On Error Correction

closeup of a pencil eraser correcting an error

(Image taken from: http://theheat.dk/blog/?p=1753)

There are so many things written on the area of Error Correction. It is Scott Thornbury (2006, 56), among others, who writes that “[t]he amount and type of correction favoured by teachers is closely related to the teacher’s attitude to error, which is in turn influenced by the teacher’s theory of language learning.”

Indeed, there are teachers who are in favour of hot correction (correcting the learner the minute they make an error) and others who prefer cold correction (waiting for the student to finish the task and then provide the correction.

Then, the years went by, we learned better and focus was shifted on the learners themselves. Thus, it wasn’t the teacher who offered the corrections; it was the students themselves either in the form of self-correction (learners correcting themselves) or peer-correction (learners correcting one another).

Lately, we have come to a very basic but extremely useful understanding: there is no one single right way to go. Teachers have all the techniques at hand and are ready to use the most appropriate one according to the particular learner(s)’s needs.

What are the implications of such a decision? Again, there are many arguments for and against each of the above mentioned ways of correcting learners’ errors, most of which are based on empirical research and extensive studied. My own question, though, is what are the effects of our decision not in relation to the learner’s learning process(es) but on the learner’s personality.

Can anyone deny that we function as role models for most – if not all – of our learners? Is it possible that by providing a hot correction we do much more than interrupting the learner from doing a particular task and offering the correct version of their error?

Here are some thoughts on the effects of different correction techniques on the learner’s personality:

Hot Correction: The learner learns that errors are wrong and that there will always be someone to point this out and, potentially, embarrass them. At the same time, when the learner comes across another speaker’s error, they tend to interrupt and correct them on the spot.

Cold Correction: The learner learns that attempting to perform a task is more important than making errors. However, they also know that there will always be someone to spot the errors and correct them, eventually.

Self Correction: The learner learns that they are completely responsible for performing a task and for monitoring themselves while performing the task. Help is provided by none other than their own selves.

Peer Correction: The learner learns that they belong to a society where one is helping the other and that it is through this each other’s support that improvement can be achieved.

So, what this post is trying to prove is that making a decision in class may have many implications (well, that’s old news) not only to the learners as learners but also to their personality, which adds to the significance and the importance of our actions and choices.


Thornbury, Scott. An A-Z of ELT: A Dictionary of Terms and Concepts Used in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Macmillan Education, 2006. Print.

4 thoughts on “On Error Correction

  1. Definitely thought provoking, Angelos!

    It makes one wonder if there is any room for hot correction in class! Are there truly no benefits for students? What of those learners who feel the need for immediate feedback – should they be ignored? Does that truly help their language confidence?

    All very good questions, to which I do not have definitive answers!
    There is one thing I am conviced of:
    “… the question of the teacher’s attitude to mistakes and correction is probably the single most important issue in a language teacher’s professional development.”
    Bartram & Walton (1991):

    Looking forward to more food for thought 🙂


    • What a great surprise was for me to read your comment! (To those of you that don’t know, Alexandra is one of my CELTA tutors and will always be a point of reference). Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this post – I know that your time is very limited and precious.

      It seems that there is room for all types of correction in class, mainly because each class has all types of learners. This is what makes teaching exciting: it is a series of choices; the more informed our choices are, the better quality our teaching will be of.

      I wasn’t aware of the quote you mentioned, but I totally agree with it. Thank you for sharing.

      Big hug!

  2. I had a similar discussion with some of my students. I was surprised to hear that they expected, and wanted, to be corrected by the teacher. They insisted that only bad teachers don’t correct errors. Interesting. I think you have to think about mistakes and/ or errors too.

    • Thank you for your comment, Sue.

      Indeed, many learners expect the teacher to do a lot of correction. I think it has to do with the way our own teachers used to teach us. There must also be a cultural dimension to learners’ expectations on error correction. I, also, think that it is part of our job to show them that other methods of correction are equally, more or less, beneficial for them.

      Thank you for mentioning the errors vs mistakes distinction. As you’re suggesting, they should be treated with a completely different approach.

      Thank you very much for your comment,


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