Tag: errors

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Critical Reading Skills & Academic Vocabulary – Authentic Text

Students’ worksheet: click here. .

Teacher’s notes: click here..


A speaking warm-up activity that allows learners to speak about themselves provides the input for them to start analysing the difference between facts, opinions and stances. The analysis is prompted by guiding questions, which avoid a too theoretical approach. The three terms are then introduced explicitly and students asked to match then up with their own analysis of different types of information.  In the following task, this understanding is applied to a reading text – an authentic excerpt from an academic paper on English as a Lingua Franca, an interesting and relevant topic to most ESOL learners – where learners seek out facts and stance in a demonstration of their understanding of the terms and their critical reading ability.

As extension tasks, students are guided to decide which reporting verbs would be appropriate for reporting facts and stance information, and then find and correct mistakes with citing information from the English as a Lingua Franca text. (Note: These mistakes are taken from actual students’ work in my classes.) Finally, they are asked to paraphrase facts and stance statements from the ELF text, using reporting verbs appropriately.


My Webinar: “Assessing and Marking Writing: Feedback Strategies to Involve the Learners”

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of hosting a webinar (my first ever!) for IATEFL’s TEA SIG. For those who weren’t able to join in, here’s a run down and a link to the video!

Assessing  Marking Writing TEASIG PPT_002This talk provides teachers with time-efficient strategies for giving feedback on EFL learners’ writing which actively involve the learners. I present and evaluate several learner-centred feedback strategies that are applicable to giving feedback on written work in diverse contexts, by presenting summaries of published research which explores their efficacy. I also explain the mechanisms underpinning the strategies’ effectiveness, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups.

Watch the webinar recording here.

The webinar was followed by a live Facebook discussion. Check it out here.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Facebook discussion: 

Clare Fielder  Someone asked: Have you ever tried developing an online digital dialogue around feedback points? Not exactly sure what you mean here, I’m afraid. I’ve used Google Docs to get peer review going – is that something in the direction you’re asking about?

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I use wikispaces and learners can comment on specific points and then develop a dialogue. Here’s a quick clip of what I mean
Sharon Hartle's photo.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder This sounds like something similar to Google Docs with the comments function. I used that last year with my students, most of them liked it, but lost energy and motivation for it by the end of term… Maybe because it’s just one more platform that they have to remember to check?
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Once again, I think it is a question of guidance and structuring, as you said. If you limit it to asking them to comment on two posts, for instance, and then reintegrate it all into class it works well. It also remains for later reference, like now. 🙂
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Our VLP doesn’t have this kind of function (well, it doesn’t work well and is hard to use) which is why I opted for Google. I definitely like the idea, because then students get feedback from various peers, not just the one who was given their work in class on peer review day! Also, you can include LDF into that – students can pose their questions on their work when they post it there, and then all the group members can help answer them! That’s a great idea!
Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle I’ve also experimented with iAnnotate for ipad and Schoology, which is also good.
Clare Fielder Clare Fielder Yes, I agree, limiting it to two comments or so does help, but doesn’t encourage them to really engage in discussion and dialogue. But, as with everything in ELT, it depends! It depends on the students, context, goals, etc.
Where I am it’s all pretty low-tech. I still have chalk boards in my classrooms! 😀

Sharon Hartle Sharon Hartle Well tech is only as good as tech does, isn’t it and there was a time when the blackboard was considered high tech 🙂
Clare FielderClare Fielder Only if you had coloured chalk! 😉
Sharon HartleSharon Hartle Thanks Clare, for staying around and developing this discussion, which is very interesting 🙂


For more information about IATEFL’s TEA SIG – Teaching, Evaluation & Assessment Special Interest Group – you can find their website here.



Little Rant: How to Write a Rubbish Essay

So, it’s that time of the year when people are going to be writing final essays and term papers. So here’s my helpful list of How To Write A Really Rubbish Essay:

[And, yes, it is based on my frustration at the delightful essays I have just spent my weekend (free time!?!) marking!!]

– Write about a topic that you do not understand and can’t be bothered to research properly.
– Try not to make too much sense.
– Don’t worry about referencing – if you feel like it, maybe stick in a couple of hyperlinks.
– Throw in a few fancy-sounding words to create a ‘formal register’.
– Make the same kind of grammar mistakes you would have done in school, no matter how far along your are in your studies.
– Don’t get anyone to read through your essay before submitting. Or, if you do, don’t listen to anything they say which might improve your work!
– And, just to make sure that the lecturer really understands how little effort you have put in; ignore all of their instructions for how to format and submit your essay!

