Addressing Errors in Writing

1. How much classes are you taking this semester?

When I see this problem, I draw my student’s attention to the noun and ask him or her if it is a countable or an uncountable noun. If the student can identify that it is a countable noun and tell me how they came to that conclusion (hopefully by saying because there is more than one class so it must be countable), then I turn his or her attention to much and give prompts such as “I may ask how much for things like rice or water, but what about classes?” Ideally, the student would tell me that the question should read “How many classes are you taking this semester?”

If I am first introducing the concept of countable or uncountable. I usually start by drawing two large circles on the board and ask students to give examples of nouns. I write these in the two unlabeled circles. Once we have a large list, I label the circles “countable” and “uncountable” and inform students that we won’t add -s, or -es to any of the words in the uncountable circle. Since teaching the concept of something being uncountable is quite difficult, I bring a large bowl of uncooked rice and ask students to count the rice. I let volunteers come up and stop them once they’ve reached thirty because it’s obvious they won’t be done anytime soon. I then provide a poster of example sentences to go over with the class with some frequent phrases.

For example:
How much sugar do you have?               I have a little sugar.
How many toys do you have?                  I have a few toys.
How much tea did you drink?                 I drank a lot of tea.
How many women are in the room?     There are three women in the room.

There are a few activities I frequently use to review countable and uncountable nouns. The first is to divide the class into mixed-ability teams. These teams take a sheet of paper divided in half and try to write as many countable nouns on one side and as many uncountable nouns on the other. Bonuses are given out to teams for every example they write that no other team included in their lists. Another activity uses a stack of noun cards and four mini whiteboards. As I cycle through each of the words teams need to write either How much or How many on their boards. The first team to have the correct phrase written on both boards wins.

Until my students reach a solid understanding of countable and uncountable nouns I introduce that some words such as cola, cake, and pizza can actually be in either category (this usually begins in the third grade for students in our program).

2. If I am well prepared for the test, I am confidence.

In this example, I would point out to my student that confidence is a noun. You could say I have confidence. Confident is an adjective so can follow the be verb: I am confident. Someone can be an adjective and have a noun.

Some examples to help illustrate this difference for students:

Mr. Lee is a great teacher. He is patient.

Shopping online can be very convenient!

This young girl’s intelligence is off the charts! She’s only 12 and has begun taking advanced physics courses at the nearby university!

I could use some assistance carrying this heavy box.

Driving during a tornado warning is dangerous.

The following exercise asks students to use the nouns and adjectives from the word box to complete the sentences:

significance    significant    absent     absence     injured     injury

The player received an _________ during the game. She is ___________.

This discovery is ___________. It has great ___________ to scientists.

Peter was ___________ yesterday. His ___________ made it difficult for his group to finish their work on time.

3. She was very proud her son.

In this error I would point out to my student that we would use proud of when referring to someone or something. So the sentence would appear as follows: She was very proud of her son. Additionally, this may present itself as a teachable moment for the class to give instruction on three common uses of proud:

proud as a simple adjective:

My daughter made the Dean’s List this year. I am a proud parent.

proud of before a noun or a noun phrase:

The teacher was proud of us for raising more money for charity than any other class.

proud to before verbs:

I am proud to announce the winner of the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

One way to review these different uses with the class is to give each member of the class three index cards and write proud on one card, followed by proud of and proud to on the two others. Cards are hole punched and students use loose leaf rings to hold them together (it helps assign colors for either the cards or the words to help check understanding during the activity later). I then have a long list of incomplete sentences with these words missing as a pdf file on the interactive whiteboard. As I scroll down and reveal each new incomplete sentence students raise the correct card.

Here are some samples of incomplete sentences that students would be able to complete using either proud / proud of / or proud to:

I’m very ___________ my children. Both received full academic scholarships.

No need to thank me! I’m ___________ help anyone get back on their feet.

The ___________ cat sat next to the chipmunk it killed after a long chase.

I am ___________ volunteer my time helping children in need.

4. Although he had few close friends, he was very lonely.

With this error I would explain to my student for few versus a few. With few, we refer to a very small number. While a few refers to some, but less than many. If someone had few close friends, we would expect him or her to be lonely. By starting our sentence with although, we are showing contrast between the number of close friends and his or her loneliness. Therefore, in our writing we need to illustrate that the person has a few close friends rather than few close friends.

Here are a few examples to help illustrate this difference to students:

Few homes were damaged by the tornado. (A very small number of homes were damaged during the tornado).

A few homes were damaged by the tornado. (Some, but fewer than many homes were damaged by the tornado).

We’ve had few problems with our house since moving in more than ten years ago. (Likely talking about a small number of minor problems).

I think my new car’s a lemon. In the first five thousand miles my car’s already had a few problems. (This car owner has had more problems than one would reasonably anticipate with a new car).

The following are exercises to help students practice with few and a few:

The starting salary is too low. That’s why ______ people are interested in the job!

______ customers came to the restaurant’s grand opening. They should have done a better job advertising the event.

______ extra students are interested in contributing to the school newspaper next semester. Perhaps we can add a couple more pages every week to accommodate their work.

Due to inclement weather, ______ attractions at the zoo will be closed to visitors.

5. There is the car in front of the house.

For this error, I would point out to the student that we would need to use a instead of the. I would explain the issue being because the writer hasn’t talked about the noun car before, so we should use a because it is non-specific. To further illustrate the point, I would ask the student to change the article to a, and then come up with a follow-up sentence about the car using the as the article. For example, There is a car in front of the house. The car belongs to my neighbor.

If teaching the appropriate use of a/an/the for the first time I tell students that we’ll use a if the noun is not specific and it’s the first time we’ve talked about it and an if that noun begins with a vowel. We use the if the noun is one that is specific or one that we’ve already talked about before (or we both already know about).

Examples:

The principal at our school is friendly. (We both already know our principal so we have shared knowledge.)

I have a new pet. (The listener doesn’t know I have a pet.)

I think I left my wallet at the post office. (We both already know about our friendly, neighborhood post office.)

The assignment last night was too difficult. (Two classmates talking to one another would both have shared knowledge about the assignment.)

Here are some example sentences for students to complete with a, an, or the:

My father almost hit ____ deer while driving home from work last night. ____ deer ran off into the woods but my father drove into a ditch.

Does anyone have ______ eraser I could borrow?

Who is ______ man who is talking to your father outside?

There’s ______ lake behind my uncle’s house. ______ lake freezes every winter.