How to correct fossilized errors

How to correct fossilized errors

Fossilized errors are errors which the student makes constantly. They know they make these mistakes. They know the rules. They are able to correct themselves swiftly when the teacher points it out. However, they continue to do it over and over again. Many teachers will agree that it is much easier to teach their student new material rather than correct their fossilized errors.  

When teaching beginners, the golden rule is  “fluency over accuracy”. A teacher who demands their beginner student’s English to be impeccable will have to stop them and correct every other word. This is why it is better to wait for the student to finish speaking and then discuss and correct their mistakes. However this democratic method doesn’t always work at the Intermediate level. Many Intermediate students (and not only) continue, for instance, to mix up he and she even though they learnt these words in their very first lesson and are perfectly aware that a man is a he and a woman is a she. You may give your student a dozen of exercises which they will complete correctly and then continue to make the same mistake while speaking.

Here is an alternative way to correct even the most stubborn errors:

How to make a list of fossilized errors

1.Create a monologue situation for your student
2. Record your student’s monologue
3. Analyze the audio and make a list of fossilized errors

First, you need to identify your student’s fossilized errors. The best way to do this is to create a monologue situation where the student will speak for a period of time. Speaking exercises or a dialogue with the teacher might not be enough of a speaking opportunity. A lengthy monologue is just what the student needs to showcase all their favourite mistakes. As it might be difficult for a teacher to take notes of all the errors while the student is speaking, it is better to record the monologue. After the lesson you can analyze the audio and compile a list of mistakes. Try to find out   

The best way to create a monologue opportunity is to have the student retell the plot of a video or a book. This method will suit all students, especially the less talkative ones who do not like to talk about themselves or express their opinions. While retelling, the student does not need to improvise what to say. You can use graded readers, episodes from TV series or pretty much any material that has a plot and will be interesting for your student.
Monologues can be used both for identifying and fixing fossilized errors.

How to correct  errors

1. Choose one mistake to work on.
2. Correct it straight away every time the student makes it
3. Do not interrupt the student. Use facial expressions or a card to highlight the mistake.

Speaking for fluency is equally important for all levels. At the same time, starting from Intermediate, students also need to work on speaking for accuracy. This means mistakes need to be corrected straightaway. Telling an Intermediate student at the end of their monologue “by the way, you often say ‘to’ after modal verbs” will not be enough to correct the error. It needs to be corrected in the process. But how? If the teacher keeps stopping and interrupting, the student will get annoyed. Therefore it is better to highlight errors with facial expressions. It does not interrupt the student’s speech and is funny rather than annoying, At the same time, the student will understand they have made a mistake and correct it immediately. An alternative method to facial expressions would be lifting a card.

In the lesson

1. The teacher selects one mistake from the list and tells the student they will work on it. For example, this can be using ‘to’ after modal verbs.  
2. The student retells a chapter of the book or an episode from TV series.      
3. The teacher listens to the student’s monologue without interrupting. Instead they use facial expressions or cards.
4. Next lesson the teacher highlights another mistake for the student to pay attention to while they speak. The teacher corrects only the mistakes they have highlighted before the beginning of the student’s monologue.  
5. Each lesson the teacher adds one more mistake for the student to work on.  Whenever the student stops making a particular error entirely, the teacher crosses it out and replaces it with another one to work on.

All these exercises require 10 minutes at the beginning of each lesson. However, your student will speak more and more accurately without compromising their fluency.

How do you fix fossilized errors?


Кристина Шабо

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