Et voila – it is ready: the Really Rubbish Essay !!!

How many other ELT or EAP teachers out there are feeling this??? 😀

#BridgingtheGapChallenge Hand-Written vs Emailed Corrective Feedback on Writing

As part of the #BridgingtheGapChallenge, here is a summary of:

Farshi, S.S. & S.K. Safa, ‘The Effect of Two Types of Corrective Feedback on EFL Learners’ Writing Skill’, Advances in Language and Literary Studies, Vol 6/1, February 2015.

This study aimed to compare the effectiveness of giving hand-written or electronic (via email) feedback on EFL learners’ written work.

Participants & Procedure

Thirty-five adult participants were involved in the stud; Azeri-Turkish speakers, who were learning English at a language institute in Iran. They were divided into three separate class groups, which met twice a week for 7 weeks and taught by the same teacher. All groups covered the same material in class and were given a writing task each week based on the lesson’s focus. Depending on which group participants they were in, they received feedback on their work in a different format: Group A: Submitted paper-versions of their work and received hand-written feedback. Group B: Submit their work by email and received their feedback electronically. Group C: Submitted their work either on paper or by email, but received no feedback from the teacher. Groups A and B revised their paragraphs using the feedback they received. Before the study, students completed pre-test writing tasks (writing two separate paragraphs), graded by three teachers, and the KET proficiency test and were found to have comparable levels of proficiency in English. They post-test score was also based on two written paragraphs, graded by three teachers. The pre-test and post-test scores were given in numerical format, on a scale from 0-20 (where 20 is good).


A paired-samples T-test (test of significant difference) was used to compare participants’ pre-test and post-test scores. On the pre-test scores, there was no significant difference between the three groups. On the post-test scores (i.e. the grades students achieved on the assessment after having received the various feedbacks on their work for 7 weeks), both Group A’s and Group B’s scores were significantly higher than those of Group C, who had received no corrective feedback on their writing. The researchers conclude that both hand-written and electronic feedback therefore have a positive impact on students’ writing skill. The key finding, though, is the significant difference between the improvements shown by participants in Groups A and B; where Group B (who had received electronic feedback) scored significantly higher than Group A (hand-written feedback), which would seem to show that feedback received electronically is more effective at improving students’ writing than hand-written feedback is.

My Own Thoughts

I can postulate various explanations for the benefit of giving feedback electronically: it feels more personal to the students, the teacher can perhaps include more detailed feedback, it is motivating for students to use their electronic devices for the English learning, etc. It would have been interesting to see what the researchers thought were the explanations for their findings.

It would also be good to know what kind of level their learners were at in their English proficiency – perhaps the effectiveness of certain feedback formats depends on level?

And also, what kind of feedback exactly was given – actual corrections? simply underlining? Comments to start a dialogue? Use of a correction code? I wonder whether these differences might have an even more significant effect on students’ improvement than simply the mode of delivery of the feedback?

Optimising Active Participation – A Discussion

I was recently inspired by an article in English Teaching Professional to host what I call a “Professional Development Discussion Round”, where all of the participants are seen as ‘experts’ so there is no one person giving input and ‘telling’ the other teachers what/how to do things. I can highly recommend this format as an in-service training event! This post is a summary of what we discussed, to show you how productive the session was. The aim of the post is to encourage more discussion (e.g. in the comments section below), and perhaps to encourage more teachers to hold their own Discussion Rounds!

If you’d like to do it yourself, here’s how I set it up: The topic was decided in advance, and participants invited to submit questions they would like to discuss or receive input on. These questions were sent around in advance, and everyone was left to prepare in whatever way they felt most appropriate, or had time for! Some read relevant published articles, others dug out their teaching handbooks and reference books, and others simply reflected on their own teaching practice and examples from their own classroom. The questions were used as a basis for the discussions, and I took notes to be able to send around a summary of the points covered afterwards, especially to those who could not attend.

A little note on my teaching context: I teach within the English Studies Dept. at a university in Germany, where our class groups often include around 30 learners. Other participants were my colleagues from the department and from the university’s Language Centre, as well as secondary school teachers of EFL who also work with us on training new teachers. Nonetheless, I think the topic, and our discussion, is very relevant to many different teaching contexts!

