Giving Quicker Feedback on Essay Writing and other Writing Assignments

Having worked the past few years teaching ESL students, I have found providing feedback on students’ writing assignments can take up a lot of time. If they are a student who performs nearly one hundred percent on assignments, feedback is quick and easy. At the same time, I wish they would experiment more rather than just stay inside their comfort zone. That is, however, a discussion for another time. Usually, my students range from from weak to intermediate when it comes to their writing skills. If students are weak with their writing (which they tend to be in comparison to the other skills), I can spend a good twenty to thirty minutes checking one student’s writing assignment.

I recently read an article in the English Teaching Forum entitled “Audiovisual Feedback in EFL/ESL Writing Classes” by William J. Woodard. Woodard (2016) admits he has attempted to reduce the amount of time he has spent on providing writing feedback without jeopardizing the quality of such feedback. Woodward (2016) suggests teachers download Jing to take a video the students writing as they verbally provide feedback. At the thought of being able to record my feedback  without putting more stress on my carpal tunnel while also providing each student with individualized, I became excited.

Upon looking at the website, as expected, I discovered there are different plans ranging in prices on which is where you would upload the video you recorded using Jing. For a monthly plan, it costs about $10 but for the year, only about $100 if you pay in one lump sum. Considering the time saved providing feedback to students, it seems to be worth the $100. If you are interested in checking out the site run by TechSmith Corporation, visit

I can’t wait to try this the next time I teach a writing course.



Woodward, William J. “Audiovisual Feedback in EFL/ESL Writing Classes.” English Teaching Forum. Volume 54 Number 2. (Available at (Accessed on December 6, 2016)


To Do or Not To Do: Sentence Diagramming

Diagramming sentences does not seem like a fun thing to do. It arouses memories of sitting in my English Language Art course in elementary school learning grammar point after grammar point. BORING!

I recently came across this concept once again when I was studying the Praxis Core Writing exam. It was one of the first videos I watched in a series created by Magoosh’s Praxis preparation program. Seeing how useful it was for me in my studies, I wondered if I should be using more in my own classroom with ESL students. Upon searching online, I found an article, “The Wrong Way To Teach Grammar,” by Michelle Navarre Cleary where she reveals why sentence diagramming does not help students improve their writing skills. On one hand, I was a bit shocked because I thought it would be useful. On the other hand, I loved it because I agree that some traditional teaching methods are simply outdated.

In the article, Michelle Navarre Cleary argues against sentence diagramming as one of those outdated teaching strategies. I think it is worth noting that I am not sure if she is referring to native speakers or non-native speakers, or maybe both for that matter. Based on her introductory paragraph, I do know she is talking about making students “better writers.”

In that sense, I would definitely agree with her that diagramming sentences is not enough. However, I disagree with Cleary in part, regardless of the studies she mentions, because I was not always the writer I am today. If you asked me to write a blog or an article in 2002, I would have been lost. I would not have known how to properly using dependent versus independent clauses. Granted, it was by writing continuously that I improved in my writing.

While I became a better writer by writing, my professor consistently referenced Diana Hacker’s The Bedford Handbook which, in my opinion, should be renamed “The Bedford Bible.” I would say it was the combination of constant writing and referencing a grammar book with the help of my professor that made me the writer I am today. We peer-edited student’s writing by considering various grammar points which strengthened both our grammar and writing skills. Based on my experience, I feel it would help any native speaker.

While writing makes one better at writing, does writing make one better at grammar and vice versa? Cleary goes on to say “grammar [is] something that is best learned through writing.” Though it is useful to teach grammar to native speakers this way, I somewhat question whether this should be the only way to teach grammar to non-native speakers. Non-native speakers are acquiring the language and need to develop their speaking skills just as much as their writing skills. Even for the advanced non-native English speaker, they need grammar to be constantly recycled because even though they may be able to produce grammar correctly in their speaking, they may not be able to do so in their writing.

