GRAMMAR CORRECTION in ESL speaking activities – when is the right time to do it?


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I had an interesting experience yesterday in a class I was teaching where this very question came up. Should I tell the students right from the start that everything has to be in perfect grammar or should I just let them explore for a while.

To give you some context, the lesson was about developing some ideas in partners as to what to say in a presentation they were about to give the following day. Everyone was amazing at coming up with lots of ideas and the room was buzzing. Everyone wanted me to come and listen to the great ideas they had and I was keen to hear them and brimming with positive feedback. However to be honest at the same time I was hearing their ideas the incredibly bad grammar was punching me in the head every few seconds. The overriding desire to correct them on the spot was huge, but at the same time I didn’t want them to feel that they can’t speak unless it is perfect. So (for me) I let them continue in their own somewhat garbled enthusiasm.

The next step for me was that after they had all their ideas down on paper (with the worst spelling mistakes imaginable!), I redirected everyone back to the whiteboard. At this point I decided to take three simple (grammatically incorrect) sentences that were occurring around the room and write them up exactly as they were being said.

Sentence 1:

I believe don’t smoking bad for us.

Then together as a class the students had to work out which parts of the sentence were good and where the corrections were needed. The initial response from the students was interesting, there was a stony silence like ‘I thought this was a speaking exercise not a grammar one?”, then a few high achievers clicked into it and realised the mistakes and slowly the errors were corrected (using another coloured marker). Then we look at sentence 2.

Sentence 2:

This because make you cough every time and get sick.

The second sentence the students had to work in their partners to correct it together and present it to another pair.  Then share with the class and correct if necessary. Then came sentence 3.

Sentence 3:

For example my uncle he smoke 25 year and in hospital every time.

This one I got those who clearly got it to work on their own to fix it, and the others who had problems with the second sentence to work again with their partner to do it. Again everyone needed to check with their partners.

The final part was when I got the students to review what they had written for their great ideas and try to do the same for them as well.

The key I think however was that I still didn’t want them to be so freaked out about their poor grammar and so lose confidence when speaking, but that they could see that their presentation does still need to include a clear amount of grammar so that the audience can understand what you are saying….

Any other suggestions from people on great ways to correct students when speaking without getting them to lose confidence in opening their mouth?


2 thoughts on “GRAMMAR CORRECTION in ESL speaking activities – when is the right time to do it?

  1. It’s true! If I try to correct right away, they’re blocked and ashamed, they don’t want to make an effort anymore. Mistakes are a proof they’re trying. I love your wordpress, by the way!

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