Our Discussion: Optimising Active Participation

Below is a summary of the questions and discussion from our Professional Development round. Some of the points overlap, or are relevant to different questions, but I have attempted to present them in a readable order. The ideas are not all my own, but the results of our discussion, and often other colleague’s contributions. Sometimes, our discussions actually threw out even more questions that are also worthy of discussion! If you have more to say about any of the questions, please do use the comments section below to continue the discussion!

Why is Participation important?

  • It is sometimes a course requirement – this should be made clear from the start.
  • Students need to practice speaking English, to improve their fluency and to be able to get feedback to improve the accuracy of their language.
    • Because of this, it is important to stop certain students from ‘over-participating’ and dominating the class, so that a) everyone has a chance to participate and receive feedback, and b) other, quieter students do not get used to not participating and rely on others to carry the discussions etc.
    • One idea to ensure the students who most need it get feedback is to ask for suggestions from students who feel their answers are not good – then encourage others in giving constructive feedback. The emphasis should be placed on receiving feedback to aid their learning. This requires a comfortable, constructive class atmosphere, see below.
  • Participating keeps learners engaged – but there may be ways to participate other than speaking a lot: Participation of some sort is important to keep students engaged, but it could also be e.g. active listening.

How can we create an atmosphere to encourage participation?

  • Learners must feel comfortable speaking in class, and also not afraid to make mistakes – as these mistakes are what allow them to receive the most helpful feedback.
  • The teacher should make the purpose of speaking and receiving feedback clear from the start. They can also explain how they correct/give feedback and why they have chosen this technique.
  • It helps if the teacher knows the students’ names, and if the students are encouraged to get to know their fellow learners and address them by name. This helps students to feel personally valued as part of the course group and can encourage a ‘community feeling’ (see below).
  • Errors can also be approached in a positive manner, for example with a joke or anecdote as a reminder of the correction. This may help students to see participating and having their mistakes corrected as a normal (and not negative) part of the learning process.
  • Creating a community feeling among the course group also generates a constructive and encouraging atmosphere. It may help if the teacher tries to reduce the hierarchical distance between themselves and the students.
    • e.g. by referring to “our goals” “things we need to do” or “our weaknesses” (instead of “you need to…”)
    • e.g. by showing that the teacher understands the learners’ problems and process of learning, maybe with an anecdote about their own language learning experiences.
    • e.g. by encouraging the learners to help each other constructively to fix their errors or address their weaknesses – for example listing errors on the board at the end of a lesson and getting the class to correct the ones they know.

How can we nurture students’ intrinsic motivation to participate?

  • This can be achieved by highlighting the long-term benefits of participating actively.
  • e.g. by explaining the expectations they may face in future if they put this course on their CVs
  • e.g. by getting students to consider why they are doing the course, what they hope to achieve by taking the course, and what they need from the lessons in order to reach these goals.

What, if any, difference does it make that we are teaching adults?

  • Learners’ intrinsic motivation and the community feeling can be strengthened if we have an appreciation of the fact that we are teaching adults, who also have lives and responsibilities outside of the classroom.
  • The teacher needs to respect that their students have varying priorities and responsibilities, especially outside the classroom. It may be helpful to be open with students about one’s own life, workload, etc. so that mutual respect can be built up – the teacher may also function as a role-model.
  • Nonetheless, a balance must be achieved so that certain students don’t get used to using their outside lives as an excuse for not completing work or assessments for their classes; especially as others may be facing the same difficulties/stresses but nonetheless make an effort to complete work on time. One idea is to make it clear that as long as the student has handled the situation maturely and talked to the teacher in advance about, for example, missing a deadline, then they will be granted help/extra time, etc.
  • Though our students are adults, many of them still need support transitioning between school and university, including preparing them to learn well in the face of diverse teaching styles they will encounter.
  • With young adults, we should make an effort to cultivate self-direction.
    • e.g. they should be encouraged to ask questions – especially in class if they feel other students could also benefit from the information.
    • e.g. if they have questions, problems or require extra guidance, they need to learn to ask for it in advance. For example, for their very first presentation at university, students could be required to submit an outline in advance on which they are given feedback to improve before they give the (assessed?) presentation. This may show them the kinds of feedback they can expect to receive and how helpful it is, so that they learn to ask for feedback by themselves in future.

How can we organize students into groups effectively?

