An Idea for a Fun Way to Get Students Correcting/Thinking of Their Own Mistakes

This weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in my first webinar: The 3rd Virtual Round Table Online Conference. It was an amazing experience, I had the pleasure of “running” into many friends from my PLN and loved the sessions I was able to attend.

During the Unconference we all decided on some topics of interest and then each went to a virtual conference room to discuss the theme we had chosen. In the room I went to we talked about error correction – ways we do it, when we do it, etc. We shared ideas, our experiences. There were some great ideas, and I chipped in with an activity I really enjoy doing and the students have the greatest time with it. But most importantly, I believe it to be one of the most effective ways of error correction, because the correction is made by the students; they correct sentences they’ve written. (By the way, for those of you who were in the room, I am sorry if I stumbled or did something wrong – I was extremely nervous about speaking there!)

The idea is not new and I know many of you have probably used it already, but I decided to post it with how I do it and maybe you can find some new twist to it for you to use, or at least it will serve as a reminder and you’ll do it with your students. It’s an auction of sentences. I first came across it many years ago, on a book I bought called “Cem Aulas Sem Tédio” (something like: 100 Classes with no Boredom) by Vanessa Menezes Amorim and Vivian Magalhães. I liked the idea and shaped it to my needs/ideas. And here is how I do it:

  • Split the students into pairs or trios and give each “group” the same amount of fake money.
  • Tell them we’re going to have an auction. Elicit what an auction is and explain what it is if necessary. Teach students some related vocabulary (lot, bid, highest bidder, item, auctioneer).
  • Tell them they’re going to be buying sentences. Some of them will be correct and some will not. An incorrect sentece can have just one mistake or more than one.  They have to say whether the sentence is correct or incorrect. If they correctly identify which type of sentence they’ve bought they get 1 point for it. If the sentence is incorrect they have a chance to correct it and get an extra point for it.
  • Tell, before you start the auction, how many sentences there will be, so they can plan their strategy.
  • Start the auction and write one sentece at a time on the board (or you can have it prepared for the IWB). Now, I really get into the role of the auctioneer – it’s quite embarrassing actually: speaking fast, asking for bids, telling them “The next item is from a special vintage edition. Look at the lines…look at the design on this sentence… a great addition to anyone’s sentence collection” and so on – but each to its own. Do it as you feel comfortable with.
  • After you’ve done the “going once, going twice and sold!” write the name of the buyers beside the sentence (I sometimes let them choose a name but many times I create a name by using the first syllable of each student in the group – so Maria, João and Patricia become “majopa” or “jomapa”. Well, you get the idea. They like that!). Collect the money and proceed.
  • Students do not say whether the sentence is correct or incorrect right after they buy it. First all the sentences must be sold, and then they are delivered ;-).
  • After all the sentences have been sold (and are all on the board with the names of the respective buyers beside it), The teacher goes back, reads sentence #1 and then asks its buyers whether it’s correct or incorrect. If it’s correct, fine, they get a point for it. If it’s incorrect then I say “please correct it”. The group has to correct all the mistakes of the sentence to get the extra point. If they can’t do it, any of the other groups can give it a shot at correcting for 1 point. I make the corrections they say on the board, using a different color of marker.
  • If a group doesn’t properly identify whether their sentence is correct or incorrect they don’t get the point. But if it’s incorrect anyone has the opportunity to correct it for 1 point.
  • In the end, the group with most points wins. If there’s a tie, the group with more money left wins – this should be tole in the beginning of the auction, when you explain the rules.


The sentences I use are sentences I collect from the students’ written work as I correct them,  or sentences they have spoken and I’ve written down during a speaking moment or a project presentation. I have a page set aside for this on each groups file. I usually select sentences that have commonly made mistakes, mistakes regarding vocabulary/functions we’ve studied recently, or examples of sentences that were very well written.  It’s funny to see the students’ reaction once they realize, after the first or second sentence, that these are their sentences. 🙂

Now, I am  always fascinated by how much my students get into it. Throughout the auction I can see them writing the sentences down, negotiating whether it’s correct or not, what might be wrong with the sentence. They actually look carefully at the sentences, colaboratively work at analyzing and (if needed) correcting the sentences. They even discuss sentences that were bought by other groups – in the odd chance the buyers may not be able to fully correct a sentence. This is pure student-centered error correction!

