About Error Sheets, page 2

the students’ own work as a source of corrective material. The advantages were obvious: Not only was there an endless supply of such material, but its variety and its relevance were guaranteed.

the method

So I began collecting errors and using them to make error sheets. I went about this as follows: In correcting writing assignments, I marked certain sentences (or groups of sentences) that contained errors of grammar, punctuation, or vocabulary. When I'd finished correcting the assignment, I typed out ten to twenty of these “items” and edited them. (The purpose of the editing was to create items that contained one or more easily identifiable and discussable mistakes, but which were otherwise clear and correct.) In the classroom, after the assignment had been returned, copies of the error sheet were given to the students who were asked to find the errors and correct them. Sometimes they worked in groups, sometimes alone. When ten to twenty minutes had been spent in that way, the students were asked to describe the errors they had found, either verbally or by writing correct versions on the blackboard. Then I corrected their corrections, answered questions, and, when it seemed appropriate, used the errors as a “lead-in” for a review of one or more grammatical points. Sometimes, I used an error sheet as a formal quiz. When I did this I used “discrete point” items, similar in their form to those used in the error correction section of the TOEFL: four words or phrases in each item were underlined; one and only one of these segments contained an error and the students’ task was to identify this item. (Quizzes of this type certainly can be useful, but because the experience they provide bears little resemblance to the experience of checking one’s own work, they have much less value as practice than “open” error sheets do.)

do error sheets help?

Does error sheet work reduce the number of avoidable elementary mistakes in the writing of ESL students? That is a question that could only be answered one way or another by carefully done research — and if that work has been done, I am not aware of it. Moreover, even though I used error sheets regularly for many years, I cannot even claim to have strong “anecdotal” evidence that they are effective. All I could really say, if I were asked to defend my advocacy of this method is that it makes sense to suppose that regular classroom practice in correcting other students’ mistakes would lead eventually to the development of the ability to detect and eliminate one’s own. (continues)