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:

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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.

 

Materials:

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

Procedure:

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

Material:

Objective:

  • 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.

 

Procedure:

  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.

Follow-up:

  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.

Planning for planning

So, this idea came about today in class. It is just a short one and won’t take up much class time but it may, just may, get your students planning. I’m hoping it will mine.

As I have mentioned before, I spend a lot of my time teaching exam classes, and so writing is a big part in my lessons. One of the things I constantly hear in class is:

“but we don’t have time to plan”

I am sure you have heard that one too. For years I have been getting students to write down as many words about a topic as they can in a minute to prove that they do in fact have time to plan, the logic being that it shows them how much they can actually write in one single minute.

Today, I took things a step further. Having reminded them of the need to plan and having been confronted by nodding students, who I could tell were going to do no such thing, I decided to prove to them the value. Luckily my plan worked. Here it goes:

  • ask students to write down as much as they can about a topic, I chose last weekend, but anything that they will be able to write something about is good.
  • ask them to count the number of words and do group feedback – I had minimum 7, max 21.
  • then ask them in pairs to discuss their plans for next weekend. I gave them 2 mins so that both would have chance to speak.
  • ask them to write down their plans for next weekend as quickly as they can.
  • ask them to count the words – I had minimum 22, max 49

Hopefully the second far outweighs the first, it did in mine and they looked shocked, which was gratifying.

I now got them to look at the two examples, though some had very little in the first. Looking for errors to correct. In general, the second had fewer errors, was more interestingly written and contained double the words.

Case closed!

You could extend it then by asking them to write more, or then as I did to ask them to look at an exam task.

Either way, I found it a handy way to drive home the importance of planning and it did seem to make a difference to their attitude. Let’s see when I mark their writing!

Informal, formal and semi-detached-formal emails

In my current position I spend a large portion of my time speaking to students by email…which is great.

What I’ve noticed is that in general, my students tend to be either overly formal or overly informal or an odd combination of both. I also find ridiculously inappropriate sentences nestled in amongst otherwise normal emails.

In an effort to get them thinking about this issue, I came up with a quick and easy lesson for any level from pre-intermediate upwards. It’s can be used as an introduction to a larger lesson on formality in writing or it can be expanded and be a lesson in itself.

This lesson works particularly well with older students who are already using English at work but doesn’t need to be.

Time: 30minutes – 90 minutes

Materialsinformal semi-formal formal emails

Procedure:

(1)

As an intro, I like to ask sts to discuss some the questions on the top of the page. It gets them thinking about how they use English in their countries and what they find difficult.

(2) 

I always introduce this honestly, telling them that I find students often miss the level of formality. I tell them we will analyse two emails and decide on the formality.

(3)

I display the first one on the board, explain that both emails are between 2 colleagues (but they aren’t very close) and ask students to answer the following 2 questions:

  1. what is the objective of this email?
  2. is it formal, semi-formal or informal?

Without checking, I move on to the second one and repeat the questions.

We then discuss both of them and come to the conclusion that they are both looking for details of Friday’s meeting but the first is overly informal and the second overly formal.

(4)

Focus on language chunks:

Next, I hand out both emails and let students discuss in small groups which words/phrases are too informal / too formal or just downright inappropriate (I’m thinking of “I fell asleep” and “Proudly attended”).

After a few minutes we check this as a class.

(5)

Writing practice:

I then get the students back into their groups and have them write their own version of the email in an appropriate, semi-formal register.

(6) 

We then combine the answers and write one definitive answer which sts can take a photo of on their phones and take away with them.

(7)

Homework:

The homework is the reply to the email in an appropriate register.

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 +

Procedure:

Planning

  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.

Enjoy!

Materials: worksheet

Model answers

I am always shocked by two things when it comes to model answers:

  • Students ignore them in the coursebooks, never look at them, never borrow bits of language from them.
  • Teachers don’t use them, don’t see the value, expecting students to magically be able to produce a piece of writing with almost no instruction.

Both of these are generalisations, but in the many years I have been teaching and observing teachers, both of these things come up time and time again.

This is just a little look at how we can use model answers to get students to notice features of language that they can use in their writing.  It is really simple and totally applicable to any type of writing you can do.

