error sheets: quick start

the purpose of error sheet work

(these points must be understood by both teachers and students)

(1) the purpose of error-detection work is to reduce the number of "avoidable" errors in ESL student writing

(2) a high percentage of these errors are caused not by a lack of information but by a lack of ability to use information effectively

(3) in other words, what students need most is not to learn more rules of English grammar but to learn the "skill" of following already-known rules

(4) the only way this skill can be acquired is through practice; the error sheets are a way of providing that

(5) the idea is that, after large amounts of practice spread over a long period, the skill of finding and correcting errors in other students' work will become habitual

(6) after having been trained in this way, students will presumably begin to notice and to correct the "avoidable" errors in their own writing. In the end, it is hoped, they will start "correcting" the errors even before they make them

detailed instructions for teachers:

A) how to prepare if you're using a ready-made sheet:

(1) look over the sheet to make sure that most of errors are like ones that your students make in their written work

(2) make copies of the sheet for your students and one for yourself

(3) circle all the errors on your own copy and correct them, preferably with a red pen

(4) study the errors carefully, reciting in your head the explanations you will give your students if necessary

(5) if you find you can't explain any of the errors, consult a colleague or a grammar book, and make brief notes of the correct explanation in your copy of the sheet

(6) think about how you want the error sheet session to be organized

(7) in particular, think about how much time the students are going to have to work on the sheets and whether they will work individually or in groups

(8) choose one of the three following possibilities as a way of correcting and explaining the errors

(a) hand out key, allow some time for it to be studied and then invite questions

(b) give the "answers" yourself, lecture style, encouraging questions

(c) have some students write their answers (or their group's answers) on the blackboard and then invite questions and criticisms from the class

B) how to prepare if you're making your own error sheet

(1)while correcting some of your students' compositions, collect ten or so "items" for use on an error sheet

(2) edit the items making sure that each one contains between one and four "clear" errors and no other mistakes of any kind

(3) make sure also, that at least half the errors are "typical" and "elementary" — in other words that they are errors that your students make regularly, and ones that they're making, not because of a lack of knowledge, but because they are not putting their knowledge into practice

(4) then proceed as in (a) above

C) what to do in the classroom

(1) while the students are working individually, walk quietly around the room, answering any questions privately

(2) while the students are working in groups, walk quietly around the room, answering any questions briefly, encouraging logical, analytical discussion. Also: encourage shy or passive students to participate and discourage stronger students from dominating their groups. Otherwise, interfere as little as possible.

(3) lead the final discussion, making sure that all students make a note of at least one correct version of each of the items. Encourage questions and student-student interaction.

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