#ELTChat Summary for 18-09-2013: How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday, casual conversation?

For anyone who is not yet aware of it: #Eltchat is a Twitter hashtag which offers Twitter-based discussions that take place every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 BST/GMT (when the clocks change). The topics, all related to the ELT industry, are listed on the  #Eltchat website, together with some background reading, a few days in advance of the discussions. The tag #eltchat can also be seen throughout the week as an identifier of all things that might interest those who work in the EFL industry.

On 18.09.2013, the 21.00 BST discussion was on the topic “How can we help learners produce natural talk in everyday casual conversation”. (I was busy finishing my dissertation at the time, so couldn’t take part, but volunteered to do the summary when it was offered on the #ELTChat Facebook page!)

The suggestions were many and varied. (I’ve divided them into categories and expanded abbreviations to make it easier to process!):

Authenticity and Input

  • Authentic materials help a lot!  I use “Real Lives, Real Listening” series a lot. (North Star ELT -now Collins) (@elawassell)
  • I encourage watching soap operas – in English – lots of natural exposure, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (@elawassell)
  • The thing that needs to be most authentic is the reason for their communication – it has to mean something to them. (@theteacherjames
  • By using listening that contains natural talk rather than ‘model dialogues’ (@Marisa_C)
  • Get involved in social media communication…find real friends to speak English with. (@HanaTicha)
  • Role of input via listening also quite important #eltchat and types of activities which focus on chunks of language (@Marisa_C)
  • Ask sts to repeat what you’ve just said now and then.  See if they’re noticing these natural language chunks. (@ljp2010)
  • Use typescripts etc for them to identify useful chunks. (@Shaunwilden)
  • Teach them discourse analysis i.e. do  conversational analysis – moves, politeness rules, coherence etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Record an authentic conversation on video and use @dotsub to transcribe and share with Ss. Using authentic models are helpful (@ESLhiphop)

Drama

  • Acting out whether playacting (rehearsing) or roleplaying (producing more freely) can help  (@Marisa_C)
  • We’ve been using scenarios for our students..Today is Thurs..your essay should be in by Fri..you are not ready..you have to chat with your tutor.. (@shaznosel)
  • One activity I have used with monolingual classes – act out scenario in L1 then listen in L2 and compare – language/attitudes, style.  Have them prep their improvisations in groups or pairs – act out THEN listen or watch video – it’s fascinating to watch. Often they don’t [end up with similar things] – which is interesting – the cultural element is interesting as this raises awareness of that. (@Marisa_C)  I do something similar by asking students to look at video with no sound and working out conversation from gestures (@Shaunwilden)
  • For freer activities I keep a set of situations which Ss improvise as a skit and class spots roles, setting, relationship etc (@Marisa_C)
  • Drama can include relaxation, trust building and fun, can lead to role-plays and that… with less anxiety (@Marisa_C)

Identity

  • I’ve seen the suggestion that the use of masks can help learners become more uninhibited – they adopt the character of the mask (@pjgallantary)
  • What about props? small things to lend credibility to the new identity?  (@Marisa_C)

Small Talk

  • I think small talk starts with the teacher. It can settle a class and it produces natural language (@SueAnnan)
  • It’s really important to engage students in normal conversations outside of class time, while waiting, break time etc. Helps them relax (@theteacherjames)
  • Finding out about students usually produces natural speech too (@SueAnnan)
  • @sandymillin shared her lesson on #smalltalk here:http://t.co/Yg205gQlGv my Ss found it useful (@Ela_Wassell)

Methodology, Approaches and Techniques 

  • Rehearse and then revisit, all too quickly teachers move on (@Shaunwilden)
  •  How about some good old-fashioned drilling then? (@ljp2010) yes why not? Not necessarily old fashioned but well conducted, snappy oral practice can help a LOT! (@Marisa_C)
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. ALM is not “stylish” today, but it has its merits (@ESLhiphop)
  • Speaking’s like tennis practice: you need to intensively practice a single stroke, but you also learn by playing games. You need both. (@ESLhiphop)
  • As a variation sometimes you could ask Ss to define the topic and stage manage a CLL lesson where they learn and eventually record new chunks (@Marisa_C)
  • How about getting them to create their own personalised phrasebooks – with functional headings (@Marisa_C) Or a voice memo one should they wish to hear it instead? (ljp2010). Nice idea, phones help with that too as they can record the pronunciation (@Shaunwilden) or make their own recordings on something like Vocaroo and email it to themselves
  • Learning a language again: what sparks our classes are topics we care about, then we make effort even with minimum vocabulary (@annabooklover)

