Error correction

classroom management

Part 1 - Why correct?

The first in a three part series about error correction. In this video I look at why error correction is an important part of the language learning process.
classroom management

Part 2 - What to correct?

In this second video I look at what kind of things you can correct, how you're going to choose what to correct and why learners make some of those errors.
classroom management

Part 3 - How to correct?

The final part in the series on error correction for English language teachers.  In this video I'm going to have a look at how you might correct learner error.

Part 1 - Why correct?

Here's a question to begin with. Which of these statements do you agree with more? 'Errors are evidence that learning is taking place', or 'Errors are evidence that learning isn't taking place'? I'm Jo Gakonga from and in this series of three videos I'm going to be looking at error correction. So I'm going to be looking at why you might correct, I'm going to be looking at what you might correct. And finally, of course, perhaps most importantly, I'm going to have a look at how you might correct learner error.

If you take a strictly behavioral approach to language learning, you might think that learners have to avoid error. They need to make sure that they know what they've got to do, that they get lots of practice of it, that they're praised when they do it right and they're corrected when they make mistakes.

Now, there aren't many people in education these days who would see learning like this, as just a conditioned response. But error correction is a really important part of language learning - of that whole process. And I think that there are two really good reasons for correcting error. The first one is that it works. Simple as that, it works. There's lots of really solid research evidence to show that error correction is a very powerful learning tool. I'd really recommend John Hattie's work 'Visible Learning' on this, if you don't know about it, it's really, really interesting. And his work shows that feedback error correction is one of the most important ways in which learning happens. Without being corrected, learners errors tend to fossilize, and then they're difficult to change. And it's not just about correcting for the sake of it. If you make a lot of error, then for your listener, it's really hard for them to understand you. And that does cause problems. Maybe they won't want to listen to you very much either. It makes it more difficult more of an effort to understand, even if those mistakes are small.

The second reason, to focus on error correction - and this is a big one - is that learners expect it and that learners like it. So they won't usually be corrected - if they've got English speaking friends and they're just talking in a conversation, those friends aren't usually going to correct them, it would be considered rude probably and certainly probably be irrelevant. So in a classroom is their opportunity to be corrected, and they usually feel quite positive towards teachers who do this. Of course, it depends on how it's done. But I think that if you correct learners, they feel as if you're listening to them, and they feel as if you care about their progress. This is really important.

There is a 'but', of course - language, as I said, isn't just about conditioned learning, and if we try to correct every mistake they make, especially at lower levels, they would never say anything. Also it can be rather demotivating. If you correct a lot or if you correct insensitively, then you know learners may end up just giving up. There's a balance to be had, of course, as in many things in life, but the balance may be further down this end, then you feel naturally inclined to.

I hope I persuaded you that it is a good idea to correct learner error. So in the next part, let's go on to see what kind of things you can correct, how you're going to choose what to correct and why learners perhaps make some of those errors.

Part 2 - What to correct?

Hello again. In the first video in this series, we looked at why you should correct learner error in class. But before we think about how to do this, let's take a minute to think about what it's useful to correct. I'm Jo Gakonga from and if you like this, there are lots of other helpful video-based courses and resources on my site.

Learners of English make mistakes, of course, but those errors don't always have the same cause. So let's think about the different root causes of those errors. The first one, of course, is just the level of ignorance. The obvious reason for an error is that the learner just hasn't learned that vocabulary or that form yet. And of course, this is especially true at lower levels. But it can happen with any level of learner.

Here's an example - 'I will can come later'. So this learner hasn't yet learned the phrase 'be able to', or they don't know that we can't have two modal verbs together. So they've done their best to express their meaning, using the words that they do know. Now you understand what they mean, it's not that difficult to pull apart, but you need to teach them how to say it.

Another very obvious reason that learners make mistakes is that the language they already speak, their L1, is getting in the way. Now this can be manifest in all sorts of ways, pronunciation, of course, is a really huge aspect of this. Languages have different sounds and some just don't map onto each other. Mostly they don't map onto each other exactly.

So different sounds can be a major source of error. And this also goes into intonation, word stress, sentence stress, all of those things often have different patterns too. And so that will affect the learners' L2 English in this case.

Some grammatical forms exist in some languages, but not in others. So articles are a good example. English has them. And it has a plethora of rules of how you use them. But many, many languages do perfectly well without them. And so they're hard to remember to use if they're not in your first language. Between European languages in particular, there are lots of cognates, like 'table' in French, and this can be really helpful. But there are also some false friends, words that look the same, but aren't. So if you know this word in Spanish, you might be expecting 'embarrassed' to mean the same thing. But it doesn't.

Another issue is word order, that's often different between languages, and that'll cause problems.

The list of these reasons for error is really, really long. And if you teach learners from a particular language group, then of course, it's a very good idea for you to know something about that language, so that you can see the kinds of difficulties that they're likely to have - the holes that they're likely to fall into because of their L1. Preferably, of course, you'd speak their first language yourself.

Some error is caused because learners are experimenting with what they already know, but they're over generalizing. So, 'I got on the car' is incorrect. But it's a perfectly reasonable assumption, given that 'I got on the bus' is perfectly right. So a learner that says 'they builded a house next door to me', is making a guess, perfectly reasonable guess, but it's an incorrect guess that 'build' has a regular past tense. It doesn't.

