Getting Students Actively Involved Using "The Mistake Buster" TechniqueHai K.P. Huynh
theteaeggs [at] dng.vnn.vn
American-Vietnamese International English Center (DaNang, Vietnam)
This article demonstrates how teachers can get students actively engaged in the learning process and take charge of their learning by giving them the opportunities to find and correct mistakes themselves. This technique works well with beginner to high intermediate students. Step-by-step explanation of how to employ this technique will be given to help interested teachers adapt it for their own classes.
IntroductionIn my years of teaching ESL/ EFL experience in various settings, I have always found that teaching and learning become so much fun and exhilarating when my students are actively involved in the lesson. Their active engagement, however, does not come automatically. In rare cases I have had students who are so motivated and eager to learn that they seem to "absorb" so quickly what I explain to them, but in most cases I have to find ways to get them involved.
The reason behind this idea is simply to help students learn better by creating good opportunities for them to reflect on what they have learned and now take a look at it from a different angle. One way I have tried and found effective is to prepare an activity where my students take over the role of correcting mistakes (which is normally done by the teacher), while I deliberately become the "mistake maker".
This technique can bring forth several benefits. For instance, by switching
the role of the "mistake corrector" I often observe that students get excited.
The level of excitement is even increased when the class is divided into
two teams to compete with each other in finding and correcting the mistakes.
Another benefit is that they have the opportunity to identify the possible
mistakes themselves instead of me telling them what the mistakes are, thus
giving them a sense of accomplishment. This technique can also help
me check my students' understanding of a grammar point or comprehension of
a reading task. It can be used to reinforce and improve their production
skills such as writing and pronunciation. Last but not least, it is
non threatening and fun which is one the best conditions for learning to
Choosing a Mistake CategorySelect a mistake category that is pertinent to the focus of the lesson being taught. For the purpose of demonstrating the employment of this technique, the past tense of irregular and regular verbs will be used as an illustration.
Preparing the Mistakes (Regular and Irregular Verbs in the Simple Past Tense)The wrong verbs to be found and corrected by the students can be prepared in the form of a verb list, in short sentences, in long sentences or in a narrative. Some samples are provided below:
- Sample verb list: want, need, work, visit, repair, take, eat, bring, think, wash, change, enjoy, study, use, make, clean, finish.
- Sample short sentences: "I go to bed at 10:00 last night" or "My mother call me this morning".
- Sample long sentences: " I don't go to school last week because I have a motorbike accident, but fortunately I don't broke a bone or anything." " Last night we have our family photo taken by a professional photographer who just opening a new studio the day before."
- Sample narrative: " I have a really good day yesterday. First my sister calls me from California in the morning and we talk for nearly an hour. She tells me many exciting things about life in California and promise to call me again soon. Then I go to school and taken a test. It were quite easy because I study very hard last week to prepare for it. On the way home I run into my best friend and we decide to go for coffee. We find a nice place and enjoy great coffee there. We just have a good time together."
Sample ActivitiesThis will show how the "Mistake Buster" is employed to check students' ability to use regular and irregular verbs in the simple past tense.
Step 1. Warm up: (A verb list can be used.)
- Tell students they are going to have an activity to review the Simple Past Tense.
- Divide the class into two teams and tell them they are going to compete in the activity.
- Make two columns on the white board and ask students to fill the left column with many verbs in the Present Tense.
- Tell them they have to find the past tense forms for all the verbs. They have to raise their hands quickly to get the permission to give an answer. For each correct answer, the team will score ten points.
- Begin the activity and add up the scores for each team when all the verbs have been changed to the Simple Past Tense.
Step 2. (Short sentences and long sentences can be used.)
- Tell students that they have to listen to short sentences and then long sentences to find the mistakes in the verbs and correct them by putting them in the Simple Past Tense.
- Start reading one sentence at a time. Repeat the sentence if they did not understand it the first time.
- Students have to raise their hands quickly to get the permission to give an answer. For each correct answer, the team will score ten points.
- Keep scores and add them up after all sentences have been read and corrected.
Step 3. (A narrative can be used.)
- Tell students they are going to listen to a narrative and write down the verbs they think are wrong.
- Read the narrative at a normal speed once.
- Read it again if necessary.
- They have to raise their hands quickly to get the permission to give an answer.
- Ask them to say out loud the wrong verbs they heard and the correction as well.
- Keep score and add them up when all the verbs have been corrected.
Step 4. Wrap up
- Praise students for their efforts.
- Review important points or give more explanation if necessary.
ConclusionThis activity is a simple technique but it is very effective in getting students' attention and participation. Above is only a sample demonstration of how it works with the use of regular and irregular verbs in the Simple Past Tense. Of course similar activities can easily be developed by teachers to suit their needs and their students' as well. It is hoped that this technique will be tried out by many teachers and found to be beneficial for both teachers and students.
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 11, November 2003