Reformulating Second Language Writing

The English proficiency level of the students at my current school varies greatly. This presents a challenge when dealing with corrective feedback on writing assignments because we don’t know exactly what each of our students knows; we know what they were taught in 7th grade (I teach 8th grade), but with new students coming in all the time, it only helps so much. Corrective feedback on structural and/or grammatical topics the student has never learned gets them nothing except more confused, as it does with oral correction. We needed a way to help the student notice their errors, provide corrective feedback, and NOT overwhelm them with a page or red ink.

The answer to our question was first presented in 1978 by Levenston. I wasn’t around then, but it was a great year – Darkness on the Edge of Town and Van Halen were released, so ‘reformulation’ is in good company. Reformulation is when a native speaker rewrites a student’s piece of writing. The native speaker writes to make the piece sound more natural, making organizational and grammatical corrections while preserving the content of the original text. For more information on the history of reformulation and present status of reformulation research, read “Reformulation, Noticing, and the Development of L2 Academic Writing” by Jackie Dannatt.

We chose to use this technique with our struggling writers because it is naturally scaffolded and student-centered (Reid, 1994, Cited by Tardy, 2006). As you can see in the example below, we ask the student to do several things. First, they have to identify the change and write the original text and reformulated text in the table. Next, they have to describe the change. What I like about this is that it allows all students to comment on the change. The student could say something like ‘moved words’ or ‘fixed fragment’, depending on how much they understand. Finally, they have to check yes or no to let us know if they understand the change. This will help us plan follow-up support for the student, in groups or individually.

wp_essay reformulateAfter getting the completed tables back from students and doing this on future writing assignments, we’ll be able to plan more appropriate practice as students pre-write and draft.

I’ll be updating this post in the next few weeks with some samples of the completed tables so please check back.


Levenston, E.A. (1978). Error analysis of free composition: The theory and the practice. Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 1–11.

Tardy, C. (2006). Appropriation, ownership, and agency: Negotiating teacher feedback in academic settings. In K. Hyland & F. Hyland (Eds.), Feedback in second language writing: Contexts and issues. New York: Cambridge University Press.

5 thoughts on “Reformulating Second Language Writing

  1. You know I was just talking to a fellow teacher about doing this more and I told her, my friend Bill gave me this idea. A day later and you posted here. That’s a clear sign I have to start doing it in my class!

    1. Funny how that works… I look forward to seeing student progress as we continue to do this.

      How is life on the island, fatherhood?

  2. Me too. I’ve been using comments on Google Drive for most of my commenting but want to start using this kind of worksheet as well. Life on the island here has been good. Our little Hana is two months old now so we’ve been busy with her and work related stuff. Have you tried Zondle or Kahoot for reviews? Fun stuff!

  3. I think Bill Rago has touched one of the 4 language skills [ writing ] and how can teachers mark them though a technique taking the student him/ herself as a center for improving writing skill . I have the the form made for that, but I suggest to provid the students with abbreviations and symbols that stands for the errors may be made by students such as 9 sp /spelling .adv/adverb , gr/grammar ,cap/ capitalization , …ect ) so as to make him/her aware of the type of the mistake he did . Then these symbols can be marked on the original text ( What i wrote ) . The students rewrite the text adding the changes the teacher made .Thus ,students willbe more aware of the types of their mistakes and next time they ‘ll avoid them and improve their writing skills

    1. Thanks for the comment Yahia. I agree that a coding system is very useful. The problem is that not all students are at a level where they can understand all of it. At my school, we use brackets [] for lines of text that are awkward. In this case, the model provided in the reformulation is helpful. Additionally, the reformulation can serve as a diagnostic tool. I think it would work will in combination with the coding system as well.

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