The Correct Way to Fix Student Errors in EFL

 Your mission – should you accept it – is to teach students studying English as a Foreign Language (EFL) how to say things correctly.

But when they make a mistake, what’s a good English teacher to do?

The how and the when of correcting classroom errors is troublesome for most teachers. Correcting too much is bad, but so is correcting too little. What should be corrected? And when in the class should you do it?

The balance needs to be struck between giving students important constructive criticism and over-correcting them to the point they think twice (or maybe three times) before opening their mouths to participate in class.

Experts Say…

Studies have shown that you’ll improve your students’ English if you focus on these three kinds of mistakes in class:

1. High frequency errors

2. Stigmatizing errors

3. Errors that block meaning or confuse the listener

From my experience, I would offer another kind of mistake that should be caught in class:

4. Errors in using the lesson’s target language.

Great, so that’s what a teacher should be on the lookout for in class. But when should the student be told that they’ve made a mistake? And how can the teacher do it gently and efficiently?

These questions are harder to answer.  Evidence on this is inconclusive, but research seems to show that to effectively error-correct a teacher should:

1. When hearing a mistake, speak the corrected statement

2. Listen for mistakes and do a general review of them at the end of the activity segment

3. Encourage peer correction

4. Correct the student yourself (but use this less than the other three ways)

Fluency vs. Accuracy—Creating a Balance

EFL teachers need to watch their students carefully to juggle the importance of speaking quickly and smoothly (i.e. fluency) with the necessity of using correct grammar and syntax (i.e. accuracy.).

Usually teachers will observe a give-and-take between these two concepts. If a student strives too hard to be accurate, they will probably lose on fluency. On the other hand, if they prioritize speed of speech too much, they’ll end up babbling something that sounds like English—but follows no rules at all.

If teachers are on the alert to how, when and what student mistakes occur in the classroom, they can balance fluency and accuracy.  It’s not always easy, but here’s a rule of thumb to help:  In a speaking or a conversation class, focus on fluency. But in a writing class, you should focus on accuracy.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Think carefully about different ways you can correct student errors. This is such an important part of your lesson, you may think about putting it in your lesson plan.

TED’s Tips™ #2: When you correct student mistakes in class, think about the students’ skill level and educational history before you take action.

If the students’ experiences are in an environment where they have been often chastised or publicly shown their errors, then they will often be hesitant to speak and you as the teacher will need to focus on fluency. But if they come from a string of more liberal classrooms, then you might have to roll up your sleeves on accuracy.

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Keeping Students Keen on English

How to Motivate EFL Students

As any teacher will tell you, motivating students is one of the most important—and oftentimes  most difficult– parts of the job.

But to understand how to unlock student motivation, understand that students who know why they need to learn the language that is the target of the day’s lesson will want to learn it, and will learn it more easily. Communicating this ‘why’ is part of being an effective teacher.

Don’t just expect this motivation to appear out of the thin classroom air–to generate student desire to learn, instructors have quite a few methods available.

Plan Motivation into Your Lessons

First, show the context where the target language could be used. For example, the language might be ‘polite requests’ and the where might be ‘the post office.’ Do this at the start of the lesson.

Later, when drawing your visuals—a dialog or structure chart on the marker board, perhaps–elicit as much language as possible from the students. The more language that actually comes from the students, the more interesting it will be for them.

When you are executing the “Production” or “Activation” part of your lesson plan, encourage your students to use the target language to discuss their hobbies, emotions, and daily life. This will link the lesson to their personal lives and thus be more exciting, which will help foster their motivation. As you’ll realize at many a cocktail party—most people just love talking about themselves.

Keep it Real—Keep it Relevant

Relevance is another component in student motivation.

When you have adult students, you should plan the lesson to talk about grown-up issues. Children will blossom talking about kid things, and teenagers need to learn from classes that are relevant to their age group. Keeping your class demographic in mind will help you ratchet up their interest in the lesson.

Depending on your coursebook, you may need additional materials or tangential lesson plans to make this work. Unfortunately, one popular English book for young learners has lessons on purchasing automobiles and booking plane tickets—issues the students won’t have to worry about for years to come. A lesson on choosing toys at a toy shop or on the latest video game would prove much more motivating to kids.

The use of real-world items in lessons,(in TEFL jargon we call it ‘realia’) also promotes interest, and it’s often easy to do. If you have a lesson on your schedule about fruit, why not stop by the store and bring some actual fruit to class. In the same vein, if you’re teaching Business English, then using real-world documents from their office will help students realize English does have relevance and importance in their daily life.

You can read more about student motivation at the following links:

Motivation in the Classroom

The Failure of Extrinsic Motivation

Ideas for Motivating Students

When Students Do Not Feel Motivated for Literacy Learning: How a Responsive Classroom Culture Helps

TED’s Tips™ #1: Student motivation starts with you. Teachers are responsible for sparking and holding student motivation.

TED’s Tips™ #2: What really interests your students? Try to find the answer to this question and then build your lessons around those motivators.

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Where Should you Take your TEFL Training?

Take your teacher training in the country where you plan to teach

I’m often asked where is best to take a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training in-classroom course. A variation on this question is, ‘Is it better to take teaching training in your home country or in the country in which you plan to teach?’

