5 Ways to take feedback and correct mistakes

Post-task feedback is the stage of an ESOL class where much of the real learning happens; it is during feedback that students reflect on their ideas, correct their mistakes and apply the language that we teach in a restricted, experimental and discursive setting. However, feedback stages are all too often focused on the product of the task (the correct answers) rather than the process of how these answers were reached. This restricts student production of language to single words, or (in the case of many multiple choice tasks), individual letters. This goes against the interactional goals of communicative language teaching, and is restrictive rather being used to generate ideas and possible ways of communicating an idea. Here are some ideas to make student language more critical, informed and productive during feedback and error correction stages:

1) Call on students by name and encourage peer commentary

A simple way to make post-task feedback efficient is to ensure that you call on individual students by name when you want to hear their answer. This prevents more confident students taking over and makes student responses more focused and thoughtful. Remember, if you call on a particular student and they are slow to answer, don’t let others interrupt. Keep your focus on them and let them think before answering. If they don’t know, they need to be comfortable with telling you that they need help. That’s OK. Keep an eye on who is doing well in the tasks that you set by monitoring carefully: try standing back from your students and watching who is working and how they are tackling the task. Then choose weaker students to answer easier questions, and pass trickier details on to the stronger students to provide a challenge.

Calling on students by name also enables more peer comment on answers which are given in feedback. Before ‘rubber-stamping’ a student response as correct, ask other individuals if they agree with the given answer or if they can add anything to the first idea. It is important for students to discuss their responses and come up with a best response to a question that they have been working on rather than just focusing on a single idea that they think is correct. Try using some of these questions when next doing feedback:

  • ‘Do you agree with that?’
  • ‘Did you hear any other information to add to that?’
  • ‘Is there another way we could answer that question?’

2) Let the students take control of feedback

Rather than acting as the sounding board for students’ ideas, why not hand over control of the feedback process to the class, allowing you to step back and monitor answers as they come? Start the feedback stage by asking one student for their answer to a question and then let that student choose someone else to answer the next one, playing the part of the teacher for that part of feedback. Guide the interaction between students so that they develop each other’s ideas through student-controlled interaction (with your guidance where necessary, obviously). If this becomes a regular routine in your classroom, students will know to expect more independent discussion and will look less to you for the ‘correct answers’, gaining the confidence to put forward their ideas in a more informed way.

3) Ask for justification

Instead of simply looking for a single, correct answer to the questions students have worked on, focus them on the process by which they found the answer that they have. This raises the level of cognitive work that students apply to tasks and leads to a more generative, process-oriented approach to the work you ask them to do. Students are more likely to respond using full sentences if they know you will push them for justification and comment on their ideas.
You could do this by asking students questions to make them link their answers to keywords in a reading or listening text, and encourage them to reflect on their choice of language in speaking or writing tasks:

  • ‘Why did you put that idea for question 3?’
  • ‘How did you get that answer?’

4) Prompt for task answers

Do you ever ask your students ‘what’s the answer to number one’, ‘what about number two’?  This can get repetitive, and may not explore the language and ideas that students work with in the tasks you set. Try using different prompts for student responses; writing key words next to question numbers on the whiteboard can help students to identify where the correct answer is, in preparation to discuss the relationship between that word and an appropriate feedback response. This requires students to make the links between key words and the ideas that they have been thinking about during the task, again, raising the cognitive level of their work and engaging them more in the process of getting to appropriate answers rather than just getting things right and moving on.

5) Make feedback competitive

After performing review, consolidation tasks, or where all the students in the class are strong in a particular area of the activity you plan, you could try splitting the class into groups of three or four and lead feedback as a competition. Assign a ‘buzzer’ noise to each group (animal noises or sound word, like ding ding / bang bang… work well). Frame your teacher prompts as full questions rather than question numbers (‘how did Sally say that she felt about the holiday’ rather than ‘what’s the answer to number 2?’) and have students call out their buzzer noise before answering. Only accept answers from students who made the buzzer noise before answering, and assign points accordingly. This is a little slower than the standard feedback stage, but a lot more fun, and the introduction of a buzzer noise before responding works as a confidence booster, as they have to interrupt with speed and assertiveness in order to give their answer and be eligible for points.

Overall, always bear in mind the purpose of feedback stages: to generate target forms, to explore how and why students found the answers to the task that they did (not just to focus on what the correct answer is), and to give an opportunity for you to guide and correct them in their suggestions. These purposes are simply not addressed if the only interaction during feedback is a list of numbers, letters and single-word answers from the students. If you'd like to know more about ideas and tips for teaching your classes, check out our upcoming CPD training sessions here.

So, now it’s over to you…
- Which of these activities would you like to try?
- Do you have any fun, reliable and challenging ways to give feedback in your classes?

About the Author

Tom Garside

Tom worked as EfA’s former Director of Teacher Training, and has over 18 years of teaching and training experience in Europe, New Zealand and China. He holds a degree in Linguistics and French, Cambridge CELTA and DELTA qualifications, a Post-Graduate Diploma in TESOL and an MATESOL. He previously trained teachers in Europe as part of the European Union Comenius teacher development project where he provided initial training for the Trinity CertTESOL and in-service training for native and non-native-speaker teachers in a wide range of teaching situations. He is the author of Tesol: A Gateway Guide for Teachers of English.

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