniques and strategies for evaluating writing skills.

• Don’t Give Points. Give Green Instead. Save Time from Counting and Recording Points.

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While working at my computer, I heard my officemate, Nadya, sigh. She had a stack of homework papers that she was in the midst of marking, counting points and recording. She told me that she was starting to feel burned out from all the paper work and wondered if I felt the same.

She showed me how she was evaluating her students’ homework. They had written 10 items, and next to each one, she had written points. For example, a 2/2 meant that the student did that item correctly, a ½ meant it wasn’t completely correct, and 0/2 meant it was completely incorrect.

That morning she was in the process of (1) totaling the points, (2) writing a score at the top, and (3) recording the scores in her grade book.  She said that she didn’t have time to write anything more specifically about the reason for the points on the students’ papers.

I then showed her a set of papers that I had recently marked. I don’t write points next to each item, but instead, I marked each with green or blue. Then I explained that by doing that, I’m able to specifically reinforce what they did correctly or point out what was incorrect. At the same time, I don’t need to write and record points, which saves me a tremendous amount of time.

Here are samples of our different approaches to marking assignments:

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• Small Steps for Students Who Are Feeling Discouraged

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A boy wanted to ask a girl to the school dance, but he was too shy to talk to girls. To help him start to overcome his shyness, one day in a store together, his mom told him to walk up to a female clerk and ask where he could find the toothpaste. If he did that, he’d prove to himself that he could interact successfully with a female who was a total stranger, and he’d be able to see himself moving toward his goal. (From Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.)

I realized that I could apply the principle behind this story to a category of students who seem to be in many of the ESL class that I’ve taught. They are the ones who are feeling discouraged about their seemingly inability to progress in their language-skill development. Many of them have failed the course, and in some cases, more than once.

Some of these learners don’t feel like trying any more.

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• An Effective Technique for Analyzing Students’ Grammar Skills in a Writing Context

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Here is typical exchange that I’ve often heard between teachers who were evaluating a student’s writing together.

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It’s relatively easy to evaluate the content in students’ writing. We can usually agree about how well it is organized, how clear the ideas are presented and how deep the support is. The challenge comes when trying to gage the students’ level of grammar in a writing context. It involves more than just counting grammar mistakes. We need to consider a couple of aspects, and one of them is the seriousness of the errors. For example, look at these two sentences:

(Student A) One day, a young bride 1 name Jane packed her stuff and tried to leave her hotel.

(Student B) One day, a young bride packed her stuff, 1 she tried to leave her hotel.

They both have one error, but it would be a mistake to assume that they are at the same level. Student A’s mistake could easily be just an editing error. On the other hand, Student B’s is a run-on and could indicate that the student is still struggling with sentence boundaries.

When analyzing grammar mistakes, we also need to consider the complexity of the students’ sentence style.

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• “Read-Aloud” Method for Collaborating with Colleagues to Assess ESL Students’ Writing Level

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Traditionally, when evaluating students’ writing levels, the “evaluators” silently read the essays in their offices, oftentimes fill out a rubric and come up with a score. Most of us would agree that such a process is onerous and often results in students being misplaced.

The method that I’ll describe here has important benefits for teachers and the ESL program as a whole. I’ve used this in several ESL programs for two situations(1) determining which students should be promoted to the next level at the end of a term, and (2) placement of new students. It’s especially helpful for determining the proper Writing-class level of borderline students, in other words, ones whose writing levels are not obvious.

To demonstrate how the method works, let’s look at those two situations.

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