The Focused Rewrite Technique
Copyright © 2002 by Ashley Hastings and
The Focused Rewrite Technique (FRWT) is a method of providing
feedback on written work to second language students. Its purpose is to
acquisition of high-intermediate proficiency in the written language.
Although few studies have been done on the effectiveness of
FRWT, the information
that we do have suggests that this is a powerful technique for
second language acquisition. Hasting (1995) found that ESL students
whom FRWT was used on a regular basis gained three times as many points
a C-Test as students in another program who did not receive any FRWT
Yu (1998) found an even larger advantage for FRWT in a similar
This article describes FRWT, explains the circumstances under
would be appropriate, and discusses the assumptions that underlie the
It concludes with some practical suggestions and an example of a
The Focused Rewrite Technique is a one-to-one interaction
between a student
and a teacher. It consists of several distinct steps:
STEPS IN THE FOCUSED REWRITE
- WRITE. The student writes a composition, on
It is important that the student choose the topic, which should
something that he knows and cares about.
- FIRST CONFERENCE. The teacher reads the
confers with the student. In this conference, the teacher discusses the
information and ideas in the composition and seeks clarification of any
points that may
have been obscure in the student's text.
- FOCUS. The teacher chooses a portion of the
composition for rewriting. The choice will be based on a number of
(see Some Practical Suggestions).
- REWRITE. The teacher rewrites the selected
good, idiomatic English, taking care not to add, remove, or change any
the meaning, but making sure that all features of grammar, vocabulary,
and punctuation are as they should be in standard written English.
- SECOND CONFERENCE. The teacher goes over the
the student, making sure that the intended sense has been preserved. If
student detects any changes in the ideas expressed, the matter is
and the teacher then returns to step (4), amends the rewrite, and goes
again to step (5).
- READ. The student is asked to read the rewrite
times, until he is thoroughly familiar with it.
- THIRD CONFERENCE (optional). The student may meet
with the teacher to ask any questions that occurred to him while
The Focused Rewrite Technique was originally designed for use
in FOCAL SKILLS intensive ESL programs, with a specific pedagogical
purpose and a
specific type of student in mind. We believe it could be used in other
but we would urge anyone who might be considering FRWT to note the
CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE FOCUSED REWRITE
- Students are at the intermediate level of
If their level is too low, they are unlikely to read or write well
for the FRWT processes to work. If it is too high, FRWT is likely to be
relatively inefficient way of providing feedback.
- The pedagogical objective is progress in the written
language, not in the art of writing. FRWT is effective for helping
acquire better control of sentence structure, spelling, vocabulary, and
mechanics of written communication. Rhetorical skills, academic writing
conventions, creativity, and other important elements of effective
writing are best addressed
using various other pedagogical techniques.
- The person providing the FRWT feedback has an
of the written language. This technique is not for the non-native
foreign language teacher who cannot write the language fluently and
- Ample time is available. FRWT seems to work best
each student can submit and receive timely feedback on at least one
of writing every day.
|What assumptions underlie FRWT?
We believe that the Focused Rewrite Technique is consistent
with a number of reasonable assumptions about the nature of language
acquisition and literacy
development. (Some of the terms and concepts used below are taken from
work of Krashen; see, for example, Krashen 1984, 1985.)
ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING THE FOCUSED REWRITE
- Most of the deviations from the standard
language found in intermediate student writing are interlanguage
phenomena, not careless mistakes. We
hold that the errors in student writing signal parts of the language
have not been fully acquired. Therefore, the familiar practices of
errors in red or using rubrics like "grammar violation" are of limited
since they presuppose that the student should be able to self-correct
the mistake is pointed out. To the contrary, FRWT assumes that the
needs more comprehensible input that can further his acquisition of the
- The student's errors point toward his current "i+1."
elements that the student has not yet begun to acquire are unlikely to
in his writing, even in rudimentary form. Elements that the student has
fully acquired are likely to be used correctly. Therefore, the elements
as candidates for rewriting are likely to be those on the cusp of
If this reasoning is correct, then FRWT furnishes the student with a
source of input from his own "i+1," prime material for language
- Nothing is more comprehensible than one's own ideas.
provides the student with input that reflects his own ideas back to him
good standard written English. This is comprehensible input of very
quality, since the student already knows exactly what it means.