Some potential pitfalls were also identified:

  • When I lived in Brazil, everyone told me watching soap operas was a good way. I’d prefer not to learn the language!! (@theteacherjames)
  • If someone asked me to wear a mask I’d feel about 10x more self conscious! (@theteacherjames)
  • The problem students have with natural talk is ‘performance anxiety’ – in sports parlance, some sudents end up ‘choking’ (@pjgallantary)
  • I think it [new identity] can go too far, e.g. giving Chinese students Western names (@pjgallantary)

Meanwhile emerged some other questions that need to be pondered:

  • It does raise issue of what is ‘identity’ – many students feel like different person when speaking in English. (pjgallantary)
  • Personally I have observed that lack of fluency in any given area is often caused through the teacher’s reluctance to ask students to rehearse (@marisa_c)
  • Do you think teaching language chunks more could help? I think it’s important for fluency (@elawassell)
  • I’m not keen on the new identity, but being forced to temporarily be someone else can be useful (@theteacherjames)
  • But here’s a question: do you feel like a different version of ‘you’ when speaking in different languages? I do! (@pjgallantary)
  • The question is how to scaffold a speaking activity…  (@marisa_c)
  • Does improvisation work that well esp. at lower levels? (@Shaunwilden)
  • Control vs freedom always a worry but teachers need to intervene when needed – either facilitating or providing language needed (@Marisa_C)
  • How do you raise awareness of what is natural and what isn’t? (@Marisa_C)  Aye this is quite tricky, was thinking that listening to people in London today, nothing like we expose students to (@Shaunwilden)
  • Can drama activities help? (@Marisa_C)
  • What do confident,fluent, but not necessarily accurate speakers do that grammatically accurate but reticent speakers don’t? I suspect that confident,but inaccurate,speakers actually don’t give a stuff for the lang. ‘target’ and get lost in the performance (@pjgallantary)
  • How else can one practise a variety of language functions unless some kind or role activity – new ID or self in other contexts? (@Marisa_C)

So plenty of ideas and plenty of food for thought – what more could you ask from an #Eltchat?! 🙂

ELT Blog Carnival – Listening: “Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners” by Christine Goh

The ELT Blog Carnival on the theme of listening has inspired me to “interact with” the following article: Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners written by Christine Goh and published in ELTJ vol. 51/4 October 1997 by Oxford University Press.

In this article, Goh reports on a diary study that she carried out in China, with a group of learners whose average age was 19. Learners sent her one diary entry a week, in which they reflected on specific occasions on which they had listened to English, problems they had experienced and how they had helped themselves to listen better, as well as thoughts on learning to listen in general and ways of practising listening. They did this for ten weeks.

The methodology she used is one that any language teacher could follow: she takes three categories of awareness – drawn from Flavell (1979): Person knowledge, Task knowledge and Strategic knowledge. She then broke these down into several sub-headings, each of which contained multiple entries. So, for example, Task knowledge was broken down into “Factors that affect listening comprehension”, “Input useful for developing listening (and reasons given)” and “Nature of second language listening”, each containing a list of factors. Goh then classified the students’ observations, as taken from the diary entries of forty diaries, using the categories she had developed. She didn’t have a colleague to cross-check her classifications, but repeated the exercise again 4 months after completing it the first time round, then comparing the initial classifications with what she had done after her 4 month break. Where there was a discrepancy, she looked at it again and chose what she thought was the most suitable category, with some categorisations being cast aside in the process.

