Making mistakes is no foreign idea to anyone who examines his or her life. We all make mistakes.
Sometimes they come as a result of a well thought out plan that just does not work, and other times they are a result of impulsive actions. In either case, we are forced to face the consequences however unpleasant they might be. Though no one likes to admit his mistakes, it is sometimes necessary to do so if one wants to improve his life. Challenge your students to think about what it means to make mistakes, and they will learn about more than English as a second language.
Talking About Mistakes in Your ESL Classroom
A Big Mistake
On January 4, 1990, a man in Providence, Rhode Island robbed an armored car. He took four bags of money, each weighing thirty pounds. He was not able to carry the bags because of their weight and was caught by authorities. It turns out that the bags contained pennies…
Share this story with your students as a listening exercise. Then, ask your class to think about what mistakes the man made as you share the story again. You may want to review any unfamiliar vocabulary with your students before going through the story the second time (armored car, authorities, etc.). Once students have listened a second time, put them in groups of three to make a comprehensive list of all the mistakes the thief made. The list should include such things as robbery, taking heavy bags, choosing bags that contained pennies, etc. Challenge your students to decide within their groups which mistake was the biggest one of all. Some may think it was attempting robbery in the first place. Still others will say his choice in what to steal was the biggest mistake. Once your students have had ample time to discuss the topic, work as a class to make a comprehensive list of the mistakes that the man made, and then take a vote on which mistake was the most significant. You can then ask for volunteers to role-play a conversation between the police and the man as they interview him about his crime. Encourage creativity!
A Personal Mistake
We all make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes are small, like stepping into a muddy puddle. Other times they are big, like choosing the wrong marriage partner. Give your students a few minutes to discuss with a partner one mistake they have made, big or small. They can be recent mistakes, like drinking too much at a party over the weekend, or significant ones that happened a long time ago. Encourage students to share as many details as they can or that they are comfortable with about the incident, and suggest that they take some notes as they write. With that discussion in mind, explain to your students that a narrative piece of writing is one that tells a story. The most important piece of a narrative is the series of events that make up the story, also known as the plot. A narrative should also be arranged according to time, that is chronologically. Give your students some class time to write the narrative that tells of their mistake, but challenge them to make one significant change in the story. Your students should write the piece again changing the mistake they made. They will end up with a story that tells of how they could have made a mistake but did not and the positive results that ensued. Doing this will give your students an opportunity to combine actual events with fictional events to create a narrative. Once the papers are done, let your students share their stories with their original partners, and encourage those partners to weigh in on how the story was changed. Could the writer have changed the story any other way? Does the story now have a happy ending?
With almost all mistakes, someone else is involved or suffers some of the consequences. Sometimes they are in partnership with us, and we make a bad decision that leads to the mistake. Perhaps we make an investment against our spouse’s wishes and regret it. Maybe we make a bad decision in a video game and our partner loses his life. Is it possible that we complain about too much homework and our teacher assigns twice as much to the entire class? At other times, the person affected by our mistake is someone that we have wronged. We blame someone else for something that they did not do. We cause physical harm to someone in a moment of anger. We betray a friend and then live to regret it. Get your class thinking about the ways that another person could be affected by a mistake that they might make, and invite your students to share their ideas.
Then take the discussion a step further and ask what they would do in a situation where they had made mistakes that affected another person. Would they ignore the mistake and act as though it never happened? Would they approach the person and apologize? Would they buy the person a gift with the silent message that they regret their actions? Each person who has made a mistake will take very different actions than another person might, but are there cultural expectations involved in that person’s choice? Put your students in discussion groups to talk about what they would do and what most people from their home culture would do in certain circumstances of transgression. You may want to give them some questions to discuss such as the following:
- Is it appropriate for a parent to apologize to his child?
- What should a husband do if he wrongs his wife?
- For someone in a professional setting, what is the best way to make up for a bad decision?
- What can a young person do when he has hurt his best friend?
After the groups have discussed the questions, ask volunteers to role-play those situations or any others that come up in the discussion.
We all make mistakes, that is true, but not everyone addresses the consequences of those mistakes in the same way.
Your students will gain not only linguistic knowledge but interpersonal knowledge as well after talking about mistakes and what to do about them. You can be sure, though, if you do these activities with your students, you will not regret it.