Preparing students for the writing element of the Trinity ISE Exams is theoretically the most straightforward element in the new ISE exams. Trinity have been formally examining writing for much longer than listening – and there are certainly resources out there for this part of the exam.

A curious aspect of teaching English in Spain is that most teaching starts at B1 or lower intermediate level, but some students lack the basics – it tends to result in some very mixed level classes preparing for B1 exams. (We’d be interested to know if this happens in other countries too!).


fossilised errors - dinosaur eating

Students who’ve recently studied at school mix with people who’ve barely encountered the language before. Many students studied A LONG TIME AGO (and from the sounds of it, in a galaxy far, far away) and come with fossilised errors.

In speaking, overcorrection of these errors can come with a loss of fluency – however in writing, generally candidates have enough time to think about their grammar and so there’s really no excuse not to tackle them!


We follow 3 steps to help students overcome their fossilised errors:


We use “spot the mistake” exercises to quickly identify very basic gaps in knowledge, and encourage the students to re-read and check their own work. You can make a note of any real difficulties to cover in a later class, and re-test after a few weeks!

Try this exercise in class!


2. Peer marking

Ask pair of students, or small groups to look for a set list of errors in their own writing.

Future tense with will
To be able to
Translation of “para” with verbs
Correct use of good and well
Correct use of the word “travel”!
No “a” with plurals
Adjectives before nouns
Third person singular!
Correct past simple (negative and affirmative)
Difference between a lot and a lot of
The verb “to be” used correctly (rather than to have)
People are, everyone/everybody is

When students look for specific mistakes they avoid the classic difficulties with peer marking: some (wrongly) over-corrected work, and some “I think it’s good” with little other comment.


3. No correction marking 🙂 !

This is our favourite 🙂

When students make errors that we’ve seen time and time again in class, we simply underline their work:

correction of error using underlining only
Our students know that this line means they should look at their work and, with the help of the common errors list, if necessary – try to work out what the problem was.


These strategies have really helped our students become more aware of their basic errors and more independent in correcting them! (They may also have cut our marking time 😉 – but that’s obviously not the primary objective 😉 !)
We’d love to hear from you if you have have any strategies for dealing with fossilised errors 🙂

– send us a mail at:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>