Effective error correction is one of the things ESL teachers struggle with the most.
If you correct them too much, you might make them feel discouraged and compromise their fluency for the sake of accuracy. If you correct them too little, they’ll continue making the same mistakes. Achieving the right balance is a daunting task, although not an impossible one. And when doing on the spot correcting, do you simply supply the right answer? Although it is certainly an option, you should sometimes give your students the chance to correct themselves. There are several verbal strategies you may use, like asking them to repeat what they’ve just said, or repeating the sentence yourself but pausing to let the student fill in the “blank” correctly.
However, here are the 5 best non-verbal ways to do error correction.
How To Proceed
Use a grammar flag
Once you have your students actively engaged in some drilling exercises, use a little red flag to “flag” their mistakes. The flag goes up if they make a mistake and students instantly know they should go back and say it again. You may also use the flag in others types of activities, or whenever you wish to work on accuracy.
Use facial expressions
Students are sometimes self-conscious enough without having to endure constant corrections. So, how can you effectively correct them and not stomp on their confidence in the process? When a student makes a mistake, like saying a verb in the past tense incorrectly, use an exaggerated facial expression to signal the mistake. Give them an open-mouthed, wide-eyed stare. Or arch an eyebrow. The more “theatrical” the facial expression is, the funnier it'll be. You’ll be effectively signalling that a mistake has been made, but students won’t take it so seriously.
Another very effective way to show students they’ve made a mistake is through gestures, some of which may be specific to the kind of mistake. Teachers typically gesture backwards with their hands or point to the back to show students they haven’t used the verb in the past. Students often use the wrong pronouns; it’s quite common to hear a student say, “She went to the movies with your boyfriend.” To which you simply reply by pointing to yourself with a look of shock or surprise. You may also implement a gesture to indicate that students should repeat something, or say it again, and if they repeat the mistake, you can raise a finger to show them where in the sentence the mistake is, though they have to figure out what they are doing wrong.
Use visual reminders
Very often students forget the final “-s” in the simple present, third person singular. You may have a big S stuck on a wall that you can point to on such occasions, or point to something that will trigger the right response, like the picture of an S-shaped snake. Visual reminders are also great for vocabulary-related mistakes. A student may say “childs” instead of “children”. You point to a picture of a group of children to indicate that something is wrong; the student has to figure out he or she used the wrong plural.
Use finger counting
How can you correct mistakes in word order in a non-verbal way? Finger counting is simply perfect for this! Say a student used the wrong word order to ask a question: “You are a teacher?” Ask the student to repeat the question and then show him or her how you count the words on your fingers. Show the student how the first two fingers are in the wrong order, so that the student understands the question should start with “Are you…”
You can get as creative as you like with your facial expressions, gestures, and visual reminders. Remember here that the ultimate goal is to help students learn from their mistakes, and if you simply supply the right answer, they may not fully internalize it.
Some teachers have even been known to hum well-known songs to trigger the correct response, like Depeche Mode’s “People are People” when students make the classic mistake, “people is”.
Do you have any suggestions for non-verbal error correction? Please share them below!