In researching a speaking activity for irregular verbs, I came across a great number of websites with an even greater number of suggested activities. One site in particular listed a suggestion for an activity entitled, “That’s Not Right!” The premise of the game is to have the students correct the teacher when given the incorrect simple past form of a verb. The activity goes something like this:
Student A: “Forgot”
Student B: “Ate”
I started to wonder if this activity would actually be useful, or just confusing, to the students. I decided to ask some of my peers what they thought. Everyone had a positive reaction and thought it was a good activity to incorporate into the classroom. One student said she thought it was a useful activity because of its “drill” nature, which “helps [students] remember and recall faster.”
But something still didn’t sit right with me. “Shouldn’t we, as teachers, be actively (or passively, depending on who you ask) correcting the errors rather than actively making them?” I thought to myself.
I began to reflect on the activity. Why was it bothering me so much? Was there a value to it that I missed upon first glance?
I suppose this type of game is dependent on the level of learner in a given classroom. I do not think that this activity is appropriate for beginner students. In my opinion, beginner students would be more likely to conjugate these irregular forms incorrectly, and having the teacher produce them might (implicitly) reinforce their appropriateness. As a student of German myself, I often recall the way my instructors have said a verb in the classroom, even in a drill-type activity. If my instructor were to actively produce an incorrect form, I might later recall this production, and use the incorrect form, not remembering that it was, in fact, incorrect.
For an intermediate class, and especially for an advanced class, I can see this activity being very useful. Having the students actively correct an incorrect form shows mastery of the material. When a student reaches a level in their L2 where they are able to, and feel comfortable, questioning whether the instructor has made a mistake, the student has achieved quite a proficiency in that language. In these classrooms, active correction, both of the self and of one’s peers and teachers, demonstrates the student’s understanding of the L2, and reinforces their continued practice in applying both rules and exceptions.
After making these observations, I began ruminating about error correction, and then error production. Here’s some questions I’d really like to explore further (perhaps in a later blog post!):
1. What is the most common error amongst ESL learners?
2. How often do the most common errors occur?
3. What is the most common source of error amongst ESL learners? Is it L1 interference?
4. How do instructors go about correcting these errors? (Frequency of correction; timing of correction; correction at different levels of proficiency; implicit vs. explicit correction; individual correction vs. correction in a group; differences in correcting written vs. oral errors; etc.)
5. How effective is error correction?
6. Which type of error correction is most effective? (Self-correcting; explicit vs. implicit correcting; etc.)