I prepare worksheets like this all the time, one bonus of writing them yourself is that you can focus on exactly what you want.  However, a lot of coursebooks now do exercises like this, focusing students on models.  Even if they don’t, the coursebooks may have examples of text types and typical features at the back of the book.  If you are teaching general English, Cambridge exam books can provide some decent models if you don’t have time to write them yourself.

Level: Upp int – Adv

Aim: raise awareness of what different elements contribute to a piece of writing

Procedure: 

1. Ask students to read the model answer and decide if it is a good example or not, discuss in pairs and then whole class feedback

2. Ask students in turn to look for examples of:

  • hypothetical
  • passives
  • good collocations

3.1 Ask if there is anything that could be improved.  Hopefully they will notice that there is some repetition

  • ‘as’ and ‘however’ used twice
  • It was felt

3.2 Ask if they can think of synonyms for these.  With ‘however’ i ask them to rewrite using ‘although’

It was felt by some, however, that the experience would have been more productive if students had been given more time in each department,

to

Although it was felt by some that the experience would have been more productive if students had been given more time in each department,

4. You can do a synonym hunt for some of the vocab if you think your students will be unfamiliar with it, or if you have trained them how to do this, ask them to work in pairs on the meaning from context.

Follow up

Obviously asking students to do some writing is a good idea, but i am a firm believer that it does not have to be a whole piece of writing.  I would rather see one good paragraph written, with the students focusing on quality and using all of the target language rather than 250 words of mediocrity.

Materials

model answer

Film Reviews: A Diagnostic Listening exerise

A long time ago I came across an article that argued that a Dictogloss would be used in class to assess a student’s listening ability, that it could be used as a kind of diagnostic listening and the results could inform your following lessons. Sadly I have lost the article and forgotten the name of the author…which is pretty crappy of me.

At the time, I remember thinking that it was quite an interesting idea. OK, we all know dictoglosses as a great way of introducing a topic, as a nice listening exercise and as a way of working on a student’s general knowledge of English syntax…but, with a little twist it can work as a diagnostic! I’ve only ever taught this lesson once or twice and it’s always been quite interesting. I could see why people might disagree with the idea above but try it out and let us know how it goes.

Time: 1- 3 hours (depending on which activities you choose to do)

MaterialsSafe House – Dictogloss

Level: Pre-int + above

Procedure:

(1) Intro

I suppose it’s good to get the ould schemata activated so any little discussion question on films will do here. “what’s the last film you saw?” “Would you describe yourself as a film buff?” “Can you describe the plot of a famous film from your country?”

If you’re giving feedback at this point, I’d focus on gathering adjectives to describe different films as this will be useful later.

(2)  Dictogloss

Hand out the page with the “Notes” box facing up. Make sure you tell the students not to turn over the page until you tell them to (if they do, give them a little tap on the nose, bad student!)

Let them know you’re going to read a description of a film to them but you’re going to read it at the normal speaking speed of a native speaker. Tell them to write down any words they hear in the “Notes” box. Read the description twice at normal speed and then allow students to check their answers.

(3)  Reflection

This is where the dictogloss changes into a diagnostic. The theory being that everything the students have written down is what they heard and everything else is what they have missed and therefore their notes can be used as a diagnostic of sorts.

Have the students turn over the page and compare their notes with the actual text. I usually get them to circle the words they got correct. Then direct them to the reflection questions below the text. This is the really interesting part. Encouraging your learners to think about why they found a listening task difficult and going beyond “You speak too fast” can be really useful for them.

Once they’ve done it, it’s important that you sit down with them and talk it through. Their answers should give you the information to plan what is taught in future lessons. For example:

  1. if they have combined two words into a new word, perhaps you need to focus on linking between words.
  2. if they have focused on grammar words and missed out on the important words, then you need to encourage them to focus on content words.
  3. if they’ve completely ignored any content words that were new to them, then perhaps you could help them with writing what they hear or raise their awareness of common English pronunciation Versus spelling rules.
  4. If it was a speed issue, perhaps this type of exercise should be repeated more often so that they’re more confident with taking notes while someone is talking.

At the very least, the students will be able to focus on their own issues. Let them know that you will be using their answers to inform their future lessons.

