Just one word before we start: 
When I was a teacher trainee, I was trained among others in ‘error correction’. Recently, I came across a synonym, which I personally find a bit sophisticated: ‘mistake management’. Things might be reinvented and renamed, we are still speaking about our good old ‘error correction’. It is, however, important to distinguish between mistake and error. While errors occur due to lack of knowledge of the correct form (students haven’t been introduced to the structure, so they use an other familiar one instead), mistakes are inaccurate use of previously taught language due to lack of concentration or other physical and psychological circumstances (nervousness, distraction, tiredness, etc). Having said that, the name ‘error correction’ is inaccurate if we check on mistakes. Errors (inaccuracy in structures, which haven’t been taught) should be dealt with in a subtile way: the teacher can repeat the inaccurate utterance in the correct form or they might even ignore it, in order not to confuse students. On the other hand, mistakes, ergo inaccuracy in theoretically familiar structures, should be ‘managed’. One point to ‘mistake management’.

Mistakes are good if not ignored:
Students make mistakes and these help teachers understand what they have to teach or revise with the class. However, some (mainly younger) teachers feel as if they would lack respect to their students if they corrected them. So they always give positive immediate feedback (‘Great’, ‘Very good’, ‘Excellent’), ignoring mistakes.

Needless to say, error correction makes a teacher and above all, it helps students grow. So let us take a look at some ways of how to correct mistakes.

There are two main types of mistake correction: immediate and delayed.

Immediate correction: Teacher corrects mistakes right after the incorrect utterance by interrupting the student.

This type of mistake management is possible in accuracy exercises, where using the target language correctly is the aim of the activity. In fluency exercises, continuous interruption may cause reduced concentration on content and lead to frustration in students. Here is a list of the most common types of immediate mistake correction:

Rephrasing: The teacher, in this case, does not give any chance to the student to correct their mistakes, but simply repeats the utterance with the correct form. Students might even repeat the corrected sentence/phrase, however, they are unlikely to remember the correct form in the long run.

Non-verbal signals: using yellow cards, knocking on the desk/board, rising one hand or any other ways of non-verbal signals indicates to the student that they have made a mistake. So the student can go back and rephrase the sentence. Obviously, the student might not understand what the mistake was and might need more support.

Interrogative intonation: The teacher repeats the sentence/phrase with the mistake and an interrogative intonation. This way the student knows that there was something incorrect in the utterance and has the chance to correct it.

Using metalanguage: The teacher can explicitly ask for correct grammar (e.g. ‘Yesterday I have met my best friend’. Teacher: ‘Can we use present perfect with ‘yesterday’?’. This way of correction is possible where students are familiar with linguistic terms, like ‘present perfect’.

Asking for repetition: The teacher can simply ask the student to repeat the last sentence giving this way a hint that there was a mistake (‘Pardon’, ‘Go again’, ‘Repeat it, please’, ‘How was it?’, etc.).

Asking for peer-correction: The teacher might ask the other students to correct the mistake, in an open class discussion or calling someone else’s name. This might involve the other class members and encourage them to listen to their peers, however, it might make the student, who made the mistake, feel embarrassed and intimidated. It is recommended to ask first the students themselves to correct their own mistakes and only if they cannot, can the teacher turn to the other students.

Writing the incorrect utterance onto the whiteboard: While the student is speaking, the teacher can write some incorrect utterances onto the whiteboard and ask for correction afterward. Nevertheless, this might interrupt the student in their flow of thinking and they might stop talking and go back to the point where the mistake was made.

(to be continued…)


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