Iatefl 2015 Chris Smith’s talk


Christopher Smith

Chris Smith started his talk with a bit of information about the history of error correction. He mentioned how different approaches viewed error correction. He gave the example of Audiolingualism, where the teacher used to correct everything and Humanistic approaches where the notion is to correct nothing . Chris did point out that these statements -correct everything/nothing- are a simplistic /caricature view of how the approaches dealt with error correction. He then moved on to talk about Krashen and Terrel’s approach towards error correction. According to them, error correction did not work due to the affective filter (students got scared and embarrassed and this hindered their learning). This kind of attitude affected communicative language learning greatly.

Screen shot of Chris Smith's slides: Krashen and Terrel quote

Screen shot of Chris Smith’s slides: Krashen and Terrel quote

BUT research shows that error correction does work. Students who receive error correction improve.

Screen shot of Chris Smith's slides: Ellis' quote

Screen shot of Chris Smith’s slides: Ellis’ quote

Chris Smith then moved on to the main part of his talk which was his research. He  carried out research regarding error correction on speaking.

Chris Smith’s research

Learner Profile

200 EAP students (pre-master’s students). 2/3 of the learners were Chinese and the rest from the Middle East, Iraq. Kazakhstan. Most learners were in their mid-twenties. Language level: upper-intermediate.

Chris’ research started with general statements/research questions about error correction.

1). I believe error correction helps me improve.

Very strong agreement.

2). I want more error correction than what I get.

Agree (students, in general, want more error correction than what they receive).

But some people say you have to be careful with the amount of error correction you give. You might scare/upset your learners. This lead to Chris’ third statement/research question.

3). Being corrected by a teacher about speaking is embarrassing.

Strong disagreement.

Techniques for Error Correction

What kind of error correction technique do students prefer?

Student to student dialogues: Suggested techniques

  • Interrupting students and giving error correction.
  • Emailing students with error correction.
  • Writing errors on the board and then doing group error correction.
  • Giving bits of paper with individual feedback.

The most popular technique was giving individual feedback on bits of paper.

Recommendations on how to do that:

  • Use Postit notes so they can stick the bit of paper somewhere and because it is neat.
  • Cover the whole class. All the students must receive individual error correction on a Postit note.

What kind of error correction technique do students prefer?

Student to teacher dialogue: Suggested Techniques

  • Teacher elicits self-correction.
  • Open the error correction discussion to the whole class.
  • Repeat with the correct feedback.
  • Stop, correct and explain.

The most popular technique was to stop, correct and explain. Students prefer direct correction. Eliciting answers came third and the least popular technique was opening error correction to the whole class. According to Chris’ findings for these students, it is OK for the teacher to correct, but if the teacher tells another student to correct a mistake, this may mean that the mistake was a simple one, a mistake that another student can correct. This may make a learner feel more embarrassed.


Screen shot of Chris Smith's slides

Screen shot of Chris Smith’s slides

Final thoughts

The teacher needs to think of the time s/he will do error correction, plan it and use the most suitable techniques. Error correction does work and students want more of it!!

Screen shot of Chris Simth's slide. More error correction.

Screen shot of Chris Simth’s slide. More error correction.

Chris Smith works at the English Language Center of Sheffield University. You can watch his talk here More Iatefl 2015 posts Donald Freeman’s talk Joy Egbert’s talk   Till next time……….


4 thoughts on “Iatefl 2015 Chris Smith’s talk

  1. Thanks for this great write up Joanna. I can’t help feeling that the objection to peer correction may be culturally influenced with 2/3 of the class being Chinese.
    I remember, many moons ago at IALS in Edinburgh, they actually had to bring in extra-(same age)-students to classes of Chinese learners, because the Chinese students wouldn’t question the teacher! (“too much” respect).
    That’s why I have this feeling that the preferred mode of stop-correct-explain by the teacher turned out to be the most popular in these classes.


  2. That’s a fair point Anne. When I was designing the research method, I wondered if it would be possible to compare different groups of students, particularly according to cultural and linguistic background, but in order to do that, there would need to be a large group, maybe 50-100 students, for every different group of students you wanted to compare, in order for them to be representative. So we’re talking about thousands of students to be able to really say Chinese learners prefer this, but French learners prefer that, and so on, which was beyond the scope of the research.


  3. A fabulous read and so much to think about. I agree with Anne’s comment about the cultural response to error correction and the effect of teacher- or peer-led correction. I wonder as well whether the type of English being taught has an impact – learners on an EAP course will likely be looking to produce linguistically correct English as they need a high level for academic texts. Those on a general English course in their own country or people on a short immersion course may be more interested in communicating their ideas, rather than linguistically perfect exchanges.


  4. Hi Teresa
    I agree, to some extent. I think these results would be different with different learners in different contexts. I think what is particular about EAP students is that they usually already have a first degree in their L1, so have a lot of educational experience, and they are around B2 level in English, so have a lot of experience of language learning. As such they are aware of what works (or they have beliefs about what works) for them, and are less likely to be intimidated or embarrassed by a bit of error correction. This might not be true for young learners or elementary students striving to communicate effectively.


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