Helpful Grammar Resources

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Verb Tense, Aspect and Mood
Sentence Structure
Sentence Boundary (Run-ons)

Sentence Boundary (Fragments)


Noun endings
Word choice / Spelling / Informal Language
Resources for Teachers:
Resources for Students:
Word Choice Reference Tools Guidebook (Video Tour)
Word Form


Common ESL Grammar Error Types and Feedback

Error Types
Error examples and feedback (correction)
Verb tense
After that, the ruling regime fell down and the new government cannot recover.
Feedback (after, FB): Be consistent - use “past” tense (-> “could not”)
Verb form
(errors in formation of the verb phrase except for tense markings)

Being grown up in the minority group feels confusing.
FB: Use “active” verb form (-> “growing up”)
It is better to stop it than to let the situation going out of control.
FB: Let + obj (N.) + base verb (-> “let the situation go”)
Subject-verb (number) agreement
EstablishingS new laws and resources at both state and federal levels arev necessary.
FB: A subject in a(n) “~ing/to~” form is singular (-> “is necessary”)
(e.g., Missing or wrong referent / agreement with the antecedent)
It is unfair to treat someone badly just because they are suspected.
FB: Someone” is singular (“they are” -> “he/she is”)
I am from different universe.
FB: Which universe your came from is unknown to the reader (-> “a universe”)
Internet offers many options for photo storage and organization.
FB: There is only one internet that everyone knows (à “the internet”) Refer to “Article” handout
Noun endings
(e.g., plural or possessive endings)
I received a lot of positive feedbacks.
FB: This is a non-count noun (-> “feedback”)    
Word choice
(e.g., incorrect use of idioms, using informal words, collocational problems)  
He looks down to others who are less fortunate than him.
FB: Idiom error (-> "look down on"  someone)
I hope to succeed the goal.
FB: Collocation error (-> “achieve/reach” the goal)
Word form
(Using a wrong part of speech)
We need to analysis this problem.
FB: This is a noun form. You need a VERB here (-> "analyze”)
Sentence structure
It was reported that administratorss decidedv to make Chicago River swimmable intensifiedv the debate.
FB: You have two verbs in this that-clause. Only one subject + verb is allowed in one clause. (“intensified” -> “,which intensified”) 
Sentence structure
(e.g., run-on sentences)
Technology cannot behave as powerful as the traditional teaching method all the time, combining both could make our teaching-and-learning system much more effective.
FB: You can’t join two complete sentences (independent clauses) using comma alone. You should add a conjunction word in addition to the comma. (“,” -> “,so”)
Sentence structure
(e.g., fragments)
One stereo type is that the Islamic religion treats women very badly. Which is not true.
FB: This is not a complete sentence, which can’t stand alone with a period. Connect it to the previous sentence with a comma (-> One stereo type is that the Islamic religion treats women very badly, which is not true”)
Alumnus Max Abramovitz an architect of New York City’s Lincoln Center designed Krannert Center.
FB: You need to enclose this phrase in commas because it’s a break within a sentence that supplements and adds information to the subject. Refer to Punctuation handout  
Missing elements
(e.g., Missing object, verb, subject, relative pronouns, complementizer [1])
The advantages of preventing are bigger than disadvantages.
FB: Preventing WHAT? You’re missing an object.

I have received a lot of complements.
FB: Check the spelling (-> compliments)
Informal language
Cloning is an awesome technology.
FB: This is informal. Use more formal, specific word (e.g., beneficial, useful)

[1] In a syntax term, this problem has to do with missing “arguments”. Certain verb requires certain number of arguments (agent, patient, beneficiary, recipient, etc.) this could also be categorized as sentence structure problem.

Note 1: Run-on sentences and fragments (#10, 11) could also be labelled as “Sentence Boundaries”. The informal language (#15) could also be seen as a word choice (#7) error. Using passive voice, categorized under verb from (#2) in this table could also be its own category. Note that many example sentences in this chart include multiple types of errors, but focus on the type of error that each sentence belongs to. Depending on your student’s level and needs, you may provide the comment with or without possible revision (i.e., phrases in parenthesis). 

Note 2: For unfamiliar grammar terms, please refer to Grammar Term Glossary 

Ferris, D. (2002). Treatment of Error in Second Language Student Writing. Ann Arbor, M.I.:UM Press. The example sentences are mostly compiled from ESL 505 Summer 2011 and ESL 501 Fall 2011 student essays)  

