Correcting Writing: Less Red Pen and a bit more Zen

Getting into the zone

So, you’ve got a stack of writing assignments on your desk.  You have a quick glance at the correction code you use with your students.  “Gr” for grammar errors, “P” for punctuation, “V” for vocabulary, “R” for register, etc.  The pressure’s on now.  The sooner you get these back to your students the better.  They’re anxious to see their grade and you want them to make corrections based on the code and notes you make as soon as possible.  You have a quick glance at the clock and estimate that if you spend X number of minutes per assignment you might even be able to get in some lunch before your next class.  So with a steaming cup of coffee at your side, and red pen in hand you dive in.  You’re in full-on correction mode.

Ruby red pens

A familiar scene.  We’ve all been there.  And when we finish up and hand them back to our students we’re likely to feel some real professional pride at our ability to be so efficient at our job (I got them all corrected in how long?).  Oftentimes though, for me at least, this is coupled by a nagging doubt that maybe I could have done just a little a bit better.

Cop or Coach?

Did my intentions to give meaningful, personal feedback take a back seat to my robo-corrector mentality as I plowed through assignment after assignment?  After all, the power of the red pen does tend to bring out the authoritarian in us, transforming us from the friendly coach we like to think of ourselves as into the grammar cop pulling over our students at the slightest infraction: “Were you aware that you are using a register unacceptable for this genre?  May I see your certification to operate at this level please?  Put your pencil down and back away from the desk slowly.”

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7 tips for teaching writing in the EFL classroom

teaching writingMany students shy away from writing in English as they feel it is either difficult or boring. At the same time, it can be tempting for the teacher to tackle the skill by setting simple compositions with little structure or purpose. However, writing is not only a necessary language skill, especially for students hoping to use English in their work or studies, but also a great way to improve their level overall, and it need not be boring. We look at 7 tips for teaching writing in the EFL classroom.

Tips for teaching writing in the EFL classroom:

1. Know the aim of text and the target reader

Perhaps the two most important things to bear in mind when teaching writing (and when writing oneself) are the aim of the text and the target reader, as these will dictate the type of language used and the organisation of the text itself. Writing an informal email to a friend to let them know your news requires a very different approach to writing a report for your boss about the progress of a project you’re running. Equally, it would be just as odd to give titles to the sections of a letter of complaintMy Shock on Discovering the Item Didn’t Work, How This Has Inconvenienced Me, Here’s What I Want You to Do About It! – as it would to open a love letter with ‘To whom it may concern…’ Continue reading

Meaningful speaking activities and blended learning for adult learners

blended-learningWhat constitutes a meaningful speaking activity for an adult and can blended learning help them improve in a task-based setting? At the end of this weekend I will be participating in the IX Congreso Estatal de escuelas oficiales de idiomas with a couple of sessions which will deal with these questions.

Speaking activities and blended learning for adult learners

In my first session “Speak Out Challenge: How to get our learners to produce meaningful oral language”, we will look at practical examples taken from SpeakOut (Intermediate), that can foster out students’ communicative interactions in English. Putting words together in order to utter a meaningful message is not an easy task. So in order to build fresh, motivating and significant speaking exercises, we need to consider quite a few things: 1) relating the activities to our students’ own reality; 2) using authentic material; and 3) engaging the learners. That is why, we will not only explore what prevents our students from speaking but we will also show effective ways of getting our students to really communicate, in other words, to say more than a few words, by combining both traditional interactive tasks with other handy technological tools. Continue reading

Making Writing Meaningful

A practical workshop about "Making Writing Meaningful", by Elena MerinoThis month I have been sharing perspectives, comments and knowledge about ESL Writing with teachers in Catalunya. The Department of Education of the Generalitat invited us to participate in their regular formative sessions.

This session aimed at providing primary, secondary and adult teachers with strategies to Make Writing Meaningful.The practical examples provided the teachers with diverse techniques and activities that they could use later in their classrooms, but we also had a reflective approach towards writing and its importance as a productive skill in second language development. Continue reading