Published 29th October 2015
The one thing that is guaranteed to happen in your EFL classroom – in any classroom actually – is that your students are going to make mistakes when they are speaking. There are a number of different speaking mistakes students can make and there are a variety of reasons why students make mistakes, but the question remains: what do you do about it? Unfortunately, the answer is not so clear-cut. Deciding when, what and how to correct depends on a number of circumstances.
The first thing to consider is the activity. Some activities will not benefit from immediate error correction while others would. Some activities are focussed on accuracy while others are more concerned with fluency. If an activity is a controlled grammar practice activity, then immediate error correction is appropriate so the student is aware that what is being produced is incorrect. Mistakes at these times will occur regularly as the students are still learning the correct form, but they need to be corrected before the incorrect form becomes habit.
Immediate error correction can also be used if the mistake is a more of a slip or a lapse in concentration. A student may be tired or stressed and so may make a mistake which is not an indication of a lack of understanding, but rather a slip of the tongue. In these cases, immediate on-the-spot correction can be done quickly and won’t interrupt the flow of the activity.
On the other hand, if the activity is one in which students are working together in groups or having a discussion as a class, it may not be the best time to interrupt and error correct immediately. Doing so will probably interrupt the flow of discussion and ideas and so the activity will be stunted. Sometimes the content is more important than the language. What’s more, if errors are made, they can be noted down and dealt with at the end of the activity or the class.
The next question is how to deal with error correction. The easiest option is for the teacher to jump in and give the correct version. Another option is for the teacher to show that there is a problem and wait for the student to correct themselves. Or other students could be called upon to correct their classmate. One thing to bear to mind is that sometimes students are either unaware of exactly what part of what they just said was problematic, or they may have no idea how to correct it, so then it’ll become necessary for the teacher to step in.
Finally, you need to choose your battles. Sometimes there are so many mistakes flying around the classroom you won’t know what to do. You can’t correct everything all the time, so think about what would be the most appropriate for that situation. Often a mistake would take too long to explain, so it would be better to deal with it at a later stage. On the other hand, it can be vital to correct an error if it is impeding the lesson.
Basically, error correction is up to your judgement. There are a number of factors to consider but over time you will get to know the best ways to deal with it.