While diagramming sentences may be an outdated teaching strategy, I feel ESL students could benefit from diagramming sentences more often in writing classes so they can develop grammar recognition. In other words, they can better understand the context in which something is said and learning when to use various structures as a native speaker would. I find students struggle with complex sentences that include reflexive and relative clauses, and appositives. Grammar is important for ESL students.

Diagramming sentences is a valuable tool in language feedback sessions and peer-editing exercises. I usually hand out samples of other students’ writings so the students can develop competency in grammar as well as writing. As such, students need to engage in sentence diagramming to determine the error in the sentence. Usually, when I check their work, students will have have a grammar point to reference. In order to correct their errors, they need to reference that grammar point and work on it themselves to foster deeper learning.

On the plus side, ESL students will also develop confidence in their writing by improving their ability to recognize various parts of a sentence. I have found one of the major obstacles to student writing is the affective filter consisting of various insecurities, in this case- a fear of grammar. In conclusion, I am all for sentence diagramming but only if it is not the only tool being used to improve both grammar and writing.

Work Cited

Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook. Bedford/St. Martin’s; 7th edition (November 18, 2005)


Michelle Navarre Cleary. 2014. “The Wrong Way To Teach Grammar.” The Atlantic. Feb. 25, 2015.

Tasks in My Own Teaching

I am taking a course called “Teaching EFL/ ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach” on Coursera through the University of London and UCL Institute of Education. It is the first week and I was asked to reflect on the ways I used tasks in my own teaching.

While I use tasks for speaking and writing tasks, I never really used them much for listening and reading activities apart from what is already available in the coursebooks for students.

Whenever I teach a listening or reading lessons, I always give my students some sort of task to complete but it usually focuses on speaking. I do this because I want to keep students engaged. I find having them work on just listening or just reading for an entire period gets boring fast. By giving them a speaking task to do to break up the activities, they stay engaged. The class is overall more interactive as well.

For writing classes, I try to get my students to achieve the task in the book because usually this is required for their exams. However, I find I need to break it down into smaller tasks depending on their level. For a native speaker, it may be easy to complete the task at once but for non-native speakers, it is important to break things down to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed and demotivated. By dividing it into smaller pieces, each part will have its own focus and students will be able to experience more success as they progress in the task. This helps the students remain positive with a growth rather than fixed mindset.

There are a variety of interaction patterns that I have used in task based lessons to also keep students more engaged. One is when students break up into teams and one student is the leader. This leader will have a one-way conversation with his/her teammates. For instance, the leader may give them a description of a map without letting them look at it. The teammates then have to draw the map or use post-it notes to label parts of a pre-made map with street names. A second method is for all the students to equally engage in conversation such as by discussing the pros and cons of a topic.

My tasks aim to move students towards acquisition rather than just showing me that they have learned new language. When designing tasks, I vary how much control I have over the task. If I want to assess whether students have acquired new lexis, I may give them a list of words from the chapter on the board and instruct them to create a story. I don’t have much control over the type of story they tell. On the other hand, I could give them a cut up story that is mixed up. I may post the different parts of the story around the room requiring them to run, read, remember, and then dictate the story to a leader. As a team, they then have to put it together correctly. At the end, I would give each team a copy of the correct story and they have to see how their story was different.

In order to help students improve their fluency, I want them to develop their critical thinking skills in English so they do not have think critically in their native tongue. As such, I love to give problem-solving tasks. Some may allow them to have different opinions and others may only need to find one solution. This is great for preparing for debates. Such tasks don’t usually focus on a specific grammar point. As such, these are best for intermediate level students or higher.

For lower level courses, I prefer to work on tasks that are language specific and allow for a lot of input. As time goes on, I prepare the students for more freer practice that focuses less on specific grammar points but rather on their ability to produce the language they have learned up until that point in time. In order to engage in productive tasks, students need time to acquire enough input.

