Teaching Ideas for the ESL Classroom
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Error Correction in the ESL Classroom

Some teachers correct every mistake made by their students. Other teachers rarely or never correct their students' mistakes. In Teacher Joe's experience, both approaches have serious weaknesses. The first approach makes students nervous and leads to a lack of fluency. The second approach can lead to students who speak but whose English is hard to understand.

It is better to avoid either extreme. ESL teachers should try to find a middle approach. We need to choose the right time to correct and the right time to let students speak freely. Corrections should only be made when students will receive the most benefit. Here are some times when you should correct students:

1. Correct students when they can't find the right way to proceed. When they are searching for the right word, phrase, or grammar, you can help them.

2. After several students have made the same mistake, make a note of it and plan an activity for a LATER lesson. Don't interrupt what they are doing, but don't ignore the mistake either.

3. Correct students when there is a real possibility for misunderstanding, for example if a student is talking about a past event but uses the wrong verb tense which could confuse the listener. You must explain this mistake when it happens, otherwise it will lead to other misunderstandings in the future.

The next question is, HOW should we correct students mistakes? Here, too, Teacher Joe has an opinion. There are two things you should include in any correction:
1. Explain why it is a mistake - how does it lead to miscommunication? Will this word choice lead people to believe something that is false? When talking about one thing, will using plural nouns by mistake lead to false assumptions? When students understand why, they are more motivated to remember correct English.

2. ALWAYS show students a better way! Don't just tell them they are wrong, give them an example, in a sentence, to reinforce your correction. Sometimes, two or three examples are helpful. If it's a particularly difficult point, you can even have the whole class practice the correct sentences out loud so that everyone gets it.