There are a host of ways to correct your students’ mistakes, and you probably have your preferred methods.
We’re always aiming not to disrupt fluency too much, nor to single out individuals or make students feel bad for having tried something ambitious. But we’re also keenly aware of the importance of accuracy, and of not letting too many mistakes go past without being corrected.
One good way to achieve this balance is to return the students mistakes to them in the form of a worksheet. This way, the problem is written down, which gives it clarity, and is available to everyone, so that the whole class benefits from the correction process. It is also a fun opportunity and frequently raises some good laughs.
Your source material for creating these worksheets will be the students themselves. All language teachers are listening out for problems, and many of them you’ll want to correct, right there on the spot. Others, though, you can let go but note down in your planning book. As the week progresses, you’ll build up a brief page of errors. You might include the name of the student, but this isn’t for punitive purposes! Knowing who made the error lets you listen for an improvement from that individual.
Other sources include homework, particularly writing and free production, and tests. The purposes is never to embarrass anyone, so please don’t pick out examples where the student has entirely failed to understand the question, or given a ‘guesswork’ answer. Chose those errors which illustrate a larger problem, such as:
- A failure to conjugate for person.
- Forgetting to conjugate for tense (past, present, gerund (ing) endings)
- Use of ‘Chinglish’ (e.g. ‘How to say this?’) ‘Spanglish’ (.e.g. ‘Why you no call her?’) and other instances where the students attempt a direct, word-for-word translation.
- Omitting articles, either definite (the) or indefinite (a/an)
- Confusing countable and uncountable nouns, and their respective measure words (e.g. ‘Saudi Arabia has many oil’, or ‘The crowd had only a little people’).
Many examples, for example that last one about the crowd, are potentially very funny. I always note down mistakes which make me laugh; the humor adds to the experience, cementing this learning moment in the students’ mind. One of my all-time favorites, captured just before break time during the audio taping of a model lesson, was this gem from a Colombian lady:
|Are you going to have a snack at break time?
|Oh, let’s go for a full sentence. You know how I love those.
|(Thinking) OK. Every day, I am banana.
The subsequent error correction sheet included this phrase, and neither I, nor any of the students, have ever forgotten it.
Create the Worksheet from Scratch
I give each sheet a date and the same type of title. E.g. “Upper Intermediate Error Correction, 15th December.”
I then either simply create a numbered list of the erroneous sentences, with no guidance as to what the problem might be, or create short dialogues to give the sentence some context. For instance, the above example about the banana would make no sense without the question from the teacher, neither would a measure word problem be comprehendible without knowing what’s being measured. A typical list of questions (this one is from an Intermediate class of largely Spanish speakers, as you may be able to deduce) looks like this:
- Years ago, we cannot use Internet downloading music.
- I have been there for shopping but very expensive.
- Cannot for free. You have to buy.
- How will you do if you lose your passport?
- Have no way to arrive.
- My house is near from the station.
- The virus problem is happen from the websites.
- I think you say is true.
- Did you pay the money for the bill?
- I need maybe buy new umbrella because is raining.
Leave space under each question so that the students can write their corrections in.
I tend to decorate the page with a couple of relevant pictures of pieces of clip-art, and use different colors (in schools with a color copier machine).
The students work in pairs or trios, and have 8-12 minutes to work through the sheet, depending on its length and the level of the class. Their objectives are three-fold:
- Find the problem
- Decide why it is a problem. This essential step requires the students both to show their grammatical knowledge, and to use specialist vocabulary (tense, conjugation, countable, gerund) to describe why this is, indeed, a mistake.
- Fix the problem. I generally tell the students whether the sentence can be fixed with a small adjustment, or whether it needs re-writing.
Watch the Time
I stick to the time limit, and ensure that everyone is kept on track. This is intended to be a short, intensive exercise. If students finish early, I always have an extra game in my ‘back pocket’.
Once the time is up, it’s time for feedback. You can simply rotate around the class, have one student name the next person to answer, or ask students at random. They should follow the three steps above: identify the problem, describe why this is wrong, and then suggest a fix.
Most of the time, there will be several ways to fix the problem, so invite other students to contribute their answers, too. You could confirm the best answer by writing it on the board, or do so verbally, depending on the level of your class.
Error correction sheets take what your students have said, and turn it straight around, requiring them to consider their own errors.
This is an important skill; practicing it makes it more likely your students will self-correct, and it is a gentle and often humorous way of dealing with errors, something which many students find embarrassing or deflating. I recommend a weekly, or at most twice-weekly exercise, lasting only ten minutes (plus feedback) to bring new accuracy to your students’ work.
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