Hi, my name is Cecilia and I am a recovering recaster

A Recasters Anonymous Meeting… would you be in it?

Setting: RA (Recasters Anonymous) Meeting, in a dark basement somewhere we can’t mention…

Me: Hi, my name is Cecilia… and I am a recovering recaster.

Group: Hi Cecilia!

Me: I haven’t recasted in… 7 days.


The above scene is, of course, fictional (though I fear many teachers would want it to be true). I was a recaster. A true one. I believed in the effectiveness of recasting, for all students. I did, because I was taught to. People told me it was the non-threatening way of correcting students. It’s how you should do it in the Communicative Approach. And I did it. I did so much and for so long it became part of me. And then one day (Really? Just like that?) I questioned it. Ok… maybe I’ve been questioning its effectiveness for a few years. Maybe not its effectiveness (period/full stop), but rather its effectiveness on every student. I just didn’t think most students realised I was correcting them when I recasted… And since they didn’t realise they were being corrected, they never acknowledged they had made a mistake. So, even though I had my doubts, I kept doing it – maybe not as whole-heartedly.

It all changed about a month ago, after I attended IATEFL. As I have mentioned in this blog, this year’s IATEFL Conference (and a few of the talks I attended) left me with a sense of direction. With a feeling of more freedom. Freedom of being a teacher. Freedom of doing what I think is best for my students, no matter what approach is in vogue, or is adopted by the school where I teach. (You can read more about this feeling with my post IATEFL post).

Well, ever since I came back from the conference I have noticed myself stopping my impulsive recasting more and more. Not only because of the talks I attended but even more so for the conversations I had on the topic. Better (?) yet, I have seen myself consciously pointing out the student’s mistake (not when fluency is the objective, unless fluency is prevented by accuracy – or lack of accuracy preventing proper understanding) by saying: “the correct way to say this is…” or  “That is not correct. Why don’t you say…”. And you know what? It works! After doing that for a couple of weeks a few students voiced their feeling I had been correcting them more – and their approval of it. So I asked them (even the groups who hadn’t expressed their noticing of my change in behavior) if they preferred it that way – and I explained recasting (the previous method) – and they said that most times when I recasted they didn’t notice they were being corrected. But when I pointed it out they did, and they liked it better. They felt more progress, more learning. At the same time, a few students recognise recasting and see it as a correction. But in my case, these are a minority.

My point in this post is actually a question to ELT teachers worldwide: Do you feel your students pick up recasting? Because I feel most of mine don’t. And yes, some students might be (initially at least) a bit taken aback by a blunt/on-the-spot correction. But my feeling is that at least this way they understand they did not effectively communicate, and may be more aware of the mistake on other opportunities.

I was observed by a teacher trainee (who is taking classes at the Teacher Education program we have in the school I teach) on a class recently (in an A2 group) and at the end she asked if the way I corrected the students did not embarrass or shy them away from speaking in class. Knowing where she was coming from (taking a basic Teacher training course) I asked her if she was wondering why I had done explicit correction instead of recasting with the group, because I know recasting is the oral correction tool of the communicative approach. She said I was right and asked me to justify my choice it. I asked her if she thought recast worked with everyone – a question she didn’t immediately answer, but rather just stood there, looking pensive . I said that I tried to use it with the students I sensed it worked and I used direct correction with the others. I mentioned articles and studies and conversations I’ve had. She was happy (and relieved) to hear what I said. And so were other teachers that have observed me and approached me.

It seems people are waking up to students’ individual learning styles and needs. But how feasible it is when you have a large classroom? A multilingual, multicultural classroom? Does size matter in this case? Does anything?


I plan on conducting an experiment. A simple one. I have two very similar classes (same level, similar number of students – around 13 years old, A2 level). This week I’ll try to only correct their oral production by recasting on the first group and only by doing direct correction on the second. Then, on the end of each last class, I’ll ask them to reflect upon whether they felt / knew they had made any mistakes while speaking in that class (this will be done in writing, on little slips of paper, so that the students feel comfortable at being honest). I’m curious to see what I get! Stay tuned for the next episode on the recasting saga! 🙂

24 comments on “Hi, my name is Cecilia and I am a recovering recaster

  1. Cecillia, this was a really interesting post. I enjoyed what you had to say, and now you’ve got me thinking a little about my own practice.

    To be honest, I never knew what ‘recasting’ was. So I googled it after reading what you had to say. I’m curious: could you maybe provide some examples of how you’ve been recasting with your students?

    In the examples I found, the teachers would repeat what the student had said but in the correct way. Nothing else.

    I don’t use this approach. It’s similar I think. When my student makes a mistake, I’ll repeat his/her words back to them EXACTLY as they said it, but in the form of a question.

    Or I’ll isolate a wrong verb tense in the same way.
    Student: I runned to the store.
    Me: runned? (Makeing sure my voice goes up like in a question. )

    I have never thought to ask my students if they felt they were learning or catching their mistakes this way. I liked that idea.

