What to do when students make mistakes

When students make mistakes, we tend to go into teacher mode. Sometimes, our immediate response is just to correct automatically. Sometimes we draw to get the student to self-correct. On the other hand, we might just let it go. Here are some different ways we might correct.

Different models of correction:

1. Teacher says corrected form during conversation: 

Student: I tried to went home early…..

Teacher: I tried to go home early….

Student: Ahhh..I tried to go home early, but then when I wanted to saw my boss…..

As you can see, although the student responds as if he/she understood the error, he/she goes on to make the same error almost immediately afterwards.

2. Teacher highlights error for student to correct: 

Student: Yesterday, I go shopping….

Teacher: Yesterday, I GO shopping….

Student: Ahh…Yesterday, I went shopping….

In this case, the teacher simply varies his/her intonation to draw attention to the error in speech. The teacher could use hand gestures such as pointing backwards to indicated past; he/she could also write the sentence on the board with the word “go” underlined. This method might work well for visual students or for students who don’t respond to the verbal cuing.

Of course, the student may or may not fully understand the error. The student may just be guessing. Highlighting the particular part of the sentence helps the student locate the error, but sometimes it may be too much of a hint.

3. The teacher waits until the end of the conversation or activity and writes all errors up on the board:

This method works well when you don’t want to risk humiliating a student during a presentation. It may also work well when you notice that students are making similar mistakes. That way instead of correcting each student individually during an activity, you can correct them altogether at the end and save time. Anothet advantage to this method is anonymity. The disadvantage may be that you can forget the mistakes. In a one-on-one conversation, I suggest you make mention the mistakes as they come up.

General notes:

A general rule of thumb is that you should correct errors that have to do with the lesson. If you are teaching present continuous, you may want to correct errors that the students make in this tense.

Another rule of thumb, I personally follow is to try to make corrections of errors based on the level and competence of the student. If I’m working with a true-advanced student, I will correct low level mistakes. If I know that he knows how to use the present perfect, I’ll correct him on that if need be.

Finally, I would suggest helping students to overcome persistent mistakes that interfere with fluency and meaning. If students continually pronounce the past tense “ed” wrong, I’ll correct them and probably plan a lesson or part of a lesson just on this.

Note about theories:

Some theories say that there are periods during which we should avoid correcting students. These periods might be during a students transition from one level to another. We should be careful about over-correcting students or discouraging students. I believe that students are also curious and want to know if they are speaking correctly. We can answer these questions, but we always have to balance these questions with our attention to other students in the classroom. We don’t want to discourage a desire to speak perfectly, but we also don’t want to overindulge it.