Task-based lessons are important in my opinion because they help prepare students for using their second language in a real world setting.


The Argument Against Teaching English Solely as Lingua Franca

English is an international language that people speak not just in English speaking countries but in non-English speaking countries. As a result, it is also known as Lingua Franca because people speaking different languages use English as the method of communication.

People who learn English to travel focus more on communication rather than accuracy. While there are advantages to acknowledging the nature of English to be a Lingua Franca, I do not support teaching it solely as a Lingua Franca.

Students take ESL classes for different reasons.

If they take a class to learn enough English to travel, teaching them with an ELF approach makes sense. They don’t need to worry about accuracy as long as they can convey the meaning of what they want to say. If the course is a crash course before someone is going to travel, teaching ELF is suitable as long as the students understand what the aims of the course are. Some students sign up for courses without considering the approach. One month they take the course because they want to practice their language skills before heading off on a vacation. Months later they could return to the same language school and feel discouraged if they are placed in the same level as previously. In their minds, they took a course so they should have moved up on the fluency scale. This is why it is important students know what the aims of a course are. It protects the teacher just as much as the student.

When a teacher does not focus the students on accuracy, students may think the teacher is less intelligent. I have seen students complain about teachers who were not giving them the feedback they desired. Many students want to be accurate and want constant feedback. Granted, there are others who don’t feel the same way.

However, there are many students who take ESL classes to develop both fluency and accuracy. By taking a ELF approach early on, students will lose out on developing accuracy because teachers will be less concerned with their grammatical errors.As a result, teachers will start to pay less attention to grammatical errors which could affect the development of their teaching.

When I started out teaching, I was inexperienced. Focusing on grammar helped me practice both my teaching skills and to enhance my understanding of my own language. To teach my language was different than merely being able to use it fluently. Many people assume that any native speaker can teach their language. That is not always the case. Even native teachers need to become more aware of their own language in order to teach it.

As a student moves up to intermediate and advanced levels, they will have a harder time if they decide to learn English for reasons other than travel. People decide they want to study in a Western country or they want to take a job that requires they speak in English. If they are unable to keep up with reading business documents at a higher level of English, they will struggle.

If they do not speak English accurately, some may negatively view their intelligence. Even in the United States, people who speak certain accents are perceived to have less intelligence than others.

There are other considerations to teaching English solely as a Lingua Franca. 

Let’s think about what happens if we start teaching an English that is less standard. Over time, the English language evolves and as such, could it become customary to speak English with less accuracy?

Another interesting point about ELF. Would teachers concentrate on meaning rather than form in language feedback sessions?

There are times when form affects meaning and this could get confusing. If we pick and choose when to correct form, students will be less conscious of the rules and common practice in using different forms to convey specific meanings. For instance, we tend to use present perfect to talk about experiences we had in which time is not important. We use past tense to talk about things that happened at a specific time in the past. If students start using only past tense, they may not understand the meaning when someone speaks with present perfect. Form and accuracy are equally important in my book.

By teaching ELF without a concern for accuracy, we assume the students will never be in a environment that requires accuracy. Consider if a student decides to take the IELTS or TOEFL exam. They may be overconfident about their ESL skills which could affect how much time and practice the students give to preparation.

My DELTA Module 1 Exam & Module 3 Preparation Experience

More than a year ago, I decided I wanted to earn my DELTA so I could improve as a teacher while increasing my prospects to gain more positions. Since I don’t have a Masters in Teaching or in English, earning a DELTA seemed like the practical way to go that did not involve taking more student loans.

I started working on my DELTA Module 3 when I was working in Saudi Arabia. I did my needs analysis and assessment with students that I was working with in the last few months of teaching. After writing a first draft of the paper, I put it aside for a while as I studied for the Module 1 exam. In my opinion, it is always best to put writing aside so you can look at it with fresh eyes.

