Category Archives: *ESL Writing

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

When Marking Only Half of a Student’s Essay Makes the Most Sense.

Editing student

I learned an important lesson from one of my Writing class students. I originally thought that AJ was a pretty good writer, but the grammar on her second essay was a disaster. In class the next day, I showed her paper to her with all the grammar mistakes coded and asked her if she was surprised by them. With a look of embarrassment on her face, she said she wasn’t surprised because she hadn’t taken enough time to edit her paper.

This story about AJ is connected to a common myth about marking grammar on students’ papers: Students will feel discouraged if they see that they have a lot of grammar mistakes. Contrary to this myth, when I’ve asked students, “Do you want me to mark every grammar mistake on your essay or only the most serious errors?” I have found everyone has responded, “I want you to mark them all.” 

(See Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers for more about my survey of students’ attitude.)

However, the idea of marking all the grammar mistakes can present a dilemma for us Writing teachers. Are we just enabling students like AJ by, in essence, becoming their personal editor when, in fact, they could have found the majority of those mistakes on their own had they taken the time to proofread the essay?

(See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills for more about marking students’ grammar mistakes more effectively.)

This is how my experience with AJ changed how I approach marking grammar on essays.

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Getting Students to Write More Interesting and Unique Ideas in Essays

Argumentation list

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

After your students do this exercise, reading their essays will be much more stimulating for you.

I felt a bit deflated while reading an essay by Jojo, one of my higher-level students. His title was “It’s Best to Marry Someone from a Foreign Country.” From reading his previous essays, I knew he had the potential to be a very good writer with interesting ideas, but on that essay, he just supported his opinion with content that I would expect from students at lower levels.  For example, here is his list of simple support for marrying someone from a foreign country:

  • We can learn a foreign language more easily.
  • We can enjoy eating different kinds of food.
  • We can go easily to a foreign country for vacations.

Although I don’t believe that we, as ESL instructors, should expect our students to keep us stimulated with deep ideas,  (see my posting “Wow” is not Necessarily the Goal in Students’ Essays) we should encourage those students who have the potential to push themselves to write beyond the mundane. This is especially true for our students who are planning to take English Comp and other academic classes with native speakers.

An exercise to help students develop awareness for writing more advanced and unique ideas (handout)

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Mistake: He SURPRISED to see it snowing. (Adjectives that look like verbs.)

 

Questions

 

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

When students see an –ed at the end of a word, they tend to automatically assume it’s a verb, and this assumption can lead them to grammar mistakes.

(* mistakes—These sentences are missing a verb.)
*Kai embarrassed during his speech.
* Rumi interested in horses.

To help students in the most efficient manner, I will sometimes paint with a broad brush.  So I simply tell my students that these words are adjectives: surprised, embarrassed, confused, interested and shocked. They need a verb with them.

(correct): Kai was (v) embarrassed (adj) during his speech.

Avoiding unnecessarily complicated information

It’s true that those words can be can be used as verbs, for example:
– It embarrassed (v)  Kai that he forgot some of his speech.

But in all my years of teaching writing, I rarely see students use them that way. They almost always use them as adjectives, so I don’t waste their time/mental energy talking to them about using these as verbs. Instead, I just generalize and tell them that they are adjectives.

Four-step exercises to teach these to students (Handout included.)

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Simple Technique ESL Students can use to Impress Their Academic Instructors

 

impressed instructor

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

Imagine that you are mainstream instructor (e.g. Psychology, English Comp, Economic), and as students enter the classroom, some stop to talk to you.

First, Josh approaches you and says, “That article you told us to read was so boring.”

Later, Ryan mentions to you,  “I found some interesting information in that article you told us to read.”

Of course you want your students to give their honest opinion, but it’s only natural that you’ll probably have a better impression of Ryan than Josh.  That positive impression could even have a favorable outcome for him when you are assigning grades.

This post is about a writing technique that our ESL students can use in their mainstream (academic) classes which can make a positive impression on their instructors.

Most instructors in any field think that their subject area is very interesting. For example, psychology, history, economics, English lit and engineering instructors often think that their subjects are the most interesting and important ones in the world. Needless to say, they love to hear their students say that they also think their classes are fascinating. Thus, our students can use this insight to stand out in the minds of their instructors.  And it could affect their grade in a positive way.

In addition, it involves good critical thinking.

Here is how it works and a handout activity to practice it.

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