Another reason that learners may care is just because they make mistakes. They know the language. If you prompt them, they can almost certainly self correct. But they're trying to make meaning in real time. It's getting from their brain to their mouth in real time. And it's just difficult. It's hard to make that connection fast enough. And so, error occurs. This happens with native speakers too of course. Learners at all levels right up to advanced will do this, for example, leaving out the auxilary 'do' in questions, or that notorious third person 's' on the Present Simple.

Why is this important to consider when we choose what to correct? Let's think about it. If the learner makes the error because they don't know that form yet, then it's not an error. They just don't know it. So the answer is, teach it to them or keep it in mind to teach in a future lesson at least.

If they make the error because of L1 interference, or because of overgeneralization, then it's very helpful to show them why they made that mistake. It's like this in your language. But in English, it's like this. We do say 'on the bus', but it's 'in a car'.

And finally, if they've just slipped up, then a simple facial expression or a recast - 'how long do you play the guitar?' - will probably prompt them to self correct.

One final thought before the end of this. And I've already said that you can't and shouldn't try to correct everything. So how do you choose? I think that there are a few ways to prioritize this. If your target language is the simple past, then you should be correcting that. Second is errors which affect intelligibility. If you can't understand them, then they need to know because other people won't understand them either. Third one is the frequency of the error. If they all make this error all of the time, then it's definitely something you should be correcting. And finally, the likelihood of success. It's best to save correction for language that they're ready for. And at a time in the lesson, when it's likely that they'll take it on board.

So we've looked at the why and we've looked at the what of error correction. So now let's go on to think about how you're going to do it.

Part 3 - How to correct?

Hello again, this is our third and final video on error correction. We've looked at why? And we've looked at what? Now, of course, what you want to think about is how you're going to do it? I'm Jo Gakonga, from and if you like this, there are lots of other videos on the site that you might also find helpful.

Okay, I want you to imagine that you're in a class and a learner makes an error. What's the first question? First question is, who is going to correct that error? Now, it could be the learner themselves. It could be one of the other learners in the class, or it could be you as the teacher. Now, who it is, depends a little bit on whether it's a mistake that the learner can correct themselves, or whether it's just a slip, or whether it's something that they don't know yet. Generally speaking, though, as a rule of thumb, if you think it's something that they can correct, then try the learner first, then their peers. And if nobody knows, then you tell them, you're the teacher.

Now, there are a few different ways of doing this. The first is implicit correction. This is called recasting. It's what parents do to young children all the time. They repeat what they said, but in a correct form. So the teacher says, 'What did you do at the weekend?' And a learner says, 'I go cinema'. And the teacher says, 'Oh, you went to the cinema'.

Now, there's mixed research evidence here about whether this is effective or not. It really depends a bit on whether the learner actually notices the correction or not? If you think that they're likely not to notice or that they haven't noticed, then you could try something more explicit. 'What did you do at the weekend?' 'I go cinema'. 'I go cinema?' Or, 'there's an error in that sentence, try again'. Or you could use your fingers to show there's a mistake. 'I go cinema', 'I went to the cinema'. Or you could use meta linguistic strategies like this - 'past tense?'

Or if there are pronunciation problems, for example, 'Look at my teeth see, they're touching my lip. Now. vvvv... not berry, very'. Or you could point to the symbol on the phonemic chart.

So those are some thoughts about how you could correct, but what about when? Should you correct the error as soon as you hear it, or wait until the activity is finished and have a delayed error correction slot? Again, there's research here that says that the most effective form of correction is that that happens immediately. But, if the learners are busy engaged in a freer speaking activity, and you don't want to disturb them, then a delayed error correction activity might be better. I would say again as a rule of thumb, that in the presentation stage, and the control practice stage, that I would do correction on the spot - definitely correct your learners as you hear their mistakes. But when they're involved in a fluency activity, or a freer practice activity, then collect up those errors, and show them afterwards.

There are a couple of real advantages to this, actually, after a fluency exercise, you could put up on the board about four to six different examples of errors that you heard, especially error with the target language, or error that's particularly frequent that you think is a good idea to draw their attention to. The advantage of this is that it's anonymous. If I said that, if I made that mistake, I know it was me. But nobody else in the class except possibly my partner does. So it's not so embarrassing, so that's good. It's also helpful for the other people in the class, they get to benefit from my mistake if you like.

Now, give them some time in pairs to talk about these mistakes and try to correct them together. So it's again a more learner centered approach to this. You could also use it as a way of drawing attention to good language. So maybe have within those four to six, have one example of some good language that you heard and tell them one of these sentences is correct, and they have to find out which one's the correct one as well as correcting the mistakes. I think this helps to focus them a bit more as well.

So that's it, some thoughts about error correction. I hope that this was helpful. If you found it so then there are lots of other videos on my CELTA toolkit that are about classroom management. So you might like those. Please don't forget to like and subscribe to my YouTube channel and I look forward to seeing you on the site. Thanks very much. Bye bye
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