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Top 10 tips for oral correction in ESL/EFL classroom

Corrections, if are well done, could be the most helpful thing a teacher can do for his students. There are many ways of doing oral error corrections, but I do believe that the 10 tips I am going to present here are (not in a particular order) the best of all. However, you should consider your own oral correction policy.

Making mistakes is a necessary and positive part of learning process

Errors should be welcome. Only these students who learn make mistakes. It means that errors provide evidence of students’ learning and needs.
Everybody (students and teachers) should consider errors as natural part of learning. When that happens, very few learners will feel ashamed of their mistakes. For this reason, when the teacher listens should focus on both, what is wrong and what is correct as well. In the end, correction is what students do to themselves. It really doesn’t matter how much modeling and drilling the teacher does, the learner is the one who must make the changes to produce the language correctly. In conclusion, errors lead to better learning if the teacher’s feedback is constructive and learners do their part of the correction.

Discuss options with your class

For example, negotiate correction with students by allowing them to experience different options and then allow students to choose what they found most useful.

Collect and share mistakes

Collect and share errors with students. A poster on the wall containing an open list of frequently made mistakes (where everybody can add more mistakes) might be a good idea. The poster’s purpose is to share and learn from these mistakes.

Use preemptive correction

Usually, teachers repair errors after they are made. Error correction can be more effective if it is done more proactively (in monolingual classes the teacher can easily anticipate the types of errors students will make).

Visual correction

This is the most powerful way of correcting errors. Unfortunately, it can not be applied in all of the situations. Some errors lead to a funny image or can be demonstrated very effectively using a cartoon or a stick drawing.

Work out the “why” and the “whether to” before correcting

When to correct, what to correct, and how to correct? These decisions are taken by the teacher at subconscious level because there are so many things going on in a lesson. It is very important to understand why learners are making mistakes and whether to correct them or not. Don’t just correct them automatically.

What kind of error it is? (Grammar, vocabulary, L1 interference etc.)

The teacher must decide instantly if the correction of the error will be effective or not (leading to improvement or not). In order to find out if the error correction will be effective or not, you might want to ask yourself the following questions: “Is meaning getting across as is?”, “Does the error impair communication?”, “Is it a reoccurring or sporadic mistake?”, “Is the mistake important in the context we are talking about?”, “Can the learner learn from this correction?”, “How much time do I need to make the correction?”.

When does the error happen and when should we give feedback? If errors happen during an accuracy activity then it is important to give corrective feedback (especially when the mistakes affect the language being practiced). If errors occur during a fluency activity then the teacher should correct only those mistakes that affect communication. However, avoid diverting too much attention from the communicative task by giving as unobtrusive as possible corrective feedback.

Prioritize

Choose and correct only those mistakes that are appropriate at that stage of their learning. Can the teacher expect a perfect third conditional sentence from beginner learners? Definitely, no!

Don’t try to correct too much at once

Correcting every single mistake can lead to inhibition so we need to choose carefully which errors to correct, when to correct, and how to correct them. If a sentence contains several mistakes then the teacher should choose the key error (or errors) to correct.

Correct pronunciation physically and visually

When the teacher is teaching sounds, using a model word for each sound seems to be a very good method. Encourage students to notice and collect words with similar sounds, words that rhyme, or words that have similar spelling patterns. Remembering every word in isolation is a very difficult task and very often leads to no result.

Use as many corrective feedback strategies as possible

The greater the variety, the stronger the impact each strategy has on student’s learning and memory. The purpose of corrective feedback is to help student notice, understand, and remember. To achieve this, the students have to be involved in the process, they have to think and figure it out.

My Vietnamese students always say: “Yesterday I go to …” In this situation the teacher can do one or more of the following:

Definitely, learning from corrective feedback is not automatic. It is just a partial process and for sure it is not immediate or complete. In order for the corrective feedback to be helpful for learning process the student has to do his part.


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