Five-Star Groove

Gordon Reid, Kansai Gaidai University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Entrenched errors, mediated memory, established rules, writing
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high to adult
  • Preparation time: One hour
  • Materials: Writing assignment, rule(s), symbol


The following technique has helped my students reduce their common recurring errors. I developed the technique from Vygotskian theory—in particular mediated memory. The most common example is a string tied around one’s finger in order to remember something of importance. The string acts as the external reminder until the necessary action is performed or the action becomes internalized, thereby rendering the string unnecessary. In a language class, this means the students become conscious of particular errors and then make the necessary adjustments without a teacher’s continual reminders. The basic concept can be modified for classes that focus on speaking skills.


Step 1: When you have identified a common error from class work, establish a classroom writing (or speaking) rule that addresses the error. For example, if students are consistently writing the word because at the beginning of simple or compound sentences, make the rule: Do not begin a simple or compound sentence with the wordbecause”. Four rules or less is most effective.

Step 2: Have students demonstrate their understanding of the rule. Provide writing samples that may or may not include the particular error. Then have students identify which samples adhere to the rule and which samples violate it.

Step 3: Have each student write the rules at the top of the writing assignment. Then, have the students write five stars (or whatever symbol) after each rule. For example:

Rule: Do not begin a simple sentence with because. ☆☆☆☆☆

The technique is more effective if you have students write the rules and symbols themselves on each assignment.

Step 4: After the students submit their completed assignment, correct it in your usual manner. In addition, each time a student breaks one of the established rules, put an X through one star. For example, if the student begins a simple sentence with because three times in one assignment, cross off three stars.

Rule: Do not begin a simple sentence with because. ☆☆☆☆☆

Step 5: Return the assignments to the students and repeat the process from step three. However, for the next assignment, the students should put only their remaining stars. According to the above example in step four, the student would write the rule as before, but write only two stars rather than the original five.

Rule: Do not begin a simple sentence with because. ☆☆

At this time, remind students that the stars do not relate to the grading of the paper, if there is any. The stars are simply reminders.


This technique is not a punishment/reward system. As in the example of the string around one’s finger, the string is not a punishment, but a reminder. Furthermore, once you have initially explained the process to your students, no further explanations or discussion is necessary. The students simply have a visual reminder of how their piece of writing relates to the rules. Although students may begin with five new stars, if none remain for a particular rule, it has been my experience that they do not require more than five. In other words, the student’s writing starts to get into an English groove rather than an error-filled trench.