Ruda-Peachey Education Ltd

Oral Error Correction Techniques
What - When - How to correct

To correct or not to correct, that is the question. I’m a big fan of making errors in language learning - it is a sign that we are trying something new and we are not afraid of it. The key to success it to learn from our own mistakes and move on. So, there’s no doubt regarding the importance of helping learners understand what mistakes they make and why. After all, they attend your lessons to improve their English - they can’t do that without being corrected when they make mistakes, right? Well - yes and no. For a teacher, especially a newly qualified one, it is sometimes difficult to decide what errors to address and what to let slide. It is even more difficult to decide when and how to correct them. My goal here is to offer some self-reflection points regarding your oral error correction approach. Let’s go straight to it - Do you over-correct?


Do you over-correct?  (slides 1 & 2)

Reflect on the following questions: 

  • What errors do you correct? 
  • How often do you correct the same student in one lesson? 
  • When and at what point of the lesson do you correct? 
  • How do you correct your learners?
  • How can error fossilisation be prevented?


Error fossilisation occurs when a language mistake becomes a habit. At that point, it becomes very difficult to correct.

What to correct


You might assume that it’s ok to correct every single mistake that your students make. In fact, many learners appreciate this kind of detailed correction, as they feel that their language will improve as a result of this. They might even note down your comments in their notebooks and write down several examples to use as reference at a later stage. Unfortunately, despite their - and your - best intentions, this method doesn’t seem to have a long-lasting effect.


 (slides 3 & 4) Look at the following examples:


Reflect: Would you correct these? Why? Why not?


My suggestions:


  • NO. As it is a warm-up activity and the target language hasn’t been introduced yet, I wouldn’t make any corrections here, to avoid interrupting the flow of their conversation. However, I would make a note of it and point it out (without drawing attention to the student who had made the mistake) when the word ‘chef’ came up in the lesson.


  • YES. There are two key factors here: when the error occurs and how many students are making the same mistake. The free practice usually takes place in the second part of the lesson, after the topic language has been introduced and the learners have had plenty of controlled practice - when it should have been spotted and corrected. However, should this situation arise, given that several students have the same issue, I would interrupt the activity, clarify the language point, and ask them to check their work again and then to continue with their task.


  • YES. That’s what controlled practice is for - to give students the opportunity to make mistakes, process the target language, clarify doubts. If you see general confusion and/or a few learners are making the same or similar mistakes, don’t be afraid to stop their activity to revisit the key points of the lesson.


  • NO. The lesson hasn’t started yet - relax! It's nice to see students interact with one another. Correcting them now might make them feel embarrassed, causing demotivation.


 (slide 5) Let’s see another example:

Reflect: Would you correct this? Why? Why not?


Of course, it should be ‘Stefano is at home’, but I don’t think it’s worth correcting at this stage, as this sentence is not part of the target language. However, I would correct a mistake with the preposition ‘for’, linked to the present continuous (target language).

So, WHAT errors should we correct? In my opinion, those that are connected to the target language.


When to correct


There’s no simple answer to this depends! To help with this, ask yourself:


 (slide 6) Does the activity focus on accuracy or fluency?


If your students are practicing fluency, you want them to be able to speak spontaneously and think on their feet - consider delayed correction

On the other hand, if they are preparing their speech, they should be focusing on their accuracy - consider on the spot correction.


Here are my thoughts:


For fluency - make notes of their errors (and of good examples of language use) as you listen to them. Allocate some time at the end of the activity (or at the end of the lesson) to engage the whole class in a feedback session. White on the board the sentences that have issues and give students a chance to correct them - this is a great opportunity for delayed correction. Remember that who made the mistake is not important! 


Don’t forget to give examples of good language use. Ask your students to reflect on why you are impressed with what they said and encourage them to share their thoughts. 


For accuracy - give students time to plan and prepare their work/speech/presentation etc. Monitor them as they work, and provide immediate, on the spot correction.

How to correct


 (slide 7) When your learner makes an error on a language point they should be familiar with.


Reflect: What’s your first reaction? How do you help them correct their mistake?


 (slide 8) I follow this process:


  • Teacher’s non-verbal clues & Self-correction. Students should always be encouraged to correct themselves first. With a little help from your hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language learners should be able to recognise their mistake and correct it - agree on specific signals with your class from day one to make this technique more effective.
  • Peer correction. If the learner is unable to figure out their mistake from your hints, ask their peers to help. It is important for every student to understand that you are not the only source of knowledge in the classroom, and that they can learn from each other. This should build their confidence and promote independent learning.
  • Teacher-led correction. If all else fails, tell your students what mistake they have made and why. Try to keep your explanation short and to the point, but give plenty of examples. Check their understanding, but avoid asking ‘Do you understand?’ or ‘Is it clear?’. Instead, provide a new incorrect sentence that they should correct by themselves.


 (slide 9)  At a glance

Here is a summary of my suggestions:


Pro Tip: Depending on the lesson you have planned, it could be a good idea to inform your students (or decide with them) how and when you are going to carry out your error correction.


Of course, there can be many variables that can affect the way you provide oral error correction case by case, on a daily basis. These are just general guidelines to describe my personal approach to oral error correction.

Would you like to know more about oral error correction?

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Click below for the slides - download, adapt, and use!