This week’s post comes from Sebastiano Favretto, my friend and business partner, who has been teaching TEFL for the past ten years. This is the same material that we go through with our teachers during induction. Also, by clicking on the button below, you can get access to a quiz that I’ve developed to help you determine when, where and how to perform error correction through specific examples.
Errors and mistakes are all part of the learning process and should be treated as such. We all learn best from trial and error so make sure you direct your students towards correcting their own mistakes and errors.
Error correction should vary according to the type of activity you are carrying out as well as the lesson’s aims; make sure you understand in advance WHAT errors you are going to correct, WHEN to correct them and HOW.
Some general rules to be followed are:
- Adjust your error correction strategies according to the type of activity. Are you developing accuracy or fluency?
- Give the students time to realize they’ve made a mistake so they can try to correct themselves. If they can’t, maybe someone else can help them. If nobody can help then you can either step in and give the correct form or make a note of it for later.
- Whenever possible, try and make the error correction stage as impersonal as possible. If on the spot correction is not required, make note of the mistakes and write them down on the board at the end of the activity without mentioning who made them.
- When correcting a student avoid negative remarks such as “No, wrong!”, “What are you saying?” and prefer more constructive comments like “Nearly!”, “Good try”. Try to get your students to feel as comfortable as possible in making mistakes, and always praise them for trying.
- Choose the right balance between correcting and not correcting. Over-correction will result in students losing confidence and then always speaking hesitantly, often “stuttering” and always looking to the teacher for confirmation. Under-correction will result in students developing bad habits and not learning proper grammar, forms, usage; eventually decreasing communicative ability.
There are two approaches to error correction: on the spot and delayed.
On the Spot
On the spot correction can be dangerous to your students’ confidence, so implement these strategies with caution and and in a positive, encouraging way.
1- Echo the Error: Quick and easy, be an echo to your student’s error.
2- Ask for Repetition: Just say “please repeat” or “please say that again”.
3- Repeat up to the Error: Echo up to the error; let it hang for students to finish…
4- Ask a Question: Highlight student’s error by asking a question that will expose the error.
5- Provide Options: Without stopping the flow of the lesson, write options on the board.
6- Gestures: Use gestures that are associated to a particular mistake (e.g. Karate chop for a missing ending T sound) or your fingers to highlight a missing word/article in a sentence.
Delayed Error Correction
At an appropriate stop in the lesson, do some error correction. A good place to do this is at the end of a section, practice, or activity (error correction makes a nice transition between parts of the lesson). Don’t make students feel bad about their errors; they often don’t know the correct thing to say. Instead of saying “You said ~”, say “I heard ~” or just simply write the error(s) on the board. When possible, change the sentence for anonymity; we don’t want to embarrass students.
a- Echo the Error: “I heard ~”
b- Ask for Reformulation (questions): Can you change this question to get the same answer?
c- Repeat up to the Error: good for vocabulary errors, write the sentence on the board up to the error, have students finish the sentence. This can be done with all students, thus re-enforcing the correct form to be used by hearing several variations.
d- Ask a Question: Good for concept checks and getting students to repeat a section where they made an error, simply ask them a question that will bring up the error. The question can be directed at any student or all students.
e- Repetition of the Correct Answer: Once the error has been corrected, have students repeat the correct answer. This technique works best with low level students or when the error seems to have become a bad habit.
f- Provide Options: Write the error on the board and provide several options. Have students choose the option they think is best.
g- Use a Visual Aid: Draw a timeline, pie chart, picture or other visual aide on the board to help students to understand the error. Have them self-correct.
h- Write on the Whiteboard, Underline: The standard whiteboard technique. Highlight the error with an underline.
i- Highlight the Issue: Rather than bringing up a specific error, when you notice repeated errors of the same type, highlight this issue and discuss. If necessary, mark students’ files and teach the appropriate curriculum item as soon as possible.