What Goh discovered is that learners reported at length on elements of all of her categories, demonstrating varying degrees of metacognitive knowledge. She exemplifies her findings by showing extracts from various learners’ diaries, cross-referencing the extracts to her sub-categories. The diaries showed that learners were aware of their cognitive processes and were able to verbalise them. Goh believes that keeping a listening diary provided the stimulus for this to happen and recommends that listening journals become a teaching tool rather than just a research tool. In terms of implications for teaching, she explains that discussion in listening classes tends to be limited to the content of the listening text being used – be it brainstorming in advance, or discussing the content further after the listening exercises and that the focus is on helping learners understand that particular text – but that it can really benefit learners for discussion of factors relating to person, task and strategy knowledge, what she calls process-based discussion, to be included too. Goh provides ideas for how development of task and strategy knowledge can easily be incorporated into a listening lesson – for example, learners can discuss the appropriateness of particular strategies for the task in question, share what strategies they used, perhaps try out different strategies either later in the sequences of activities, or in a similar task in the future, and evaluate the effectiveness of the different strategies they try. She suggests that in doing this, learners gain a better understanding over what contributes to their listening successes and failures.

This kind of process-based discussion can also be based on listening diaries – learners can share their reflections, prompted by similar titles or questions to those responded to in their journals e.g. “How I practice listening outside of class”, giving learners the opportunity to learn from one another. Some learners have more metacognitive awareness of their learning processes than others and it is worth drawing on this valuable resource so that all learners can benefit from it, potentially increasing their speed of progress. Learning how to listen more effectively, developing person, task and strategic knowledge, also helps learners become more autonomous, by giving them greater control over development of their language.

My thoughts:

I have used listening diaries in class on a couple of occasions, having discovered this article and another by Jenny Kemp (The Listening Log: motivating autonomous learning, also from the ELTJ – vol. 64/4 October 2010), while doing my Delta, but I’ve not yet had the chance to use them for an extended period of time (e.g. the ten weeks that Goh carried out her project for). Nevertheless, the results of using them even for the short periods of time that I have done, have been positive: In my (albeit thus far limited) experience, learners welcome the opportunity to discuss such things as are recommended in Goh’s article. I’ve also read Goh’s (and, of course, Vandergrift’s) book,  Teaching and learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action and am very much a fan of her/their metacognitive theory. Additionally, I think that, as well as giving learners the opportunity to learn from one another, this approach gives the teacher a chance to learn from the learners – you can gain an insight into what your learners are doing to help themselves listen better and what they are struggling with. Furthermore, if learners have developed successful strategies for themselves, that perhaps hadn’t occurred to you previously, you can remember these and share them with future learners. (Or use them yourself if you begin learning another language!)

Finally, kept over a decent length of time, I think these listening journals could also be used as a way for learners to measure their own progress – by turning them into an awareness-raising tool: If learners are becoming frustrated and don’t think they are progressing, encouraging them to compare recent entries with older entries (with suitable prompt questions to help them) could be a way of helping them see that they are progressing after all – both in terms of the content, i.e. in terms of their awareness, and the development of the effectiveness of their person/task/strategy knowledge over time, and their writing, i.e. over time they are likely (we hope!) to become better able to express themselves at greater length and with greater complexity/accuracy.  Of course, a journal is not limited to pen/paper/notebook – there could also be a role for blogs/other electronic tools, with the possibility of generating learner interaction outside of the classroom. But that is another blog post!

All in all, I found Goh’s article greatly interesting and I particularly liked how straightforward – although obviously very time-consuming! – the methodology is. That said, as she has already created all the categories, that helps us all a bit! We could all try it out and would stand to learn a lot in the process. I would definitely recommend reading the article and hope to try out Goh’s methodology myself in due course, by having learners keep a listening diary over a sustained period of time and then analysing their entries using the categories she laid out. How about you? 🙂

Delta Notes 2: Teaching Listening

This Delta Notes series has come about because I am packing up all my stuff to move out of my flat and have found my Delta notebooks. I don’t want to put them in a box (got plenty to store as it is plus it’s pointless…) and let them gather dust, so thought I’d write up the notes I’m interested in keeping and get rid of the notebooks instead! I will also add some reflections at the end of each set of notes. Feel free to share opinions, add ideas, argue against any ideas you disagree with etc by commenting using the comment box beneath the posts. (These are just some of my notes from Delta input sessions – I may have misunderstood or missed something: there was a lot of information flying around that semester!)

