Mistakes Aid Learning Experience

Q. How do you feel about correcting young students? Is there a good or
a bad way, a good time or a bad time to correct them?

K. R., Teacher


To start with, one of the first things I announce in all my classes, whether they consist of students who are three or seventy-three, is that I like mistakes. I tell them that the more mistakes they make, the more I can help them. The classroom is the perfect place to try out their language and make errors. So no one should ever feel bad about making a mistake.

When a youngster does make a mistake, or even an adult for that matter, I use the mistake as an example for the rest of the class. Instead of focusing on the individual who made the error, I focus on the group and ask everyone to try out the corrected version. For example, if one youngster says, “He play baseball,” I will repeat the sentence and put an emphasis on, PLAYS. Then I ask the class to make and say such sentences as “He plays baseball” or “ He plays soccer” with each other as I walk around the room and listen to their pair work to see if their grammar and pronunciation are showing improvement. Then I praise them for their sentences. This way no one feels bad about the error and everyone learns from the experience because they all tend to make the same errors. Actually, by the time they finish the exercise, they have been so busy trying our sentences with each other that they have forgotten who made the mistake to start with. All ages and levels seem to appreciate such an activity.

As your question implies, timing is very important. I make it a rule never to correct students when they are doing a presentation in front of a group or when we have observers in the room. In addition, if and when a pupil has a special problem that warrants more attention, I make it a point to speak to the youngster outside the classroom before or after class.