Correction in the English classroom. A guide for teachers.

Support in the lesson

Correction is very important in English lessons. It is the main advantage of practising English with the support of a teacher. Error correction does not normally occur when simply chatting outside of English lessons. Correction from one a learner’s friends or colleagues is very rare. It is often unhelpful or incorrect. Most people believe it is rude or inappropriate in a social situation.

Every English course

Correction is the rightful occupation of a language teacher. It helps learners learn faster. Correction helps learners avoid developing fossilised errors that they cannot “unlearn.”  All types of English courses, including General English, Conversation and Cambridge exam preparation courses (IELTS, CAE, FCE, etc) require correction.

Fun English Classes

Skilful, patient, supportive and ideally light-hearted correction breathes life into a classroom. It draws learners’ awareness to the language and their development. Someone is paying attention. It is about them. It is about English. It is alive! It is now! It is fun! It is motivating! Most English language learners would expect correction to be a big part of their English lessons.

Best practice

What would be the point of English lessons with no correction? What reason would a learner have to practise or even try? What would they actually learn if they did try? You absolutely must include an element of correction in (or after) any free practice task. Perhaps it is simply to give positive feedback. If a teacher is not correcting, are they teaching? 

However, as with all things in life, there has to be balance!

Overcorrection of English Language

We want our learners to be excellent

Correcting every error is a temptation teachers must resist. We want our learners to be excellent and accurate. Accuracy is important. Almost any mistake or error needs to be addressed at some point during a learner’s language development. The problem is, if we correct every error, we discourage students from trying. It can also interrupt the flow of English lessons.

Free Practice

Take free practice speaking tasks for example. Overcorrection can interrupt the flow of the speaker and the exercise. It is usually better to monitor the group from a distance whilst closely listening for mistakes and errors. At the end of the task errors can be put on the board. The class can correct them together.

Confidence in the classroom

Some learners are anxious about making mistakes to begin with. Overcorrection could really shut them down in their English lessons. They would be reluctant to communicate. Even reasonably confident and relaxed learners will lose some fluency if they concentrate too much on accuracy.

Overcorrection is likely to create feelings of inadequacy among the learners. Worse still, they may even sense negative judgement from their teacher.

English lessons with a positive atmosphere

Obviously, all this could have a very negative impact on the rapport, the fun and the motivation of the class. Maintaining a positive atmosphere in an English lesson is the key to learning English faster.

TEFL teacher

The skill of the TEFL teacher is to know which errors need to be corrected now, and which ones can be left for later. It depends of the type of learner, their receptiveness to correction, their attitude, their level of English, their first language interference etc. It also depends on the complexity of the language point the error relates to. Perhaps the teacher should save correcting a complex language point for another lesson, a “revision day” for example.

Language acquisition

Knowing when and what to correct is one of the more complex areas of teaching. It comes with experience. Obviously, a detailed knowledge of language acquisition is a helpful tool. This enables the teacher to understand how and why mistakes are being made. A teacher should normally correct mistakes which relate to an earlier stage of the learner’s developmental language acquisition. Also, they should usually correct any mistakes relating to the language point of the lesson. They should probably leave mistakes that relate to the learner’s future development to when we arrive at that language point in English lessons in the future. As always, there are sure to be many exceptions to these rules. 

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