How to positively correct students' mistakes during lessons

A positive approach to language mistakes

A positive approach to language mistakes


  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Are mistakes important? Yes, they are very important. A mistake is evidence of learning.

Does correcting them really do any good? Should teachers correct their students? Yes, it does and yes, they should.

Can it do harm? Yes, it can, which is why language teachers need to be very careful when they make their decision about when and how to correct a student. Not only do we decide whether to correct our students or not, but we also need to choose the most appropriate way to do that.

Be positive and patient

The teacher mustn’t leap on the mistake when students try out a new piece of language that happens to be wrong. React to the answer: “I see what you mean”. React positively. Your reaction is even more important than what you say. Rather than criticize the product, the teacher’s job is to aid the process.

A language is a system of communication, and most students use it as a practical skill. The main point for them is to be understood and understand what others say. Perfection isn’t their aim. 

Teachers have to let students know that mistakes: 


  • are necessary;
  • are acceptable;
  • will be dealt with in a non-judgmental, supportive and effective way.

How to deal with spoken language mistakes

It is very important to remember what the main aim of the lesson is and also which stage of the lesson you and your students are at. Concentrate on the mistakes connected to the main aim of the lesson.

5 typical mistakes in planning a lesson

Read more

Use immediate correction at the controlled practice stage, when you drill a grammar structure, a functional exponent or some new vocabulary. Give your students a chance to use self-correction or peer correction. Your students will stay more active in the lesson and their self-confidence will improve.

Delayed correction techniques are corrections a teacher uses some time after a learner has made an error.

Delayed correction should be used after freer practice and fluency developing activities. Students have to be monitored and the teacher should make notes on students’ mistakes, especially the ones linked to the main aim of the lesson. Those mistakes are analysed after the activity ended. And of course, the teacher shouldn’t mention any names of those who made the mistakes.

There are many different ways to correct language mistakes. If your student said: ‘I go to the cinema yesterday’, the teacher could say: ‘I went to the cinema yesterday too’ and accompany it with the gesture. 

Use fingers while correcting the sentences like: ‘I going to learn French’. You might also try the following:

  • Pretending to misunderstand
  • Saying the correct answer in context
  • Correcting and reformulating in natural language
  • Using humour (carefully)

For example, react to the sentence ‘My girlfriend has got a beautiful hair.’ — ‘Only one?’

How to deal with written language mistakes

Prepare your students! 

Help them with the conventions and rules of written English and with the particular activity which the students are going to do providing a safe framework. Teach your students the necessary useful language.

Essentials of Effective English Language Teaching

Online teaching credential that gets you ready for CELTA

Test the right thing

What does the following composition test, apart from English?

“A day in the life of a rock star.” The answer: Their general knowledge.

  • While marking students’ compositions, first of all, react to content and the register. Don’t correct all the mistakes, restrict your correction.
  • Mistakes underlined and coded. This approach works well. You could design your own code or use one of the existing codes.
  • Mistakes could be referred to a grammar or textbook.

Teachers should remember that their feedback should have a long-term positive effect on students. 

Article authors & editors
  • Helen Taranenko

    Helen Taranenko


    CELTA, CELT-P/S Course trainer, International speaking examiner



Leave your comment