Writing Class Round-Up


Some posts most relevant to teaching writing:

The Writing Course

Highlighting the Value of a Writing Course

Shaping a Writing Course

Reading in a Writing Class


Process Writing

The Point of Writing


A Small Victory


Editing and Peer Review

Seven Editing Challenges

Scaffolding Editing

Scaffolding Peer Review


Citations and Plagiarism

Plagiarism vs. Real Life

Communicating About Plagiarism

On Teaching Citations


Photo Credit: Chris Gladis on Flickr

You’re reading Writing Class Round-Up, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.


Activity Corner: Exit Tickets

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)


Did your students learn what you think they learned today? Ask them a brief question at the end of class, and have them hand it in on a post-it on their way out the door.

Checking for Understanding

You can use exit tickets to check for understanding. For example, if one of the session’s main objectives was working on thesis statements, exit ticket questions might be,

What is a thesis statement?

Write one example of a thesis statement.

If you’re working on the grammatical form of Present Continuous, you might say,

Write a sentence in Present Continuous.


Supporting Metacognition

Alternatively, the exit questions can be metacognitive:

What was the point of today’s lesson? might elicit interesting and/or sassy responses.

What was the most difficult part of today’s lesson? might also be illuminating.

Another useful one might be, Do you need to improve any technology skills to be more comfortable in this class? Which ones?

After handing back a major assignment, something like this might help a few people find time to head to the tutoring center: Are you satisfied with your essay grade? If not, what is your plan to get additional help to improve your results?


Some teachers use this activity at the end of every class session, and others just sometimes. Give it a try and see what you find out!


Photo Credit: Dean Hochman on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Exit Tickets, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Student Questions Matrix, Part 4

This is Part 4 of a series on Student Questions. See Part 1 (intro), Part 2 (the axes), and Part 3 (action steps).

In this post, I’m going to explore ways to use this matrix in direct instruction and ways to use Green Zone questions.

The Graphic (click to enlarge)


It’s Also a Learning Tool (Metacognition)

When I jotted down this little matrix, I was thinking of it as a mental model for teachers. But I think it could also be an interesting tool to use in the classroom.

It would take about 30 seconds to draw one of these on the board, perhaps even instead of a stand-alone Parking Lot. You could tell your classes, particularly Intermediate and above, that this is how you are thinking about their questions and deciding which to answer immediately.

I think this could be particularly helpful if you have a student or two who tend to take the class off on their own tangents. I’m all about student-centered learning, but in my opinion having the whole class follow the loudest students’ whims is only student-centered for one student!  

A step past just up-front description of your mental model would be to ask students to use it to categorize their own and/or each other’s questions. Since the categories are subjective, there may be disagreement, which causes discussion, which requires English for an authentic purpose (what’s more important than convincing everyone you’re right?). Count that as a win!

A further step yet would be to ask students how class goes when one student asks a lot of questions that are only relevant to him/her. How is it when students ask many important and relevant questions? Have they thought about this in their other classes? Has thinking about this changed how they ask questions in their other classes?

Questions, Answers, and Activities

In all this talk about student questions, I wanted to be sure that we also did some cool things with them.

Firstly, there’s no rule that the teacher has to be the one to provide the answers.

One nice practice that would easily fit into however you usually do things is to pause before answering a question and ask if any of the students would like to answer first. Be sure that everyone can hear their answer, and that you confirm if it is indeed correct.

Another tactic could be to ask students to find the answer in their textbook.This way everyone is engaged, both students who know the answer and those who don’t. It also gives them practice scanning for information and getting to know a great English resource.

You can also turn answers into activities that students participate in. Rather than simply explaining at length (again) about a certain grammar point, you could briefly review and then do a quick chain drill, perhaps followed by more communicative practice. (Yes, it’s off the cuff, but if you guys are accustomed to chain drills anyway and you keep some spare blank grids in your bag, you can do a lot!) You could also collect up to several answers at a time anonymously from all students with a low-tech snowball activity.

You can also consider having students “be the teacher” in the sense of taking on categorizing each other’s questions, finding answers for each other, and even teaching lessons and/or leading activities. Depending on the course you’re teaching and where you’re teaching it, this could be the primary way that class is conducted, or a particularly rich 45-minute review activity to use a couple times per semester. This allows the teacher to step back, and more importantly, allows the students to step up. 

End of Series!

Thanks for reading! It’s a really big topic and I certainly haven’t thought of everything. I hope you’ll chime in in the comments!