I hope you enjoyed my version of a well-know/used activity! And of course I’d love to hear what you think or how you do it! 🙂


10 comments on “An Idea for a Fun Way to Get Students Correcting/Thinking of Their Own Mistakes

  1. DavidD says:

    Hi Cecilia,

    I couldn’t make the #ELTchat panel so thanks for sharing your idea. A slight variation I have used on this in the past is that of ‘restoration and resale’. I set out the auction in a similar way to the how you described above except that all of the sentneces have errors (perhaps just 1 or perhaps more). After buying, students ‘restore’ their sentences by attempting to correct them and then put them up for resale. The other groups bid if they think the sentence is right (I also enter as a bidder here for an extra bit of fun) and we decide the winner based on how many correct sentences the teams have and how much profit was made. Even young learners love it!

    • Hi David,

      I couldn’t make it to the #ELTChat panel either – fell asleep on the couch waiting for it (I blame it on the red wine I decided to have as my companion for it!) ;-). I loved your variation of the activity. Will try it some time! All the groups I’ve done this activity with – big or small, young or older – have a lot of fun and refer to it as one of the best activities. I think everyone should try it at least once. Thanks for sharing your too!

  2. marisapavan says:

    It was great to share the unconference with you, Cceilia, and a pleasure to be able to listen to you. Your participation added a lot to the discussion. Thanks for sharing this motivating way of dealing with mistakes.

  3. gita assefi says:

    Hi Cecilia,

    I was thinking of running a competition in the class ,making them practice the words and the structures they had learned by asking each group a set of questions ,but your auction gave me a better idea and ı will definitely try this in my classes as making the students learning their mistakes is a huge step …thanks again gita ( Turkey )

  4. Hi Cecilia,

    Unfortunately I couldn’t take part of it nor watch Greta’s presentation due the classes I give on Saturdays. Anyway, your method of correcting errors is absolutely fantastic, thanks for sharing with us. I normally do as I presentation, in each page I write a sentence which is wrongly written, then I choose a student to identify the mistakes, sometimes I do as a game, the team who identifies the higher number of mistakes wins. I usually choose sentences about the last grammar topic they’ve learnt thus this is also done as a review. Needless to say that your way of correction is excellent.

    By the way another topic that I think would be good for a discussion is learning through songs. Do you use songs to teach? What are the techniques do you use?

    Luciana Podschun

    • Hi Lu,

      Glad you enjoyed it! I particularly enjoy this activity, and (as I mentioned) it is really effective as far as involving the students and making them take ownership of their learning process. And as for your question, I do use songs to teach, using varied techniques. Will try to post something here, ok?


  5. Ken Wilson says:


    when i was first teaching in London, my International House colleagues and I constantly tried to out-do each other with fun classroom activities. I remember someone suggesting an idea called ‘grammar auction’ at a teachers’ meeting one day. I remember trying it out the next day, and it was a huge success.

    I took a break from teaching and when I came back, the atmosphere seemed to have changed. A new serious professionalism had taken over, good in its own way, which provided some interesting insights on the things that we, the previous generation, had been doing. One of the main things was an attempt to stop making grammar teaching the main (in some cases ONLY) focus of a language lesson.

    But at the same time, it was oh so serious, and there was a sense that having fun in the classroom was a bit suspect. These were adult students who were paying a lot of money. They didn’t want to waste their time – ‘having fun’ and ‘wasting time’ seemed to become synonymous.

    I’m so pleased that your generation of teachers have managed to combine serious task-based learning and having some fun. It feels like the old days – but with better material.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Hi Ken,

      I feel there’s still a bit of this feeling still hovering – some people have a hard time at seeing the learning and pedagogical purpose of these fun activities. But they are fewer and fewer. On the other hand, I’m afraid we have to be careful not to use fun activities that are just that – fun. The key is on (oh…there’s that word again…) balance, and the teacher’s common sense to what is the learning outcome of the activity.

      But we can’t deny that teaching can be an incredibly pleasurable experience these days. So may resources and creativity around… Thanks for your encouragement and support! 🙂

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