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June 07, 2008

Tips and Tricks - Correction techniques

Hello Readers,

For new teachers, there is a tendency for either over-correcting or under-correcting students' mistakes; finding the right balance is often something that simply comes with time - and training. Another problem is knowing how to make corrections. But before we get into that, it's important to understand the difference between ...

... a mistake and an error.

Thought 'mistake' and 'error' are often used interchangeably, TESOL professionals know that there are key differences to these two terms. A mistake is typically thought of as a 'slip'. Native English speakers and non-native English speakers alike can make mistakes, which can then be self-corrected. An error, on the other hand, "reflects the competence of the learner" (Brown, 2000). Unlike mistakes, errors can not be self-corrected. They are a result of a gap between the knowledge of a competent adult native English speaker and the non-native English speaker. When errors are made in the classroom, it is a good opportunity to turn that into a teaching moment.

Jim Scrivener (1994) suggests that teachers make the following decisions when working with oral errors in class:

1. Decide what kind of error has been made (grammatical? pronunciation?, etc.).
2. Decide whether to deal with it (is it useful to correct it?).
3. Decide when to deal with it (now? end of the activity? later?).
4. Decide who will correct (teacher? student self-correction? other students?).
5. Decide on an appropriate technique to indicate that an error has occurred or to enable correction.

When trying to decide on which correction technique to use, it's important to remember that the teacher is not the only person who can use these techniques. Sometimes, students correct themselves or each other. In addition, corrections can be made individually, in small groups or with the entire class.

Here are some correction techniques you might want to try out:
1. Ask a question (e.g., WHEN did you get up this morning?).
2. Point out that a mistake was made (e.g., that's incorrect).
3. Specify what kind of mistake was made (e.g., past tense).
4. Use gestures (e.g., surprise, shake your head, etc.).
5. Repeat the sentence up until the mistakes was made (e.g., I woke up at ...).
6. Ask for another student to help out (e.g., Mike? Do you know the answer?).
7. Use visuals to help the student self-correct (e.g., time lines on the board for tense problems, phonetic script for pronunciation problems, using fingers to show word order, stress, etc.).

It's important to remember that making a mistake or an error in the classroom can be quite embarrassing for the student and that your goal in teaching is not to destroy the confidence of your students, but to encourage them to learn English. Sometimes it helps to put yourself in your students' shoes and to think about how you feel when people correct you.

Brown, D. H. (2000). Principles of language learning and teaching. (4th ed.). White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Scrivener, J. (1994). Learning Teaching. Oxford, U.K.: Macmillan Heinemann English Language Teaching.

Do you have any other tips on making corrections in the classroom? If so, feel free to share your comments below.

Hope that helps!

Carol Rueckert
Writer, ESL Lesson Plan
E-mail: crueckert@eslemployment.com
Blog: www.esl-lesson-plan.com

"I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand." - Chinese Proverb

*For more ESL Tips & Tricks from ESL-Lesson-Plan, please click HERE!

About the author of this entry:
Carol, a native English-speaker hailing from the small town of St. Joseph in Minnesota, USA, worked in China for more than 7 years. During that time, she worked at universities, private language schools, grade schools, international schools, and did private tutoring as well. Besides teaching, she also worked as a Head teacher, an Education Manager, and a Material Development Manager. In addition to working on this newsletter, she also writes a monthly column for Time Out Beijing, authors ESL textbooks for publishing houses in China, and is an Editor for Garnet Publishing in Reading, England. Carol holds a BA in Communications from the College of St. Benedict/ St. John's University, and a CELTA, and has just finished her MA TESOL course at Oxford Brookes University. Look for her posts on the ESL-Jobs-Forum discussion boards!

Posted by crueckert at June 7, 2008 09:27 AM

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You've identified a very significant issue in English language teaching. Balance, as ever, remains key to success.

Personally, I tailor my correction to the class, context, and even student. Older students, say professionals or seniors, often have more "dignity" issues. Therefore, I tend to indirectly correct these more sensitive students by rephrasing their statement or question correctly. Later, near the end of the lesson, I will summarize "the good mistakes" made that day so no-one feels individually targeted.

Other students, often younger and more outgoing, ask for detailed corrections - even in conversation class. Again, I try to match my correction style to the individual student, their stated preferences, and my assessment of their abilities. Here I sometimes make notes and pass them on to the student during break. Usually, however, I immediately rephrase the question pointing out the "good mistake."

Research has shown, rather conclusively, that focusing on a few errors for a longer time is more effective than just identifying a zillion errors. Organize the mistakes for your students, zoom in on a category, and give several examples.

I also correct very differently in writing and conversation classes, for credit and non-credit programs, and for IEP, university, and graduate programs. Context, as ever, matters.

Posted by: Eric Roth at June 7, 2008 11:39 AM

Excellent suggestions from a seminal article.

I might add, however, one additional technique. Write down the downs as you circle the room, group the errors into categories, and share the "good mistakes" with the entire class as part of the exercise wrap-up. It's also worth considering the students, their goals, and the context of the class.

Again, thank you for sharing those "correction" tips.

Posted by: Eric Roth at July 8, 2008 01:28 AM

u r very good and do very excellent work for others,
may u live happy and long.

Posted by: aftab at July 8, 2008 05:11 AM

H, could you ask your webmaster to consider adding a print button to this page to enables us print articles without all other irrelevant links and pics, please?


Posted by: Lohrasb at July 8, 2008 01:37 PM

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