Dare to Correct Sensei

Matthew M. Ragan, Jim Ronald, Hiroshima Shudo University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords:Communication strategies, speech acts
  • Learner English level:Intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity:University
  • Preparation time:None
  • Activity time:45 minutes
  • Materials:Chalkboard

 English instructors at the university level in Japan rarely encounter students who dare to correct or question them when they make mistakes. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from cultural issues (such as concern about the teacher losing face) to language knowledge. Faced with these issues, the students may not know what to say or how to say it. However, teachers are not infallible and when we make mistakes in class students need to be able to react appropriately: to correct without offending. This activity helps students understand what to do when it is necessary to correct or question someone of higher status and gives them practice in using English to do so.


Step 1:Intentionally make a glaring mistake during class. For example, try to end the class 45 minutes early, assign the same homework twice, or ask the students to turn to the unit in the textbook that was finished the previous week.

Step 2:If a student corrects the mistake, praise the student and write what was said and how it was done on the board. If no one corrects the mistake, point it out and explain that it was intentional.   

Step 3:Pose a few questions for the students to consider.

  • What problems might arise if the mistake went uncorrected?
  • Why do some students find it difficult to correct their teacher?
  • Does it make a difference if your teacher is Japanese or not?
  • What factors affect whether you tell the teacher or not?
  • What are some different ways of letting someone know about their mistake?

In a small class these prompts could be discussed as a whole; in a larger class in groups of three to five students then reported back to everyone.

Step 4:Explain to the students that they should find a way to tell the teacher when they make a mistake even though it might be embarrassing for the teacher, and even for the student.

Step 5:In small groups, have them brainstorm ideas for letting the teacher know about a mistake. Towards the end of their discussion, introduce some expressions, such as:

Excuse me, do you have a moment?       Is this right?Are you sure? Actually, I think you mean… Excuse me, but don’t you mean…? But actually, … I’m sorry, but…

Step 6:The groups turn their ideas into mini role plays, making use of the expressions you have provided, as applicable.

Step 7:The groups perform their role plays in front of the class. They may take the part of the teacher, or ask the teacher to be the teacher!

Step 8:The following week, make a deliberate mistake again and repeat the steps if necessary.


This activity addresses the need to correct the teacher and helps students find a good way to do it. The skill addressed here is one that is important both in the classroom and beyond. In the classroom, it builds student confidence in communicating with the teacher and prevents confusion and mistakes. Beyond the classroom, it helps students handle tricky situations with tact and grace.