Here are some of my (written up) notes from a module 2 input session on teaching listening, followed by some reflections/ramblings and a short list of recommended reading:

Listening is:

  • often under-valued
  • often back-burned in favour of speaking and writing (as they are more tangible)
  • often seen as ‘passive’ (due to widespread use of the comprehension approach)

BUT:

  •  Learners need to be able to listen and understand in order to speak.
  • Learners with good listening skills can take better advantage of the multitude of linguistic input available (especially in an English-speaking environment) and so listening better equips learners to learn autonomously.

The Comprehension Approach  

 This consists of:

Pre-listening

  • Establish context
  • Create motivation
  • Pre-teach vocabulary

Extensive/intensive listening

  • General questions on context/attitude of speakers

Post listening

Language focus:

  • Functional language
  • Infer meaning of unknown vocabulary
  • Look at transcript

It is a robust methodology, still featuring strongly since it became popular in the late 80s.

Need to bear in mind:

  • The more we tell learners before they listen, the less they need to listen.
  • Wrong answers could be a reading or writing (of the questions or answers) failure rather than a listening failure.

Listening teaching practice was probably transferred across from reading teaching practice (listening dedicated lessons came after reading-focussed lessons).

 BUT:

  •  A reader benefits from a standardised spelling system and gaps between words on the page, while a listener must cope with speech sounds which vary from one utterance to another and words which blend into one another (because of phonology/position  of articulators)
  • Reading is recursive – you can look back and forth over what you have read, while listening is transient – the information unfolds in real time and you can’t look back over it again.
  •  Both require use of meaning-building processes BUT speech is temporary: the listener must carry forward memory of what has gone before to make sense of what comes next.

Conventional listening does not develop learners’ listening skills/competence in any systematic way. Progress just means harder texts: barriers are raised but learners are not shown how to get over them. After a given point of difficulty, learners may switch off in belief of their incapability.

It is important to note that right answers do not necessary equal understanding:

  •  it could be a guess
  •  it could be use of test-wise strategies
  • it could be identification of an isolated point but no overall understanding of the speaker’s message

Furthermore, an “incorrect” answer might be supported by textual evidence that the listener has noted but the teacher and/or writer has overlooked.

The comprehension approach is very teacher-centred: The teacher intervenes too much, learners tend to be isolated and the whole process is more like a test than a learning process.  This can be helped by doing jigsaw listening or by having learners check their answers in pairs prior to eliciting answers. Especially if you play the recording, allow learners to check in pairs, play the recording again, allow learners to check again and then elicit answers.

Another thing to bear in mind is: If one learner gets the right answer, what about the rest? Have they also understood?

A listener needs to:

  •  Select a listening type that is appropriate to input and task. Goals and types of listening are closely linked.  One might listen and respond, listen and challenge, listen and negotiate, locate and retain main points, monitor for one item (e.g. a train time or news of a particular road in a traffic bulletin), listen for interesting items (e.g. in a news bulletin) etc.

Listening varies along a spectrum from expeditious to careful and from local to global.

Process Listening

 According to this approach, listening is a process not a product.

We have decoding processes:

  •  Turning the stream of speech into sounds, then syllables, then words, then sentences

And we have meaning-building processes:

  •  Using background knowledge, contextual knowledge and co-textual knowledge to help us make sense of what we hear.

These processes interact rather than working in isolation. For example, we use context to help with decoding as well as for global meaning.

Why don’t learners understand?

 It could be lack of vocabulary, but it could also be that a known word is not recognized due to reduction, elision, assimilation or any other feature of connected speech. It could also be a problem of lexical segmentation e.g. instead of hearing catalogue, a learner might hear cat a log.

How can we help?

 Using authentic materials can help learners become accustomed to the natural cadences of the target language. We can also help learners become more used to and better able to extrapolate meaning from partially understood utterances

Teaching listening strategies can also help learners to listen more effectively.

Drawing attention to the way words change, in terms of how they sound, in connected speech i.e. elisions and assimilations etc.