You’re reading Student Questions, Part 4, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Journal: Mad Libs

Students: 14

One thing that went well: Mad Libs.  We’re starting a letter-writing project, so I wrote a sample letter.  Then, on the other side of the paper, I made it into a Mad Lib by removing some words and replacing them with a blank and a note about the part of speech.  I modeled it a lot (a lot), and then handed out one copy to each of four small groups.  They got a good grammar review (students were reminded of comparative adjectives, infinitives, and irregular plurals) and got a chuckle out of the ridiculous letters they created together.  When we were finished with the game, I made sure everyone had a copy of the paper and then we read the real, complete letter on the back and commenced with a pretty normal lesson.

One thing to improve:  I talk too much (I list this one pretty often.  Perhaps I should, you know, actually improve it.)

One surprise:  “Condo” and “condom” sound awfully alike.  I’d never really noticed before today.

Activity Corner: Guess The Word

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

This is basically “Catchphrase,” a game by Hasbro.  I use it to review vocabulary.  One student randomly selects a vocab word from a hat and then tries to get his or her classmates to guess it.  They can say any word except the vocabulary word itself.

What you need: the vocabulary words they’ve already been working on, each written on a separate index card or a scrap of paper.

Here’s an example of how I used Guess the Word to practice the names of jobs in my Level 1 class.

Scaffolding:  We played this game early in the unit, so the words were still relatively new to the students.  First we went over what all of the words meant.  I wrote the words on the board, elicited definitions from students, and wrote those down too.  The students copied them down.  Then, I erased just the vocab words, leaving the definitions on the board.

Modeling:  I held up an index card with a job on it (carpenter) with the blank side toward the students.  I said, On my card, there is a job.  It’s a secret. At this point I held it close to me, protecting the information.  I will tell you about it.  What job is it?

I made a show of reading the card to myself, looking up at the ceiling to think, and then gave some clues: they build things, they use wood to build.

Here somebody guessed “construction worker.”  I was being vague deliberately so that the modeling would last long enough to get some flow.  I said they were close, and added, they build tables, chairs, and cabinets.

They guessed carpenter, and I showed them my card as I told them they were correct.

I immediately asked for a new teacher.  I had one of the more advanced students come up first just to make sure the process was clear, and it went off without a hitch.  She picked out one of the cards I presented her with, gave clues, and told the class when they were right.  Each student came up and gave clues for a word.

Other content possibilities:

  • practice descriptors – if you’re working on adjectives, write nouns on the cards so that the clue-giver has to list appropriate adjectives for the class.
  • spelling – have the clue-giver read the word and ask, “How do you spell that?”  The class will spell out loud to the clue-giver, who will write down the class’s answer on the board.
  • verb charades- write verbs on the cards and have the clue-giver mime the action instead of giving verbal clues.
  • advanced – use this to practice advanced vocabulary (mostly nouns and adjectives) just as I described above, but split the class into teams and have them compete to get the most correct the most quickly.
  • low-beginning- have words and pictures on each card.  Have matching word/picture cards (or even objects, like plastic foods).  The clue-giver should read the word, and then two students should race to hold up the matching card or object.

Activity Corner: Dictation Relay

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

This is a fun way to get students to dictate sentences to each other and focus on the nitty-gritty details of writing.  It also gets students up out of their seats.

This activity is not a quick one.  For a quick activity, just dictate sentences to your students and have them copy them down.  They tend to love plain old dictation, by the way.

What you need: a sentence on a piece of paper taped just outside the classroom.

Here’s an example of how I used a Dictation Relay to review dates in my Level 1 class.

Modeling:  Note that you will need to do a lot of mock-running for lower level classes to be sure that they understand the instructions.

I separated my class of 16 into four groups of four.  I held up a folded piece of paper and said, “I have a secret.”  I then made a show of taping it to the wall outside the classroom.  (The secret was, “Today is Wednesday, September 8, 2010.”  We had just worked on this earlier in class.)

I named the groups A through D.  I said I needed one student from each group to run and walk.  One student from A will run, one student from B will run…. you get the idea.  I had the runners stand in the front of the room.

The runners will read the secret.  They will remember the secret.  They will run to their group and tell the secret. (I play-ran out the door and back in again.) The other students will write the secret.

If they forget, they can read again and again. (Yep, I ran right back out the door again and then back in).

All students will write the secret.  It must be perfect, 100% correct to win.

Runners, no pens and no paper.  You cannot write.  Writers, does everyone have a pen and paper?  On your mark, get set, go.

I had to remind runners not to write just a couple of times.  After a few minutes they were ready for me to check their work, and it often had little mistakes.  I told them when they were close and what words they spelled wrong or how many commas they forgot.  When one team won, we all applauded.

