Liven Up Class with a Grammar Auction!

One of the classes I am currently teaching has been an absolute joy to teach. Each and every student has a enthusiastic attitude toward learning, and they all help one another. As a teacher, I can’t even begin to tell you how motivating it is to walk into a class that has such a determination to learn. However, when grammar enters into the classroom, my same students become frustrated almost immediately despite wanting to learn more. One reason for this is the fact that many of them haven’t been in a “traditional” grammar classroom since they were in primary school. For others, they have never taken grammar in a formalized course. It doesn’t help that grammar lessons are often full of metalanguage. 

To make grammar a bit more lively I decided to have a grammar auction this week to review some grammar points we have been focusing on in class. Grammar auctions (also known as sentence auctions) are fairly common in the ESL teaching world, but I am not certain about their popularity in K-12. 

For those of you who would like to give them a try in your own class, I made a video to give you a quick overview to help you get started. 

(Side note: I said in the video, I only had $300, but that is a lie. I have enough money for 6 groups to have $300 each. Whoops!)

Here is a link to the Google Doc template I created. Feel free to make a copy and adapt however you’d like. Let me know if you have your own grammar auction.

Written Error Correction isn’t Clear-cut

Written Error Correction & Error LogsIn all honesty, when I first started teaching, I really struggled with written error correction. If I am even more honest…I still don’t love how I do it. Every semester, I find myself making notes on how I want to change something for the next group of students. Sometimes I even question how effective corrective error feedback is in improving student writing. As it turns out, research on this topic isn’t definitive either. At the end of this post, you will find a VoiceThread I created to walk you through the error correction codes and error logs I use in my own class. 

Whenever I have a question, I always go to Kathy, my dear friend/mentor/colleague/fellow dog-lover. I also refer to her as ESL Yoda, but that is for another time. Kathy shared a few articles with me on the subject, and one article by Charlene Polio at Michigan State University really laid it all out. As it turns out, written error correction and its effectiveness is a hotly debated topic, and in this article, Polio gives a great overview of the research history and draws some conclusions; her main goal is really to start a conversation on how to do research on error correction. I am going to summarize the juicy bits of her article below:

  • John Truscott’s 1996 article sparked a lot of research on the topic |  “…grammar correction has no place in writing courses and should be abandoned” (p. 328). Part of his argument was that written error corrections cause students to hyperfocus on accuracy at the expense of higher-level content and/or grammatical structures; time would be better spent on other activities. This article led to a wave of empirical research on the topic, forcing the field as a whole to examine an instructional practice that seemed as a norm in the classroom. 
  • There is a practical reason why we should study error correction | We should examine the practice of written error correction because, let’s face it, it takes up a lot of our grading time (i.e. we need to make sure that what we are doing is effective for students and that it is an effective use of our time).
  • After examining many differences in theories and approaches, Polio draws a few conclusions on written corrective feedback:
      1. Error correction is not entirely ineffective or detrimental, and having explicit knowledge is helpful when writing.
      2. For feedback to be useful, it has to be tailored a learner at their level (not at their individual errors).
        • Time is a factor here. It would be best if teachers can have short writing conferences or face-to-face tutoring to supplement the written feedback. This type of interaction is usually scaffolded for a student’s level.
      3. Students have to pay attention to the feedback they receive (written error correction is one way for us to do this). Error logs are one way to do this. Polio also mentions getting students to take time to actually sit down and review the errors before rewriting.
      4. Feedback needs to be timely. <—-The bane of my existence = timely grading. This is ALWAYS something I try to improve. Every. Single. Semester.


Writing ActivitiesCheck out what I use in my classes by going through the VoiceThread linked below. The embedded document is what I use to introduce error correction, but it is really a reference doc and exercises wrapped into one. Leave a comment on the VoiceThread if you have any questions, comments, or feedback! 

Click this link!—>

Targeted Writing Activities for the ESL Grammar Class (Print & Go)

1521324_10154670442465510_2942834477779597238_n(This is an older post that I have transitioned over from an out-of-date Blogger account. I am in the process of switch the Word documents over into Google Docs!)

My colleague Kathy Moulton and I presented at the 2014 VATESOL Annual Conference at Longwood University in Farmville, VA on ways to implement targeted writing activities into an ESL grammar course or lesson. That being said, many of these types of activities would be equally as useful in a K-12 classroom.

The problem: Students can complete grammar worksheets and tasks in grammar textbooks, but they are unable to use structures effectively when writing at length. 

When I first started teaching, this always used to frustrate me. I would feel so confident after a lesson because the students seem to really “get it.” And then it came—a writing task. Within minutes of grading, I would be complaining to a colleague. “They must have forgotten everything!” or “They must have been rushing through their work.” In reality, I wasn’t creating tasks and assignments for my students that allowed them to use the structures I taught in a longer piece of writing.

