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Takeaways from TESOL 2023: The Error-Friendly Classroom

March 27, 2023

Seven members of the Ellii team attended TESOL 2023 last week in Portland, Oregon, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. When I wasn't chatting at the booth with teachers and administrators from all around the world, I went to some amazing and inspiring sessions.

One session really stuck with me. It was titled "The Error-Friendly Classroom: Learning from Listening and Speaking Mistakes." In this session, Beth Sheppard from the University of Oregon emphasized that learners have to notice their errors before they can correct them.

To this end, she outlined four classroom activities that can help capture listening and speaking mistakes, allowing for metacognitive reflection on current strengths, weaknesses, and next steps for learning.

During these activities, students are encouraged to analyze their work by asking themselves the following questions:

  • Which part was easy?
  • Which part had an interesting mistake?
  • Which part had an important mistake?
  • Why did I hear/say it that way?

They can answer these questions in a pair or group discussion, on an exit slip, in a brief presentation, or as a homework assignment.

Now for the activities...

Activity #1: Fast Dictation or Gap Filling

In this activity, students write down what they hear as you read a text aloud. If you choose to have them just fill in gaps of a given text, use more than one word per gap. (If you want, you can give students a line for each word.)

  1. Read the text at a natural pace—you can adjust the level via length and complexity.
  2. Repeat the input, but not so many times that the students will make no errors.
  3. Hand out the text or project it on the board and allow students to correct their work. 
  4. Ask students to reflect on their mistakes and report on the one(s) they would lke to work on most to you (the teacher), a partner, a small group, or the whole class.

Activity #2: Paused Transcription

In paused transcription, students listen to an extended text into which pauses have been inserted at irregular intervals. During each pause, students write down the last phrase they just heard.

  1. Choose target phrases (4–5 words) in a graded audio clip.
  2. Copy the audio file into an audio editor such as Audacity. Insert a beep and a 15-second pause after each target phrase.
  3. Play the audio once in class and have students write down the phrase they heard just before each beep.
  4. Give students a transcript of the original audio and have them correct their work. 
  5. Ask students to reflect on their mistakes and report on the one(s) they would lke to work on most to you (the teacher), a partner, a small group, or the whole class.

Activity #3: Elicited Imitation

In this activity, the learner is asked to repeat an utterance that is modeled by the teacher or a partner. Unlike typical listen-and-repeat tasks, learners do not see the utterance in written form nor do they repeat chorally.

Depending on the level, the language sampling can be one or two words, one or two phrases, or one or two sentences. Whatever the length or complexity, the delivery should be natural.

  1. The teacher or partner says the sampling.
  2. The learner repeats what they heard verbatim.
  3. Students correct each other or the teacher corrects the learner. 
  4. Students analyze whether their mistakes are in comprehension or production.

Activity #4: Recorded Speaking

Students can use their own devices to complete this activity. It works well as a homework task.

  1. Students record themselves giving a brief monologue in response to a prompt. (I suggest using the Personal Response task in the digital version of any of our Discussion Starter lessons. These tasks include both a prompt and a recorder.)
  2. They then transcribe their speech word for word, using another colored pen or pencil to correct their mistakes.
  3. Students re-record the monologue and apply corrections.
  4. Alternatively, this activity can be done in class. In pairs or groups, students record a conversation among themselves. They collaborate to transcribe it and discuss any mistakes they notice. 

Learner errors are a wonderful resource for both teachers and students, and it never hurts to repeat these mantras:

"Have a growth mindset."

"Don't be afraid to be wrong."

"Mistakes are an important part of learning."

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