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Since I teach ESL, I spend a fair amount of time on grammar-type things in my classes (although it isn't the only thing I teach of course!) I think that the method you describe is much more effective for students, since it helps them focus on just one thing at a time. In addition, I've noticed that students start to use the grammar I teach them about one semester after they were in my class. Sometimes I feel like I've been teaching something in vain, only to have the same students in the next level and see that they "got it" and use it regularly. Apparently, changes in language usage take some time to sink in.

Tim Fredrick

It does take time for them to "get it" - and it also takes a lot of time for it to become part of their repetoire. I'm studying French and whenever I use a new usage or word, it takes a while to get it right and for it to become automatic. There's no reason the same thing isn't true for native English speakers or students learning English as a second language. I think we too often want students to change their language use too quickly.


One of the best instructors I had at university taught us a philosophy similar to yours regarding mistakes. She told us to record the ones we saw the most in our students' papers and focus our grammar lessons on that rather than long, broad grammar lectures. She was a big believer in mini-lessons, too, to help students when they started repeating old mistakes. She would love your idea about working in small groups before individual practice.


Great advice! I've always thought that "proofreading" so many papers would be way too time-consuming. Picking up on the patterns of mistakes and sticking to your rubric would be much more time-effective and student-centered.


This issue actually came up at the Summer Writing Institute. It brings it back to the concept of teaching the writer, not fixing the writing. I've heard various suggestions over the years for tackling the grammar issue. One was to just circle the errors, without any comments/notes. The idea is that kids will come up and ask you why an error was circled, and you can address the issue on the spot. I tried it briefly but it didn't work. My kids aren't neurotic enough. LOL.

Ms. George

This post should be required reading for all new ELA teachers. I spent so much time and agony editing student's papers my first year until the lightbulb clicked and I realized I wasn't teaching them anything by fixing their mistakes. I now do many of the things you posted about and have found the practice much more meaningful to me and my students.
Thanks for the excellent post.

walter brown


I am definately going to share your blog with my fellow teachers. I do have a concern though. When you mark the paper you seem to be doing so from an all knowing standpoint. I have always thought of making even my "marking" comments to be more personal. (eg. instead of "Spell this out" write "It would be more clear to me if you spelled this out here.") I know it sounds too touchy feely and definately takes more time but I found it allows emerging writers to find their voice without the "god" voice slapping them down.

ps. would love to hear what you think about my blog

If you scroll down there is an entry on literacy.


I just wanted to say how refreshing this blog is! I have totally taken it to heart! This fall will be my first year teaching and I'm glad that I have been advised of a great approach to the teaching of grammar. Just in time!

Thank you.

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Thanks a lot for your examples and explanations, Tim. Last year, I had to take over a colleague's subject for a semester and the topic was about Writing. I really thought I should correct every mistake and that's exactly what I did! You could imagine how much time I spent correcting compositions of four sections of Secondary 6 with 48-52 students in one class, three hours of writing a week.
Next time they ask me to teach Writing, I'll know exactly what to do.

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