Reviewing ESL: 8 Mistakes Your Students Must Overcome Before the Test

Reviewing ESL: 8 Mistakes Your Students Must Overcome Before the Test

Sigh… It’s time to review again. That glorious moment when you get to show your students just how much they have learned and what still needs a little work before the test.

If you are conducting a review that is focused not on the number of units they’ve seen, but on the goals they have met along the way, you’ll see that there are some classic mistakes that students typically make – no matter what their level is.

Here’s a list of mistakes ESL students often make in class. You can take this as a checklist to make sure you are reviewing what you need to review and ensure that they don’t make these again.

8 Mistakes Your Students Must Correct before the Test:

  1. 1

    Problems with Subject-Verb Agreement

    Some of the most painful things us ESL teachers have to hear are “she have”, “he don’t” or “people doesn’t”. Ouch! This is such a typical mistake we probably hear it on a daily basis – even advanced students let one of these slip every now and then. Because this is something they repeat and are used to repeating, they may “listen” to our correction but often don’t take the time to really let it sink in. If you have students who make the same subject-verb agreement mistakes, take the time to stop and really bring their attention to it.

  2. 2

    Incorrect Verb Tenses

    These mistakes crop up again and again. If there’s one thing students need to focus on as they review for a test is the tenses they’ve learned, whether they are simple or advanced. Help them out by providing plenty of comparative charts – graphic organizers or timelines are more helpful than long-winded explanations.

  3. 3

    Missing or Extra Articles

    Some students add an extra “the” when they shouldn’t (“The children play the Angry Birds.”) or omit an article that should be there (“I ate piece of toast for breakfast”). If your students make lots of mistakes with articles, be sure to give them a good review.

  4. 4

    Repetitive Use of False Friends

    Lots of languages, if not all, have “false friends” with the English language. For example, embarazada means “pregnant” in Spanish not “embarrassed” (and this confusion can make for some pretty funny classroom situations). There are examples like this one in many other languages. If you have students who resort to false friends, or even like to make up words (I’ve had my share of those, too!), tell them that no matter how funny it may seem, they should try to use words they are sure are correct because they’ve learned them.

  5. 5

    Pronunciation of Silent Consonants

    If you have students who still pronounce the silent b in “comb” or “bomb”, you need to take a minute to write these down on the board and show them exactly which letters they need to pronounce. The same goes for words like “Wednesday” (when the student pronounces the first d) or “muscle” (when the student pronounces the c as a “k”).

  6. 6

    Speaking through Literal Translations

    Everything seems to be going well in your classroom. Your students are very attentive and no one is speaking their native language. But then someone says, “I have 20 years.” If you, like this student, are also a native Spanish speaker, you’ll know for a fact your student just did a literal translation in his/her head. Students will do this, you can be certain of that, but it’s something you need to correct right away, lest they keep doing it.

  7. 7

    Wrong Prepositions

    This is one of the hardest mistakes to correct. There are so many uses for so many different prepositions, it’s hard for students to keep track of them all. One of the best ways to help out students who perpetually use the wrong preposition is to organize them into contexts, for example prepositions of place. We say we are “at school”, “at work”, “at home”, but “in the living room”, “in the bedroom” (“in” a particular room). We may also point out the difference between saying “at the bank” (in a banking situation) and “in the bank” (literally inside the building as opposed to outside).

  8. 8

    Countable/Uncountable Mix-ups

    Students in all levels will get countables and uncountables mixed up and incorrectly use “a little”, “a few”, “many”, “much”, etc… Again, charts and graphics are very helpful in this case, to help students see exactly what they’re doing wrong. You can use the classic two-column list to contrast (“a few cars” vs. “a little traffic”) or any of these strategies.

Students make mistakes, and they will in all likelihood continue making them.

But the review lesson is a wonderful opportunity to show your students what their weaknesses are, not to make them feel bad of course, but to help them focus on what they need to improve.

Some mistakes will turn into bad habits over the years, things that are so firmly entrenched in their speaking that it becomes increasingly harder to correct. You’ll need to correct these as soon as possible to give your students the best chance to improve their English.

Can you add any other crucial mistakes students often need to improve before a big test?

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