Meaningful Mistakes

In the past, I’ve offered suggestions for fixing common grammar mistakes. Like many other teachers, I love to emphasize that mistakes should not be feared or regretted because they opportunities to learn. All of us are better able to avoid making mistakes after we learn to spot our own as well as others’. The next step in that learning process is being able to a correct mistake and not just wondering what’s wrong with a particular sentence, phrase, or word. To facilitate this process, you might use one of these ongoing activities.

  • Punctuation and Spelling Police. Challenge students to pay attention to public signs, from daily restaurant menus to the seasonal announcement of a farmer’s market. If they spot a mistake, have them note it as well as the location. They should bring the finding to school and share it. Decide as a class if there is a mistake and, if so, how to fix it. If students have camera phones, the visual evidence would make the exercise more meaningful. You can inspire them with The Apostrophe Song video by, in which a slideshow of public signs presents common mistakes with the apostrophe. If you think further incentive is needed, you can give a small reward to each student who identifies a broken rule (school pencil? cool sticker?) or challenge the class to reach 20 “violations” by the end of the course for a class prize.


  • Partner Journals.  Have students keep a journal in English. Tell them they can write about whatever they want (suggestions can be provided), but they must write 1-3 sentences each day. Set aside time at least once a week for students to sit down in pairs and read each other’s journal. Students can comment orally on their partner’s entries, but doubts about vocabulary, grammar, or spelling should be indicated by underlining words. The author must consider his/ her partner’s doubts and decide if changes need to be made. Dictionaries and other reference books can be consulted and should be used before asking for help from the teacher.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tarik Araboui says:

    Hello,dear Jennifer, I wonder if You could help me with a conversation or an exchange to introuduce expressions of opinions to my students. I have long ago contacted you via email and u responded to me and you were so cooperative. Thanks for everything!

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      I’d be happy to offer some suggestions. It would help if you tell me the age and level of your students.

      In the meantime here are some links that might provide some materials:
      The Jim and Jen Show (See our list of episodes. Episode 2 on disagreeing might contextualize key expressions you had in mind. View the complete lesson to consider all the components, not just the video.)
      ELLLO. Search for speech styles you want to expose your students to and a topic that’s appropriate for them. Many of the conversations include expression of personal opinion. Do a search for the topic and level you need.

      Also, consider activities that allow for the expression of personal opinion. Here are just two examples:
      1. Use of Top 10 Lists

      2. Use of Online Photos

  2. Tarik arbaoui says:

    They are Baccalaureate students, and I can’t find something more palatable to them. Thanks for your help again.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      In Episode 2 of “The Jim & Jen Show” we include expressions for stating an opinion and recognizing another’s point of view. Click here to see expressions highlighted.

      Here’s another alternative on A conversation between friends about a war film.

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