(4) Engaging with the text

We always think it’s important for students to have a real response to a text and not just do TEFLy exercises. At this point, following the quite heavy reflection stage, I usually get them to read the text very briefly one more time and then discuss the questions at the bottom of the page.

When you’re listening to them, think about the kinds of things you might say in this situation and then correct them based on that instead of just looking at grammar errors. Think of the natural pieces of English you would use. E.g. “It sounds…” , “I’m not really into / a fan of…”.

(5) Language Focus:

Even though this is a tiny little paragraph, you’ve got quite a bit to work with here. I usually pluck out one or two features and, instead of doing an entire grammar lesson based on it, just use it to train students to notice language in context.

For example, you could choose to focus on present perfect continuous versus present perfect by highlighting the sentence: “Frost has been working with the CIA for years but has recently changed sides” and asking them to compare the two forms and discuss why each was used in this situation. You could also briefly examine the passive “Frost is marched” or you could look at reduced relative clauses: “Frost, played by Denzel,…”. You’re spoilt for choice.

(6)  Writing follow-up

I think after all of this it’s nice for students to go back to the beginning of the lesson and think about the plot from a famous film in their country and write their own mini review. Limit the number of words and highlight the adjectives from the beginning of the class.

A nice idea once they’re finished it to put them up around the room and have students move around in pairs and discuss which films they’d be interested in seeing and which review grabbed their attention. Meanwhile you can be pulling out a few of the common errors and boarding them for a final feedback stage.

Writing skills: Punctuation

So if you’ve read many of our other blog posts, you’ve probably come across one or the other of us banging on about how writing skills don’t necessarily translate from a student’s L1. In my experience this is never more true than with punctuation, which strangely enough is something that we tend to ignore for the most part in the classroom. It’s something small and easily teachable that can have a huge effect on the target reader. Incorrect punctuation is immediately noticeable for a reader and can be quite off-putting (hahahaha, I hope I remember to read over this post very carefully before I put it up, it’s probably riddled with bad punctuation).

Just the other day I taught a lesson containing some phrasal verbs. As an optional revision exercise, I asked the students to write a short story containing 5 of the phrasal verbs. I did say it was optional but being the motivated little wonders they are, they all did it and had emailed me by the end of the day. Thankfully, they’d done really well and they’d nailed the usage of the phrasal verbs (more or less) but what stuck out in every story was the punctuation. It wasn’t that there was a lack of it, it was everywhere, as if they’d arbitrarily just flung commas and fullstops at their page after they’d written it.

It was my fault really as I’d never taught them anything about punctuation. So for the next class I went in with the following  lesson and their next piece of writing was much better.

Level: Elementary and up

Time: 1 hour

MaterialsPunctuation (City or Country)

Procedure:

(1)

Get their juices flowing:

Just to get them thinking about it, give them a minute to discuss the city versus the countryside. Then hand out the sheet (you might want to fold it so that they can only see the text at the top) and ask them if they agree with the opinion in the box. This should lull them into a false sense of security before you spring the writing skills part on them.

(2) 

The Text:

Now that they’ve read and discussed the little text, get them to take a slightly closer look at it. Have them discuss the questions underneath. What you’re going for here is that it’s just one long sentence with no clear point and too many commas. This can be quite common in student writing.

I’d discuss this a little as a class then at this point I think it’s important to clear up the name and use of common features of punctuation. Direct the students to the box at the bottom of the page and have them match up the names. They can often have trouble with this. I’d then take a few minutes to discuss their uses and allow students to take notes. Some interesting things that may come up are:

  • In a lot of languages ellipsis (…) can be used to mean etc. However, in English it’s used to signal a long pause or interruption.
  • Colons are often used in stories to signal direct speech. This is less common in English.
  • Semi-colons are sadly dying out in English, especially everyday writing but they can be a lot more common in language like Spanish or Italian. This can lead to overly lengthy sentences, which doesn’t come across well in English writing.
  • Students will often want to put full stops before “and”, “but” and “because”. While this is obviously not impossible in English, it can lead to short and unnatural sentences in student writing.

(3) 

Rewriting:

In pairs get your students to decide how they could improve the short text b punctuating it. Tell them that if they like they can remove or alter contractions to make it read better but that they shouldn’t change any other language. When they’re finished, discuss as a class.

