Treatment of Error in
Second Language Writing
Dana Ferris
California State University,
Workshop Outline
9:30-10:00: Introduction, workshop
outline, warm-up discussion
10:00-10:30: Error Feedback: Questions,
issues, and options
10:30-10:45: Break
10:45-11:15: Error feedback workshop
activity (individual, SG, LG)
11:15-11:45: Beyond error correction:
Other treatment options
11:45-12:00: Q & A; wrap-up
Issues, Questions, & Options
What is an error? Should we mark for “errors” or “style”?
What kinds of errors do ESL writers most typically make?
Should error feedback be selective or comprehensive?
Should error feedback focus on larger or smaller categories
or types?
Should feedback be direct or indirect?
Should errors be labeled or located?
Should error feedback be given in the text or in an end
How can teachers conserve energy and avoid burnout in
responding to L2 student writers’ errors?
What is an error? Should we mark
for “errors” or “style”?
A working definition: Errors are
morphological, syntactic, and lexical
forms which deviate from accepted
norms of standard written English
and which violate the expectations of
literate native speakers.
What kinds of errors do ESL writers
most typically make?
Variation depending upon L1, “eye”
vs. “ear” learner, etc.
Studies suggest that ESL writers
struggle in the following major
Major Error Patterns
Verbs: Errors in tense/aspect,
form, agreement
Nouns: Missing, unnecessary,
or incorrect endings or
determiners, agreement errors
Word Choice Errors: Using the
wrong semantic form
Major Error Patterns
Word Form Errors: Using the
wrong syntactic form of a word.
Sentence Boundary Errors:
Run-ons, fragments, and
comma splices
Sentence Structure: Errors in
word order, missing or
unnecessary words, unidiomatic
Major Error Patterns
Mechanical or Usage Errors:
Spelling or typing
Punctuation, especially missing or
unnecessary commas, semi-colons,
or apostrophes.
Should error feedback be selective
or comprehensive?
Selective: Does not overwhelm
teachers & students, helps students
focus on major error patterns
Comprehensive: Avoids fossilization,
gives students feedback and input
for acquisition
Feedback choice: Depends upon
stage of process and goals of
Larger or Smaller Error
Larger: Less margin for teacher error,
less confusing to students, discrete
types can be hard to distinguish
Smaller: Gives students more specific
information, helpful for mini-lessons
or independent study
My view: Larger is better!
Larger or Smaller Error
My father had create a good
environment for me even though
we live in a small house.
These are the ways my parents
influence my reading and writing.
Verb tense?
Verb form?
Larger or Smaller Error
This gave me a hard time since child…
Word choice?
Word form?
Sentence structure?
Larger or Smaller Error
I faced obstacle in the new country.
Missing noun ending?
Missing article?
Larger or Smaller Error
It’s time to go aboard to do my
Wrong word?
Feedback Options
Original Text Portion: I never needed to worry about
my parents because they knew everything and could
go anywhere they want.
1. Direct Correction: …could go anywhere they want.
2. Error Location: … could go anywhere they want.
3. Error Code: …could go anywhere they want.
4. Error Symbol: …could go anywhere they want _^ _
5. Verbal Cue: …could go anywhere they want.
6. Sample End Comment: As you revise, be sure to
check your verbs to see if they need to be in past or
present tense.
Direct or Indirect Feedback?
Research: Students prefer direct
feedback but benefit more from
indirect feedback
Possible roles for direct feedback:
lower L2 proficiency levels, idiomatic
usage (e.g., prepositions),
information at end of writing process
Combining Direct & Indirect
Student Text Portion with Direct & Indirect
Feedback Combined
It is possible for some immigrants to be truely happy in
They hope can find happiness in here, and most of them
find it. Even they are not truely happy in here, but they
still being so strong to continue on the life road.
Label or Locate Errors?
Arguments for Labeling: More
informative; can be tied to in-class
instruction or self-study materials
Arguments for Locating: More student
autonomy, less opportunity for
teacher error
In-Text Correction or End Note?
Students prefer point-of-error
correction; more informative
End note option requires more
student engagement
Teachers might consider weaning
students to less explicit feedback as
term progresses
Conserving Energy & Avoiding
Do not feel that you must give written
error feedback on every single paper
students write.
Assess what your students know, find out
what they want, and design your feedback
strategies accordingly.
Set realistic goals for error feedback.
Make most of your feedback indirect,
focused on error location rather than
identification, and verbal (not tied to codes
or symbols).
As time goes on, mark fewer errors and
require the students to take increasing
responsibility for their own progress.
Conflicts of Cultural and Languages
Minorities are groups of people that have in
common racial, ethnic, or religion, especially
when it constitutes a small quantity of a
population. Minorities often have fewer rights
and less power than majority groups. One
reason of the existence of minorities is
immigration. When culture and class difference
between groups of people, it can cause
inequalities or discrimination. Being a minority
group affect a person identity in a negative way,
specially when you are different in culture and
Workshop Text, continued
I grow up being a minority group in my native
country, Panama. “This affect a person’s identity
radically.” I can say that for my experience. Just
for being the minority group, most of the time
you are the target of their criticism. If you get
something well done they get jealous, in contrast
they laugh. When you are the minority group
you feel like in another world even though you
are in the same country. You want to be
accepted by them. You don’t want to be a lonely
wolf, you want to be in the pack of wolves.
Beyond Error Correction: Other
Treatment Options (T-Error, Ch. 5)
Assessment of Student Needs
Consciousness-Raising and Strategy
Grammar Instruction
Editing Workshops
Tracking Progress
Moving Towards Autonomy
Questions and (Maybe) Answers!

Treatment of Error in Second Language Writing