The Internet TESL Journal

Getting Students Actively Involved Using "The Mistake Buster" Technique

Hai K.P. Huynh
theteaeggs [at]
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.


In 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 take place.


Choosing a Mistake Category

Select 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 Activities

This 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.)

Step 2. (Short sentences and long sentences can be used.)

Step 3. (A narrative can be used.)

Step 4. Wrap up


This 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