What research says: 

Focused writing activities with timely feedback help students write more accurately (Polio, 2013).

Conference Materials and Bank of Activities

Below you will find our conference presentation and the supplemental grammar activities Kathy and I have created and/or adapted that you can use in your classroom tomorrow! We would love to hear from you if you do use any of these materials. Leave a comment and let us know how an activity worked in your classroom, or even how you adapted an activity.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below!

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”presentation/d/e/2PACX-1vTeUUrryWLxndSCd2heO0trrAOvcapSKzwyTiW6dL8xVcyqtHYuGpu4D8eQcMGAI0vBAZ-bsVWtK2e2/embed” query=”start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000″ width=”480″ height=”299″ /]

Link to Google Drive folder that contains supplemental activities. Please “Make a Copy” of any activity you would like to use. Once you have done this, the copied document will be in your personal Drive account. You may also download any given document into a different file format (note that the formatting may be skewed due to font).


Polio, C. (February, 2013). The relevance of second language acquisition theory to the written error correction controversy. Paper presented at the TESOL/Applied Linguistics Graduate Students Conference, Greenville, NC.

Online Vocabulary Resources

ONLINE VOCABULARY RESOURCESOver the past few years, I have been curating a list of vocabulary resources for students to utilize outside of the classroom. That being said, all of these websites and tools are equally as useful for instructors to use in the classroom and to create materials! Have you ever used any of these sites before, or do you have any to add to the list? I’d love to hear what you all are using and continue growing this list. Let me know what you use in the comments!

Traditional(ish) Dictionaries:

  1. | One of go to dictionary for high-intermediate students and up. I like this dictionary because it gives a readable explanation for a word instead of a complicated definition.
  2. Wordsmyth | A leveled dictionary with an integrated thesaurus. I really like the ability students have to choose a level (beginner to advanced) for each word. Another great component is the “Word Explorer.” Look up grain to see the full potential of this component: Click Here for Example. You also have the ability to create word lists and make your own quizzes and/or puzzles, though I haven’t taken advantage of this resource yet.
  3. Longman Online Dictionary | This is my favorite dictionary to use in the classroom. The sense relations are ordered in a way that reflects usage. What this means is that definition one is the meaning that is most often meant by the word. You’d think all dictionaries would do this, but that would make it too easy. Many word entries also contain collocations as well.
  4. Merriam Webster’s Learners Dictionary
  5. Phrasal Verb Dictionary (EnglishPage) | In addition to explaining phrasal verbs, this site offers a pretty comprehensive list of phrasal verbs that you may look up by letter. I found it useful in a recent class when students all knew different definitions of the same phrasal verb due to the fact that lists the different meanings each phrasal verb can have. It also codes for whether or not he phrasal verb may be separated or not and if an object can intrude. Click the photo below to expand the example.
  6. Online Etymology Dictionary | I often like to be able to explain the origin of words to more advanced students. It also helps when considering the spelling of words as well! English spelling shouldn’t be learned by memorization because luckily it isn’t as arbitrary as it may seem when we take into account sound correspondences and origin. Here is an article on this subject. Also a great way to see a visual representation of a word’s etymology is to type “Etymology of ______” into Google. It automatically will come up with a tree diagram. An example for broccoli is below.

Visual Dictionaries:

  1. Visuwords | This is an online graphical dictionary that uses mind maps with labeled links and nodes. I think this one can be a little confusing due to the fact that for some words it has an overwhelming amount of information, but it may be because I haven’t fiddled with it enough.
  2. Vidtionary | This is an awesome video dictionary. It is an ongoing project, so they are continually adding new words! Note that many abstract words are by nature hard to visualize, so as you can imagine, most academic lexical items are not a part of this dictionary. Many teachers these days are incorporating the idea of video dictionaries in their own classrooms by having students create short entries (i.e. videos) for vocab words. The New York Times Learning Network did a contest recently asking students to make short 15 second vocabulary videos. Other websites you could use to do this are FlipGridInstagram, or even YouTube. Larry Ferlazzo writes about this on his blog, and shows examples of his own students’ videos.
  3. VocabAhead | The study room section of this website contains audiovisual representations of words. I haven’t used this one before, but many others seem to like the additional components available (e.g., complete crosswords, take quizzes, create word lists, share words). I believe it was intended for SAT prep, but the words are applicable to those learning English for academic purposes.

