The TEFL Life: A TEFL blog

a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures

My students’ favourite error correction activity

Believe it or not and contrary to popular belief, my students love error correction. I know there are a lot of studies on anxiety in the classroom and subsequent advice on being gentle with error correction in case you hurt your learners’ feelings, but I have never found that to be the case.

Obviously I try not to reduce them to tears (for the record, that’s never happened) but I don’t think error correction is such an evil practice and I think it can be done in a very gentle, good-natured way.

This error correction activity is not new or groundbreaking by any means, but it is one which I consistently find my students respond well to. During class when they realise it is about to happen they immediately sit up and take notice (and then argue heatedly, which is always good) and when I am covering for another teacher, even these students who don’t know me well ask me to do it again the next time I see them.

Disclaimer, because I suppose I should put one in: this is all done in a nice, friendly way. We all end up laughing and joking about the mistakes and no-one is ever put on the spot. Also, I’ve only ever done this with adults and teen learners (when it can get quite rowdy) – don’t think it’ll be particularly helpful with Young Learners.

So, what’s the magic formula?

1. During the lesson, quietly and surreptitiously take notes of errors they are making. This can be when they are on task, asking you a question or even talking to their friends. Take note of the entire sentence, not just the error.

2. Five or ten minutes before the end of class, write the errors in a list on the board. It’s important to write the whole sentence or at least enough of it so the students understand or remember the context. Also, the sentences are anonymous and at no time must you give any hint as to the nature or location of the errors.

3. Tell the students that you have written up mistakes they made during the lesson (cue groans, embarrassed giggles and sporadic confessions). Tell them there are mistakes in every sentence.

4. Give the students 1 minute to look at the sentences, try and find the errors and think of the solutions. This must be done individually, quietly.

5. After a minute, let the students collaborate in pairs or groups to share their ideas.

6. After another minute or so, open up the discussion to the class. Ask them what the problems are. If the students can tell you correctly where the error is and what the correction should be, correct the sentence on the board. If they cannot, don’t give them the answer but move onto a sentence they can do. By keeping silent, you’ll find they end up discussing the errors and possible corrections and justifying their ideas. Usually together, they come up with the right answer.

And that’s it.

I don’t let the students write the sentences down because I don’t think writing down errors is particularly useful but if they need to take notes on a particular structure of word usage, of course I let them do that.

Why do I think this is so popular?

Students seem to enjoy the fact that you are listening to every word they say. Because you’ve been taking notes throughout the lesson, they realise that even when they are not doing a language activity they still need to be thinking about their language. I think students are surprised that you are listening to them so much (really listening) and it comes across as personalised, individual attention. No one is safe!

Give it a try if you’re feeling brave!

[For another error correction activity which I use regularly but with hardy, resilient students, read here.]


Photo credit: Pixabay


14 comments on “My students’ favourite error correction activity

  1. tefltravelling
    November 5, 2016

    I always enjoy reading what you have to say šŸ™‚

  2. Anonymous
    November 7, 2016

    I have used this technique myself many times and the students really cooperated well

    • Kirsten C
      November 7, 2016

      So glad to hear it has worked for you as well šŸ™‚

  3. Anonymous
    November 7, 2016

    Here’s one for you … “I know there is a lot of studies on anxiety in the classroom” šŸ™‚ šŸ˜‰

  4. Anonymous
    November 7, 2016

    I tend to do this too and I always find that they really, really think it’s a valuable activity. Thanks for sharing! Usually I get them to find the errors in pairs, but it might be effective to do it alone first.

    • Kirsten C
      November 7, 2016

      Giving them time to do it alone helps the quieter students think for themselves before the louder students tell them the answers!

  5. Anonymous
    November 7, 2016

    I’ve also been using this activity and the students really enjoy it. What I also do is I take a photo of the sentences on the board every time we do this activity and after some time I hand out some of the sentences and use it as a group/ pair work competition.

    • Kirsten C
      November 7, 2016

      That’s a great idea – a greatest hits of errors! šŸ™‚

    • Phil Brown
      November 16, 2019

      Great idea! Funnily enough, from around 2011 onwards, my uni students would walk up to the board at the end of class and take a photo of it, too! So much for note-taking, I thought!

  6. Anonymous
    November 8, 2016

    I like to add some correct sentences to the list and play betting game with them. Students in pairs bet some points (from 1 to 10) to every sentences, guess whether they are wrong and correct, and get more points if they can correct the wrong ones… fun stuff!

    • Kirsten C
      November 8, 2016

      It’s always a good idea to turn an activity into a game/competition šŸ™‚

  7. Phil Brown
    November 16, 2019

    Thanks for sharing. I used to do this almost every class then stopped for no particular reason with many classes, so I’ve very happy to be reminded and rethink this.

    Incidentally, with learners who are more sensitive about their own mistakes, I used to edit the erroneous sentences a little to hide their identity at least somewhat:

    e.g. Student A said/wrote: I very like play table tennis.

    As all or most students would have been able to identify Student A, I wrote on the board:

    I very like play football.

    (It may also inadvertently leave them with the impression that someone else made the same type of error as them, which means they are not alone.)

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This entry was posted on November 5, 2016 by in General TEFL, grammar, Uncategorized, vocabulary and tagged , , , , , .

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