  • The quickest way is to assign students to groups according to where they are sitting in the classroom (e.g. the rows turn around to work with those behind them), so that not too much moving around is required. However, this may mean that students always work in the same groups. An unanswered question here is how helpful/important it is to separate friends who only ever work together.
  • Other options include:
    • Count off the students according to how many groups are needed, e.g. need 5 groups, count around the room 1,2, 3, 4, 5 and get all the 1s to make a group, all the 2s, etc.
    • Similar to counting, students can be handed out playing cards and ask to make groups according to the suits, numbers, etc. (Hint: Make sure they know the names of the suits and picture cards!)
    • Grouping students by ability; either high achievers together and lower achievers together, or mixed-ability groups, depending on the aims of the task.
    • If groups are going to work on a longer project, it may be wise to allow students to find their own groups according to, e.g. interests, times they have to spend on their English work, degree programmes, etc.
  • To organize groups quickly and effectively, it may be advisable to put them into groups first, and then give the instructions for the task.


How can we address an imbalance of input into group work?

  • Students can be grouped according to how talkative they tend to be, to avoid quieter ones being dominated.
  • Activities that include information gaps, or expert groups, lead to authentic communication to share information and help to ensure that every group member is responsible for providing a certain amount of input.
  • If the imbalance is created by certain students dominating group discussions, time ‘credits’ can be set that each student is allowed to ‘use up’ (e.g. 2 minutes per person), or students can be given/make tokens with which they ‘pay’ each time they contribute – and when their tokens are all gone, they will have to let the others have their turns to speak. However, these techniques may affect the authenticity of the discussion/group work.
  • For whole-class activities, students can be picked randomly to participate (recent studies have shown that teachers often think they do this, but indeed their ‘random selection’ is in fact often rather biased.) Techniques to make the process really random include popsicle sticks, dice, picking contributors based on their birthday, etc.
  • One reason some students may not participate as much is that they might need longer to think about and formulate their answer. Some ideas to allow them this thinking time include:
    • Think-Pair-Share (students think about their answers alone, discuss them with a neighbour, and then share with the class)
    • Asking everyone to put their hand up once they think they know the answer, and waiting until everyone is ready. Students can then be allowed to put their hand down again if they do not want to share their answers with the whole class, but often if they have ‘bothered’ to figure out the answer, they will leave their hands up, and so the teacher can call on the quieter ones to answer.
  • Another suggestion is to talk to the quiet students individually outside of the lesson to find out why they don’t seem to participate very much – and then to work on strategies to help them talk more in class.

(How) can we assess participation effectively?

  • This discussion comes down to quality vs quantity when assessing spontaneous language production – if assessment is only based on prepared contributions (e.g. presentations), we may miss mistakes a student makes when they speak spontaneously. It is particularly a problem if oral participation contributes to students’ grades for a class.
  • Keeping a tally list of students’ participation is a good way of keeping track of the frequency with which they talk in class: though it mainly focuses on quantity, more tally marks can be given if a contribution is particularly good, and if a student only offers a simple answer in order to receive a tally mark, they can be given no or just ½ a mark. This method has the advantage of showing students that it is OK to make mistakes in class, as they get tally points for trying.
  • Including a lot of pair-work activities in the lesson will ensure that most people actually speak, but it is hard for the teacher to actually assess the language competence of individual students.
  • Suggestions of activities to include spontaneous, individual speech in the lesson are hot seat activities, expert panels, role plays, mad discussions etc. Since only one or two students will be speaking at any time, it is easier for the teacher to make a note of any errors.
  • Finally, a controversial question is whether we can or should even assess oral participation; perhaps it is more important to encourage students to make the most of participating in class for their own learning process and move them away from the attitude of chasing grades. (Though this is a problem if the oral participation contributes to their course grade!)

Things I would tell my newly qualified self

There’ve been a host a posts recently responding to Joanna Malefaki’s #Youngerteacherself challenge. And here’s mine.

My career as an English teacher began with an initial training course; Trinity College’s TESOL Certificate. But I’m (now, at least) under no illusion that such an initial training course can teach new teachers everything they will need to know about the profession. In fact, I tend to view such training as similar to learning to drive. In your lessons, you are shown the basics of how to move a car safely along a road, and you (have to) faithfully follow these instructions in order to pass your test and get a driving licence to be able to drive all on your own! There’s no way that your driving lessons will expose you to every possible situation that can occur in traffic (even if, like me, you learn to drive in London!). And so once you’ve got your licence, you go off and drive on your own, and the driving experience you gain over the years becomes much more valuable than your driving lessons. You also come to understand  which of the basic instructions are ‘golden rules’ and which you can adapt to your own driving situation (who really puts the hand brake on at every red light in London?!). This is just like teaching. Having completed an initial training course, you’re “licensed” to drive a class safely along the textbook road. But years of experience will teach you much more than the initial training ever could.