After going through visa applications for my next gig, I finally decided to apply for the exam and to turn in the paper since I knew where I was going to be. This brings me to my first bit of advice. Sign up for the exam when you know where you are going to be. There is a registration period and some places will not allow you to register late while I think others will. They only offer the exam twice a year.

I had to sign up with another school to submit my Module 3 paper because there were no schools willing to take the paper in Saudi Arabia at the time I was ready to submit it. I am not sure if they now have a school who does. Because this can happen to you, you need to research whether the school where you are taking the Module 1 exam also accepts Module 3 submissions. 

This brings me to my third piece of advice. Do not take both Modules at the same time. I was too confident about my Module 3 paper. I ended up getting a Referred and have to work on it again. I also failed the Module 1 exam. On top of doing two modules at the same time, I was also adjusting to a new job and dealing with an unexpected health situation that required surgery. The combination of factors ended up causing a lot of stress and before I even took the exam, I realized I was probably going to fail. I simply did not dedicate the amount of time I needed to the exam because I was not feeling well.

I was also granted time to work on the DELTA at work but work happened. Things came up in the work day that couldn’t be avoided because I still had a job to do. Your supervisor and employer needs to know what they are getting themselves into. So do you. Be willing to work on the DELTA in your free time. I had to.

To help me prepare for the exam, I signed up with a course through Teaching House in New York who were also handling my Module 3 submission. Sign up for a course. I am currently reviewing the materials again before the December test so I can study more before I lose access. They let me have access to my materials for a year which enables you to have access for two exams. They will also grade practice exams. Because I got sick, I was not able to hand in all my assignments. I plan on taking the exam in June 2017.

Start a blog. I started a blog to share my thoughts on things I was learning about. Writing helps me remember things. It is also a great tool for other teachers looking to read on on the same topics. I found it is also great to have a blog to show employers about the extent to which you commit to developing yourself professionally as a teacher.

Check out Quizlet. There are study sets on Quizlet for the DELTA which will help you review materials on your laptop or smartphone.

When I took the Module 1 exam, my hand hurt. Practice taking past exams by handwriting your answers rather than typing your answers. I think many of us today are so accustomed to typing on the computer that it hurts our hand when we handwrite. Get back in the habit of handwriting more so you don’t get so tired. Think about it. When you go to the gym, you don’t start off lifting 100 pounds on your legs. You start out slow. You don’t do 60 reps of the same exercise. You start out with 12 reps. Okay 60 may be too much when you’re working out at the gym but you get my point. Start out slow so you can build it up.



Phoric References: Anaphoric, Cataphoric, and Exophoric

Set 1: Anaphoric

  1. James went shopping with his friends last night. He bought a new pair of sneakers.
  2. Susan is doing her homework in the library. It is really crowded because final exams are next week.
  3. I can’t lift the bag of groceries. It’s too heavy.


Answer the following questions.

  1. What are the reference words in bold? Subject Pronouns
  2. Do they refer to other words? Yes
  3. Where are those words located in the text? Before the References.


Set 2: Cataphoric

  1. They were the most interesting people. James started his own business when he was only 16 years old. Susan worked for a famous actor as his personal assistant. Luke told the most fascinating stories.
  2. We need to get them new clothes. James has holes in his shirts. Susan’s clothes are too small. Luke can’t button his pants anymore.


Answer the following questions.

  1. What are the reference words in bold? “They” is a subject pronoun. “Them” is an object pronoun.
  2. What do these two words refer to? James, Susan, and Luke
  3. Where are the words located in the text? After the references


Set 3: Exophoric

  1. The movie was really good. You should buy it when it comes out on video.
  2. I really want to try that.


Answer the follow questions

  1. What are the reference words in bold referring to? Something not in the text
  2. Why? It is understood based on the context.



