POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IN THE EFL CLASSROOM

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Undoubtedly the main aim of the EFL classroom is to ensure that our students produce accurate and appropriate English in order to communicate and express themselves. It seems sensible then that we often focus on accuracy. Consequently, error correction has become a big deal in the English language classroom.

Now, while we’re not saying this is a bad thing – because it’s definitely not, if done in the right way – it can lead to a classroom where we tend to focus only on the errors and mistakes our learners are making, without taking the time to draw attention to the good language that is being produced as well.

To be sure, our learners appreciate error correction. After all, this is why they are in our classroom, to learn what they are doing wrong and learn how to do it better. But should we not be spending more time on positive reinforcement?

Think back to the last lesson you taught. If you find that you can only remember the error correction that took place during the lesson and no instances of focussing on good language, then yes, it seems you should be spending more time on positive reinforcement.

The thing is, it’s very easy to incorporate into your lessons because you would do it the same way you do delayed error correction. At the end of the activity or lesson, when you write up the errors that came up, do the same for good language that was used. Note down a few phrases or sentences which used accurate grammar or appropriate vocabulary and draw students’ attention to them. Explain why they have been chosen as model language and reinforce the fact that this is good language to be remembered and utilised again.

Remember, this doesn’t have to be only grammar-related. Often the good language which can come out is a colloquial expression, collocation or idiom which has been used appropriately and effectively.

Now you may be thinking that this is a waste of time because our learners should know when they are using good language because we are not correcting them, but this is not necessarily the case. We cannot correct every error our learners make and they know this and don’t expect us to. So they might think they have made numerous errors but have got away with them.

They also may not realise that what they are producing could be termed good language, but drawing their attention to it will help reinforce it in their minds. This will further contribute to a positive atmosphere in the classroom, which is something we always want to foster to reduce anxiety and create an effective learning environment.

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