Error Diary Vol 2 Q&As

In my previous post I told about an idea of extending work on error correction and I received comments which made me write this post instead of just answering straight away. First of all, and I must warn you, it’s going to be long. Another reason is that the answers will dwell upon something broader than just Error Diaries, thus they deserve a post.

The first comment was made by my friend and one of the best teachers I have ever had. She asked me several questions and I’m going to answer them one by one.

1. How are errors actually recorded? Do students write down the correct examples rather than the ones with errors?

I actually don’t constrain students to record it in a particular way, but they usually copy what I write on the board i.e. a sentence with a mistake and with corrections plus a couple of other examples with the same structure, which they give while working on the rule (as I described in the first part of my previous post).

2. Do students record their own mistakes or those of the whole group?

As I don’t say whose mistake it was and they might even not remember whether it was their mistake or their partner’s we write all of them. Usually the number of mistakes recorded per lesson is 3-6. I try not to overwhelm them with negative feelings of disappointment and timidity. For the very same reason while giving feedback I use the sandwich reflection scheme described by Joanna Malefaki. Thus we start and end with something positive and I believe students feel that they have done a lot of work and, though there is still a lot to be learned, they have already achieved something tangible, something that I feel proud of them being able to do.

3. How do you deal with slips that persist? Everyone at the pre-intermediate level and above knows that he has, not have, but it doesn’t stop students from making the mistake. I have this upper-intermediate student who makes a lot of them, and she’s perfectly able to correct herself immediately if I just give her a sign something is wrong. That’s been bothering me and I’ve yet to find a solution.

Now I’m speaking solely about error correction, not slips. I was taught and I truly believe that during delayed correction we deal only with errors in the target language or those which prevent communication. Therefore, slips are not considered at this stage of a lesson. Meanwhile, they are common problem for students of all levels and we need to do something with them.

I presume the problem is that they don’t hear themselves making a slip (correct me if you think I’m wrong – I’m just learning to be a teacher). Therefore it’s important to learn noticing slips and mistakes in their own speech. You could suggest your students to record themselves and then listen and assess the utterance in terms of accuracy. Another idea would be to read a text with mistakes yourself so that your students clap or shout when they hear a mistake. Having learned to spot both errors and slips (mostly slips, I guess) while listening, they will be able to do it while speaking.

4. You mentioned games and activities for further practice. Could you elaborate on that, share a couple of recipes, maybe? 🙂

A fantastic activity which students may benefit from is described by Barbara Sacamoto during her webinar “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” at Summer MOOC at WizIQ. I mean the one with the cubes where you put different words, roll them and construct a sentence. You may need to roll some of the cubes again to make the sentence correct. Register for free and watch the webinar to get a clear idea of the rules; it’s a really fantastic activity. Besides, the whole webinar is extremely useful and worth watching.

Basically, the choice of activities depends on the target language. I may use books like ‘Grammar Games’ or ‘Vocabulary games’, I may well resort to simple information gap tasks with pictures or stories, I exploit sometimes your idea of keeping a wordbox where we collect difficult vocab, so we may use the words in a situation which requires using target language. Any activity you would take for revision, just make sure, you know how to implement the structures or the language where mistakes occur. To do so, you may want to simply restrict the structures to be used or to create a situation so that they have no choice:)

5. I wonder what revision speaking activities are like. Are they some sort of questions that require using the target structures?

This is the point I want to develop a bit more. Let me provide you with the situation. At the previous lesson you have covered topic X, you discussed some mistakes at the end and wrote them down in the diaries. Next lesson you had a warmer or a revision activity at the end and covered topic Y, as a part of their home task students prepared short exercise on both topics (I asked to come up with 5 gap-fill sentences), they send it to you by email, you check the sentences and bring it to the next lesson as a part of their home task (each student gets other student’s 5 sentences, not all of them!) . I like giving the completed exercises back to the students who have created them to check. Finally, next lesson you do a short speaking activity either additional to the one you do with the current topic Z (just after that, hopefully they are connected by the same topic) or, if possible, mix all of them and have an activity for using X, Y and Z together. I managed to do it once and was really happy when I saw it working)

Here goes an example of my lesson:

X – modals for expressing necessity and advice

Y – making promises, requests and predictions with ‘will’

Z – asking for and giving opinions

Thus, topic Z is the main one for the lesson. We deal with it the majority of time introducing, deducing, practicing in a bit controlled form (students mingled and asked for and gave their opinion on different situations each of the students had). After that must be freer practice. I show them pictures of two people, Mary and John, who are really good friends. I put the pictures on the board and describe the situation. Here is our dialogue:

–          So, John has a problem. His tooth aches a bit and when he eats something sweet or cold it is very painful. John tells Mary about it. What does he say?

– “oh, it pains a lot. What do you think I should do?”

