Error correction can be a tricky area in English language teaching- too much and students lose their confidence to speak, too little and they don’t feel that they are making progress. Read the situations and think about what you would do in each of the following cases before reading the solution …
Situation: Students (A2) are talking in small groups about their last holiday in a freer practice activity, having recently been introduced to the past simple. One student says “Last year I goed to Italy for my holiday.” Teacher interrupts the students to tell them the correct past simple form of the verb.
Solution: As this is a freer practice activity, the focus is on fluency. The teacher should be monitoring to see what problems the students are having with the newly introduced language but not getting involved at this stage. The error correction should be noted (mentally or if your memory is as bad as mine, on a piece of paper) for some error correction in plenary after the activity. The teacher, by writing the incorrect sentence on the board, should be able to elicit the correct version from the students.
Situation: A normally shy B1 student is giving feedback on an activity and pronounces vegetables as if it had four syllables (ve-ge-ta-bles). The teacher stops the student and drills the correct pronunciation with her.
Solution: Quieter students need to be encouraged to speak in front of the class and by correcting this student, the teacher is doing exactly the opposite. Either the error could be noted for some remedial work later or the teacher could drill with the whole class to save the shy student from feeling “picked on”.
Situation: B1 students are talking about their hopes and dreams for the future and one student says ” I wish I can go abroad next year.”
Solution: This student has not yet been introduced to this quite complex structure and is experimenting with the language in an attempt to get his message across. The meaning of what he wants to express is clear so understanding has not been compromised. The teacher should ignore the error, focusing on error correction of language the students have already learnt.
Situation: A B2 student says “If I will go to the cinema tonight, I will watch the new James Bond film.” The teacher says “If I go to the cinema tonight, I will watch the new James Bond film.”
Solution: The teacher is missing out on an opportunity to encourage self- or peer-correction. If none of the students can correct the mistake, the teacher could indicate where the mistake is in the sentence by using her fingers, counting off the words and stopping when she gets to the word with the mistake in it. At this level, there is no reason why the teacher needs to be the one doing the correction. She can make the lesson more student-centred by involving the students.
Situation: Students are writing a letter to their partner, having focused on the structure of an informal letter. One student has finished his letter and is doing nothing. The teacher monitors from behind so he can read what the students are writing but does not correct any of the students’ mistakes.
Solution: This would be a good chance for the teacher to point out where the mistakes are in the students’ letters. Particularly the student who has finished could then fill the remaining minutes while he waits for the others by trying to correct his own mistakes.
Situation: During a choral and individual drill, the teacher can hear that one A1 student, in particular, cannot pronounce the “th” sound. The teacher keeps going in the hope that the student will get it right.
Solution: Some sounds are just very difficult for certain nationalities to pronounce. Drilling, of course, will help but by not accepting the student’s capabilties, the teacher is probably making that student feel increasingly uncomfortable and the rest of the class, bored.
Situation: A group of A2 students have just been introduced to the present continuous. As a controlled practice activity, the teacher is getting them to describe a picture to their partner. The teacher monitors and hears the students making lot of mistakes with the use and form of the present continuous tense.
Solution: Controlled practice is a time when the teacher should be on hand for immediate correction. The students are practising in a controlled environment and working in pairs so it would be an ideal opportunity to help them out here before their mistakes become ingrained. Maybe with a little encouragement and help, the students would be able to correct themselves or their partners.
Think about the methods you might use in class to correct- would you have any other ideas of how to deal with these situations?