  1. What do you call a word(s) that refers to another word(s) that was mentioned before? Anaphoric
  2. What do you call a word(s) that refers to another word(s) that are mentioned later? Cataphoric
  3. What do you call a word(s) that refers to something that is not mentioned in the text? Exophoric


Practice Exercise for the Students:

“Anaphoric, Cataphoric, and Exophoric Words”

-This site has 13 questions that use reference words rather than reference pronouns. This is an exercise better suited for upper intermediate and above. You can substitute it with an exercise using more pronouns to make it beginner/intermediate.


Production Activity Suggestions:

  1. Have students break off into groups and write a text including two examples of each. They must have 6-10 sentences. When time is up, have the groups post their texts around the room. Ask the students to rotate so they are looking at another group’s text. With a highlighter, they need to highlight the references. With a pencil, have them draw a line to the word(s) it refers to. T can monitor and circle references that students should take a second look at. T can also have the original group to check to see if they are correct. Once finished, T can scan in the classwork to use on smartboard or can show it on a projector.
  2. T prepares a paragraph using a variety of references reviews in class. T then puts each sentence on a strip of paper. She mixes them up and gives them to the group to put together.
  3. T can write a paragraph with gaps where the references go. Students can either fill it in with their own reference or can select from a list.

There’s no such thing as a dragon! (or Dogme fires up the IH DoS Conference 2012)

Reading about Dogme encourages me to use less materials and think of ways to make language emerge other than through basic elicitation exercises to present new target language.

Reflective Teaching

There was a children’s book I used to (ok… I still do) love, in which a young boy has a pet dragon.

Despite the dragon eating and sleeping in their house, the boy’s parents refused to acknowledge its existence, constantly reiterating the mantra “there’s no such thing as a dragon!”

Well, the dragon starts out small but gets bigger and bigger… and by the end of the book, has become so huge that it takes over the entire house… and the parents grow to love it.

This is what I what I mulling over when I attended one of the great events of the The IH DoS conference 2012 – the hosting of a match between two heavyweights, Communicative Language Teaching (the parents!) and Dogme (the dragon!).

This match has since been declared a draw by the conference’s main debate protagonists, Jeremy Harmer and Luke Meddings. I’m not…

View original post 926 more words

The Reading Dilemma in Dogme

I fear the Dogme style of teaching does not support developing students’ competencies in reading. In many texts, students have to do reading activities for a passage that is usually between 1 to 3 pages depending on the student’s level. Teachers usually encourage students to not read the entire passage as time is a limitation and the focus is more on communication rather than reading. As students proceed from lower levels to higher levels, a problem emerges. Students can’t read that well even though they can speak. Students may even be able to write but perhaps not well.

For teachers following the Dogme method, readings passages tend to short because their goal is to spark conversation or a context for learning new language (Thornbury 2005, 4). The passage usually has target language such as new lexis or a grammar point. Most coursebooks have a vocabulary in context activity before the reading passage. In addition, I always look at the chapter’s grammar point and try to find it within the passage. I like to exploit the reading for a grammar lesson so students understand how everything in a chapter is connected.

There are pros and cons to this approach. Students can improve their competency in speaking or even writing depending on the production activity that the teacher instructs them to do. On the other hand, students will not necessarily be able to read that well. I have had students tell me that they want to read more books in English but it is intimidating. They get tired after a few pages and they don’t remember what they read. Even though they can answer questions assessing their comprehension in a coursebook, they can’t comprehend what they read in real life.

Reading takes time to develop as a skill and needs to be practiced every day. Even though there is not enough time in class to practice reading, there are ways in which teachers can encourage their students to practice reading outside of class. For example, students can set their social media to English so they receive status updates from their friends in English or the news in English. I encourage students to set their Google homepage to English so they get in the practice of searching in English. I also tell students to read books to their little brothers and sisters because the language is usually easier for them to understand. The important thing is to find something for students to read that is not intimidating. If a student is intimidated, they are not going to enjoy reading. Students read more when they enjoy it.



