Audience encourages accurate spelling

Learning to spell involves practice and the ultimate spelling practice is writing. A free writing task could just aim to get learners writing something (anything!) or it could encourage the use of words, spelling patterns or aspects of spelling that have recently been taught. Free writing, of course, practises much more than just spelling.

Ask the audience
But when learners write, who reads the writing? Very often the answer is just 'the teacher'. Is this audience of one really motivating enough? Why do students write? Often just because the teacher tells them to and so the teacher can judge them on their writing. One of the reasons I chose to to do the MA that I did was because the assignments were so practical,
  • Write an article for a journal about..., 
  • Create a website with these guidelines. 
  • Review a piece of teaching material for...
This meant that I could get most of my assignments published - they weren't only for the tutors' eyes - and build up my own professional profile. I found it much more motivating and I wanted them to impress more than one person. And why should it be any different for language learners? Having an audience, knowing somebody is going to read your words for its meaning (rather than just for its mistakes!) gives us much more ownership over our work and more pride in it. And if the audience respond (through comments etc), then that's terrific.

I've found in my teaching that learners also make more effort if their work is going to be attractively presented. The quality the finished product becomes more important and stimulates more interest in the accuracy of the writing. One way to do this is to use webtools that package students' texts attractively. This could just be in a blog or wiki but I find one of the best tools for short pieces of writing is Glogster ( Glogster allows you to make digital posters (Glogs) which can include text, photos, videos and links, all on a range of backgrounds that you can choose. They can be as simple or jazzy as the user likes.

Greetings From the World
Glogster has been used to great effect in a fantastic award-winning project called Greetings from the World, started by Arjana Blazic in Zagreb. In this project, groups of students in countries from all over the world - Singapore, Algeria, Spain, USA, Brazil, Sweden, Australia, India and more - make Glogs about their cities and countries. This has made a fascinating resource and a huge motivator for learners to write.

Collage of Glogs from

To correct or not to correct?
One question that always vexes me when learners write online is how much I should correct them. One of the reasons I encourage them to write for a public audience is to encourage pride in their work. So I want them to want their work to be the best it can. We talk about this in class and I try to raise their expectations of their own work.

Unfortunately this can sometimes lead to plagiarism. Lazy students, or those who see the product as everything, sometimes think it's OK to just copy and paste something written in perfect English (from a guidebook for example). This needs stamping out - it is a complete waste of time and illegal. The teacher can use a plagiarism checker such as Dustball (which even works if the student has been 'clever' enough to change one or two words). Alternatively just type a suspiciously good sentence from the writing (between quotation marks "____") into Google . I let learners know beforehand that I will be checking for plagiarism and that any graded work that has been copied will be awarded a nice fat zero. I also teach them how not to plagiarise: If you read something you want to take ideas from, note key words, put away the text and then write it in your own words. Alternatively, quote from the material by using quotation marks and attribute the quotation carefully. If they quote directly, I like them to comment on the quote so they are also using their own words.

So how can teachers get learners to produce writing that is as accurate as they can manage without the learner losing the emotional and intellectual ownership of their work? Drafting, editing and redrafting are needed. The teacher can guide self-correction first (that's another blog post!), but I'm still undecided how much the teacher should actually correct the writing before it's posted on a public space for the world to see.

What do you think? Please leave comments.


  1. I do exactly as you do with regard to plagiarism, but a few still do it. Happy to say, though, that most kids want to learn how to avoid plagiarism.

  2. I'm a big believer in work being correct at the level of publication. So, before going public I would correct the child's writing. Not have them correct it as that would be too laborious. I believe it's the role of the teacher like it is the role of the proofreader in real life (not that it happens on blogs of course).

  3. I agree with Fran. Many English learners don't grow up learning about plagiarism. We created a resource to help language learners avoid plagiarism (in easy English). I also ask my online writing students to take the "plagiarism pledge" (on my blog).

  4. Thanks both for dropping by and leaving comments.

    'Learner Centred Teaching' - sorry to call you that! - I can see you teach very young children so point taken about it being laborious to corrrect it all themselves but couldn't they do some correction so they learn? What do they do with the writing when you have corrected it? Is the correction for their sake (learning) or teh audiencce's? Do the children still feel they 'own' their work if you have corrected it? These are genuine questions (I've never taught young children), not any kind of criticism, by the way!

  5. Hi Johanna,

    I've been struggling with this issue as well - i.e. to correct or not to correct and then, how much do I correct! In my experience, I've found that over time, as their blogs develop, students take more pride in their published work and make more effort in their writing. I usually correct most of their written work before they publish, and as their writing efforts increase, I correct less. Overall I have found that when students blog they really make a serious effort with their writing. It's a great way to increase their awareness of audience and how clear they need to be when communicating to a wider public (as opposed only to the teacher).

  6. With young children, yes, I encourage them to correct a few of their errors themselves, ideally by using a personalized word list which the teacher (that's me) writes a few words for them to correct for themselves. Yes, they feel they own it, the content of what is written is still theirs. I often publish their writing for them, that is, type it on the computer, so they have a perfect form to read with correct spelling. I appreciate your interest in young children. They are fascinating to work with.

  7. I have been teaching for last 5 years, i encourage students to correct errors themselves, and they do ... i feel proud for themm...

  8. it is better to correct mistakes than just to leave them without any corrections, as it is not really nice to read the text with spellings mistakes.