Editing Texts – Exam Classes

I don’t know about you but I have had awful trouble in the past, trying to get my exam students to think beyond grammar and spelling when it comes to editing texts. I completely understand it, every writing exercise they’ve done in every language class ever has essentially been a language test and nothing more. Most of our correction keys (if we even use them) revolve around language errors and maybe paragraphing if they’re lucky. Then suddenly they rock up to an exam class and we start banging on about style and register.

Luckily, my girlfriend produced this email from her inbox the other day. And what a treat it was. Having kindly ordered some toys for our cat (in the hopes that it would play with them and not our ankles or toes) online, she patiently waited for a month before saying: “ehhhh…China, where are my toys?”. She received the email below. And it is fantastic!

cat toys

This is a quick and simple lesson, using a real email that just didn’t nail their communicative aim. It’s a nice way of highlighting to students that it’s not just about the spelling. The phrases you use can really miss the mark if you’re not careful. my favourite is: “we’re always here for you”.

Dear Customer.

Thanks for your e-mail, these are imported products,  under normal ,it will take 15-20 working days to arrive, I’m sorry to hear that you still have not received it , we contact with Logistic agent today, and have Urged them to send this package as soon as possible, now could you please check the delivery address:


If the address is correct, could help you to wait 2 days, when 2 days have passed, in normal it will be put in your  mail box directly , could you please atttention for this , my customer ,if days past , you still have not received, send me an e-mail, we will issue refund to you immediately, that’s ok? if you have something to this purchase, please send me email, we will solve it immediately. we are always here for you.

Keep in touch!

Best regards,

  • Level: Int and above
  • Time: 60 – 90 mins (this may take longer if you feel you need to teach a lot about punctuation. This lesson is designed more to raise awareness than to teach but it may be necessary depending on your group).
  • Objective: to encourage students to consider more than language errors when editing their own texts.



  1. online shopping (word document)
  2. online shopping (pdf document)


This is a simple one as the students do all the work really.

  1. Discussion: activate a bit of schemata with a nice opening discussion on online shopping. Add in any questions you like.
  2. Gist reading: Sts skim the letter to find the purpose of the email.
  3. Second reading: Sts read it again and discuss how successful the writer is in getting their point across and whether or not it’s an example of “good” or “bad” writing. I suppose what you’re looking for here is that communication occurs and the fundamental information is there but that’s not enough. This text doesn’t read well and is largely inappropriate. 
  4. Pre-editing: Discuss as a class, what aspects of this email you might think about edting. Draw their attention to the editing tip below the email if they’re having trouble.
  5. Editing: sts edit in small groups.
  6. Comparing: I would put them up around the room gallery-style and let sts move around and compare each other’s work. Feedback as a whole class and take bits and pieces from each one.
  7. Comparing 2: reveal the sample answer on the back of the sheet and compare with sts answers. Did they miss anything? Were their ideas better than mine? Were there any sentences they should have deleted because they were irrelevant that they didn’t?
  8. Feedback as a whole class.
  9. Reflection: how can they apply this to their own writing.


For shame, Nandos! Editing texts


So there I am, sitting in Nandos in Gatwick airport, killing time with chicken, when I glance to my left and see a large text painted on the wall. As all EFL teachers know, there are two aspects of the job that we just can’t turn off:

  1. Constantly looking out for new material for our lessons.
  2. The mistake alarm. Every time we see or hear one it rings loud and clear.

The second of these has made Facebook and Twitter hard to bear for much of us, especially with friends writing things like “You should of called me”…GAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Sadly Nandos is no different and this little text had three separate mistake clangers in there. However, it also had some negative inversion and some nice vocab in there so I decided to take a photo (I then had to put up with weird looks from around the room) and use it in a lesson.

I’ve yet to use it but here’s the material and the procedure. If you try it before me, let me know how it goes.

Level: Upper intermediate + above (nice for Cambridge exam groups too)

Time: 90 mins – 3 hours



  • The main aim here is to encourage our students to be more analytical, to notice the English all around them. This mean noticing mistakes as well as new vocab and interesting language patterns.