- A low affective filter makes comprehensible input more
effective. FRWT is a kind of collaboration between the student and
the teacher. It is
initiated by the student's writing and it is centered on the effective
of his ideas and opinions. By placing the student's writing in this
and respected position, FRWT should help maintain a very low affective
|What are some practical guidelines
for using FRWT?
Naturally, every environment presents its own unique
combination of challenges
and opportunities, so we cannot hope to anticipate everything that
come up when FRWT is used. Here, for what they are worth, are some
based on our experiences with FRWT.
SOME PRACTICAL GUIDELINES FOR USING FRWT
- Use computers! The advantages of word
processing over handwriting are many: clarity, ease of exchange, ease
of text manipulation and revision, convenience of storage and
retrieval. The sheer bulk of writing that can be
generated with FRWT intensifies all these advantages.
- Make sure staffing is adequate. It is extremely
one teacher to keep up with more than 8 or 10 productive students using
if the goal of daily feedback is to be achieved.
- Use class time for FRWT. We feel very strongly
is best for both students and teachers to do their FRWT work during
This creates an atmosphere of cooperation and concentration, and makes
phases of the process available at the same time.
- Keep the students reading. Their continued growth
acquisition depends on a steady diet of reading. The input they receive
the focused rewrites is high in quality, but it cannot provide the
of input they need.
- Work alongside the students. When the teacher is
on rewrites at her computer, most students seem to feel more motivated
do their own work.
- Don't try to rewrite everything unless you really have
to do so. Some teachers seem to become almost addicted to the
process. You need to keep a balance between what you undertake and what
can achieve within the allotted time.
- Get rewrites back to students as soon as possible. The
fresher the feedback, the more effective it is likely to be.
- Short and frequent is better than long and infrequent.
A short piece from each student every day, with feedback received no
than the next day, creates a positive flow of work and helps with the
- Focus carefully. Find a passage that really needs
but that is not too hard to understand as it is. Look for errors that
suggest partial command of a structure; be alert for situations where
the student was obviously groping for the right word and just missed
it. With experience, this will become easier.
Here is a sample essay transcribed from an ETS publication
Testing Service, 1996). We have written a focused rewrite to
the technique. This example does not represent an actual interaction
a teacher and a student.
|The original essay:
||Our focused rewrite
(based on the first part of the essay):
|Telephone is a very
Telephone have had an important effect on our lives. We can not live
telephone. We use telephone everytime, everywhere. Therefore telephone
everywhere. For example, house, school, department, company, down town,
town, everywhere. We can send our information speedy. Speed of
is faster than that of letters.
Recently NTE started DENGON dial system. This system is
very useful. If I can not announce my information to someone, I put my
information in DENGON dial. Someone who know information number can
hear my information from everywhere. I use this system every day with
The telephone is a very great invention which has had an
important effect on our lives. We could not live without telephones. We
use them all
the time, wherever we are. Therefore, telephones are installed
everywhere: in houses, in schools, in department stores [NOTE: This is a guess that would need to be checked
with the student], in companies, downtown, uptown,
everywhere. We can send information much faster
by telephone than by letter.
Notice that our rewrite has also addressed some sentence structure
that are not errors, strictly speaking, but involve stylistic
shortcomings such as short, choppy sentences with redundant elements.
We have combined some of these sentences to create a more fluent text,
using structures that
the student has apparently not yet acquired. This is a natural
Education Testing Service. 1996. TOEFL test of
written English guide. Fourth edition. Princeton, New Jersey: ETS.
Hastings, A. 1995. The FOCAL SKILLS approach: an
F. Eckman et al. (eds), Second language acquisition: theory and
pedagogy. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 29-44.
Krashen, S. 1984. Writing: research, theory, and
applications. Torrance, California: Laredo Publishing Company.
Krashen, S. 1985. The input hypothesis: issues and
implications. Torrance, California: Laredo Publishing Company.
Yu, B. 1998. A comparison of English proficiency
gains in one
FOCAL SKILLS and two traditional ESL programs. Winchester,
University master's thesis.