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15 ways to correct spoken errors

1. Collect the errors for later You can then correct them later in the same class (with a game like a grammar auction or just eliciting corrections from the class) or in a future class (for example writing error dictation pairwork worksheets or using the same techniques as can be used in the same class). […]

1. Collect the errors for later
You can then correct them later in the same class (with a game like a grammar auction or just eliciting corrections from the class) or in a future class (for example writing error dictation pairwork worksheets or using the same techniques as can be used in the same class). Make sure you give positive reinforcement as well, e.g. “Someone said this sentence, and that is really good.”
Useful language:
“Here are some things that people said in the last activity”
“I heard several people say this one”
“Can anyone correct this sentence? It has one missing word/ one word missing/ You need to add one word”
“The words are in the wrong order/ You need to change the words around/ change the word order/ mix the words up”
“This is a typical mistake for students from…”
“Don’t worry, even native speakers make this mistake sometimes/ every nationality makes this mistake”
“This mistake is something we studied last week”

2. Facial expression
For example, raise an eyebrow, tilt your head to one side or give a slight frown. Most people will do this naturally, but there is a slight chance a teacher’s expression will be too critical or too subtle for your students to pick up on, and you can (amusingly) practice facial expressions in a teaching workshop by participants communicating certain typical classroom messages (“move over there to work with this person”, “work in pairs” etc.) using just their heads and faces, including feedback on spoken errors in that list.

3. Body language
The problems with using body language to show errors could also be that it is taken as very serious criticism or that it is too vague. Possibilities include using your hands (rolling a hand from side to side to mean “so-so attempt”; making a circle by moving your index finger to mean “one more time”; or a cross with fingers, open palms or even forearms to show a very clear “no” or “wrong”- probably only suitable for a team game etc where the responsibility is shared), head (tilted to one side to mean “I’m not sure that sounds correct”), or shoulders (hunched to reinforce “I don’t understand what you are saying”). Again, practising this in a teaching workshop can be useful, as can eliciting other body language teachers could have used after an observation.

4. Point at the correct language
If you have something on the correct form easily accessible on the whiteboard, in the textbook or on a poster, just pointing at it can be a subtle but clear way of prompting students to use the correct language. What you point at could be the name of the tense or word form they are supposed to be using, a verb forms table or the actual correct verb form, a grammatical explanation, or another grammatical hint such as “future”, “prediction” or “polite”.
Useful language:
“Have a look at your books/ the board”
“The correct version is somewhere in this chart/ poster/ table”
“You copied this down earlier. Have a look in your notebooks”

5. Repeat what they said
This can mean repeating the whole sentence, one section of it including the wrong part, the sentence up to the wrong part, the sentence with the wrong part missed out (with maybe a humming noise to show the gap that should be filled) or just the wrong part. You can illustrate that you are showing them an error and give some hint as to which bit is wrong by using a questioning tone (for everything you say or just for the wrong part). This method is overused by some teachers and can sound patronising if used too often or with the wrong tone of voice, so try to mix up the different versions of it described here and to alternate with methods described in the other tips.
Useful language:
“The man GOED to the shops?”
“The man GOED?”

6. Just say the right version
The students can then repeat the correct version or tell you what the difference between the two sentences was and why their version was wrong. Because the students don’t do much of the work in this way of being corrected, it might not be as good a way of remembering the correction as methods where you give more subtle clues. Its advantages are that it is quick and suits cultures, classes and students that think of elicitation as shirking by the teacher. It can also be more face-saving than asking them for self-correction, as trying to correct themselves risks making even more mistakes. The “right version” could mean the whole sentence or just the correction of the part that was wrong. In the latter case, you can then ask them to put it into the sentence in the right place and repeat the whole thing.
Useful language:
“I understand what you are saying, but you need to say…”
“We studied this last week. “Hardly” has a different meaning to “hard”, so you need to say…?”
“The past of say is pronounced /sed/. So your sentence should be…?”

7. Tell them how many mistakes
This method is only really suitable for controlled speaking practice, but can be a very simple way of giving feedback in that situation. Examples include “Most of the comparatives were right, but you made two mistakes” and “Three words are in the wrong position in the sentence/ are mixed up”. Make sure you only use this method when students can remember what you are referring to without too much prompting.
Other useful language:
“Very good, but you made just one mistake with the passive”
(For a tongue twister) “Good attempt/ Getting better, but in two places you said /sh/ where it should have been /s/. Can you guess which words?”

8. Use grammatical terminology to identify the mistake
For example, “(You used) the wrong tense”, “Not the Present Perfect”, “You need an adverb, not an adjective” or “Can change that into the passive/ indirect speech?” This method is perhaps overused, and you need to be sure that the grammatical terminology isn’t just going to confuse them more.
Other useful language:
“Because that is the present simple, you need to add the auxiliary (verb) ‘do’”
“Say the same sentence, but with the comparative form”

9. Give the rule
For example, “‘Since’ usually takes the Present Perfect” or “One syllable adjectives make the comparative with –er, not more + adjective” This works best if they already know the rule, and you at least need to make sure that they will quickly understand what you are saying, for example by only using grammatical terminology you have used with them several times before.