– Good one! What does Mary say?

– maybe “you should see a doctor”.

– right. Any other ideas?

– I think “you must see a doctor”

– it is also good. What does John answer?

– you’re right. I need to go to the dentist.

– is he making decision right now?

– yes

– can I say it with ‘will’ then?

– I will go to the doctor.

– great!

– Mary thinks it is a good idea to do it as soon as possible

– “you should do it as soon as possible”

… and so on.

This is how we brainstorm the necessary grammar and vocab and I also demonstrate how to deal with the task.

Having done that, I hand out other situations and students may make dialogues in pairs or mingle (I opted for pairwork to vary the tasks, but mingling seems a good choice too)) and ask everybody. I asked them to change partners once, so at the end they told me who gave them the best piece of advice.

A possible pitfall here is that the students are forced to use a lot of new and old target structure. It occurred to me that they may benefit from writing such a difficult dialogue staffed with structures and then acting it out or something like that. It will enable them to think the sentences over and maybe change previous lines to make them better.

This is one way of doing this kind of revision. Of course, there are a lot of other options. You may give them questions to answer as well, just make sure that the answers require using the language.

If you see an obvious flaw in what I’mtrying to do – tell me immediately in the comment section below) Also if you come up with ideas for improving it I will be really grateful!

Anyway, I’m always open for discussions and ready to take your advice on board)


6 thoughts on “Error Diary Vol 2 Q&As

  1. Hi Kate,

    Isn’t it a great feeling when comments on your one blog post make you wish to write an extension post?)) It’s wonderful and one type of reward for a blogger, in my view.

    In your post, which didn’t read at all like a lengthy one, I was especially attracted by your answer regarding slips. I really like your suggestions to develop noticing! I think it is overall such a significant skill which is easy to overlook. Both recording and listening to a teacher produce mistakes sound cool ideas to me. Many students I’ve worked with have no problem telling me I’m making a mistake or a slip. Because.. wait, yes, I make mistakes and slips (hopefully more of the latter and just an occasional former, but still).

    I have a point actually. My point is that we teachers get so scrupulous about language, so nerdy, perfectionists in some way. I’m thinking for an upper-intermediate student, expressing him/herself freely and fluently within a range of topics, minors slips are no harm. Especially when you know he/she is aware. Russian is my native language and I think I am mostly intelligent and use my native language well, but seriously, there are moments when thought comes first and reaches lips faster, hence the slip.

    I’m not trying to invite anyone ignore slips of the tongue, of course, or be careless about the job. I want to say maybe some problems are not so big as we see them, as teachers who care so much =)

    • Anna,

      This feeling has been keeping me on my toes for the las 2 or 3 weeks. (I need blogging holidays!)

      As for your point about being scrupulous (I’m steeling your English here – you see?), there is something harmonious and balanced in your style and in what you say. From my experience as a learner I can say that I still make a noticeable amount of mistakes and I doubt I’ll ever get rid of them. Thus, as a teacher I should understand that it’s ok and the result of communication is more important. On the other hand, sky is the limit. I keep working on my accuracy and there is some improvement, fortunately. To sum up all the scattered ideas above, it’s up to a certain teacher to decide (maybe relying solely on gut feeling) how far to go trying to make students’ speech perfect.
      So, as usual,no definite answer here.

  2. Hi Kate,

    First of all, I really love the part when you elicit the language from students. This is so helpful and I realize I don’t do it often enough.

    As far as error correction is concerned, I’ve been thinking about error diaries since you published your last post. It occurred to me that it can sometimes be helpful to juxtapose the correct and incorrect language items, even though in my previous comment I had my doubts about the value of recording mistakes. I’ve slightly changed my mind in that I would occasionally recommend taking down a student’s personal errors – language items they most struggle with. For example, I often confused ‘evolve’ and ‘revolve’ in the expression ‘this topic revolves around …’ I used to think it’s ‘evolve around’. I remember that once I noticed the error, it was helpful for me to place the correct and incorrect versions next to each other and highlight the correct one (even though this only happened in my head; I didn’t literally take the two expressions down in ink). The point is that maybe to get rid of the incorrect language item, one needs to see it first and then replace it with the correct one. This seems pretty obvious, yet our students sometimes fail to go through this process and, their errors ultimately fossilize.

    I really like reading your blog, and I like the way you deal with practical aspects of teaching English. Keep it up!


    • Dear Hana,

      I wish I were quicker answering your comments. I am preparing the Vol 3 with my answer to your and Anna’s comments. There will be pictures!)
      I see your point and it appears to be more students’ self-esteem-friendly. Maybe it’s worth underlining the tricky point then to remember where the dangerous place is. This also may be useful for preparing exercises (that sometimes proves to be a bit difficult for them).
      Thank you for reading and making such useful remarks, Hana!

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