Number one for English language teachers

Classroom management: the role of correction in English teaching

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Reference material

An article discussing the role of correction in English language teaching.


Correction slots: in principle and practice


Introduction

A lot of time and effort is spent on training courses and beyond in encouraging teachers to consider whether immediate or later correction of student errors during oral work is appropriate. There are a variety of good methods and techniques suggested for correcting students' errors on the spot (see references below).

Our aim here is to consider what benefits correction of any kind might have for learners, as well as to present some ideas for conducting later correction (correction slots). We have included a sample lesson plan with two of these ideas incorporated into it.

Why correct learners?

Look at these statements about correction of students' oral work. What do you think?

  • Advanced students need loads of correction, beginners hardly any. When you start to learn a language you need to be able to communicate imperfectly in lots of situations, not perfectly in a few. The teacher's job is to support learners as they blunder through a range of communicative scenarios, not badger them because they forget the third person -s. With advanced learners the opposite is usually the case.
  • The jury is out on the question of whether correcting students, however you do it, has any positive effect on their learning. There is some evidence, though, that time spent on correcting learners may be wasted.

Research into Second Language Acquisition has suggested that it may be that some language forms can be acquired more quickly through being given special attention while others may be acquired in the learners' own time, regardless of teacher attention. This helps explain, for example, why intermediate learners usually omit third person -s just like beginners, but often form questions with do correctly, unlike beginners.

  • There is little point correcting learners if they don’t have a fairly immediate opportunity to redo whatever they were doing and get it right.

Learners need the opportunity for a proper rerun of the communication scenario in which they made the error, if they are to have any chance of integrating the correct form into their English. Whether the error was teacher-corrected, peer-corrected or self-corrected in the first place is of relatively minor importance.

  • Lots of learners and teachers think correction is important.

Is this because it helps them to learn and teach or helps them to feel like learners and teachers?

  • The problem with some learners is they don’t make enough mistakes.

Accurate but minimal contributions in speaking activities are unlikely to benefit learning as much as inaccurate but extended participation. Learners can be hampered by their own inhibitions and attitudes to accuracy and errors, the teacher’s attitude and behaviour (conscious or unconscious) to accuracy and errors or the restricted nature of the activities proposed by the teacher.

  • Teachers spend too much time focussing on what students do wrong at the expense of helping them to get things right.

When giving feedback to learners on their performance in speaking English, the emphasis for the teacher should be to discover what learners didn’t say and help them say that, rather than pick the bones out of what they did say. This requires the use of activities which stretch learners appropriately and the teacher listening to what learners aren’t saying. That’s difficult.


Correction slot pro-forma

Here is a sample correction slot pro-forma which has been filled in with some notes that a teacher took during a fluency activity for a pre-intermediate class of Spanish students:

Grammar/ vocab
Pronunciation
L1
#

I go always to cinema

She have got a cat…

Does she can swim?

Swimming bath my fathers

“Comfortable”

“Bag”– said “Back”

intonation very flat (repeat some phrases with more pitch range)

Bodega

 

Ocio

 

Yo que sé

I don't ever see my sister

Have you seen Minority Report?

Good pronunciation of AMAZING



Why use this pro-forma?

  1. It helps teacher and students identify errors.
  2. It helps you as a teacher to listen and give balanced feedback.

And how to use it ?

  1. It has been divided into four sections. The first two, Grammar/Vocabulary and Pronunciation, are pretty evident and are what teachers look out for as 'mistakes' in most cases.
  2. The third slot, L1, means the words that students used in their own language during the exercise. We believe that in a fluency-based activity, if a student can’t find the right word in English, they should say it in their own language so as not to impede the flow. An attentive teacher (who also knows her students' L1) will make a quick note of it and bring it up later, eliciting the translation from the class. If you are teaching a multi-lingual class, you can still use this column. You don’t have to know the translations. You can prompt the learners to come up with those.
  3. The '#' column reminds us to include successful language in feedback. Too often in correction slots the emphasis is on what went wrong. Here the teacher can write down examples of good things that happened. This is especially true if the teacher notices that the students are using a recently taught structure or lexical item, or if they have pronounced something correctly that they had trouble with before.

Other suggestions

  1. You can copy your filled-in version and hand it out to groups of students to save writing on the whiteboard. Or simply use it to help you note down language in an organized way.
  2. You can fill out separate sheets for each group of students as you listen or even for each individual student (this would obviously work best with very small classes!). You can pass them round, have students correct their own, each others, whatever.
  3. The advantage of using a set form is that by doing this, you keep an ongoing record of mistakes that can be stored and exploited for revision lessons, tests or as a filler for the end of a class.

Blank correction slot pro-forma for you to use PDF (48 KB).



How to conduct the correction slot


So now you are using a correction slot. Here are some ideas on how to vary it and make it more effective and memorable for your learners!

1. Rehashing
Write learners' errors on the whiteboard or OHP in the usual way. Then ask learners to rehash or summarize the communication using the errors on the board as prompts. For example, learners have been comparing two cities and the teacher has noted down and written mistakes on the board. Students have discussed and corrected the mistakes, so we now have correct vocabulary items and phrases on the board. The teacher then asks a student to report some of the points made, using the bits of language on the board as prompts. This can be done together as a group or in pairs or using both formats. This activity helps learners to reinforce corrected language (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation).

2. The Correction Sandwich
This is a correction slot done in the middle of a communication activity. As with rehashing the advantage is that students actually have a chance to put feedback on their performance immediately into practice. It works particularly well with communication activities that have a rotating element and natural breaks, such as the job interview where a candidate has several interviews, or advice giving, where a student seeks advice on a problem from several other students. (see sample lesson plan). It can work just as well as a blatant interruption though. The teacher can stop a discussion activity, conduct a correction slot and then allow students to continue the discussion. An important advantage of the sandwich is you don’t end the lesson on a downer (accuracy work) but on communication, focusing on what students said and found out in the activity.

3. Grammar gap fill
Teacher writes up some incorrect (and correct) sentences she hears in the speaking activity and deletes a word or words from each one. Students have to fill the gaps. This works particularly well with prepositions.

4. Vocabulary extension
Write some headings on the board relating to lexical areas from the communication activity. If students have been comparing two cities the headings could be adjectives to describe a city, city facilities, climate for example. Learners make lists under each heading of words and expressions they used and heard used during the activity. Then ask students to add three items to each list, using a bilingual dictionary or the teacher as a resource. Teacher monitors and conducts collective feedback as necessary. The idea here is that not only do learners get their English polished but also extended.

5. Getting learners more involved in correcting each other
Students can take on the teachers role and be responsible for listening and noting down mistakes. They can use a pro forma such as the one included with this article. This can be especially useful when there is an odd number for pairwork or a role play activity. Feedback can be done firstly in small groups, where the student gives feedback to the peers he has been listening to, and then as a whole class to deal with unresolved difficulties.

6. Zero correction
Instead of having a correction slot, the teacher simply uses the errors she has noted down as the basis for language work in future classes.

Sample lesson plan

Still unsure? Try this lesson plan at the bottom of the page which incorporates two correction slot ideas.



Some useful further references:

Scrivener Learning Teaching (Macmillan) for a succinct summary of different techniques teachers can use to correct learners.

Bartram and Walton Correction (LTP) for an overview of the issues and implications of correcting learners and lots of useful ideas, techniques and diagrams even!

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