The Writing Center at College of San Mateo - Faculty Resources: Working with ESL Students
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The Writing Center

Faculty Resources: Working with ESL Students

One approach:
  1. Interview the student:

    • What's the topic? (Assignment sheet)
    • When is it due? (i.e. what stage of writing is the student in: Brainstorming? Organizing? Developing? Proofreading?)
    • If in the proofreading stage: Has the student proofread yet? How? For what errors?
    • Does the student have a particular error/structure she wants help with? (A particular error instructors have found in past essays, or a sentence-level requirement of the essay)

  2. Analyze the student's pattern of errors for one or two paragraphs:


    In the margins (of one or two paragraphs), write the type of error (vt, vf, wf,..... )

  3. Decide what to work on: not line-by-line, but by type of error.

  4. Teach something about that error type, using 1 - 2 errors in the paper as a starting point.

  5. Have student apply what you taught her to another error of that type in the paper. Let the student find the error on her own.

  6. Write down what the student has learned (on yellow/pink reporting form, folder, or preposition log)

  7. Next time, check to see that she proofread for those errors.

What Can You Teach ESL Students in 15 minutes?

Rule Driven:

Type of ErrorWhat can be TaughtProofreading Strategy / Exercises
Vt (Verb tense)
  • When to use Vt
  • Time Expressions which "force" a specific Vt (Yesterday, since)
  • Wiggly line under time expressions
  • Underline main verbs
Vf (Verb form) How to make a specific verb form:
  • irregular past tense
  • Pres. Progressive (am reading)
  • Pres. Perfect (have gone)
  • Passive
  • Verb patterns (make s/o do something)
  • Gerunds/infinitive (I enjoy reading)
  • Verb recognition (I am agree with you)
  • Underline main verbs and check form
  • Do exercises in Azar or other book
  • Look for problem verbs
Sva (Subject-verb agreement)   Circle subjects, underline verbs, check agreement
Art (Articles) See Below Box around nouns, check articles. Exercises in Binders

Sentence Boundary Errors:

Type of ErrorWhat can be TaughtProofreading Strategy / Exercises
Frag and RTS (Fragments and Run-Together-Sentences)   Look for subordinators, circle subjects and underline verbs
Wf (Word Form) Example: He is a success man. Look for problem words in essay and check
Ss (Sentence Structure) Complicated! Case-by-case:
  • Comparisons
  • Adjective Clauses
  • Noun Clauses
  • Parallelism
  • Predictation
  • Word Order

Not Rule Driven:

Type of ErrorWhat can be TaughtProofreading Strategy / Exercises
Non-idiomatic / Wc (Word Choice)   Case-by-case:
  • Write in Preposition / Idiomatic Phrases Log
  • Check paper for repeated use of this expression
Prep (Preposition)  
  • Use Preposition Log to write down errors and corrections
  • Proofread specifically for these errors
  • Do preposition exercises in gray binders

Amy Sobel outline of article usage