It’s been ten years since I completed my Trinity Cert. TESOL, in which time I’ve taught in an array of settings: one-to-one, exam preparation, secondary schools, private langauge schools, summer schools, business colleges, and university. So what have I learnt? Well, that I love teaching! And that the best way to go about teaching many of the classes I have faced has only very little to how I was taught to teach 10 years ago. Here’s my sprinkling of wisdom; I hope that newly qualified teachers will find inspiration in this post, and that more experience teachers may find comfort in knowing they are not alone in having further developed their teaching from their CELTA (or similar) ‘driving’ lessons!

1) Explicit Grammar Teaching is OK

For a long time, the explicit teaching of grammar has (had) been out of fashion, as other aspects of language have come into the focus, and my own training was focussed on Communicative Language Teaching, which has little place for the explicit teaching of grammar. Over the years, though, I’ve come to realise it’s what a lot of learners want, and actually benefit from (especially adults). And I admit, I’ve basically been doing it all along! A  little while ago, I attended an event hosted by ELTA Rhine where Michael Swan  and Catherine Walters held talks on explicit grammar teaching. Their conclusion? Why not?! (Phew!) Swan has published widely on this, but you can find my summary of Michael Swan’s talk here.

2) L1 Use and Translation are OK

Although I was trained that using students’ L1 was inappropriate for the ELT classroom, this standpoint has undergone something of a revival recently. And thank goodness, I say – what a relief to know that it is not a deadly sin to utter a word in a language other than English during our teaching!! I’ve been to several conference talks by people advocating, for example, quick translation of a vocabulary item into students’ L1 where this avoids distraction from the actual task and aids the flow of the lesson – and I have the impression that most teachers agree with this rationale. Teaching through translation has also had its reputation retrieved from the gutter – again a relief for me, since most universities in Germany include translation in their curricula. Indeed, a colleague and I worked on an action research project which she presented as “Can Translation Classes Improve Students’ English Skills?” at the 2014 IATEFL Annual Conference, where we found that using translation to target specific interference errors can actually be an effective strategy! This is also argued by by Guy Cook in his book “Translation in Language Teaching” (2010). Of course, there are a number of caveats and conditions here, the most obvious being that translation can only be used if all learners speak the same L1 and the teacher can speak it too! Still, for me, this is a welcome deviation from the strict L2-only policy I was trained to employ!

3) Always plan the aims (of a course, lesson, activity)

ELT trainees are often required to include in their plans copious detail on aims, objectives, materials, activities, steps, predicted problems, background on the students and almost everything else that could possibly be relevant to the class and the lesson! In an article in The Teacher Trainer Journal (vol 28/2) from last year, I argue that considering the objectives of a course, lesson or activity in detail is not without reason trained so thoroughly on teacher training courses, as the skill is essential: the most important thing is for teachers to consider aims and objectives in lesson planning, even if we do not have the luxury of time to produce formally typed-up, step-by-step plans for each lesson. Having clear aims of our lesson and course provides the guiding map that leads us effectively through to the end of term – otherwise, we could end up teaching unconnected individual lessons that don’t move our students particularly far forward in their learning. By the way, note that I’m saying definitely plan the Aims. Be flexible with the rest of the lesson – sticking slavishly to lesson plans full of minutely timed activities will probably not be satisfying for anyone!

I’ve also learnt, through my own teaching and professional development, how useful it can be to inform our learners about the aims of lessons and activities. This increases motivation and receptivity to the material, class and teacher – discussed in more detail in my article in TTTJ. For some of my ideas and research on how to communicate the aims to your learners, please read another article I’ve recently published in ELTED (vol 17).

4) Learners are normal people, too

This sounds very simple, but is easily forgotten when you’re busy writing lesson plans for a group of learners who are (apparently) at a certain level, have certain aims, and require a certain number of credit points etc. for a course. But all of your students have a life outside of your classroom, where they are experiencing life’s ups and downs just like everyone else. A student is not only a body in your class; they may be a parent, carer, full- or part-time worker, a student of another subject, a husband/wife, and the list goes on…!

