Published 24th February 2016

Writing in English can be tricky for your students to learn and for you to teach. Often teachers are presented with a piece of writing from a student and do not even know where to begin with corrections. To be fair, we don’t want to overload the writing with red pen until it looks like a crime scene, but we also need our students to understand their mistakes and where they have gone wrong.

So how do we do it?

The first thing to do is to put down the red pen. Before you begin underlining mistakes and adding in corrections, think about what your aim for the corrections are going to be. You cannot correct every mistake of every writing, so consider whether you want to correct spelling, sentence construction, grammatical accuracy or linking devices. Clarifying what you are going to correct will mean fewer corrections for you and less red ink for your student.

Establish a code for your corrections so that you don’t need to spell it out every time. Create a set of symbols that your students will get to know so that when they see the symbol they will know what the problem is, but you won’t necessarily have to show them how to correct it.

You can make up your own set of symbols, but here are the most commonly used ones:

WW       Wrong word

T              Tense

SP           Spelling

?              Not clear

WO        word order

^              Missing word

Once you have established a set of symbols, use them in your corrections or put up a copy on the classroom wall. Your students will soon learn what the symbols mean without you having to explain them, which will help you save time when marking.

Bear in mind when marking, that students come from different backgrounds and so may have had to learn the Roman alphabet from scratch. What this can mean is that their writing can be very untidy and the letters can seem to be a bit odd, but this is likely because they need more practice. When marking writing, try not to focus on this aspect of their writing; chances are any writing they will do in English will be on a computer anyway.

Once you have given them their corrected piece of writing, let them rewrite it for you. This reflects what we do in real life anyway, we tend to write a number of drafts before we are satisfied with the end product. Hopefully, the subsequent version of the text will require no corrections. Producing a piece of writing which has no red marks on it can do wonders for your students’ motivation.