Reflections (or, my chance to waffle and reprocess what I’ve read and learnt 😉 ):

 I learnt a lot about listening from doing my listening LSA: Reading Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom revolutionised my understanding of what’s involved in teaching listening (as opposed to merely testing it!). However, I think I possibly learnt at least as much again as a result of the materials development module that I did as part of my M.A. in ELT. This is because I discovered and then used theories from  Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action, by Vandergrift and Goh to inform the materials I developed for assessment.

(As far as I can make out) Vandergrift and Goh argue that learners will be able to listen more effectively if they have greater control over the processes they use. As I understand it, developing learners’ metacognitive awareness of the cognitive processes they use in listening helps them become better able to select processes according to text type and task type. So we can help learners learn to plan, monitor and evaluate their listening, rather than just leaving them to listen haphazardly:

  • As well as having learners check their answers in pairs (as mentioned in my notes above), we can encourage them to pinpoint where their difficulties were, evaluate the effectiveness of the listening processes they used (did they use their background knowledge, did they use the co-text, did they use the context, did they try and translate every word etc.) and plan for the next listen through.
  • Before playing the recording, we can engage learners in discussion about the type of recording it is and what they can expect to hear: Different genres follow different predictable macro-scripts. Learners could then discuss what type of listening and what listening purposes match the genre in question. Of course we can also give them some information about the topic and encourage them to predict what kind of vocabulary and ideas might come up too. Reading something related to the topic prior to listening could also be useful.
  • All of these activities contribute to schema activation and planning: Once schemata are activated, learners are better prepared to listen and have more chance of listening successfully, and if learners plan how to listen as well, they can subsequently monitor the processes they use as well as how effective these are, and then evaluate the effectiveness of their plans.

The transcript can be used, after listening for meaning and detail, to help learners identify the problems they had, to help them understand why they didn’t understand:

  • They could circle words they didn’t manage to understand while listening and then use a list of prompts, e.g. “I heard the words but I couldn’t remember the meaning quickly enough”, to help them analyze their difficulties.
  • Activities such as listening and marking pauses and/or stressed words can also be done using the transcript.
  • Drawing learners’ attention to features of connected speech such as elision and assimilation can also be useful as learners often find it confusing when words sound so different as part of utterances compared to how they sound in isolation.

One thing I have noticed, since changing the way I teach listening, is that there is a tangible air of relief in the classroom when you allow learners to check their ideas together after they have listened. Listening stops being threatening because learners aren’t isolated and they know they aren’t about to be picked on when perhaps they aren’t confident of what they’ve heard. As learners are then more relaxed when they listen, they are likely to be able to hear more as anxiety and tension do not prevent them from focusing. Playing the recording again after learners have conferred before eliciting any answers is also useful as they can check what they have discussed and have the opportunity resolve any disagreements and plug any gaps.

Of course, like anything, you can’t do it ALL in one lesson. Over a course of lessons, however, the recording is your oyster…

In terms of the Delta, if you are doing a listening LSA:

  • Do yourself a big favour and read Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom as a minimum. (He has several articles in the ELTJ as well – see below for examples).  I’m biased but I’d say read Vandergrift and Goh as well, if you can: the theory is extremely interesting and it has lots of adaptable, useful, practical activities for you to try out in the classroom too. What I’ve alluded to is only the tip of the iceberg – both books contain such a wealth of valuable information and advice.
  • Try new things out with your learners well in advance of your assessed lesson – you probably don’t want to be springing a whole bunch of new techniques on them all at once while being observed! Also, you yourself may need time to get the hang of using the new techniques effectively (experiment, collect evidence, reflect, fine tune…) This may seem obvious but on the other hand it also requires good time management and advance planning, which are easier said than done, especially under Delta pressure! 🙂

 Further recommended reading:

So, if you’ve read the books I mentioned above and are looking for more material to get your teeth into, or you’ve read the above-mentioned books and are now looking for extra references to beef up your bibliography, or you just incredibly interested in the ins and outs of teaching listening, you might like to have a look at these: 

Field, J. Promoting perception: lexical segmentation in L2 listening ELTJ vol. 57/4 October 2003. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2003.

Field, J. Looking outwards, not inwards. in ELTJ  vol 61/1. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2007.