I was recently having a bit of a moan to my to a graduate tutor about how my classes are always so full, when colleagues still have spots free. What she said warmed my little heart, and made me regard my over-subscribed classes in a new light: apparently, students value that random chats I have with them about their own lives, their backgrounds, and basically anything they do when they’re not in my classroom. And I know all their names! This comes naturally to me, but until recently I didn’t realise how much students appreciated it! (In fact, I’d worried that they found it frustrating that I sometimes lose track of time [and the lesson!] whilst talking to them!) So my tip is: Don’t lose sight of the trees (individual students) for the woods!

And this also extends to other areas of teaching, such as accepting that some students simply don’t have time for homework, or can’t study for exams. Who’da thunk?! They have stuff going on in their private lives, too! (By the way, I’ve also noticed that treating each student as an individual with a real life beyond the classroom means they do the same for me, and are much more forgiving if I don’t manage to turn their assignments around as quickly as I’d like! Bonus! 🙂 )

5) You don’t have to correct every single mistake

I don’t think I need to write as much on this one – especially as there would be no way to concisely express all of the debates and publications in the area! (You can read it all for yourself – some references are below!) Suffice to say, you can be selective in targeting errors and devise an approach to correction that suits your teaching style and the different groups of learners that you face. For me, the most important thing is that you have made an informed judgement and decision about the best way to go about error correction. That doesn’t mean that you choose one method and stick to it forever – be open to professional development, even if it takes the basic form of chatting to colleagues! Then you can modify your error correction behaviour based on sound justifications, and not beat yourself up about having ‘missed’ certain errors your learners make.

6)You are a materials writer

Do you write your own worksheets and exercises for your classes? Then you are a materials writer! And the materials you produce are no less valuable than published materials! Especially as you have targeted your materials specifically to your students, their aims and abilities – something that published textbooks can never hope to do. Of course, it’s not a bad idea to use published materials, textbooks etc. for inspiration (especially to save you re-inventing the wheel!), but adapting these for your lessons or developing your own activities inspired by published works probably means your materials will be more beneficial for your learners. However, don’t get stuck on pretty formatting – I used to do this when I first qualified, which meant I was teaching from very professional-looking worksheets that distracted learners from the actual langauge learning aspect of the work! Another common mistake is spending hours making a worksheet activity that will only take students 5 minutes to complete and then not lead to any further practise/production. For some more tips on making worksheets, please see Adam Simpson’s blog post “6 Things that can go wrong when making a worksheet and how to avoid them.”


  • Cook, G., Translation in Language Teaching (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2010)
  • Ebbert, C. “Can Translation Classes Improve Students’ English Skills?” Presentation at IATEFL Annual Conference, Harrogate, 2-5 April 2014.
  • Ferris, D.R. (2004). The “Grammar Correction” Debate in L2 Writing: Where are we, and where do we go from here? (and what do we do in the meantime . . .?). Journal of Second Language Writing, 13, 49–62
  • Fielder, C., “Are detailed objectives really necessary in lesson planning?”, The Teacher Trainer Journal, Vol 28/2, May 2014, pp. 18-20.
  • Fielder, C., “(How) Should we inform learners of lesson and activity aims? An action research project conducted with young adults studying for an English Studies degree in a German university”, ELTED, vol 17 (2014), pp. 1-4. [available here: http://www.elted.net/issues/volume_17/index.htm ]
  • Simpson, A., “6 Things that can go wrong when making a worksheet and how to avoid them”, www.teachthemenglish.com, posted 22 Feb 2014. [http://www.teachthemenglish.com/2014/02/6-things-that-can-go-wrong-when-making-a-worksheet-and-how-to-avoid-them/]
  • Swan, M., “Teaching Grammar – Does Grammar Teaching work?”, Modern English Teacher, 15/2, 2006.

Further Reading

  • My other blog posts 🙂
  • Johanna Malefaki’s original #Youngerteacherself post also provides links to other bloggers’ response to the challenge.

Can translation classes improve students’ English skills?




Translation has a tool of teaching foreign languages is undergoing a rejuvenation, after it was out of fashion for many years. Translation is also part of the curriculum within the Department of English Studies at Trier University. We at Uni Trier have always felt that teaching translation to C1-level monolingual learners helps improve their grammar and accuracy in English, helping our students to recognize possible areas of interference from German (their L1). This assumption, however, was never put to the test.

So we decided to test it. A first step in doing so was carried out in winter semester 2013/14. Our test subjects were five translation classes taught by three different instructors. These translation classes are not meant to specifically train translators, but rather the focus is using translation as a method to learn English. To do so, sentences or short paragraphs relating to specific grammatical features in German or English, or longer texts containing multiple such features, are translated from German (L1) into English (L2).

