I always tell my students that the language classroom is great because it’s 100% okay to make mistakes. In fact, mistakes are expected and normal. You can’t learn a language without making mistakes; it’s a part of the process. It’s how you learn from your mistakes that’s important.
Ever since I began teaching, I’ve experimented with what is the best way to help my students become aware of the mistakes they’re making. At first, I wrote corrections above the errors. However; I started to wonder if this was effective and worth the time it took me to do it. Maybe students would just glance over the corrections and move on. Would this really stick? How much would it help them if they didn’t know what kinds of mistakes they were making?
One of my colleagues told me about correction symbols which she uses in her writing classes. I adapted them and started using them for my intermediate ESL courses. They have become an important part of my class. They are useful because they help the students see the types of mistakes that they are making, so they can work to eliminate them. After grading something, I’ll often write a note to the student saying something like “review SVA” when I see that the student is making a lot of one particular type of error. It also helps me because I spend less time writing. It’s a lot easier to write “VT” (verb tense) than it is to write “are eating.” Using the symbols also helps me when planning some mini lessons because I can skim through a stack of homework and see what things the class needs to work on most.
Of course, marking the symbols isn’t going to do anything unless you make sure your students review them and make the corrections. I often give some time in class for students to work through their mistakes with partners or in groups. This way they can discuss things with their classmates. I’ve heard a lot of productive conversations when students are trying to figure out what a particular mistake is. I also require revisions, so some homework points go to the act of reviewing and fixing the mistakes that were made. This particular list of correction symbols is appropriate for intermediate or advanced students, but a shorter more targeted list could be developed to fit the needs of a beginning classroom.
- Print enough copies for each of your students. I would suggest printing them on a colored paper. It makes it easier for students to find and shows it’s important.
- Introduce the idea of error correction.
- Go over the symbols and examples with your class.
- Let them work in groups to correct the mistakes in the practice paragraph at the end of the handout.
- Use the symbols to mark errors in students’ homework and writing.
- Assign revision homework or class time for students to fix their mistakes.
- (Optional) You could also have students keep a personal error log, so they make note of the mistakes they tend to make.
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