Kemp, J. (2010) The Listening Log: Motivating autonomous learning in ELTJ vol. 64/4. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Nation I.S.P, Newton J. Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking Routledge. 2009.

 

 

 

 

Delta Notes 1: Error Correction

This Delta Notes series has come about because I am packing up all my stuff to move out of my flat and have found my Delta notebooks. I don’t want to put them in a box (got plenty to store as it is plus it’s pointless…) and let them gather dust, so thought I’d write up the notes I’m interested in keeping and get rid of the notebooks instead! I will also add some reflections at the end of each set of notes. Feel free to share opinions, add ideas, argue against any ideas you disagree with etc by commenting using the comment box beneath the posts. (These are just some of my notes from Delta input sessions – I may have misunderstood or missed something: there was a lot of information flying around that semester!)

Here are my (written up) notes from a Module 2 input session on error correction:

Errors are evidence of learner development and are made for a variety of reasons. They are something we, as teachers, have to deal with on a regular basis. To do this effectively, it helps to have a clear understanding of why errors might be made and what can be done with them.

If a learner makes a slip, they have the requisite knowledge, e.g. that in the third person present simple, we add –s or –es, but do not produce the item correctly. In this case, they are likely to be able to self-correct quickly. Errors can also provide evidence of learners’ systems – if a learner produces the same error consistently, it is systematic. Learners may also make attempts to say something that they have not learnt how to say, and not quite manage. This provides information about what they are ready for – what they can do and what gaps there are in their knowledge.

From the teacher’s point of view, some errors are covert i.e. learners produce something correct but it wasn’t what they wanted to say and this isn’t obvious to the teacher, while some are overt, i.e. obvious.

Errors can be caused by incorrect L1 transfer. However, it is worth remembering that transfer can often also be positive. Errors can also be intra-lingual, developmental and systematic. These refer to learners’ current awareness of the language and can be a result of over-generalisation or incomplete application of rules. They could also be a result of mis-teaching, where there is lack of clarity, or over-teaching, where some language feature, e.g. –ing, gets stuck in their head!

A breakdown of different types of errors:

Pronunciation

  • Suprasegmental – word or sentence level mistakes e.g. incorrect intonation or stress.
  • Segmental – sound-level mistakes e.g. mixing up consonant sounds /p/ and /b/
  • Combinatorial – mistakes relating to how sounds are linked e.g. producing consonant clusters incorrectly.

Lexical

  • Incorrect selection of a word/phrase
  • Inventing a word/phrase
  • Transferring words/phrases from L1 incorrectly
  • Distortions of words e.g. kitchen v chicken

 Semantic

  • Words could be too specific or too general for a given purpose
  • Use of a superordinate instead of a more appropriate hyponym
  • Use of the wrong collocation
  • Production of an incorrect form
  • Wrong level of formality
  • Unintended connotation

Grammatical

  • Covert: a correct form but not the intended form
  • Morphological (but this can be a pronunciation error rather than a grammatical error e.g. not pronouncing the final ‘s’ rather than not using plural)
  • Syntax

Pragmatics

  • Confusion regarding function e.g. Is this ‘Can’ for ability or request – requires interpretation of language in context.
  • Literal meaning could be different from use e.g. “It’s cold in here” literally means the temperature in here is quite low, but it can be used as a request to close a window/put on a heater etc
  • Taboo subjects

Receptive errors

  • Learners may mis-process input and give the wrong response.

How can we deal with learner errors?

If they are overt, we can deal with them instantly or wait till a more appropriate moment.

If we decide to deal with learner errors instantly, how can we go about this?

 This very much depends on the error type and on various contextual factors (what learners are used to, the focus of the lesson phase, how much time is available etc)

One way of dealing with errors:

Ask for repetition: this signals you aren’t sure of what the learner has said and gives them the opportunity to self-correct if it is a slip. It also gives you thinking time! (I.e. time to decide how to deal with the error)

Ask for self-correction: learners may have missed your previous cue or attempted to self-correct but not corrected the error.

Ask the rest of the class to try and help: this engages all learners in what started as a one-to-one interaction and maximizes on the different developmental stages and sub-levels that are present within a single class.