Web Tools

  1. FLAX Learning Collocations site | 🤗 This tool is AWESOME! Before this corpus, I have always been annoyed that there wasn’t a corpus that was really easy for my students to use. FLAX is really the most user-friendly corpus I have ever used, and I would dare say has the best user interface. This site is the only one I actively encourage students to use (and it doesn’t require a lot of hand holding). This site gives you the opportunity to search within three different corpora (academic, contemporary, standard British). Results are organized by usage and if you click on them it gives variations. Additional features are word family lists and synonyms. See image below.Screenshot 2018-08-12 at 9.05.27 PM
  2. AWL Highlighter & Gapfill | Insert a text into the site and it color codes words by sublist. See example below. Screenshot 2017-06-23 at 7.25.25 PM.png
  3. Academic Word Finder | This tool is found on the “Achieve the Core” website. This tool allows you to submit a text to highlight academic (Tier 2) vocabulary. Before you submit, you must select the grade level in which the text is going to be used. Since I teach higher ed ESL, I tend to select 9th-10th grade for my advanced learners. If you do not teach ESL, this tool is a great way to emphasize academic vocab for your ELLs. Once the text you submit is analyzed, you are given results which separate the identified academic words into “Below Grade Level”, “On Grade Level”, and “Above Grade Level”. In addition, you are given a list that includes the word, grade range, part of speech, meaning, and an example sentence. The information is taken from the Wordsmyth dictionary I mentioned before.
  4. Vocab Grabber | This is a tool on the Visual Thesaurus. After you insert your text, it “grabs” the text and categorizes it using its own word lists, which can be filtered by both frequency and subject area. If you click on a word, it provides a definition, contexts of use, and a word map. Screenshot 2017-06-23 at 7.29.45 PM.png
  5. Lingro | Lingro is a free tool that turns any website or text file into an interactive dictionary that allows users to click on a word to see its definition and hear its pronunciation. There are many other features that this site offers (such as saving all of the words you click into a list and then allowing you to play word games), but I haven’t fiddled with them too much. Have you used this website before? I’d love to hear how!
  6. Tagxedo | This is the best word cloud generator I’ve found, giving you the most options for personalization. I use these most often as a previewing activity to get students to brainstorm or predict content.Screenshot 2017-06-23 at 7.36.54 PM.png
  7. WordSift | Wordsift is a free tool that allows you to sift through texts in order to quickly identify important words (words on the AWL, subject-specific, general service list, etc.) in an interactive word cloud, or “tag cloud” as they call it. Other tools are also integrated into the site, such as the Visual Thesaurus, Google searches of online images and video, and full sentences from the text if you interact with the cloud. Below are screenshots of a sample “tag cloud” as well as the additional tools I mention above (click to enlarge photos!):

Word Lists

  1. TOEFL Essential Campus Vocabulary | Many of the listening comprehension dialogues on the TOEFL include not only academic vocabulary but also campus vocabulary, such as advisor, ace the test, curve, dean’s list. This list includes relevant vocabulary as well as additional information such as notes and example sentences. It appears to have been put together by the Minerva Language Center in Bulgaria. I don’t know if they have any additional resources on their website, but if there are more like this, I’d like to know!
  2. Academic Word List | The Academic Word List was created by Averil Coxhead (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand). The list is comprised of 570 words—3,000 if counting all forms (deivations and inflections) of each word—chosen based on their frequency in academic texts. The list is divided into sublists based on frequency of use.
    • I’m also including a link to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary’s AWL which allows you to click on the word for an immediate definition. Note that this dictionary includes both British and American spellings (e.g. analyse and analyze).
  3. Technical/Area Specific Vocabulary | List of technical vocabulary words that are separated by category from Michigan State. All lists are accompanied by audio files that allow student’s to hear pronunciation.Categories include: mathematics, statistics, chemistry, periodic table, biology, physics, engineering, computer science, Greek letters, economics, civil engineering, genetics, business.
  4. Prefix/Suffix List | This is a list I have been curating over the past few years. Feel free to use and manipulate it.

Online Games

  1. Knoword | Knoword is a really fun game to expand vocabulary. It used a minimalist design, which is nice because it doesn’t feel like it was designed for young learners (like so many word games are in our field). There are three difficulty levels, though I find hard to be quite difficult. I would gauge the “easy” questions as intermediate/upper-intermediate. You can play without creating an account. But if you do, you have the ability to save word preferences lists and see your statistics and ranking. I like sharing this game with my students because it requires a range of strategies. I even enjoy playing this game myself! Here is a description from their website:Knoword is a quick thinking game that helps boost vocabulary, spelling, speed of thought, as well as increasing analytical, observational and typing skills.”
  2. Greek and Latin Roots (Scholastic) | Simple interactive game to practice roots with two levels (easy and hard).

Vocabulary Journals/Notebooks

Here are few different variations of vocabulary entries I have found to be useful:

  1. I found this example from Nesrin Erin’s Matters in ELT, ESL, EFL. This link will take you to the entry where she included this sample vocabulary entry along with lesson ideas. What I find useful about this entry is its comprehensiveness, yet simplicity. Another idea is to make a Google form that includes the categories listed on this example (connotation, forms, sentences, etc.) and have students collaboratively create a class vocabulary journal over the course of a few days. Then, you may choose to review the journal in class for accuracy or clarification.