When it comes to error correction, I’ve grown a lot. I used to correct ALL of my students’ errors, profe. But now I know better. I let my students correct their own mistakes, set goals with this worksheet, and I focus on what really matters: communication.
Think back on your own experience as a student, or even as a teacher. Have you ever been wrong in class? What happened? Why do you remember this particular situation? How did this affect your participation?
When I was in high school, I moved from one school to another. Since my new school didn’t offer an Honors Spanish class, my guidance counselor bumped me ahead a level, from Spanish 2 to Spanish 4. Big mistake. I missed so much, I remember the teaching starting with a review of el subjuntivo and thinking: “What is el subjuntivo?”
Back then, I was a new student in a new school, with an advanced class that I wasn’t ready for. Wanting to be prepared, fifteen-year-old me decided to ask the teacher if she could sit in the front. “¿Puedo sentirme aquí?” I asked the teacher, mixing up “to sit” and “to feel.” The teacher grabbed my hand and ran it over the desk, having me “feel” the desk. I was so confused, lost, and embarrassed. I just wanted to sit in the front, set myself up for success, and here I was: the new kid running her hand all over a desk with the class watching.
As a teacher, I never want my students to have an experience like this. I’m sure you don’t either, profe. So instead of correcting everything, I had to adjust my own practices and focus on the most important errors.
Error Correction: What Does It Look Like?
The Ins and Outs
Research shows that students can’t handle all your corrections. Additionally, they won’t remember them. Instead, we have to let some things slide. In my class, the goal for my students is that they can be understood. Are they still comprehensible when they make some mistakes? Absolutely. This is where we let some things go.
Focus instead on comprehension, specific grammar concepts that you’ve covered, building student confidence, and prior knowledge.
When I stopped correcting everything, I had to decide what matters most. Here’s what I decided.
- Major miscommunications
- Errors that impede understanding
- What we’re learning
- Errors related to that student’s goals
If you’re a language nerd like me, this article shares more perspective on errors and error correction.
Strategies for Error Correction
Prompt Students to Self Correct
What: The teacher points out the mistake, students fix the mistake
When: Any time during a lesson
- Facial expressions
- Asking a question
- Echo the student’s answer and highlight the mistake
- Use prompting words to lead them to the mistake
What: Teacher corrects the mistake instantly after hearing it
When: Early during practice activities when students are still familiarizing themselves with the language
- Quick-correct with positive language: “One small change: …”
- Quick explanation (if needed) and students repeat the correct form
- This could be a great opportunity for pop-up grammar
Prep Common Errors
What: Anticipate mistakes that students will make during class
When: After practice activities are finished; you want a cumulative review of student’s common mistakes
- Use mistakes from previous classes if you already taught this lesson
- Students can correct errors on the board, a worksheet, or correct a pre-recorded audio clip
List It Out
What: Quietly make a list of student’s errors throughout class
When: During production activities (speaking/writing) when interrupting would hurt students’ practice
- Make a list and then project/write on the board
- As a class, discuss the mistakes and work through them together
- Explain/re-teach concepts as necessary
Why It Matters
If you made it through my story above, you can see how an appropriate response to errors can avoid embarrassing situations. Even better, strong error correction builds student confidence. We want students to feel prepared, supported, knowledgeable, and know that our classrooms are safe spaces to make mistakes.
Correcting students’ errors helps them understand the language, supports their skills, and deepens their understanding of language use.
See and Acknowledge the Good
Remember to name what students are doing well, and when they’ve made progress in correcting a previous error. I like to give students a second opportunity later in class to use the structure where they made a mistake before. This shows me that they’ve got it, and gives them another opportunity for success.
Set an Action Plan
Don’t try to implement ALL of these practices this week – choose one, and then add another in a few weeks.
I’d love to know what you do in your class to correct student errors! Leave a comment below with your own strategy, or the one you want to try!
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