Mistakes? Good!

This is a post about mistakes. Not about mistake/ error correction, not about mistakes being a sign of learning, but about benefitting from mistakes. Or rather, about how to use your learners’ mistake as learning (and teaching) material.

What you need to do is just to collect some good mistakes (hm, the combination does sound quite unusual to me, but “good” here stands for “worth working on”) during a speaking task (any kind of a discussion, dispute, telling-about-your-weekend, etc would do) and come back to them. You can base the whole lesson (or at least part of the lesson) on it. It will help, of course, if the mistakes are grouped up in some way (around some specific grammar topic, or vocabulary usage).

Here are only several things that can be done:

  • Simply ask students to work in groups on a list of the sentences containing mistakes and to correct them, explaining why.
  • Ask 2 groups/students to listen to each other as they are performing some task and to note down the mistakes you’d like them to work on. Then ask them to exchange the notes and to comment on them. The same can be done about a writing task – when the students have to correct each others work. (2 things to remember though: such activities can be introduced only if you are lucky to have a friendly atmosphere in class, and the teacher should always be ready to help. And to judge, too, if there are some disputable cases).
  • My favourite: note down examples of good language AND wrong sentences as you listen to your students performing some speaking task. Then, after having given the factual feedback, offer them to sort the wrong/right sentences and to correct the wrong ones. This is a useful task, as the students look at their language critically and learn to assess it.
  • Set up a competition for the groups to correct the mistakes (in a text or a list) quicker than the others.
  • My other favorite: use mistakes as a starting point for a grammar explanation. This is what I did when I was going to explain the conditionals to one of my students. She already used it occasionally, but now always right, so I noted down 3 different examples of her speech during several lessons and then showed them to her. I based my explanations on them and then asked her if the sentences in my notes were right. It worked perfectly well, as it was what she had said and what she wanted to be able to say correctly.

p.s. I really feel that the term “errors” is what I meant and should have used. But somehow, “mistakes” sounds better. 🙂

About Svetlana Urisman

I am an ADOS and an English teacher (and materials writer) in a language school in Moscow. I have been an ADOS and a teacher trainer for a couple of years and a teacher for about 10 years. I am keen to share some ideas and materials I've developed in order to take them further and not to lose them. You are welcome to use any materials represented in this blog, and I will be happy to get your feedback afterwards if you take them to your classroom! ;-)
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