January 25

Fortnightly Focus #10 – assessing writing

Although it is Wednesday and two weeks’ after my previous fortnightly focus post, there is definitely a large amount of procrastination going on as I write it!  We’re in exam week at Active Language and as well as a pile of marking to do, I also have three sets of reports to write…so I’ll try to make this brief and then undoubtedly look for something else to do, like the dusting!

Here are my thoughts of three different approaches we can take to marking learners’ writing and some advantages and disadvantages of each.  These are very general comments, as in each case the response of the learners to the different style of assessment will depend on many factors, such as their level, age, interest in learning English and motivation to improve.

Old-school – learner hands in text, teacher grabs a pen and marks it


  • You can do it anywhere – on your commute, in the staffroom, on the sofa
  • It’s a quick and effective way to highlight either errors (to encourage self-correction) or language used well
  • As you will probably give it back in a subsequent class, learners can immediately ask for clarification if corrections or comments are unclear
  • It’s a tangible record of progress and learners can easily refer back to previous work to improve the next time round


  • It could be a lot of work for the teacher depending on how many classes you have and how often you set written tasks
  • Less motivated learners need to be trained in appreciating the work which goes into marking – perhaps some sort of follow-up activity when the corrected text is received?

Totally techy – Learner emails word document to teacher, who replies with feedback in the form of a jing video plus returns a corrected or annotated version of the text


  • Paper-free…gotta love those trees 🙂
  • In Word, it’s easy to annotate the text using the track changes option
  • Responding using jing allows the teacher to comment on the text and point out strong or weak points whilst speaking


  • How aware will learners be of the corrections made?
  • It is perhaps less likely that they will refer to this text when working on a subsequent one

Peer assessment – learners are given a guided task to correct a classmate’s text


  • If learners are well prepared for this task, it means less marking for the teacher
  • It makes learners more aware of how texts are marked and, especially important for exam preparation classes, allows them to get inside the mind of the marker and gain a deeper understanding of what he is looking for in a good text
  • It makes learners aware of more language – a teacher would be unlikely to rephrase a correct sentence in  learner’s text but through peer assessment they will read the language their peers are using


  • The learners may still want the teacher to look at their texts as the ‘voice of authority’ on corrections
  • Learners need to be trained to be critically constructive – they may feel less comfortable receiving a low mark from a classmate
  • It needs to be seen as a valuable task for learners to take time to do it well

I’m going to leave it there for now as I would like to get some reports written before #ELTchat tonight!  So, a bit of a repeat for this fortnight’s focus as I’m going back to basics with classroom management with my tricky 10-year-olds – baby steps in each activity, with copious amounts of points…let’s see how it goes!  There are only ten of them in the class, but the range in level, motivation to participate and ability to control themselves is incredible.



Category: Writing | LEAVE A COMMENT
October 12



Inspired by a talk by two wonderful colleagues.
I’ve been thinking recently about how much of what we read digitally can be manipulated – cut and paste, quote, mis-quote – which makes me think about the beauty of writing with a pen and paper. It’s much more permanent, much more difficult to edit and can show how you’re really facing the world at that moment in time.

February 25

PET Writing Part 3 – A Story

I recently attended a talk on writing, given by Chris Johnson who’s currently based at St. James in Sevilla. He gave some excellent tips on better preparing learners for writing and I decided to use some ideas from his talk in my B1 lesson today.  Here’s the plan:

As most learners are familiar with Little Red Riding Hood, I used that story as a starting point, as Chris did in his talk, and asked the group to work in pairs and tell each other what they could remember from the story. We then briefly analysed the story using Hoey’s SPRE formula:
Situation – the where and when, setting the scene and introducing the main character
Ending (originally this is Evaluation, but I felt for the purpose of this activity it would be better to use Ending)

We discussed how this formula can be useful when writing texts and compared other stories in which it has been used.

Learners then looked at two sample answers from the PET handbook in which the candidates had written stories with the title A Lucky Escape and linked each SPRE stage to the text.    We discussed how the SPRE formula is a good basis for writing a plan before producing a text and talked about what notes the candidates could have made against each stage to help them construct their texts.

The production stage has been set for homework and learners took away some linking devices to further help them organise their texts.


Category: Writing | LEAVE A COMMENT
November 20

An alien encounter

A few years ago at TESOL-SPAIN, I saw a great talk by Catherine Morley about using dictation in the class.  She demonstrated a number of activities and one which has always stayed with me is “A 2 Day in 5“.

I created my own version for a group today as we were doing a reading activity related to aliens.  Here goes…

1. colour

2. animal

3. personality adjective

4. body part

5. friend’s name

6. city

7. question

8. place

9. different colour

10. number

11. adjective

12. another friend

13. action with -ing

One day (12) was walking in (6) when s/he saw something very strange.  It looked like a (3) person, but it had (1) skin and (10) (4).  (12) went closer and asked “(7)”  “I don’t know,” replied the alien. “But I’m hungry and I want to eat a (11) (9) (2).  (12) thought this was very odd, so s/he called (5) and together they took the alien to the (8) and started (13).

February 19

Different Dictation

I did quite a fun activity with a couple of groups today – it’s a mish-mash of a dictagloss and a circle activity which a former colleague, Richard Whiteside, once told me about…here’s the activity…


Divide the class into groups of 3-5 students and give each group a piece of blank paper and a pen.  Explain that the activity is like Pass the Parcel, but instead of music, you’re going to be speaking; and instead of opening the present, they have to write a sentence*.  The students start passing the paper and pen round and you repeat the first sentence of the dictation, perhaps 4 or 5 times.  Then stop and the students write it down – the rules are that only the person with the pen can write that sentence, but anyone in the group can help.  Keep doing this until you’ve dictated the whole text.  Then nominate students to read out each sentence and do whole group feedback; students could also check their answers with another group first, or swap papers and correct another group, etc.

Although at times students are so fixated on passing the paper that they don’t really listen to the sentence, it is interesting to see what they pick up and how they transform the original.

*OK, so perhaps don’t tell them it’s like Pass the Parcel as you’ll get their hopes up only to dash them to smithereens!

Category: Writing | LEAVE A COMMENT