5 Common mistakes in Classroom English (and how to avoid them)

November 30, 2015


Some phrases are used by teachers all over the world. Sentences that have nothing to do with the subject but are vital for classroom. Thousands of teachers say the same things … and make the same mistakes in classroom English.

Obviously, this is not the case for native speakers. But if you teach in a second language you might have gotten used to using phrases that are not actually English.

In this post I want to show you 5 common mistakes in classroom English.

And how to correct them, obviously.

Differences between American and British English

I should mention first that some of these difference might be attributed to the differences between American and British English. I discussed all of these mistakes with colleagues of mine to make sure that this matter of opinion is not the reason these phrases are considered ‘wrong’. After all, it doesn’t matter which variation of the English language is taught to our students. As long as we do use the correct grammar in that context.

Furthermore, these mistakes are quite common in Dutch classes. I don’t know if the same mistakes apply to other languages, although I suspect they might. I would be really interested in other ‘mistakes’ like this with different first languages, so please let me know!

Mistake number 1: Make your homework

This is a word by word translation from the Dutch phrase “huiswerk maken”. This is wrong in English, as the verb ‘making’ refers to creating something. You can however do your homework.

Mistake number 2: Sit on your chair

To be ‘on’ something is actually not quite the same in English as it is in many other languages. To be ‘on’ something means that your are physically on top of it. In other words, if you are ‘on’ school your can be found somewhere on the roof and if you are ‘on’ a chair you are somehow on top of it (and probably balancing while at it).

The correct phrase should be:  sit in your chair. Or if you want to avoid the problem altogether, just say: stay seated.

By the way, you can sit on a sofa. Flat surface and all.

Mistake number 3: Can I go to the toilet?

This one is a bit open to discussion. I know for a fact Americans will never say this, but I read that some British people do use this. However, my colleague who I consulted on this assured me that the phrase is rather impolite and should not be used in a school setting.

Next time your students ask you if they can leave for a moment, correct them and make them say Can I go the the bathroom?

I don’t want to go into the whole ‘Can I/May I’ discussion as that is more of a grammar discussion and not about mistakes in classroom English.

Both options are generally considered okay, but ‘May I’ is more polite. If you want to know about this, read an interesting post I found regarding the grammar rules.

Mistake number 4: Open your book on page 34

This mistake is made all over the world. And for good reason.

The problem with this sentence is not the fact that you can’t say ‘on page 34’. The sentence ‘you can find the information on page 34’ is completely correct.

The problem is that it cannot be used in combination with ‘open your book’.

The correct answer depends on the type of English you speak:

American English (AE): Open your book to page 34

British English (BE): Open your book at page 34

Mistake number 5: Hang them up

Last but not least. You might be one of those teachers that likes to show the students’ work to everyone.

Or maybe you like to display the final results of an activity on the walls.

In any case, you have to ask your students at some point to place them on the walls. And you should not say that the students should ‘hang them up’.

Instead you ask your students to hang then on the wall.


I hope to have helped you with these 5 common mistakes in classroom English. If you have any more questions regarding these phrases, or have more common mistakes you’d like me to share, feel free to let me know!

Want to know more?

Here are some articles/posts that I found regarding the issues mentioned in this blog post

Differences between do and make

Grammatical explanation regarding Can I/May I?


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