Other content possibilities:

  • spelling – put some hard-to-spell words you’ve encountered recently into the dictation sentence.  It’s great practice.
  • vocabulary review – be sure to meaningfully use at least one vocabulary word in each sentence.
  • grammar – make sure the sentence includes relevant grammar, particularly if that grammar involves picky spelling rules (i.e. plural endings are either -s or -es)
  • pronunciation – have your sentence be a tongue-twister to focus in on a sound or two your students struggle with (i.e. The fish has a thin fin.)
  • reading – use a sentence straight from the day’s reading.  Make sure that the writers know not to just copy it from the story, but to listen to the runner.  Do this to review the reading.  Alternatively, pick an interesting sentence and use it to introduce the reading.  You can also have students scan the reading to locate the dictation sentence.
  • low-beginning – just write a vocabulary word and have the runner spell it to the writers.

Activity Corner: Grid Activity

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I took some time to describe some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

I use The Grid Activity for several reasons.  The most obvious is that it’s great fluency practice – it requires that they talk to each other and gets the teacher out of the middle of it.  I also use it as a pre-writing activity, having students gather information that they’ll use to write full sentences later in class.  The activity also serves as practice reading a grid.

What you need: a piece of paper for each student with a large grid drawn on it (for Intermediate I often used one that had three columns and eight rows).

Here’s an example of how I used the Grid Activity to practice Present Continuous grammar.

I drew my own 3×8 grid on the board.  On the top row, I wrote in one question per box:  What’s your name?  |  What are you doing after class today?  |  What are you cooking for dinner tonight?

I then proceeded to have a conversation with my coffee mug (I named it Michael for the purposes of this activity) in which I asked it the three questions on the board and wrote all its answers in the same row.

Then I asked a student the three questions and wrote all their answers on the same row.

Then I told the students it was their turn.  They needed to interview each other.  Just like I did, ask other students these three questions.  Write the answers.

It was interesting because for some students, it was very easy.  A few students had trouble remembering how a grid worked each time.  And a couple other students (the students who had high speaking ability and much lower reading ability) would make up their own questions, usually completely unrelated to the grammar and/or content I wanted to focus on.

The point is that even after both modeling and explaining, you need to watch them very carefully each time you do the activity.  You can’t just assume that because they’re talking and writing that they’re practicing the language you want them to practice and that they use the grid correctly.  Not that it’s a disaster if they’re not doing it perfectly, but some gentle guidance can make it a richer learning experience than general conversation.

After the interview time (it can easily take 30 minutes), I asked them questions about their classmates’ answers.  This made them read their grids for specific information.

I also had them write full sentences based on the information they gathered.  The concept of taking the information from the grid and putting it into sentences is not necessarily obvious.  Even in Intermediate, you have to model this a lot.

Other content possibilities:

  • alphabetics – just have students write down each other’s names.  They’ll have to spell their name out for their classmates.
  • grammar review – use questions that use the target grammar.
    For example, “Where did you grow up?”  “Where would you like to live when you are old?”
  • vocabulary review – use questions that call upon target vocabulary.  For example, in a food unit, have them ask, “What are three foods you like?”  “What are three foods you don’t like?”
  • advanced – you can use more questions with more complex grammar and vocabulary.  This will take the interview process up to their level.  Definitely have them work with the information they gather, writing sentences, paragraphs, or even making graphs.

Activity Corner: The Flyswatter Game

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I took some time to describe some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

I use The Flyswatter Game to have students quickly match an input with something that can be written or drawn on the board.  It’s almost always review.

It can be competitive, and it has historically been known to get a little rowdy (I’ve heard of a staff meeting where people were jumping on tables playing this game.  Please note that this level of enthusiasm is neither typical nor necessary.)

What you need: two clean flyswatters and a large vertical writing space.

Here’s an example of how I used the Flyswatter Game at our end-of-session party to sneak in some review of our final topic, Present Continuous vs. Simple Present.

I wrote two phrases on the white board:  Present Continuous and Simple Present.

I prepared a numbered list of sentences before class.  Not surprisingly, they were all in either Present Continuous (PrCo) or Simple Present (SiPr).

I handed flyswatters to two students and had them stand at the front.  Their job: listen to what I read.  Is the sentence in PrCo or SiPr?  They should swat their answer as quickly as possible.  I read a couple of sentences for each pair.

After everyone has swatted, everyone goes again, but this time I relinquish my list of questions to the students, who will take turns being the teacher.

Other content possibilities:

  • listening for certain sounds – write approx. four phonemes on the board, have Ss swat what they hear
  • vocabulary review – write vocab words on the board, read the definitions to Ss, they swat the correct word
    NOTE: any worksheet with a word bank can become The Flyswatter Game very, very easily
  • low-literacy vocabulary review – draw or tape pictures on the board, read the noun to Ss, they swat the correct picture
  • alphabet review – write letters on the board, say individual letter names, Ss swat the correct one
  • advanced scanning practice – project two longer passages onto the board or wall.  Read a sentence from somewhere in one of the passages; Ss race to scan the text and find the passage the sentence is from)