|CELTA-005| Error correction: techniques

Hello Exam Seekers,

What is feedback? How can you give feedback to your students? How do you correct your students? Did you know that there are specific error correction techniques? Well, in this text, I’m talking about the relationship between error correction and feedback, error correction’s place in class, and also some techniques that you can use when correcting students.

wrong right correct incorrect

This topic is actually one of the ways of giving feedback that you learn during the CELTA Course. You not only learn, but you should use these techniques while teaching your class, and when planning your lessons, you should write the names of the techniques you plan to use.

To begin with, it is quite impossible to talk about error correction without talking a little bit about feedback, right? After all, we tend to not only correct our students but also praise them during their learning process. And since feedback is mainly used to bring awareness of students’ improvement and development, both aspects should be considered when talking about the students’ progress in the learning of a foreign language.

Error Mistake Albert Einstein

Also, I have already talked about errors and how you should not be scared of making mistakes when learning a language – or pretty much anything. This is because mistakes are part of the learning process and it shows that learners are attempting to use the language; therefore they are, one way or the other, making progress. It is by receiving feedback on their performance that they can start realizing what is correct and what is not, so that is why teachers should point out the aspects they excelled in and also the ones they need improvement. As for the teachers, it is also by the mistakes students make by using the language freely that they can evaluate what should have more practice and what has already been learned appropriately.

There are different types of errors, though. They may include, pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, coherence, and so on. So a tip would be to try and vary the aspects which you are taking into account when giving feedback to students. Additionally, the level of the student should be in mind when they make mistakes. For instance, if it is something they haven’t learned yet, what is the point of bringing the issue up, right? Instead, it is much worthy to focus on things students have already learned and are still having trouble with rather than going too much further and taking the risk of making students confused and demotivated.

Another aspect to think about is the most appropriate time to have these corrections. For example, should you interrupt the student in the middle of their talk or wait for them to finish and correct them at the end of the activity?

Below is an example of how correction done at the wrong moment can impede communication:


ORAL CORRECTION: On The Spot x Delayed Correction

Some mistakes can be corrected right on the spot when students are still talking, while others can be a group problem or something that came up more than once during the lesson and should be worked on later on as a delayed correction.

For instance, if it is a structure that perhaps needs more clarification and that is still an issue for some students rather than something rare, it may be worth writing them on the board and do it as a delayed group correction. On the other hand, if it is something that may have happened as a slip while a student was talking and it is not going to compromise their talk and is not something recurrent, you can do it on the spot and deal with it the moment it happens. It is just important to bear in mind if this correction will be effective or will end up doing more harm than good.

SOME TECHNIQUES: How to correct students effectively

Exercises/Worksheets: One type of correction that can be done is bringing some sentences with the mistakes students usually make and work on them at the beginning or at the end of a lesson so that all of the students have the opportunity to think about the errors and correct them together. Some options could be a fill-in-the-blanks sort of exercise or even one with the sentences for them to spot the mistakes. Another possibility is to work with matching if students have been working with idioms or expressions and still making some mistakes on this issue.

cuisenaire rods

Cuisenaire rods: this may be one of the most versatile ones, mainly because you can use it to work with pretty much everything! You can use it when students are having some issues with the order of a structure, to show the correct position contrasting to the one they are using. Also, you can work with pronunciation patterns, such as word stress – put two blocks on the stressed syllable, for instance-, the stress in a sentence, the syllable division, and even the intonation. Since each block has a different color and size – there are ten different colors and sizes in each set – they can represent each a part of speech, or a different pattern, depending on what you plan to work on.

Finger / Hand Correction

Fingers/Hands: I believe that gestures can be used for even more situations than Cuisenaire Rods, to be honest. After all, some signs are the same in many places around the world, so it is something that can be helpful in many situations. However, I will tell only a couple of them here. For example, if a student is saying a verb in the present when they should be using the past, you can point your thumb behind your shoulders to have them think about the past situation. Besides, the opposite also works. If you need a student to change the verb for the future, you can also roll your finger forward to indicate that it is about the future.

Another gesture you can use your fingers to correct students is when they are saying a sentence and the position of a word is incorrect. You twist your index and middle finger to point out where it should be – by twisting your finger, students would understand that they were supposed to invert the sentence.

Finger Correction
Finger Correction

Also, you can use each finger to represent a part of the sentence and stop where the mistake is to have students come up with the most appropriate answer – or even ask them to do it after you give another example with the correct order, for example.

The picture on the side is another example of how we can use fingers. If a student said “I ate too much cookies” you can repeat the sentence by saying “I ate too _____” and hold your ring finger expecting the student to repeat the words or correct him/herself. If the student says the wrong word, with a headshake he/she will understand he did it incorrectly and will try again.

Other students: If you are teaching a big class or even one with a reasonable number of students, you can also use the students themselves to help you with the error correction in a sentence. You may have each student represent one of the words of the sentence, and then the other students have to point out where the mistake is and come up with the correction. This helps reduce TTT (Teaching Talking Time) and also has students more in control of their learning as well since they will be working together to solve the error.


Some techniques should be used carefully when correcting students. For instance, teachers should mind their tone when students say something incorrect, as the ‘mocking tone’ may inhibit students from developing and even trying with the language. So, echoing students’ mistakes, making fun of them somehow may not only be rude but also silence a student for the rest of the course at times.

Besides that, avoid reactions such as “No!“, “That’s not right,” “You’re wrong,” the moment you listen to a student’s mistake. Wait for the student to finish their sentence and use some more positive stimuli to help them rephrase the sentence or work on what was not correct, such as asking them to try again or even showing them where the mistake is and asking for help to make that right.

So, what do you think about these suggestions? And what about you? Do you use any other error correction technique when working with your students? And during the CELTA? Have you planned on using one, but in the end decided on another? Tell me in the comments. And if you have questions or comments, just leave them in the comment section below.


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Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


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