10. Give a number of points
This is probably best saved for part of a game, especially one where students work together, but you can give each response a number of points out of 10. The same or other teams can then make another attempt at saying the same thing to see if they can get more points. If you don’t want students to focus on accuracy too much, tell them that the points will also give them credit for good pronunciation, fluency, politeness, persuasiveness and/ or originality of ideas.
Useful language:
“Very good fluency and very interesting, but a few basic mistakes, so I’ll give your team a score of (IELTS) 5.5. Practice your script in your team again for 5 minutes and we’ll try it one more time”
“You got all the articles right this time, so I’ll give you 9 out of 10”

11. Just tell them they are wrong (but nicely)
Positive ways of being negative include “nearly there”, “getting closer”, “just one mistake”, “much better”, “good idea, but…”,”I understand what you mean but…”, “you have made a mistake that almost everyone does/ that’s a very common mistake”, “we haven’t studied this yet, but…” and “much better pronunciation, but…” With lower level and new classes, you might have to balance the need to be nice with the need to be clear and not confuse them with feedback language that they don’t understand, perhaps by sticking to one or two phrases to give feedback for the first couple of months. It can also be useful to give them translations of this and other classroom language you will use, for example on a worksheet or a poster.

12. Tell them what part they should change
For example, “You need to change the introduction to your presentation” or “Try replacing the third word with something else”

13. Ask partners to spot errors
This is a fairly well-known way of giving feedback in speaking tasks, but it can be a minefield if the person giving feedback has no confidence in their ability to do so or in how well the feedback (i.e. criticism) will be taken, and even more so if the person receiving the feedback will in fact react badly. This method is easier to do and easier to take when they have been told specifically which language to use while speaking and so to look out for when listening, usually meaning controlled speaking practice tasks. The feedback can be made even simpler to give and collect and more neutral with some careful planning, e.g. asking them count how many times their partner uses the target form as well as or instead of looking for when it used incorrectly.

14. Try again!
Sometimes, students don’t need much help at all but just a chance to do it again. This is likely to be true if you have trained them well in spotting their own errors, if there was some other kind of mental load such as a puzzle to solve that was distracting them from the language, or if they have had a chance to hear someone else doing the same speaking task in the class or on a recording.
Useful language:
“One more time (but think about the grammar more this time/ but concentrating on making less mistakes instead of speaking quickly)”
“Give it another go”
“Do you want one more chance before you get the final score”

15. Remind them when you studied that point
For example, “Nearly right, but you’ve forgotten the grammar that we studied last week” or “You’ve made the same mistake as everyone made in the last test”.

And finally, a tip that isn’t included in the count of fifteen points as it is the opposite of what the article is supposed to be about:

16. Don’t
Sometimes students won’t benefit from any feedback on spoken errors. I could write another whole article on how to choose when to correct and when not to, and I may well do so…
Useful language:
“We’re concentrating on fluency today, so we’ll leave the error correction until next week”
“There is practice of this in your homework, so we’ll just try and use the language for communication today, and concentrate more on getting the grammar right next week

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
October 2008 | Filed under Speaking
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

16 Comments on “15 ways to correct spoken errors”

  1. Eric Roth Says:

    Great list. While I tend to favor indirect corrections with older adult students to help students save face in the moment, I’ve also found just jotting down the “good mistakes” – common, perhaps even logical errors – during the discussion helpful. I often devote the last ten minutes of class to review that lessons’ “good mistakes” so nobody feels put on the spot, and we can separate the sin from the sinner.

    Again, great list. Why don’t you publish a book with these 15 tips for this and 15 tips for that? I’d certainly buy it and recommend it for any English teacher training program.

  2. Alex Case Says:

    Kimmy- Personally, I think Elementary students need very little correction. They mainly need vocabulary to reach a level where they can understand the English around them and start to enjoy the language and really communicate, and then the grammatical errors can be dealt with or even sometimes sort themselves out if they ever need a higher level than that (most students don’t)

  3. Akshaya Says:

    A heartiful thanks to all the team i got a lots of help from this site

    As some of the people told me that your english is good and they asked me to give some tips and as per no one is perfect so i visited the site and got some good things

  4. umida Says:

    Great page. I really liked all the information here. Why do not you write a book dedicated on this topic Alex. I think it would be a great job

  5. umida Says:

    Alex I wrote my diploma on the topic Error correction in EFL speaking classroom. And the info which I found here helped me a lot. Thanks a lot.

  6. domi Says:

    Dear Umida!

    I would like to ask you to send me your e-mail address as I have just started to write my thesis on the topic of error correction. You may have some useful ideas for me…. Thank you!

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