About Error Sheets, page 6

4. honesty and modesty are required: In using error sheets, even the most knowledgeable and experienced teacher is bound to come up against their own ignorance and confusion. Perplexing questions arise, ones like: Is a singular verb really required here or could a plural verb also be used? or Why, exactly, is it wrong to say, “Jill didn’t know when is the right time”? and the attempt to find an answer leads only to confusion. If this happens during preparation for an error sheet session, then the problem can be solved either by finding the answer or by removing the worrisome item from the sheet but, if it happens in the classroom — and inevitably it will if students are asking good questions — the consequences can be serious. In the short run, this can be very embarrassing; in the longer run it could induce a permanent fear of this method and lead to its being abandoned.

Such unfortunate consequences can be avoided however. The best way to deal with the situation is simply with a calm and modest admission of one’s inability to answer and with a promise to come back to the next class with the answer — a promise which it is of course, necessary to keep!) On returning with the answer it might be wise to take advantage of the opportunity to make some philosophical comments to the effect that although teachers are supposed to know a lot more about their subject than their students do, they ought not to be expected to know everything — or even almost everything. Such general remarks could be expanded by pointing out that the expectation of complete and infallible grammatical knowledge is even more unrealistic than would be similar hopes in other more scientific fields: Grammar is, after all, only an inevitably inadequate attempt to be logical and systematic about a thing — language — which has come into existence organically, not as planned product of rational thought.


The foregoing remarks are, first, an attempt to explain the “error sheet method” and to argue in favour of its use in ESL classrooms and second, in the preceding section, to discuss some factors that might be thought to argue against the method. In conclusion, I want to move away from such general considerations and say something about the specifics of the error detection material in flesl.net.

As of August 18, 2010, there are six error sheets, each containing five items, all taken from my own “error archive” The “screen versions” are all directly accessible from the Grammar Directory. For each of the error sheets there are three associated files all of which are linked to the screen version: a printable version of the sheet itself, an “answer printout” (to which corrections typed onto the screen version can be transferred) and a “key” which contains one or more corrections of each item.