Look for An Experienced Trainer

My recommendation would usually be for a TEFL school where your primary trainer is well-educated and has broad experience in more than one country and more than one or two school settings, and has been teaching EFL abroad for about 10-12 years.   But that is not always possible, but try to get near to it.

I think the level of experience of your trainer(s) is very important. When I was a teacher trainer (some years back) someone was hired right out of my class to organize and execute a TEFL Certification course for another company.  Lucky her, except…she had NO teaching experience AT ALL. Yikes! I won’t tell any more of this story, but it didn’t work out well, and it was not a unique situation.

Train Where You Want to Teach

My answer to the second question is to, yes, go abroad to the country where you want to work. Take your training there, or as close to that country as you can. Here’s why:

1. When you move to the new country to do the TEFL course you will also be adapting to the culture and learning how to get around. Then, when you start hunting for jobs, you’ll have an easier time than if you had just showed up cold.

2. Local TEFL Certification schools will be able to tell you who are the best and biggest employers, which schools to contact first for a job, and–just as importantly–which schools you should avoid.

3. When you do your teacher training, you’ll do some Observed Teaching Practice with real students. If you study for your certification in the same country where you will work, then these students will have the same grammar and pronunciation problems as the students you will be teaching at your first TEFL job.

Pronunciation Problems Differ from Place to Place

There are a few reasons why this is important.  Depending on their mother tongues, each country’s students will have different difficulties when they learn English grammar and pronunciation.  This isn’t a big deal, but even teachers with a lot of experience will need to spend some of their first classroom hours figuring out how to solve these problems when they begin working in a new country.

For a new EFL teacher, this will certainly take more time and effort. If you can get a handle on local grammar and pronunciation issues during your training, and if you have a good trainer, you’ll be a strikingly more effective teacher from the get-go.

Additionally, in some countries schools will want you to do a “demonstration lesson” as part of the hiring process. Of course this sample lesson will go much more smoothly for you if you have a leg up on what sorts of classroom problems you might face in that country and you’ve already taught (during your teaching practice) those types of students.

And, in countries where demonstration lessons are the norm, your TEFL Certification training course will give you the chance to design and polish that demo lesson, under the supervision of an experienced teacher-trainer.

Think about it, if you just walk off the plane and into a job interview that includes a demonstration lesson, how will you plan it if you don’t know what local students’ common problems are?

As if those weren’t enough reasons, if you do your course abroad, then during your TEFL Certification course you’ll be able to scour the job market and line up that perfect job for after you finish your training.

Lastly, if you go to the developing world to take your TEFL Certification course, you’ll save money. In many countries, TEFL Certification courses are much cheaper than in the West. Your room and board will cost less too.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Figure out what country you’d like to teach in and do your TEFL Certification course there.

TED’s Tips™ #2: During your TEFL course, prepare and polish a demonstration lesson so you have it ready when you start looking for jobs.  Just in case . . .

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Show off your Skills with a Demonstration Lesson

A No-Worries Guide to the EFL Demonstration Lesson

You’re a newly minted English teacher, and you’re looking for that first job. You get a call back, but—uh,oh—they want you to do a demonstration lesson when you come in for your interview.

Now, they said, “demo lesson,” but you’re thinking it’s more “demon lesson.”  Should you be scared? No, way.

While much feared by newbie teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), a “Demonstration Lesson” is a common part of the hiring process in some countries, and is an excellent opportunity for you to strut your teaching stuff.

At first glance, a demonstration lesson is an uncomfortable scenario. Sometimes the school trots out some fake “students” (usually other teachers or school office staff) to watch your lesson and, occasionally, ask you typical learner questions. But really, this is nothing to be feared. Don’t worry about it, just show off what you know.

Prepare for your demo lesson knowing that your prospective boss isn’t just looking at your academic qualifications. They also want someone who is personable and extroverted, who smiles, and who is able to make a decent lesson plan and motivate and lead students through their tasks.

Know Before You Go

If you’re scheduled to give a demonstration lesson, here are some questions you should ask:

1. For whom is the lesson is intended?

2. What is the students’ skill level?

3. What target language or topic should you teach?

4. How long will your lesson need to be?

After you get the answers to these questions (and they might even let you decide those answers) you need to make a clear lesson plan. Bring two copies of it (not forgetting to attach any handouts) with you to the demonstration lesson. One copy is for you, and one is for whoever will be observing your performance.

Execute your plan with care, making sure your board work is clean and readable. Carefully keep your teacher talk time in check.

You need to realize that, for some employers, being amiable and good at working with others is valued as highly when hiring as your ability to teach. So, during your demonstration lesson, emphasize those attributes as well as your classroom skills.

When you go in, dress appropriately (don’t forget to put on your biggest smile, too),and look confident. They may want you to teach the full lesson plan, but often your prospective boss will see you know what you’re doing and will have you stop after only a few activities.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Practice, Practice, Practice

Don’t just wing it—practice your lesson over and over before the demonstration lesson. If you can, get an experienced teacher to observe you and give you some advice.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Do an In-country TEFL Course

If you take a teacher training course in the country in which you intend to work, you’ll have a great opportunity to develop and refine a “demo” lesson and get the input of your teacher trainer and course-mates.

Remember, be confident, wear your best smile, and you’ll be fine.

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