  1. Display the word “Legend” on the board and ask sts to discuss what it means. Then show them the dictionary definition and get them to check their ideas. (I like to use full dictionary definitions from time to time to encourage sts to use English – English dictionaries and to look at common features of dictionaries, especially how to understand the pronunciation)
  2. Get students to chat about the discussion questions and then feedback as a group. I’d try to get as much interesting language from their legends up on the boards now as it could help later.
  3. Students skim read the text (30 seconds) and in pairs retell it in their own words.
  4. Vocab focus: Sts match the key vocab from the text with the definitions/synonyms on the worksheet.
  5. Editing: Sts work together to find the mistakes. See the teacher’s copy for the answers.
  6. Language focus: Sts examine the negative inversion sentence and feedback as a class.


  1. Ask sts to retell the story and record their stories. I think it would be interesting to compare the language they use to tell the story and the language of the text. The key vocab will be the same but the style of the text is very much that of a legend. I think this would be an interesting comparative analysis.
  2. Going back to the discussion at the beginning of the lesson, sts use the vocab boarded then and the legend style discussed above to write their own legends.
  3. Place them around the room and encourage sts to move around with two tasks. (1) find errors & (2) decide who has written the best legend in keeping with the style discussed above.

Brick by Brick – a lego based approach to writing

So, this was an idea I have been knocking backwards and forwards for a while, I started using parts of it a few years ago, and the main idea is to try to treat writing as something which can be broken down, learnt and constructed rather than a mysterious thing that some can do and others can’t.

There are plenty of other blogs on here with a big focus on writing but the aim with this one is to try to do something a bit different.  Hopefully to appeal to visual learners and maybe even the kinaesthetic ones too.

Why lego? Well, lego is built of brightly coloured blocks.  Hopefully all else will become clearer later, if not, then write to me and tell me, as I really need to rethink this!!!

This lesson is focusing on improving essay writing, especially for exams, but it really can be done with lots of different styles, merely change the names/functions of the bricks.

I haven’t used bricks themselves here, but I have included an idea for them to be used later on in the procedure as an option.  I think their use could definitely be of benefit in certain classrooms and with particular classes.  But, as always trust your instincts, you know your class!

Aim: improve writing and enable students to better understand register required for academic writing

Level: High Int +

Time: 1hr +



  1. basic brainstorm – follow the worksheet and do all class feedback, checking the ideas and boarding ones you are happy with.

Register focus

2. Put students in pairs or groups and ask them to think of language you would / wouldn’t expect in an essay.

Answers: linkers / relative clauses / passives / passive reporting structures / high level vocab / modal verbs to soften / no phrasal verbs / no contractions / no idioms

They might not get them all, but that is fine.

Brick by Brick writing

This is the type of writing I sometimes get from newer students.

I’ve gone for a task-teach-task approach to this part of the lesson as I feel it allows you to measure current student ability better, especially with new classes.

3.1 The students work in pairs to discuss how the writing could be improved

3.2 Ask students to look at the building blocks and show them the example below them.  Get them to consider what each thing is doing to make the writing more formal and to improve it.  Ask them to underline the sections in the corresponding colours, so passives in green etc.

3.3 Controlled practice, ask students to drop in words from the blocks above to complete the sentence.

Obviously here, other options are possible

Moreover, it could be argued that older buildings may play a vital role in a country’s culture . Additionally / Therefore, their preservation could be important in future generations’ education.

3.4 Ask Students to use the approach on one of their ideas from planning section 1, get them to write it, monitor as they do so and prompt and suggest improvements, try to ensure they are using all of the different ‘bricks’.

3.5 Peer editing – ask the students to pass their sentences to other students who have to identify the different ‘bricks’ being used.  This could be done by underlining, or if you have different lego bricks it could be done by the students actually selecting different coloured bricks and putting them together to form a collection, end on end, so: green brick, blue brick, yellow brick, red brick, blue brick, representing the different language used.

3.6 Ask the students to reflect on their normal way of writing and how they think the planning section and how thinking about the writing may help.  It can be helpful here to pull out examples of their writing so that they can see how it could be improved.

3.7 Ask students to complete the essay for homework – remind them to use a plan, I often elicit a workable one from the class and board it before they leave.  Also stress that you are hoping to see the things looked at today, so modals / passives / higher level vocab.

You can even ask them to highlight this for you at home or when they come into class next.


Materials: worksheet