A well balanced use of error correction

Summary: Error correction in the EFL classroom

There are many problems associated with error correction in the EFL classroom. For example, every student wants to improve their accuracy but not every student likes being corrected. Another common problem is that students and teachers often disagree on the amount of error correction that there should be in class. As should be clear from these two examples, for most teachers today it is not a case of deciding whether there should be error correction or not, but the much more difficult task of getting the amount of error correction just right for each individual level, age group, nationality, personality type, learning style etc. To help with this, below is a list of signs that you might not have the right balance of error correction in your classes yet and some hints on how to adjust your lesson planning accordingly.


Possible signs that you are correcting too many student errors

  • 1. Students are losing their fluency when they speak because they are scared of making mistakes
  • 2. Students keep stopping and correcting themselves
  • 3. The accuracy of their speaking is improving much more quickly than their fluency, use of complex forms, speaking strategies etc.
  • 4. Many of the errors you correct are things that won't come up in their classes for a long time or even until the next level
  • 5. Many of the errors you correct are things they knew but were just slips of the tongue
  • 6. Most of the errors you correct are things they would have stopped making errors with anyway eventually once their subconscious had fully dealt with the language
  • 7. The amount of time you spend on student errors is cutting into the time you can spend on new language
  • 8. Students who think they have done well at a speaking or writing task get depressed when you do error correction and they realise how many errors they have made
  • 9. Feedback after a speaking or writing task means mainly error correction, with a lack of suggesting more complex language, making encouraging comments etc.
  • 10. Written work is a mess of red ink when it comes back to students
  • 11. You give them more corrections in one class than they can possibly learn before the next class
  • 12. You correct the same language over and over, even though students' accuracy hasn't improved at all since the first time you corrected them
  • 13. Students show with their facial expressions or body language that they are not open to correction
  • 14. You are correcting because you feel you must, even though you have no confidence that it will have an effect on accuracy with that group of students
  • 15. Students don't note down most of the errors you correct
  • 16. There are more than one or two error correction stages in one class
  • 17. There are more error correction stages in your lesson plan than there are on the lesson plan in the teacher's book
  • 18. Students never have a chance to speak or write without correction
  • 19. You never leave an error uncorrected to see if it disappears naturally
  • 20. Students who particularly lack fluency and/ or confidence don't get less correction than other students
  • 21. You correct well over 20% of all student errors
  • 22. You correct over an average of 20 errors per class
  • 23. You usually correct the whole list of errors you collect during pairwork and groupwork
  • 24. Most of the errors you correct are ones that we know persist naturally in all kinds of people learning English, such as third person s
  • 25. Your only idea on how to improve student accuracy is to correct their errors


Possible signs that you aren't correcting enough student errors

  • 1. Students complain about the lack of error correction
  • 2. Students don't see the value of speaking activities or just see them as games
  • 3. Students say accuracy is their main priority but you haven't adjusted the way you teach to take that into account
  • 4. Student accuracy is not improving
  • 5. Students' fluency or use of more complex language is improving much quicker than their accuracy
  • 6. Accuracy is what is holding students back from reaching the next level or getting a higher score in an EFL exam
  • 7. Students have particular difficulty with error correction tasks in the textbook, workbook, progress tests or EFL exams
  • 8. Students keep on making the same mistakes and you have never tried correcting those ones
  • 9. Students make many false friend errors
  • 10. You never correct a piece of grammar that you haven't studied in class yet, even when students try to use it all the time
  • 11. You usually skip the error correction stage that is suggested in the teachers' book
  • 12. You usually correct errors when students are speaking but rarely use them in an error correction stage
  • 13. You always assume an error will disappear naturally
  • 14. You have never tried error correction games such as a Grammar Auction
  • 15. Students who need more accuracy such as someone giving an important business presentation or writing a job application cover letter do not get more correction than usual classes
  • 16. You correct well under 5% of all student errors
  • 17. You correct under an average of 5 errors per class
  • 18. You have never used an error correction code
  • 19. You are standing around doing nothing instead of noting down student errors during pairwork and groupwork
  • 20. You have been leaving a persistent error uncorrected without a conscious decision to monitor whether it naturally disappears or to tackle it another way.
  • 21. You don't correct errors but have no alternative ideas on how to improve your students' accuracy


Other possible signs that you haven't got the balance right

  • 1. The amount of error correction you do does not depend on the class
  • 2. The amount of error correction you do has not changed over the years
  • 3. You don't consider which errors could lead to miscommunication before correcting them
  • 4. You never experiment with different amounts of correction


Ways of making sure you use the right amount of error correction

  • 1. Think about all your classes and put them in order of how much error correction you think they need, from the class most in need of error correction (e.g. students stuck on the Intermediate plateau or ones who will be writing dissertations in English) at the top of the list to the class that least needs it (students who pause for a long time before they speak or students who had lots of grammar but little speaking practice in their previous English lessons) at the bottom of the list.
  • 2. Write error correction stages on your lesson plan
  • 3. Have a gap at the top of your lesson plan that says "error correction stage(s)"
  • 4. Set a target for how many errors you will correct, how many error correction stages you will have and how much time you will spend on error correction and write it at the top of your lesson plan
  • 5. Make a list of error correction techniques you would like to try, e.g. getting students to bet on whether each sentence is right or wrong
  • 6. Always monitor for student errors and write them down, especially during pairwork and groupwork when you are more free to do so
  • 7. Write down your personal criteria for when you will correct errors

Copyright © 2008

Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

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