The classes were given a grammar test in the first week of class prior to any translation. A similar test was then administered in the last or second-to-last week of class to the same five groups of students. The results of these two tests form the basis of our study.

The Grammar Test

The areas we chose to cover were articles, tenses, modal constructions, prepositions and false friends. The test exercises were taken from course books with an appropriate level (advanced or C1). The tasks were made as similar as possible across the two tests and with similar numbers of points as well.

An important point was to get as close to ‘real’ production as possible in the artificial test format. We decided against overuse of multiple choice answers, because we did not want our students to recognize and pick the right answer. As our students are fairly high level, they often make mistakes despite knowing the right answer. Thus in multiple choice, they will often recognize and pick the correct answer, although when asked to produce free speech or their own written texts, they may make mistakes in these same areas. We wanted them to create an answer with as little outside help as possible. We were able to especially achieve this in the section on articles, tenses and prepositions, where only the context of the texts or knowing the rules of English grammar or collocation led them to create the correct answer. We were unable to create a version of the false friend section that did not give a selection of words. As students scored high in this section on both the first and second test, this perhaps indicates that they can recognize the correct answer although they may not always produce it.


Our sample size was 94. Once the tests were administered in class, they were corrected and the scores were tabulated. The exams were administered anonymously and students were identified by their student number.

The data were analyzed using a dependent t-test. This test is used when the same participants have provided data in both experimental conditions, as is the case here. With a sample of this size (N=94), the dependent t-test is able to detect even fairly small effects. The t-test aims to compare the average difference between each participant’s scores on the various test exercises before and after the intervention. It was used here to test the following hull hypothesis:

H0 = There will be no difference on average between students’ scores on the grammar test exercises completed before the translation course and after the translation course.

The results of the t-test showed statistically significant improvement in the areas of tenses, prepositions and false friends, and of course in the combined scores of both tests. Articles showed a statistically significant decrease in scores, and the modals were not statistically significant. Of the areas where improvement was shown, our statistics showed a medium effect for prepositions and false friends, and a large effect for tenses.


Our translation class has brought about improvement in the areas of tenses, prepositions and false friends, which is a sign that translation has a place in language teaching, although we advocate it as one of many tools of language teaching. We feel it is best used with advanced students, as translation particularly targets interference mistakes, and at lower levels of teaching, these have not fossilized yet, or mistakes are made because students are attempting to produce structures they have not learned yet. Translation seems to be best geared towards students who have learned most grammatical aspects classically taught in books but need to work on the finer points of applying these rules outside of textbook exercises. We also feel that is it not helpful in a multilingual setting, but rather works best when students have the same native language and the teacher has a high proficiency in both languages and can explain aspects of both languages’ grammar to the students.

How to Mark Written Work Effectively – Preventing Future Errors

Most of the time when we mark pieces of written work by EFL learners, our aim is to provide feedback on their language usage which enables them to avoid repeating their errors in future writing. It is logical, then, that simply underlining and correcting errors, as is the most common marking method, may not be as effective at achieving this aim as we may hope. Here are a few different ways of marking written work and scaffolding students’ drafting, where the focus is clearly on preventing future errors.

1)      Search & Correct

–      In the margin of the line where an incorrect word/phrase has been used, an X is written by the tutor. The students are then asked to locate/identify the mistakes and correct them. This can also be done with correction symbols, which help to highlight the type of error, but no mistakes are underlined in the text, so students have to use their own judgment.Having to consider what they may have done wrong and finding a way to improve their own language helps means that learners are more likely to remember the correct version and the reasoning behind it, which should help them to avoid making the same mistake in future writing.

–      This method also saves the tutor’s time as they do not spend time correcting things that students actually are able to produce correctly but due to time pressure / lack of concentration have made mistakes with in this specific piece of work.

2)      References to Grammar Textbook or Dictionary

–      Mistakes are underlined in the text and numbered according to pages or passages in a grammar textbook or learners’ dictionary that the class is working with or the learners otherwise have access to. Students are then instructed to look up the explanations of the language structure or lexis they are attempting to use and are able to correct their own mistakes. They can then re-draft their writing, or simply use this information in their next piece of writing.

3)      Correction Table

–      The incorrect words/phrases are underlined in the text, with or without a correction symbol to denote the type of error. Students complete a table like the example below where they write out the underlined errors, and look up the correction themselves, inserting this and the related explanation into the column ‘reason & correction’, and noting the source of their information. These tables are useful for students in understanding their errors and for reference when in future writing assignments to avoid repeating mistakes. These tables allow each student to focus on their individual areas of difficulty. There’s no need for re-drafting.

