Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TESOL Teaching Tip #4 - Say That Again, Correctly

My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

TESOL Tip - Correct your students mistakes, but don't overcorrect! Give students good feedback, but don't expect perfection. For more on how to help your esl or ell students, read the blog post at Raki's Rad Resources.


ELL Teaching Tip #4: Correct, but don’t overcorrect!

TESOL Tip #3 was to let students talk.  Well, once they do talk, they are going to make mistakes, and then comes the question – do we correct the mistakes or not?  I find that teachers that I work with generally lean to one end or the other of this continuum – either they never correct the spoken grammar of their students, or they try to correct every word they say.  So, this week’s tip is to correct spoken grammar, but not overcorrect.
[There are a lot of schools of thought on correcting grammar, so this is just my take, don’t think of it as the holy grail of ESL.]
Grammar does need to be corrected.  I know many, many English Language Learners, even those who are very fluent, who make certain mistakes over and over.  Generally, they do this not because they are lazy, or deliberately making these mistakes, but because no one has ever told them that what they are saying is incorrect.  When English Language Learners are just learning, they are just trying to be understood, and so often once they are understood, we just let them be understood, and don’t worry about if they are 100% correct.  Although it is important to not over-correct someone who is just trying to be understood, the goal of an English Language Learners is to learn the correct way to speak English, so once it is appropriate, we do need to correct those common mistakes. 

Some mistakes that I often correct are:
“Those are mines!”
“The teacher of my brother said….”
“I have 8 years.”
“Can I go in the toilet?”
“I can have some, please?”

When I correct my students, I will usually simply re-state their sentence correctly and have them repeat what I have said.  (After enough repeats, it gets internalized, but they key there is consistency!)  For older and higher level students, I will talk about the differences between their home language and English, or explain the grammar rule (ie. In English the adjective goes before the noun, but in French and Spanish the adjective goes after.  It’s good to know a few words of the home language for this – see Tip 9 for more reasons why.)  I always use the words “In English, we say…” instead of “The correct way to say that is…”.  I feel that this helps students to understand that although they may say something one way in their home language, we must change the way of saying things when we speak English.
There are some times that I don’t correct grammar.  These are generally times where the message is more important than the grammar itself.  For example, if I have asked for the answer to a hard math problem, or for the student to re-tell a story, I am looking to see if they understood, and it’s not vital that their spoken English grammar is perfect.  The best places I find for correction is the regular daily communication, such as when students are asking to go to the bathroom, telling you about their day, or tattle-taling on another student!

Do you have a great tip for correcting English Language Learners?  Post your tip in the comment section.

Do you want more TESOL Teaching Tips – check back each Tuesday for more. Also, check out previous TESOL Teaching Tips by clicking HERE.
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