Listening to Your Students – What a Concept! Observing and Monitoring Errors in the EFL Classroom

January 14, 2016

This post was written by Susan Weymouth, Bridge Curriculum Specialist and CELTA trainer.

Teachers, how often do you step back and listen to your EFL students? We often think of error correction as a direct, immediate action: the teacher hears a mistake and then points it out. Yet, that is only one possibility. Consider all the information that an English student gives by making an error and all the options we have in addressing it. Take a moment to view this selection from in which a teacher, Rachel, notes student errors in a journal to help with future planning.

When Rachel makes those notes in her log, she is, in fact, conducting a mini needs assessment for her students. Keeping a teacher’s journal or log of student errors in a methodical way isn’t difficult or time-consuming for Rachel, but it takes a conscious decision. She needs to leave the desk, bring a pencil and paper, avoid involving herself in the ongoing discussion, and just listen carefully.

You might find that the first few times you try this in the EFL classroom, it feels awkward. Perhaps students stop talking and turn around to see what you want. It is often effective when monitoring to stand behind or to the side of the students. That provides a physical clue that you are not there to engage with them, but just to listen.  Perhaps you listen but only hear the conversation’s topic and not the errors. Jeremy Harmer, in The Practice of English Language Teaching, suggests using a chart, such as the one below, to record errors.

Grammar Words & Phrases Pronunciation Appropriacy
I was ready for go.


If we pay attention, students will tell us what they need. One way they do this is through errors. Spend some time each class listening to students and making notes.