Example extract from correction table:

Mistake Type of mistake Reason & Correction
1)…get used to be Verb conjugation The expression ‘used to’ is either followed by a noun or by a gerund.Correct: get used to being OALD 7, key word ‘used’, p. 1689~ to sth/to doing sth

How to Mark Written Work Effectively – Clarifying Errors

Here are a few more ways of giving corrective feedback on learners’ written work, this time focusing on ensuring that they clearly understand where they have made mistakes and which of these were most serious.


1)      Praise / Correction Box

  1. At the end of the piece of writing, the tutor writes a box with notes of the main areas in which errors have been made (particularly repetitive errors and those aspects which affect the grade, if one is being given), and aspects of the work that are particularly strong. The students can then re-draft their own work and work to correct errors in the areas specified, or simply refer to this box when writing their next assignment (then the tutor doesn’t have to check re-drafts).
  2. Such a box may look like this:

Well done

Needs work

–          Strong topic sentences that introduce paragraphs neatly. –          Indiscriminate use of ‘will’ to refer to future
–          Good use of transitions –          Erratic use of definite articles

(Bartram, M. & Walton, R., Correction: A Positive Approach to Language Mistakes (Hove: Language Teaching Publications, 1994), pp. 82-3.)


2)      Hot cards

  1. With each piece of work handed back, students receive a ‘hot card’ with the top 3 (or however many the tutor thinks appropriate) areas of mistakes – rather like in the correction box above. Students can use these to direct their proof reading in future writing, and can collate them to see the most frequently made errors. Extra homework can then also include doing some separate exercises specifically on the areas that occur most often on their hot cards.
  2. If invoice books are used to write out hot cards for each student, the tutor can also keep a record of the most frequent errors.

(Bartram, M. & Walton, R., Correction: A Positive Approach to Language Mistakes (Hove: Language Teaching Publications, 1994), p.87.


3)      Native Speaker examples

  1. Reformulating students’ utterances instead of merely underlining or correcting them provides students with more examples of ways to express their ideas more naturally. Sometimes, students’ writing can be virtually mistake-free but still not sound natural – providing alternative formulations of what they have written helps them to learn a more natural writing style.
  2. To save time when providing examples, look at a sample of a student’s work together in class and compare it to the tutor’s/native speaker’s reformulation, and ask students to assess the differences.

(Bartram, M. & Walton, R., Correction: A Positive Approach to Language Mistakes (Hove: Language Teaching Publications, 1994), pp. 90-1.



How To Mark Written Work Effectively – Using Underlining

On many teacher training courses, the focus is placed so heavily on classroom behaviour and materials development, that many new teachers  are not shown effective ways of marking learners’ work. More experienced teachers, too, often stick to one method of correcting students‘ writing, without necessarily thinking about its effectiveness. Based on these considerations, I’ve started a series of posts on various ways to mark students’ written work, which may be time-saving for us teachers and more effective in promoting learning among our students.

Let’s start with the classic and a few variations…

English: Underlined text. Image created entire...
English: Underlined text. Image created entirely by myself. Ineligible for copyright because it’s just underlined text. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)      Underling mistakes

  1. Underline & correct – the more times the word/phrase is underlined, the more serious the error. Re-drafting doesn’t make much sense here, as students will simply copy out the corrections of the tutor – although it makes them aware of their errors, the chances are they will not internalize the corrections.
  2. Underline with code – the incorrect words/phrases are underlined in the text, and symbols are used in the margin or above the underlined word to show the type of error. For example w.o. can indicate incorrect word order, or sp likewise incorrect spelling. Students are expected to diagnose their own problems and fix the errors. Students can re-draft the essay.
  3. Underline with number – the incorrect words/phrases are underlined in the text, and numbers are written in the margin or text to refer to the type of error or a longer comment. This is especially useful for common errors (saves tutor’s time writing the same comments frequently) and with errors which are more stylistic and not simply grammatical/lexical, e.g. “no new lines within a paragraph” or “topic sentence doesn’t introduce the whole idea of the paragraph”. Students can re-draft the essay
  4. Students can also work together to find & correct the mistakes in their essays. This is much more effective, as it’s always easier to see other people’s mistakes. Also, explaining corrections to each other helps clarify understanding of how the language works.

See also: