Name The Aim!
After giving instruction for a particular communicative task, before it begins, make sure you highlight to the learners what the overall aim of the task is: is it practice for fluency or accuracy? If the answer is the latter, learners can expect to be corrected more frequently during the activity. For the former, learners should have their errors corrected in bulk at the end of the activity (delayed correction), or in the middle (we’ll look at this later).
Do it yourself correction – i.e. learners correct themselves or each other. Most trainers naturally encourage self-correction via raising an eyebrow, facial expressions or repetition of the incorrect utterance. Peer-correction is another great way of creating learner-centred correction; encourage learners to correct each other whilst doing communicative activities. Word to the wise, do not attempt this with learners who you think may have insufficient emotional intelligence to do this sensitively!
Patience Is A Virtue
Try not to correct the errors you hear, as and when you hear them…wait a little while! During any communicative activity (practice for fluency), make sure you are monitoring with a pen and notepad in hand, making notes of incorrect and correct utterances from your learners. It’s a good idea to divide the page of your notepad up: create three columns, one for grammar, lexis and pronunciation
This allows your learners to really get practice for fluency, get into the activity but also be assured that they know some error correction at an appropriate time. At a point in the lesson/activity you deem as ‘appropriate’ (not interrupting the flow, not too long after the errors were made etc.) call a ‘time out’! This means all learners need to stop their activity and you’ll conduct a quick error correction session. A great way to do this is to:
1. Write the examples of correct and incorrect utterances on the board (preferably a mix of grammatical and lexical errors)
2. Ask learners to work in pairs and identify firstly which are correct and incorrect
3. Feedback with the group (only about which are correct and incorrect)
4. Ask learners to work in pairs and correct the examples which are incorrect (they should write them down)
5. Go through each example by asking a volunteer to come to the board and to make the correction
6. As a group, the correction is assessed, and then explained (by you as a last resort – ideally all corrections and explanations should come from the learners)
7. Pronunciation errors – write the phoneme/word/phrase that you want to work on up on the board. Encourage learners to pronounce it in the way they think is correct. Help with any problematic sounds you hear.
In order to avoid the dreaded ‘fossilized error’ (an error which persists, uncorrected and becomes a regular part of speech), encourage your learners to start making the following types of notes either on their tablet or in the back of their notebook:
The economy showing signs of improvement.
The economy is showing signs of improvement.
Present continuous to talk about a situation happening now. Needs the verb ‘to be’.
Highlight to your learners that new mistakes are good, they mean you’re taking linguistic risks and therefore more likely to be making memorable associations and on the road to language acquisition. However, recurring errors are a worrying thing as they may become fossilized; by making a note of them as above, learners will be able to monitor these potential fossils and will gradually become more aware of them and determined to keep them from fossilizing. These lists are also a treasure trove for trainers to create warmers, fillers, coolers, homework and tests.
Crack The Code!
A handy and productive method of conducting more learner-centred, written error correction is to agree/introduce a correction code with your learners. This is a list of symbols which represent common types of written error corrections. For example, an error associated with word order can be represented by ‘WO’ on the piece of writing handed to you by a learner. Learners can then peer-correct or self-correct the error. Other symbols might be, for example:
|Spelling = SP|
|Wrong tense = WT|
|Punctuation = P|
|Verb/noun agreement = V/N|
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