I’d imagine you’re hoping for something like this:

The best thing about cities is the night life because you can go out and you can go to the pubs any time you like. Also, if you want to, you can get a night bus home at 4:00 in the morning if you have stayed out late. However, sometimes the night buses are very slow so you don’t get home until about 5:00 in the morning and that’s almost the next day.

But you may decide that another variation works better.

(4)

Practice:

Get the students to write their own opinion in the space at the bottom focusing carefully on punctuation. when they’re finished, let them compare with a partner and encourage peer correction. You could even put them up around the room and allow students to move around in pairs commenting on the punctuation and then feedback as a class.

The idea is to really get them thinking about how it can have a negative affect on the reader or make a text flow more easily.

A bit of appropriacy please!

So, I’ve had a little obsession with using text messages / whats-app style messages in class over the past few weeks, hence this is the second lesson I’m putting up about texting. Soz!

The main reason for this is that we tend to focus on language in classes and very often miss out on appropriacy. Trust me, as someone who spends a lot of their time in correspondence with students, appropriacy is something we need to be looking at. What I’m talking about here is both style (levels of formality) as well as register (the right words for the right context).

Just the other day a student started a spoken conversation with my by saying: “Dear David,”

This cannot continue. Something must be done. It starts here. Actually that’s probably a little bit too extreme but it’s definitely something to think about.

 

Procedure:

I think the procedure for this one is pretty self-explanatory as you just follow the worksheet but the really interesting thing is focusing on the features of a text message. Think about examining the following:

  1. Informal vocabulary
  2. Lack of punctuation (but not in all instances e.g. we’re could look like were)
  3. Omitted words (e.g. You free on Tuesday?)
  4. Shortened words (e.g. Tue / Fri)

A lovely follow up for this exercise for this is, once they have got the appropriate text message language down and have practised with one of their one, give each student a pile of post-it notes and tell them they are going to have a whatsapp group chat, making plans for the weekend. One person starts off the conversation by writing a message and placing it on the wall in front of the group. From then on the conversation happens in real time. Each student can reply to the message(s) that came before but they have to keep an eye on the thread as their partners may send the message they had planned to send. It’s quite fun but also ties the lesson together and makes error correction quite easy at the end as you have all of the physical messages.

Let us know how it goes, if you’d like a more detailed procedure, leave a comment and I’ll put something together.

Material:

A) Making plans Text messages worksheet

 

Writing lesson based on a song

Sat listening to my ipod one day, this song came on and I started thinking as I heard the opening, hmmm, this could be a lesson on letter writing, it has taken a bit of time to properly come to fruition, but now here it is, ready to go.

Like some of our other lessons, this was born out of a frustration with teachers doing wonderful things with songs, gap-fills, questions on feelings, what the song meant,  but then moving onto a completely different thing.  Leaving language left untouched and with no real follow up exercise.  I have tried to do that a little here.

  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Level: High Int +
  • Aim: To raise your students’ awareness of register
  • Sub aim: highlight conditionals

Materials:

  1. Paperback writer lyrics by the beatles – easy to find online
  2. Worksheet register
  3. Worksheet Language focus
  4. Answers

Procedure:

1. Listening: Cut up the song lyrics before the class and then do it as a listening exercise to order the lyrics, a lighthearted bit of fun and a good way to practice listening.  (Feel free here to change this exercise and if you have good ideas let us know!)

You can do either stage two or three next depending on your main focus and also pre-existing knowledge of register in your class

2. Introducing the main aim: Ask students to think about the lyrics of the song and ask them if they notice anything about them, put them in pairs for this.  Then if they haven’t found it, highlight “Dear Sir or Madam”.  Ask the students where they would normally find this.  Ask students in what situations they may have to write letters / emails.

3. Register: Ask them if they know the word “formal”.  if they do, ask for examples of formal language.  Ask them to look at worksheet 1 and complete gaps 1-9.  Check in pairs and then as a class Then ask them to complete the missing two sentences.

4. Language focus: Go through worksheet two.  Feel free to change the order.

5. Homework: Ask students to write a reply to the letter either agreeing to publish the novel or turning it down.