Saturday, January 26, 2008

How to Correct Consistent ESL Errors

Ben from Canada writes:

Hi, I have been teaching one-on-one English classes to adults for a while. My classes are usually conversation based with some focus on form. One of my current students is a native French speaker and he has recurring problems with using have/has, do/does, and plural 's'. I correct errors and give him a lot of feedback; however these problems have become somewhat fossilized. I was wondering if you had any advice about how to stop students from making these same errors over and over again. I thought of getting him to write down the error when I correct him, but I am unsure whether this will disrupt the flow of the class too much. Thank you for your time.

Hi Ben,

I have the same problems with many (if not all) of my students. The "s" (either added or dropped) is particularly troublesome. I haven't found any magic key for these three recurring errors. I understand what you mean about not wanting to disrupt the flow. Depending on the purpose of the class, I often don't correct errors each time they're made, but take notes and then review errors every ten minutes or so.

I find that some students are more willing to work on specific problems (and actually make changes) if we discuss they "why" of it, or the importance of getting the "s" right or the "do/does" right. I often use humor to stress the importance. Also, if we decide that we are going to specifically work on a particular problem, I get the students' permission/buy in up front and let them know I am going to correct them each time they make the specific error we're working on. I think that by interrupting the speaker each time an error is made, then we can break that neural connection in the brain and start trying to build a strong and correct connection.

If you learn of any other suggestions, please let me know!

ESL Tutor
Teaching ESL to Adults


1 comment:

Deborah said...

I am currently working on this problem of dropping the plurals with a private student. I also got the student to "buy into" the correction process in advance, i.e., "since this is a recurring tendency in your English, let's give some regular focus to it." I like the "Fun with Grammar" exercise: list all the items in your fridge. You're sure to catch a few of the dropped plurals here which gives you time to point it out and correct with the student's participation. I also do periodic recordings of the student speaking. I tape the student speaking on several occasions in different ways -- something completely spontaneous, next something somewhat less spontaneous where I select the topic but keep it related to the student's life, and a structured presentation that the student prepares on their own. The taped speaking is never more than 5 or 10 minutes. I then type up a transcript and present it in the next class where we go over it together. The student takes the time to read it silently and identify their own problematic speech tendencies and possibly other errors, and I help them with anything else they may have missed. To balance out the "corrective" nature of this analysis, we talk about the nature of natural speech, e.g., trailing off in thought, repetitions, some lack of grammatical structure, etc., and I point out what is very good about their English. It's a great and cooperative experience. I also give short writing exercises and help the student to create their own personal style sheet for proofreading after the fact. One of the top items on the list is -- check for singular vs plurals. Of course, I am always on the lookout for other methods to employ. It is an ongoing process.