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Correcting learners

Module Three | Classroom management

How should teachers correct their students?


Questions 1-6 are about teacher’s behaviour. Match them with the correction techniques listed in the box from A-D. You may use some options more than one time.

Correction techniques

A.       Ignore the mistake

B.       Use finger correction

C.       Use self-correction

D.       Draw a time line on the board


Teacher’s behaviour

  1. An advanced student asks you: ‘Can you borrow me a ruler, please?’ You ask him to think about what he has said. Then ask him to try again.
  2. Spoken language and use of contractions are what you are focusing on. A student says: ‘I am going hiking tomorrow.’ You want to show him where the error is so you use your hand.
  3. A student repeats the instructions for an activity. He says: ‘Then we choose tri (three) objects.’ You just listen without interrupting.
  4. When you are doing a controlled practice activity, one of the students says: ‘I have been playing last week.’ You show her a diagram.
  5. You are working with a class of elementary kids. They are doing a fluency activity. One of the kids is explaining to the entire class about her pet. She says: ‘My dog drink milk.’ You let her continue talking.
  6. You have used a correction code to show the students where in their writing they have made errors. Now you ask them to correct their own errors.

When a teacher corrects a student, he/she must show the student that something is wrong and that they have made an error. A teacher can also show the student how to correct that error. When students make errors in speaking or writing, they can be corrected in different ways such as oral correction techniques to correct speaking errors and written correction techniques to correct written errors. Different techniques can be used when correcting different types of errors or slips.

Correcting learners’ oral errors

Correcting learners 4

Some ways to correct oral mistakes:

Draw a time line on the board. The time line is to show the students the relationships between the time and the use of a verb tense. This is a technique that is useful for errors like, ‘I have seen that movie a few days ago’. This is the time line that could be used to show this error:This shows the students that since the event is a past even and the time has been specified, they cannot use the present perfect tense. The correct sentence would be, ‘I saw that movie a few days ago’.

Finger correction – shows the students where the error has been made. The teacher shows one hand to the class and points to each finger in turn as the students say each word in the sentence. Usually, one finger is used for each word. This is a useful technique, especially when the students have missed a word or when the teacher needs them to use a contraction. Eg: I’m working instead of I am working.

Gestures and/or facial expressions. These are useful if the students are not to be interrupted too often, but need to be shown that they have made an error/slip. If the teacher gives the student a worried look, it can convey to the students that there is an issue. Many different gestures or facial expressions can be used depending on what is suitable for the teaching situation as well as the culture.

Phonemic symbols. When the students make pronunciation errors like using a long vowel when they should have used a short one instead, the teacher can point to a phonemic symbol. This technique can be used only with students who know the relevant phonemic symbols.

Echo correcting. This means repetition. Repeating what a student says with a rising intonation would show the student that there is an error.

Identifying the error. It is necessary to find the error by focusing the student’s attention on it and directly telling them that there is an issue. This technique is highly useful for correcting errors.

Not correcting at the time the error is made. This technique can be used to provide feedback after a fluency activity. It is better not to correct students when they are doing such activities. However, the teacher can make notes of the major errors that they make and once the activity is over, he/she can write them on the board or say the errors and the students can be asked to see if they can identify the errors.

Peer and self-correction. This is when the students correct each other’s errors. When students correct their own errors, it is called ‘self-correction’. At times, the teacher needs to indicate that there is an error so that the student can correct it. At other times, students notice their own errors and correct them by themselves. By use of peer and self-correction, students can become independent of the teacher and more aware of what they need to learn.

Ignoring mistakes. Usually in fluency activities, teachers ignore all the errors while the activity is going on. This is because it is most important for the teacher to be able to comprehend the students’ ideas and for the students to get practice in fluency. Notes of frequent errors are made and then corrected with the entire class after the activity is over. Often errors that are above the students’ level are ignored. Eg: If a student makes an error in something that has not yet being taught.

Correcting learners' written errors

Correcting learners 5

Other techniques for making written corrections are given below:

  1. Peer correction. The students take a look at one another’s work and correct it or otherwise discuss possible ways of correcting it.
  2. Teacher correction – the teacher corrects the errors by writing the correct words.
  3. Self-correction – students correct their own errors by using a guidance sheet.
  4. Ignoring the error. As explained above, sometimes errors are ignored on purpose.

    A mix of teacher correction, peer correction and self-correction is used in the classroom. At times, students need to be corrected. The teacher needs to show them that there is an error and they are either able to correct it by themselves or other students can assist them. Errors are sometimes ignored. The teacher chooses what is suitable for the learning purpose, the situation and the student.

    The technique that is used for correcting errors depends on what the error is that the student has made. Echo correction can be used for slips and time lines for errors.

    Teachers do not correct each and every error that the student makes. Errors are corrected according to the purpose of the activity, the stage of the lesson, how serious the error is and the student’s needs. It is not proper to correct all the errors that students make because it can decrease their motivation. When doing an activity in fluency, it is more appropriate to correct any errors after the activity is completed.

    For certain error types, there are correction techniques that are considered more suitable.

    Techniques like gestures and facial expressions give chances for peer and self-correction because the students are shown that there is an error, but it is not corrected by the teacher.

Test Your Knowledge

Look the sentence pairs given below. Students usually make errors and become confused with the meaning of A and B in each of the pairs. For each pair, draw two time lines which show clearly the differences in meaning.

  1. Princess Fiona danced with Shrek when the clock struck midnight.
  2. Princess Fiona was dancing with Shrek when the clock struck midnight.
  3. A. I play cricket on Saturdays.
  4. I played cricket on Saturday.

Here are some comments from teachers about students’ errors. Which of them would you agree with and why?

  1. It’s best to correct all the errors that students make.
  2. When a student makes errors, it means that that student is not learning.

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