If nobody can help: either give up and provide the answer or give prompts that may help learners to reach the answer. (Worth remembering that you can’t elicit what learners don’t know and considering whether the benefits of laboring over a particular error balance out the amount of time spent.)

If somebody can help: Ask them to repeat their correct form. Get everyone to say the correct form. Then ask the learner who originally made the error to repeat the correct utterance – this reinstates the class as it was, but with the correct form. (Very often, there is no need for a “teacher model”, except for pronunciation – and even with pronunciation, learners will often repeat better from a learner model.)

 It is important to show awareness of errors: If you are not correcting errors, it is important to be explicit about why you are not correcting errors. This might relate to the focus of the lesson phase (i.e. you might be focusing on fluency development and so may be less worried about accuracy at that point) or your plan (i.e. you might plan to do a delayed error correction feedback phase after an activity rather than correct during the activity). However, it is also very important to respond to what learners say, not only focus on how they are saying it.

When a learner produces language, ask yourself:

  • Is this adequate?
  • Can I get more?
  • Do I want more?


Here are some of my reflections on error correction:

Error correction is, I think, one of the minefields of ELT. Learners desperately want it, and may feel they are being short-changed if it doesn’t happen. Teachers may have good reasons for not doing it, or may be doing it in such a way that learners are not explicitly aware that they are being corrected. Teachers might also get into the habit of always using the same narrow selection of error correction techniques, which may not be effective for some of the learners in the class. Of course, what constitutes effective is another can of worms! I think there’s a lot to be said for variety and experimentation, where error correction technique is concerned: Different techniques will be better suited to certain error types, different learner preferences and so on. Experimentation – and, of course, post-lesson reflection on this experimentation – can enable a teacher to build up a range of techniques that he or she will be able to draw on when the need arises.

(For this, I recommend having a look at Classroom Management Techniques by Jim Scrivener, which contains many practical ideas, and the reasoning behind them, to try out: Though it is not specifically about error correction, there is a useful chapter on eliciting (p139 -145), which is applicable. Also have a look at his Learning Teaching book, specifically chapter 14 “Toolkit 2: focusing on language 1. Error Correction” p298 -302. (NB link and page numbers refer to second edition, which I have, but I gather there is a third one now…) Finally, there is a very good chapter in Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching, Chapter 8: “Mistakes and Feedback” p137-152, which I’d recommend reading. In terms of the Delta, as far as I understand it, you are supposed to try and demonstrate that you are able to draw on a wide range of techniques, within an assessed lesson, so all the more reason to have a read and get experimenting if you are a Delta trainee – or a prospective one!)

Errors can be a great source of further learning, but only if they are used as such. For example, if you are doing whole class feedback on a listening exercise, and a learner provides an incorrect answer, merely providing the correct answer will probably  not result in much learning. However, if you involve other learners and explore the cause of the misunderstanding, then learning opportunities increase. Some errors may, of course, not be worth spending too much class time on – this comes down to teacher judgement and may be influenced by factors such as the aim of the activity, how it fits into the sequence of activities that make up the lesson, whether you think the error is something that learners should already know/be able to produce correctly and so on.

Finally, I think it can be valuable to involve learners in negotiating how and when error correction should take place. For example, if you are going to do a speaking activity, ask them if they want to be corrected during the activity or to be given feedback once they have finished speaking. Depending on the activity goal, your preference may be the former or the latter, the learners may (think they) want the opposite. Correct those learners who request it while they speak, correct those who request delayed feedback when they have finished, then once the activity has been completed and all feedback given, briefly discuss the pros and cons of each method with them. Elicit their ideas before giving yours, and explain your choice of method isn’t arbitrary but based on what you think will benefit them the most for any given activity. When you experiment with new techniques, involve the learners by explaining what you are doing and asking for their feedback afterwards. Hopefully this kind of discussion and learner involvement will also increase learners’ trust in you, and what you are doing with them, as well as giving you extra evidence to reflect on after the lesson.

Recommended reading:

Lightbown and Spada (2006:125-128) “Corrective feedback in the classroom” in How languages are learned (third edition) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

(Usefully describes different types of error correction – explicit correction, recasts, clarification requests, metalinguistic feedback, elicitation and repetition, giving examples of each)