Whenever our students are working in pairs or groups, we always notice their mistakes. Then we are faced with the dilemma: Should I correct now or not? The advice is to delay the correction, it is best not to interrupt because we shouldn´t cut a student´s stream of language. And it makes sense. Imagine yourself interrupting with a correction every time the student has made a mistake, it may be too often and may become boring, annoying, and demotivating.
Some years ago, I read an article that suggested a simple technique called “Hot slips”. It consists in noting down mistakes on pieces of paper that the teacher would give to the students after they have finished their activity. In this way, the corrections are personalized and non-intrusive. I tried the technique and it worked fine; however, I found it could be improved. For example, what kind of mistakes should the teacher note down? When exactly should the slips be given: right after the student´s intervention, at the end of the class, while other students are talking? I then modified it a little bit and this is what came up.
1. Prepare slips of paper to note down mistakes. I am now using a notepad that lets me rip off pages easily.
2. Decide what kind of mistakes you are going to concentrate on: Grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, or more than one category. In any case, define an area in the piece of paper to note down the type of mistake. Also, and I suggest this is done too, try and note down good sentences, uses of grammar and/ or vocabulary that exemplify advancement in the student´s performance.
3. Keep another normal sized piece of paper. This is not to be given to the students. You will note down the most common mistakes here so that you can show them to your students at the end of the activity and/ or plan remedial work based on this information.
4. Stay with one group/ pair for as long as necessary to get information.
5. When the activity is finished, pick some mistakes from your own notes and do some remedial work. It is important not to mention who made the mistakes but treat them in general.
6. Alternatively or additionally, plan remedial work based on the information you collected during the activity.
The advantages of the modified Hot Slips technique add to the two mentioned before, personalization and non-intrusiveness, the element of closure. The activity has an output when the teacher shows the students their mistakes. The fact that good examples of language use are included in the teacher´s notes, gives the activity a motivating edge: Not everything is criticism.
When giving corrections on the board, I usually prefer an inductive method. I write an example sentence or more with the identified mistakes in them and ask the students to point out what is wrong and why. I also write pairs of sentences which are different only because one has the mistake I am concentrating on and the other doesn´t.
I have 20 years old. VS I am 20 years old.
The students didn´t went to class. VS The students didn´t go to class.
The modified version of Hot Slips has proved to be really effective in error correction and, what is more important, extremely useful for me as a teacher. The best is to try it out and see how it works for you, and even think of some modifications to suit your needs and situation.