Categorising learners’ mistakes

Module Three | Teachers’ and learners’ language in the classroom

How are students’ errors categorised?


Read questions 1-6 and match the examples of student errors in written work with the types of errors listed from A-G. You will find there is an extra option you do not have to use.

Learner mistakes

  1. She arrived to the class late.
  2. I listened the teacher before I left.
  3. The girl lives in very expensive accommodation near the university.
  4. Here is a picture of my fathers sister.
  5. She hurt one of her foot fingers.
  6. She wore a shoe brown.

Types of mistake

A. Wrong vocabulary

B. Wrong preposition

C. Wrong spelling

D. Word missing

E. Wrong word order

F. Wrong punctuation

G. Wrong agreement

Errors depict problems with accuracy (using the right form of language) or communication (sharing information in a way that is clear for all). It is possible for students to make oral or written errors. Oral errors are made when speaking (in the accuracy of grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary or the level of formality of the language). Written errors are made in grammar, spelling, paragraphing or punctuation.  Students’ errors can be mistakes or slips. Usually, students have the ability to correct slips by themselves.

Oral errors

oral correction

Have a look at the examples of students’ oral errors given below. Can you find errors of accuracy (grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary) and appropriacy?

  1. The boy like the dog. (Talking about a habit in the present)
  2. Shut up! (Said to a friend)
  3. Can you tell me where is the supermarket?
  4. I wear my suit in the swimming pool.


Examples 1, 3, and 4 all have examples of inaccurate language.

  • In the first example, there is a grammar error. The student has missed the third person s from the verb. The correct way to say it would be ‘The boy likes the dog’.
  • In the third example, there is a grammar error. The subject and the verb have been put in the wrong order in the indirect question. The correct sentence is ‘Can you tell me where the supermarket is?’
  • In the fourth example, there is a vocabulary error. The student has used the word suit instead of swimsuit. The correct sentence is ‘I wear my swimsuit in the swimming pool’.



The second example is an example of inappropriate language. Thought it is accurate, it is not appropriate. Saying ‘Shut up!’ to someone is rude. The polite way to say it is, ‘Please be quiet!’

Written errors

Like oral errors, written errors can be categorised into mistakes or slips. Given below is a story that a student wrote.

Read the story below written by a student. As you can see, there are different types of errors. Can you figure out what those error categories are?


My Best Friend

I going to tell you about my best friend. Her name is Betty. She is tall and has got long hair dark. Her favourite food is chocolate and her favourite drink is cola. Her hobbies are writing short stories and looking at TV. At weekend we go shopping in the mall and meet our friends. It’s fun!

A correction code can be used by the teacher to show the student the types of errors in accuracy that the student has made. Because of this, the student can make his/her own corrections.

Here are common categories in a correction code:

  • a word is missing
  • wrong word order
  • incorrect spelling
  • incorrect vocabulary
  • punctuation
  • incorrect preposition
  • wrong agreement, eg: She like
  • good sentence or expression
  • too many words
  • incorrect verb tense
  • ask me (I don’t understand this)

    Students will lose their motivation if the teachers correct every single error they make. Teachers must ensure that their corrections are suitable for the level of the student and the learning style as well and also for the focus of the task.

Nerd baby says ...​

There are various reasons for students to make errors. They may not have learnt a word properly or the structure of the word yet. They might be using a word or a structure from their first language without meaning to.

In order to correct oral and written errors, there are various techniques.

Errors are considered an important and positive aspect of learning. This is because errors show that the learning is happening and that students are taking risks with using the language. This is a good thing.

Test Your Knowledge

Read the teachers’ comments below. Which of these comments would you agree with and why?

  1. It is extremely hard to ignore spelling or grammar errors. They are the most important things so I feel I must correct them.
  2. It is harder to correct errors in communication than in accuracy.
  3. If we don’t correct all our students’ mistakes, they think that we are not doing our job right.

In the box below is an example of a student’s writing. Have a look at the words that are underlined and try to decide the category of mistake.

In the past people used to travel on train or on foot. Now they usually travel by plane and by car. I like trains. Train are very confortableand you can to read or talk to your friends. Planes are fast and they were more expensive.

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