Learning by Doing and Making “Good Mistakes” in English classes

Why English learners must practice and make “good mistakes” in order to grow

“A man’s mistakes are his portals of discovery.”

―James Joyce (1882-1941), Irish novelist and poet

How can English language teachers create a rigorous, tolerant and focused classroom atmosphere?

One effective technique is encouraging English students, especially ESL students, to “learn by doing” and to “make good mistakes” as they expand their vocabulary, experiment with new sentence structures and use English more in their daily lives. A “good mistake,” as I explain on the first day of class, is follows logical thinking, but just happens to produce an incorrect outcome. For example, a young boy might think 2+2= 22. You can see the student’s logic, but the answer is wrong. The student needs to know that 2+2=4. But you can also acknowledge that “22″ is a “good mistake.”

Far too many ESL students, especially in countries that heavily rely on and sometimes worship standardized exams, have created psychological barriers to experimenting in English. These students often want to avoid making any mistakes, and prefer to remain silent in conversation class to expanding their verbal skills. The ESL teacher, therefore, has to directly confront this mentality. After all, you can’t learn to speak a new language without making mistakes.

So I encourage English students, in both conversation and writing classes, to make “good mistakes.” Take chances. Try something new. Stretch your learning muscles. And make “good mistakes.” By making “good mistakes” once or twice, and then correcting them immediately, students can learn not to repeat them. A “good mistake” is not a good mistake if you’ve made it ten times before in a class or on previous papers. Students with this mentality can usually understand the value of making mistakes and so they can relax a bit, and proceed to experiment a bit more in our crazy, confusing, and misspelled English language.

Our goal, I sometimes joke on that first day, is to make many “good mistakes,” learn from these “good mistakes,” and move forward to make new, different, and even better “good mistakes.“ We usually, whether purposefully or accidentally, realize this goal in our English classes!

How will you guide your students through their “good mistakes?”

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  1. Many thanks for your effort, I really believe it is a useful tool for studying and an entertaining way to improve our English level.

  2. Thank you for those encouraging words.

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