Scott Thornbury. 2005. “Dogme: Dancing in the dark?” Folio. 9/2, January 2005, 3-5. (available on

Acrylic Painting

For students who love art, one of the best ways to practice listening to English is to paint while listening to a tutorial on how to paint. One of my hobbies is acrylic painting and I am always looking to the Art Sherpa for fun classes.

Click on the link and take a look. Art Sherpa

Winging it Dogme Style

WingIn 2005, Thornbury continued his discussion of Dogme in a follow-up article. (1). In this article, he mentions the issue of teachers “winging it” which is more common than most will like to admit. When I worked at some language schools, I did not always know what lessons I would be teaching until I got to work. However, I was trained in the method of that language school. As a result, I was able to practice that method on the spot. In other words, I was “winging it” in a way. Now, this experience is a type of “winging it” but coursebooks were not the preferred method of instruction when I worked at such language schools.

When I worked at other companies that required students use a coursebook, “winging it” became harder. On my first day of teaching in a university, I was given a coursebook and told to go teach it. I didn’t even have 5 minutes to look over the pages. I had to literally go inside the classroom and just teach to the book. By not being given the opportunity to reflect on the activities and how to teach them, I was completely unprepared which affected both my confidence and my image in front of the class. In my opinion, it was an utter failure. I have literally repressed the memory of that entire class. “Winging it” with a coursebook is not recommended in my opinion for new teachers as I was when I was “winging it’ that day.

“Winging it” does work for the experienced teacher. After three years of teaching, I am confident in myself to simply walk into a classroom and teach random pages out of any ESL coursebook. I still don’t think it is the best strategy because I am an advocate of lesson planning. However, I will admit it can be effectively done because there are usually a variety of ways to go about teaching a lesson. In instances when a teacher has to wing it, I advise to use the method that one is most comfortable with. If I am teaching an unfamiliar group of students and the coursebook pages have a lot of vocabulary on, I prefer to use the Test-Teach-Test method so I can determine what words they don’t know. Then, I will go over the vocabulary that needs teaching. I am not afraid to use the internet in class or to encourage the students to do a self-directed dictionary activity where they have to look up the words themselves.

Setting up self-directed learning activities is useful when “winging it” but must be done effectively. First, let’s talk about dictionary activities as mentioned in the previous paragraph. Teachers should not instruct students to merely look up words in a dictionary but offer guidance and support in using a dictionary. It can be quite aggressive for a teacher to simply tell a student “Go look it up in the dictionary.” It can also appear like the teacher is unintelligent. If a teacher really can’t find the words to describe a word, it is always best to simply admit it to the students. Second, let’s talk about another vocabulary activity. When I do vocabulary in context activities in my class, I tell my students I don’t know what some words mean when I am reading books. I also tell them I may look up the words in a dictionary but usually I don’t because I want to enjoy reading the book. The whole point of vocabulary in context activities is to determine the meaning of the words based on the surrounding sentences and the context. Rather than making myself look unintelligent, I am actually making my students feel more comfortable that they are not expected to know everything to be a good English student.

I am not entirely a big fan of “winging it” since I am someone who tends to be overly organized. However, I have become more comfortable with “winging it” over the years as I gained more experience in teaching. “Winging it” can threaten the communicative side of teaching if the syllabus is demanding or if a teacher lacks experience. As such, teachers need more support from senior teachers. New teachers should not be given a full teaching load. New teachers need more time for preparing lessons than experienced teachers. Experienced teachers still need time for lesson planning as well or else they will just wing it which is not always effective for each lesson. Furthermore, coursebooks should provide suggestions to teachers on a variety of lessons plans that can work for various activities. Each chapter should vary the lesson types to keep both teachers and students engaged. Altogether, I believe there can be what Thornbury referred to as a “dogme coursebook” as long as publishers consider the communicative side of teaching when designing coursebook activities.


(1) Scott Thornbury. 2005. “Dogme: Dancing in the dark?” Folio. 9/2, January 2005, 3-5. (available on