    Thanks for making me think.

    • Hi Aaron,

      Thanks for your comment – this is so interesting! I thought everyone knew what recasting was!

      Recasting is actually replying to – and sometimes repeating – what the student has said by using the same words / structure, but corrected – and helped by intonation. For instance, a student says:

      ST: I have 35 years old.
      T: Oh, you ARE 35 years old?

      Most students do not recognise recasting as a correction. Scott Thornbury ( An A – Z of ELT, p.81. Macmillan Education: 2006) says recasting has been linked to first language acquisition (parents do it to their children), but that learners don’t perceive recasting as feedback or (worse!!!) they perceive it as positive feedback, which may lead to fossilization of error in the foreign language acquisition.

      I am glad my post planted a seed of critical/ reflective thinking in your mind. maybe asking your learners directly would be a good way of finding out if they get the correction from how you approach it – or maybe not. Let me know of any developments, ok?


      • Annie B says:

        You meant “have” right?

      • Hmm. I think you’ve erred somewhere in your example, Ceci. I don’t see any recasting there.

        ST: I have 35 years.
        T: Oh, you ARE 35 years OLD.

      • Yes, Annie B and Tyson, you are right 🙂 I meant “I HAVE 35 years old”… Do students of other nationalities make the same mistake? Because for me it’s a clear example of L1 transfer (in Portuguese we say “have” for age)… Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve corrected it.

  2. Annie B says:

    Hi Cecilia, with some people ( I teach adults) I notice that recasting ( the term is new to me but not the practice) simply doesn’t work. They want to tell me something, agree hurriedly with my correction ( with a ‘that’s what I said, dummy’ look in their eye) and finish their story without taking any notice of the correction. What I’m doing more of is just letting people speak, taking notes and making a teaching point of the errors separately later, probably eliciting the correct way from the group. Usually I get a “but what did I say?” reaction from the speaker :-).

    • Hi Annie,
      I love the “that’s what I said, dummy” look in their eyes bit 🙂 Because that’s exactly what happens with my students as well – either that or the “confused puppy sideways look”.

      I eventually do the note-taking of mistakes/speaking privately later thing, but not as often as I would like. I only have my students for 2h30m a week, usually on two separate days. And with larger groups (around 16) I either do that or cover the content… 😦 Things are not always the way we’d like them to be, eh?

      To get around my time problem what I do most times is write down repetitive, common mistakes done by many students and addressing those in an activity for the whole class – such as an auction (I shared how I do those on another post: https://cecilialcoelho.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/an-idea-for-a-fun-way-to-get-students-correctingthinking-of-their-own-mistakes/)..

      I guess the key is being attentive and do what we see works best for our students and the time/resources we have available.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  3. David Warr says:

    Very good. Most learners I’ve ever had appreciate being corrected. They don’t understand why a teacher wouldn’t.

    • Like Ceci’s saying, they often don’t realise when the teacher is correcting–potentially an ineffective method then. Of course, do an experiment of correcting every thing students say in one class. It won’t take long before students realise it’s not useful.

    • I agree with you, David. Both as a teacher AND as a learner. When I am a student – be it of another language, methodology, whatever, I like having my mistakes pointed out and I feel it’s the teacher’s job. But, as Tyson said, I think we all went through this period of being touchy-feely until we realised we didn’t need to – and it wasn’t helping.
      Cheers, David!

  4. Sophia says:

    Thanks for the post Cecilia, interesting issue. One thing that jumped out at me was how the students thanked you for correcting them more. Obviously as teachers we attend to what our students say, and sometimes we correct on the spot, sometimes we note it down for a later focus or group error correction, and sometimes we just let it go (because it’s not a barrier to communication, not part of fluency aim, or what have you). However, how often do we let students in on these rationales? I almost never make it explicit to a group doing a fluency activity that I will not be correcting them and why. My regular classes may get into the habit of seeing their errors resurface at the the end of a lesson or as an error correction activity at the end of the week. But I wonder how many just feel they aren’t being corrected on a personal level, and so aren’t getting what they want, in some way? Or worse, that I don’t notice? From reading your post, I think now that in a regular class I’d talk about my various error correction strategies in the beginning. I could then follow up to see if they were happy with the individual correction (also read, “attention”) they were getting in class. Hmm. Anyway, your experiment sounds like a great basis for some action research, looking forward to hearing more!

    • Hmmm… good point, Sophia! I don’t think we let students in to our rationales often enough… I’m not sure whether doing it with younger learners would be of any use / help. But recently I have been much more “didactic” – not sure this is the best word here, but it’s what I came up with – with my students. And I tell them the objective of the activities, what I expect of them and why. With my adult students in particular I have felt progress and more motivation in the activities. I don’t know. Maybe the key really is personalisation – when possible, of course!

