How can teachers encourage learners to correct their own writing? Second-time winner of TeachingEnglish blog award, Cristina Cabal, offers a few tried and tested error-correction activities.
Does every single writing error need to be corrected? In the learning of a second language, this is a question that stirs up great controversy. While it is true that most spelling errors will disappear as learner proficiency increases, there are some persistent errors – mainly grammatical – which remain despite repeated efforts to correct them.
In the following collection of error-correction activities for writing, the main aim is to get students to identify and correct writing errors taken from their own essays.
The activities are fun and highly motivating, and because they are fast-paced, I would suggest going through the errors with the whole class a second time at the end to reinforce learning.
Use 'grass skirts'
This activity is a lot of fun. Ask students to work in threes. Prepare the activity by collecting errors from your students' essays – around ten that will be useful for your students to analyse and correct. Now write these sentences onto sheets of different-coloured paper (as many sheets as there are groups) and cut the sheets into strips so that there's a sentence on each strip – see this template to get the idea. Make sure you don't cut all the way but just enough so that each strip is easy to tear away from the others on the sheet. It should look a bit like a grass skirt, which is how this activity gets its name.
Now stick the grass skirts on the walls of the class and assign a colour to each group. Tell students that the aim of the game is to correct errors from their essays. Explain that only one student from each team can run up to their assigned skirt and tear off a sentence, and only one sentence at a time. Then they have to run back to their group and try to correct the error together. Once they have corrected the error, they need to show their correction to the teacher. If you put a tick, it means it is correct and they can tear off sentence number two. Otherwise, they will have to go back to their group and try again. The team that finishes first is the winner.
Use sticky notes
This is a great activity to get students out of their seats and interacting with other classmates to discuss errors.
On the walls of the class, put up some sentences containing errors from their essays. Ask students to work in pairs and give each pair a number and as many sticky notes as sentences you are going to display on the walls.
Ask students to walk around the classroom, read the sentences containing the errors, and discuss how to correct them. Students will need to write the correct version on the sticky note together with their number, and stick it next to the sentence.
When the students have corrected all the sentences, they sit down. Now, take sentence number one and ask the class as a whole to discuss the error. Check the sticky notes and give a point to each pair who corrected the error. The winner is the pair who gets more points at the end.
Use slips of paper
Write sentences containing errors from students' essays on slips of paper. Ask students to work in threes. Ask each group to choose a different-coloured pen or pencil to write with. Give each group a slip of paper containing a sentence with a grammatical mistake and ask them to spot the error and correct it, writing their corrected version on the back using their assigned coloured pen/pencil. Once they have finished, they will have to pass the slip of paper to the group sitting next to them. Repeat the procedure until all the groups have had a chance to correct all the sentences. Gather all the slips of paper. Write the first sentence on the white board. Correct and explain the grammatical mistake and award one point to the pairs who guessed correctly.
Correct or incorrect?
This is an error-correction activity that encourages discussion and stimulates learning. For this exercise, you’ll need to put students into pairs. As before, select sentences with errors from their essays and prepare two worksheets, A and B, containing a mixture of correct and incorrect sentences. Explain that, on both worksheets, the sentences are the same, but if a sentence on sheet A is correct, the same sentence on sheet B will have an error, and vice versa. Now give sheet A to one student in the pair and sheet B to the other. On their own, they work through the sentences, ticking good sentences or correcting the errors. Allow 10 minutes for this part. You could pair students with sheet A together at this stage to confer. Now, pair students A and B to discuss and compare their sentences, and decide which one is correct. Go over the answers with the whole class.
Also known as noughts and crosses, tic-tac-toe is a versatile game that can be easily used to correct writing errors. Since a tic-tac-toe grid has nine squares, it makes sense to prepare nine sentences with errors, although you can easily adapt the grid to analyse more errors if you wish.
Now divide the class into two groups of noughts and crosses. Draw or display the grid on the board large enough to write sentences in each square. You could also give each square a number to make them easier to identify. In the squares of the grid, write sentences with the errors you need to clarify. Teams take turns choosing a square and correcting the error, getting a nought or cross for each successful attempt. The team that succeeds in placing three of their marks in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row wins the game.
This game needs a bit more preparation, but it is highly effective. It has two phases. In phase one, you’ll need to create and print one set of cards containing sentences with errors and another set of matching cards with the explanation of the errors. You'll need to create these sets of cards for each pair of students in the class. The aim of the game is for students, working in pairs, to match the errors with the explanations.
Phase two. As a follow-up, and hopefully to reinforce learning, take back the cards and then read out one of the sentences containing an error. In pairs or groups, students now try to remember the explanation of the error and write it down. After each sentence, check answers with the whole class before moving on to another example.
Read Cristina's winning blog post, Six Amazing Websites that Make Your Writing Stronger.