How teachers deal with mistakes found in textbooks | Bangkok Post: learning

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How teachers deal with mistakes found in textbooks

Working with what the publisher gives you

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When textbook mistakes are encountered, steps should be taken to verify that perceived errors are incorrect and if so, to decide if they should be dealt with overtly; covertly avoided by skipping that part of the text; or ignored and hope students do not notice. 

A girl reads a book by Ivory Coast’s Margueritte Abouet, ‘Aya de Yopougon’ on Oct 26, 2009, in Abidjan, which has sold 300,000 copies and has been translated into 12 languages, surprising even the author of this excellent work everyday issues like love, family, growing up, pregnancy, marriage. But what if a teacher found factual, cultural or grammatical errors inside, what should he or she do? ISSOUF SANOGO

English varieties

As a speaker of Canadian English, raised by an English mother, I am fortunate that many peculiar British expressions and uses of prepositions are familiar to me. However, while many are familiar, I find some difficult to use. For example, I lived on Orillia Street, not in it. I prefer on the weekend, not at the weekend; and call me "on" rather than "at".

I quite often encounter English I cannot comfortably use myself, but know is correct. The British reluctance to use "do" in questions with "have" still causes me problems, and while I know "Had you a good time?" is correct, I cannot say it comfortably and prefer "Did you have a good time?"

Therefore, the first question to ask with a potential error is to ensure it is a mistake and not an unfamiliar or awkward usage, for example, "swum" - a word I find impossible to use, which I replace with "had gone swimming".

Descriptive vs prescriptive grammar

Another concern is whether the mistake, if grammar-based, reflects a prescriptive view of English found in many grammar textbooks or does it reflect what is being used in actual day-to-day conversation. In other words, triple check that the presumed error is, in fact, a widely accepted error.

The classic example is the expression "my bad" in lieu of "my mistake" or "my fault". The use of some/any, that/which, who/whom are additional examples of grammar rules most native speakers ignore.

To quote something I read years ago, "Native speakers do not make mistakes when speaking - they experiment with change." I firmly believe this is true, as otherwise we would not be speaking English the way it is today, but perhaps a more Germanic form.

Grammatical mistakes

Sometimes I confront a textbook error directly. For example, when a grammatical mistake is truly an error, I find it useful to bring it to the students' attention by mentioning there is a mistake in a particular sentence or paragraph and challenge them to find it.

Once they have found it, I explain that this is similar to peer editing, something I like them to do, and is useful as it encourages them to read intensively using their existing grammatical knowledge.

"Clearly an editing concern," I say, while quickly pointing out that, "This is why professional writers like to have an editor, whereas amateurs are often offended by the idea."

Factual or cultural mistakes

If I encounter factual or cultural mistakes - for example, the capital of Canada is Toronto - I ask students to find the mistake and correct it.

With these mistakes, if they cannot find or correct a mistake, we discuss what might be wrong, thereby requiring them to think about content and to suggest sources useful for finding the correct answer.

With cultural mistakes, for example, dialogues that are contrived to practise a grammatical pattern, I go through it with students offering suggestions as to what can be taken out or replaced to make the dialogue sound more natural. With intermediate-to-advanced learners, I use factual or cultural errors to introduce the idea that while the internet is an easy source of information, it is often difficult to know if content is either simply wrong or merely subjective.

Errors always turn up in textbooks and can be dealt with in a number of ways. However, the key is to ensure that students remain confident in a textbook's overall quality and that it remains, in their eyes, useful for practising skills or gaining content knowledge.

Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached at , through his website , at or on 081-834-8982.

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