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Oct 2018 - Year 20 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Improving Grammatical Accuracy in the Writing of Pre-intermediate Students

Jeff Millar worked as an English language-teaching assistant in France before moving to Australia from the USA. He now teaches on the Academic English Program at UTS Insearch. Email:



There were three major observations that inspired me to conduct this research.  First, at lower levels, our students could complete simple exercises and recite basic grammar rules but often failed to carry the target language over to their writing leading to a pattern of repeated mistakes.  Secondly, although many such students

could pass assessments on the strength of their other skills, they had difficulties with the writing assessments at high levels due to a lack of grammatical fundamentals.  Finally students across all levels displayed a great deal of anxiety in the classroom.  This often motivated them to rely on their mobile phones for translation.


The study

With this in mind, I first set out to create a bank of grammar resources for students in late 2015. Over the course of the following year, I gradually wrote, rewrote and polished these resources to create a de facto grammar book, which worked by repackaging the 27 invaluable grammar points from the course into a more succinct, visual and intuitive medium.  My aim was to help students retain the target language for use at higher levels, to reduce their classroom anxiety, and to promote learner autonomy and confidence.

My study was comprised of 33 participants and was conducted over two ten-week cycles of a pre-intermediate course. The questions it set out to answer were as follows:

  1. What activities can I use to help students apply the target language from class to their writing?
  2. Can these activities help to limit linguistic and/or social anxiety?

I began by distributing the grammar book at the beginning of term along with the other course materials.  However because the crux of this project revolved around students’ proficiency in writing, it also involved adapting portfolio exercises to encourage students to write more methodically.  Background research revealed that learners prefer to formulate ideas in L1 before directly translating to L2. Therefore, students were expected to write their portfolios with a template requiring them to parse each clause according to its subject, verb, object or complement, and cohesive elements such as time order words or conjunctions.  

Data collection involved tracking student errors across three writing tasks in weeks 1 and 2. Based on a series of case studies detailing recurring grammatical errors with Chinese, Arabic, Thai and Japanese students, errors were divided into four groups: vocabulary, verb, number and syntax.  The students were then presented with their results as part of a detailed feedback session leading up to the submission of this writing assignment.  A second round of data collection focused on learner confidence.  This was conducted through a lesson at the end of term in which students evaluated their progress and responded to a simple survey about their general classroom anxiety and confidence in writing.



Overall, the results were positive. Between the completion of the initial diagnostic writing and a second portfolio writing task, during which students learned how to use the grammar book and writing template, writing errors were reduced by 80%. When considering the error type, the greatest improvement was in syntax which was reduced by more the 350%. Improvements with vocabulary and number were more moderate, at 83% and 33% respectively. In terms of learner confidence students reported modest improvements in the anxiety level, as well as their ability to retain grammar from class, formulate ideas in L2, and avoid repeating errors.


Please check the English Language course at Pilgrims website

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  • Improving Grammatical Accuracy in the Writing of Pre-intermediate Students
    Jeff Millar, Australia