IATEFL 2016: How to Fix Fossilized Errors

How to Fix Fossilized Errors: A Lesson Sequence

Do your students need extremely accurate spontaneous speaking for work or studies? Join me and discover a step-by-step lesson plan that destabilizes old errors (pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary) and embeds correct usage. The technique has helped my students increase TOEFL iBT speaking scores from 23-24 to 26-28 (IELTS 7.0-7.5 to 8.0-8.5). You can use the method with students of any level.

Click here for the handout!

Why I care about this so much

You might find it hard to believe, but when I lived in Turkey, I often passed as a Turk. The right haircut, jacket and attitude work wonders. Mainly, it’s the attitude. I was often stopped on the street and asked for directions. From living there nearly 7 years, I knew my way around some neighborhoods better than Turks, and I got a thrill every time someone asked…

“Do you know where such and such is?”

Why yes, yes I do!

I would open my mouth to give directions and my American R sounds would go “rawr rawr rawr” or I would misconjugate some verb and they knew right away that I wasn’t a Turk. Ergo, my directions could only suck and must lead to a geographic hell that not even Google Maps could save anyone from.

“Ohhh,” they would say, realization dawning on their faces. “You’re not Turkish… Never mind!”

“Wait,” I would protest. “I know where you’re going!”

But in an instant, they had melted back into the Istanbul crowd and my directions were left withering on my lips.

It was endless situations like these which made me empathize deeply with my students.

Yes, a romantic partner may find language quirks endearing, but when we find ourselves firmly outside the Love Bubble, there is just a cold reality: “Cute” language skills get you nowhere in life. But it’s also really hard to stop making old mistakes. Also, our global obsession with “fluency matters more than anything else” doesn’t help. I often felt the attitude at schools where I taught was, “Jaime, just get your students to talk. If they say anything, you’ve done your job. Of course they’re going to make mistakes. What can you do about that? They fossilize…”

What if the only thing that fossilized is our attitude? Don’t we owe it to our students to challenge our own creativity and keep finding ways to solve old problems?

Over the years of teaching students for high-stakes exams like TOEFL iBT (which, if you’re not familiar with it, is one of the most challenging and demanding achievement speaking tests known to mankind), I became obsessed with raising my students’ speaking scores. Trust me, though, strategies aren’t enough.

The only way to improve students’ spontaneous spoken fluency and accuracy is by combing through their L2 and finding the missing bits of grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation, then teaching them how to integrate what’s right.

What I figured out

In the end, I threw some different methodological techniques in my ELT Mental Blender and whipped up a frothy concoction that, in my experience, does lead to consistently more accurate fluency. (I haven’t tested it with research. If you’re a numbers geek, get in touch and we can set something up.)

Over the years, my experimenting solidified into a clear activity sequence that I can use with learners of all levels.

Is the Serial Repetition triangle I demonstrate in the video above the only solution? No. But I am confident that it is a very good starting point. Plus, the more we talk about this, the more solutions we’ll find.

To your students’ success!

P.S. I put a lot of time into crafting engaging presentations and blog posts. It will make my day (and motivate me to continue making the effort) if you comment & and share your thoughts below.