Reflection on Teaching "Word Search Strategies Using COCA" in ESL 115

Watch this video about how to use COCA as a reference tool in ESL writing

Background for developing “Word Search Strategies Using COCA” lesson
Word-choice problems, the most frequent type of errors in ESL 115 (Principles of Academic Writing) class that I am teaching, are often difficult for ESL students to self-correct, which is why they are often “treated” with direct feedback from teachers. However, giving direct feedback for individual students’ idiosyncratic word-choice errors requires significant amount of time and energy on the teacher’s part. Moreover, such direct feedback is less effective in bringing long-term improvement than indirect feedback. I wanted to help students self-check the appropriateness of their own word choices when problems are noticed either by themselves or by others by using a free online corpus concordancing program called Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Many ESL students rely on bilingual dictionaries or thesauruses when searching for the “right words”, or the better words, which often results in collocation or register problems. Many empirical studies have already shown that learners’ direct corpora consultation in L2 writing courses can be of great help in this regard as long as it is assisted properly with teachers’ guidance. Specifically, by using Wildcard, Collocation, Key-Word-in-Context (KWIC), Chart (Genre), and Synonym search functions in COCA, students can solve and prevent various word choice problems: word form errors (e.g. wrong spelling, part of speech, etc.), style errors (using informal words), idiomatic errors (using wrong articles or prepositions for phrasal verbs), collocation errors. In terms of integrating this lesson to the existing curriculum, I taught this lesson at the end of the “Writing Process (Diagnostic Essay)” unit, where students learn basic skills for pre-writing, paragraph structures, writing introductions and conclusions, revising, and proofreading. In other words, this lesson was taught as one of the proofreading strategies lessons along with other mini grammar lessons.    
Description of “Word Search Strategies Using COCA” lesson
The Word Search Strategies Using COCA” lesson were divided into two 50-minute class periods. The first part (day) of the lesson was created to diagnose and raise students’ awareness of common sources of word choice problems as well as to help them realize the importance of considering various aspects of vocabulary (part of speech, register, spelling, collocation, meaning in context, frequency, and synonymy) It was also aimed at encouraging students to share word search strategies that they commonly use when writing an academic assignment. Based on this raised awareness of common word choice problems and strategies to solve/prevent them, the second part (day) of the lesson was created to teach using corpus consultation as one of the reference tools for word choice problems. Since Google and dictionaries are the most widely used word search tools for most ESL students, the training was focused on showing how the search functions in COCA and its sister website Word and Phrase. Info can give more reliable and helpful search results for academic writing. The aim of the lesson, however, was not to encourage students to stop using Google or dictionaries, but to show them how COCA can complement using Google or dictionaries only for reference tools. Also, in order not to make them learn COCA as an end itself but as a “problem-solving” tool, I used word choice problem examples from the diagnostic quiz that students took in the first day of the lesson and encouraged students to think of as many solutions as possible before I showing them relevant search functions of COCA.    
After the lesson, in order to test how much they gained from learning various word search strategies, I asked the students to hand in “word choice homework”, where students had to identify three word choice problems in their diagnostic essays and correct those problems by using Google, or They were also asked to provide screenshot images for these three searches as evidence. If they wanted to, they could use the word choice problems that I had already pointed out (but not corrected) in my feedback to their essays. However, the fact that they had to devise their own search strategies for their own different kinds of word choice problems made this homework “their” work. Overall, the majority of the students could get successful search results and corrected their errors accurately. However, there were also many students who showed less successful work for the following reasons: failing to recognize the right type of word choice error which led them to devise a wrong search string, failing to devise the most effective search strategies even after establishing the right search string, failing to interpret the search results to correct the error in the right way, etc. Given that only one day of search strategy training session was provided and that not the entire 50 minute lesson was devoted to teaching corpus consultation skills, this moderate success in students’ performance is not surprising. In the literature review on corpus consultation in L2 writing that I conducted while teaching this lesson, all researchers recommend that a gradual, guided training with “apprenticeship” approach is the key for successful integration of corpus investigation in L2 writing classroom. Therefore, having a longer period of learner training session for corpus consultation strategies seems necessary in order to gain more successful effect for this lesson. Although I could not afford any more class time for holding further training sessions, I was pleased to find out that many students actually went on to use COCA for other word choice problems in other writing assignments.   
 As for the impact of teaching this lesson on my development as an instructor, there were several benefits that I gained. First of all, I realized how difficult it is to create a strategy training module that makes use of the class time to the maximum. One of the biggest challenges I faced when creating and implementing this lesson was “time” – fitting this lesson into an already tight course syllabus. Since the suggested ESL 115 course syllabus that I have to follow does not leave much room for spending much time on teaching “proofreading strategies”, I had to think of the most effective way to deliver this lesson, which led me to 1) analyze the most frequent types of word choice problems in their essays and focus on those problems only, 2) use the common search strategies that students are already familiar with as a starting point, and 3) assign individual corpus consultation work as homework and give individual feedback outside of class. Secondly, I learned that knowing effective word search strategies myself and teaching them are very different. Even though I could devise and carry out many advanced searches on my own for my own writing assignments, it was hard for me to come up with justifications for why certain search strategy works for a certain problem and explain the complicated search process in a very simple term for learners who are less fluent in using linguistic technology and English. Finally, the positive and rewarding feedback I received from the learners made me realize that despite numerous challenges expected, it is always worth “trying it out” when it comes to technology-enhanced teaching. Teachers, including myself, are often reluctant to trying new technology for fear that it may fail and we may lose confidence and authority if things go out of control (as all technologies often do). However, this is not a good excuse for not introducing the technology at all because we never know how much “just introducing it” can contribute to learning: from my experience, learners, who have much more imagination and creativity than teachers, can go “so much further” at exploring technology than we initially expect.