      I’ll write a post on the results of the experiment! Fingers crossed it will work! 🙂

  5. I believe we, like so much of the politically correct society stemming from the 90s, went into a period of touchy-feeling teaching, considering learner feelings above almost all else. This affects so much of how we approach much of our teaching (e.g. topic choice, teacher involvement, error correction, etc.). It has taken us this amount of time to experiment with this touchy-feeling approach before realising whether or not its methods are effective and ultimately best for learning. Some yes, more no.

    • My dear Ty,

      I think you right on the spot – for a change ;-). We all went into a touchy-feely period – and we did so with the best of intentions, following affective factors and theories. But maybe we have finally noticed it is not as effective – or important as we had thought at first. The good news is we are reflecting and thinking critically, admitting shortcomings and changing our teaching approach as a result. Thanks for your two cents, Ty.

      • Yes – I wonder if someday we reflect on our decision to be less touch-feely, whether we will conclude that we should be more touchy-feely.

      • Hahaha… Knowing how things go I’d say we probably will, Ty. It’s all about finding balance. But in all areas of life – education, arts, health – it seems we have a tendency of going to the extreme opposite of the previous “trend”. So my vote is that we will keep going back and forth… And a little touchy-freely can be good, I think.

  6. datenglish says:

    Great post Ceci, great discussion between your followers. I didn´t know the word recasting either, but I used it and have been using this method. Honestly don´t think my students are aware of the correction, but what’s even worse is, that even if they understand or pay attention to the recasting, they keep on making such mistakes as: “I have 17 years old”. I try to use different correction methods. Sometimes, I take down their mistakes, but they get anxious, as they realize they have made a mistake, so probably telling them “This is wrong …” would save time. I like the point you and Tyson make about extremes, I have always thought that the mid lane is the healthiest … and the hardest.
    Thank you for sharing

    • Hi Debbie,

      I was surprised to learn so many teachers were not aware of the term – even though it seems to be the most common technique for correcting the students’ oral production in the classroom. I like the point you made about the students continuing to make the mistakes even if they pick up on the correction on e recast- which is not very frequently. That happens in my classes as well.

      While reflecting on your comment, a few questions came to mind: are these mistakes the students continue to make, even if they realize they’re being corrected, examples of fossilized errors? Is that why they keep making them? If so, does that mean recasting doesn’t work with such errors – but would be effective (or at least more effective) with mistakes the students make in structures recently taught?

      I believe it would take some action research to have a better idea of the answer to these questions. But somehow I have the impression recasting would still prove ineffective. As Leo mentioned in his comment, research has been done on the issue and results point to recasting really not working.

      In any instance, all I know is that the feedback from my students has been very positive, after I’ve been consciously avoiding recasting and changed my correction technique.

      How to reach a balance is always the million dollar question, isn’t it?

      Thanks for your comment!

  7. Leo says:

    Hi Cecilia
    I also didn’t know the term “recast” until I came across an interesting study which you and your readers might find interesting. Lyster & Ranta (1997) explored different types of corrective feedback in French immersion classes in Canada. They found that recasting was by far the most popular type of error correction – which is what teachers working within the communicative and humanistic tradition – or what Tyson refers to as “touchy feely approach” – are probably expected to do.
    What is interesting, however, when they investigated uptake – which type of feedback resulted in the highest number of reformulations (of the original incorrect utterances) made by students, the found recasts to be least effective.
    This is just one study but I think the findings are fascinating.
    I believe *I have 35 years old is a common mistake not only among L1 Portuguese students but other speakers of the Romance languages too.

    Thank you for the interesting post, Cecilia.

    • Hi Leo,

      Thanks for the reference to Lyster & Ranta’s study – I had already come across it, but so long ago I had forgotten about it. I found it fascinating to read it again, especially after more years of classroom experience.

      I guess what puzzles me the most about this issue is why, even after studies and our own classroom practices point to the ineffectiveness of recasting, it is still the most popular feedback technique among teachers. Is it because that’s the way we’re taught? Is it because no approach has been widely (and thoroughly) adopted after CLT? Or maybe change takes time, and we needed that time to come to the conclusion it doesn’t work quite as well as we would like?

      Food for thought 🙂

    • I had dinner with Roy Lyster last year at a conference. We ate lobster together. Nice guy…

  8. We actually read several articles in several linguistics classes pointing out why recasting does not work, yet I often see suggestions for English teachers to use recasting. I don’t use it (intentionally) and I notice when other people do that the students are completely clueless. It’s sort of funny really the ways we waste our breath. Additionally, My 2 year old will argue with my husband if he tries to correct his language. No amount of evidence seems to deter this urge. I love how you put it as recasters anonymous:)

    • Thanks! I have the same feeling you do… 100% with the adult learners (some teens do seem to pick it up, but maybe that’s because they’re so used with it!). So, why is it the most common way of oral feedback? Are we not looking at the results? Are we blindly following the CLT? Or does it have some foundation? I am pending towards no, we were wrong, let’s admit it and go back to correcting students! 🙂

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