Error correction – Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Barbara Hoskins SakamotoYoung learners are geniuses at discovering patterns. They construct an implicit understanding of grammar from the language chunks they hear in class. They refine their understanding through trial and error…and correction. Knowing that students are actively building, applying, and testing patterns helps teachers see errors, and error correction, in a different light.

Stage 1: Building
Students aren’t expected to know the language at this stage—that’s why they need clear models, lots and lots of practice, and correction. Students are inferring the rules underlying English, so they need something to infer from. This is where students have a chance to get language right.

Stage 2: Applying
Once students have a good understanding of a pattern, you can expect them to use it accurately. At this stage, students can easily correct themselves when you point out a mistake. However, if you get blank looks when you draw attention to mistakes, then you probably need to spend more time in Stage 1.

Stage 3: Testing
After learning to talk about singular and plural objects, you might start hearing things like They’re chalks or It’s a scissor. These are wonderful errors because they demonstrate that students understand some important language rules. Congratulate them on what they got right (pronoun and verb changes for singular and plural), let them know the correct way to say it (if you can’t let it go), and know that your students will eventually learn about mass nouns and counters. The fact that your students are willing to try language that they haven’t yet been explicitly taught is a very, very good thing. It takes time to build a language.

How do you deal with correction in your classes? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Barb Hoskins Sakamoto

About Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Barbara has taught both English and ESL in the United States, and EFL in Japan for more than 25 years. She earned her BA from Western Oregon University and her Masters in TESOL from Northern Arizona University. Barbara has conducted workshops throughout Asia, the U.S. and Latin America, and is co-author of the best-selling young learners Let's Go series (Oxford University Press). She is also a founding member of the JALT Teaching Children special interest group. Her motto is "Always try new things," so these days, when she's not teaching, writing, or giving workshops, you'll often find Barbara online exploring the potential of social media for professional development. If you'd like to explore with her, you can usually find Barbara on her award winning blog, Teaching Village.