Most English teachers use at least one of the classroom techniques below, and most people studying English wonder sooner or later what they are being used for:
- Giving students the answer key to the homework and asking them to check their own answers
- Underlining and labelling the errors in written work rather than giving the corrections
- Telling students they have made a mistake while speaking and then giving them hints until they correct themselves
- Writing sentences with errors on the board and asking students to spot which ones are wrong and then correct them
- Playing games that involve correcting errors such as a “grammar auction”
In all the cases above, a good teacher will of course tell you the right answer once it is clear you don’t know what error you have made or how to correct it, but there are lots of reasons why such good teachers ask you to correct yourself before finally telling you what the right answer is. Here are some of those reasons:
- Self-study skills - If you practice checking your own answers that will make it easier to use self-study materials such as self-study grammar books and pronunciation CD ROMs.
- Editing skills - If you practice correcting your own written work with some help from your teacher, that will help you spot errors when you reread your written work before handing it in to a lecturer or at the end of an EFL test such as IELTS Writing.
- Self-correction/ Monitoring your speaking - Although you don’t want to ruin your fluency and confidence by correcting yourself all the time while you are speaking, many experts believe that realising when you are making a mistake is the first step towards improving your spoken accuracy.
- Noticing language - By consciously thinking about why language is right or wrong and double checking what you say and write you will become more aware of language and so will notice good and bad language other people are using, helping you to avoid making the same mistakes and making it easier to copy their best bits.
- Extra time/ Extra practice - The fact that checking your own answers and correcting your own errors takes extra time is usually seen as a negative thing by students, but in fact the general rule is that the longer something takes the better it helps you really learn the language.
- Targeting your needs - By checking your own answers and only asking your teacher about the things you still don’t understand when you have finished checking, you can concentrate on the language you really need and not waste time on explanations of language you already know.
- Spotting slip-ups - If the teacher can find out which of your own mistakes you can correct without any help by asking to make your own corrections, they will be able to work out which things you only said because you are tired. They can then decide which things you really need to spend time on in class.
- Making the explanation memorable - If you make an attempt at correcting your own language before the teacher gives you the answer, this will make you more receptive to the teacher’s explanation and so make it easier to remember what the teacher says.
- Saving classroom time - If students check their own homework or other work individually and then just ask a few questions about things they still aren’t sure about, this will save wasting five or ten minutes every class going through answers the students already know.