Making the most of written correction

Making the most of written correction

This is part two of a three-part series on correcting in class. In this blog, we are going to look at how we can correct written mistakes in the classroom and get creative, so that correcting written work becomes fun, engaging and a real opportunity for learning.


Have you ever handed in a piece of written work at school or college, only to receive it back with the briefest of comments such as well done or worse still, just a tick?

Short, scant comments can be so disheartening for learners. Each one of us appreciates specific praise. And when it comes to errors, most of us, our ESL students included, welcome knowing exactly what the issue is in order to learn from mistakes and improve.

So, as time-poor EFL teachers, how best can we correct written work in a way that is responsive, encouraging and helpful?  Well, let's look at some ways of doing this below.

1) Use symbols on the texts

This is a great shorthand method to help learners without covering the page with red ink. So use these symbols when correcting written work:

^          word omitted
P          mistake in punctuation  
SP        mistake in spelling
/           unnecessary word                                
Gr        grammatical error                                 
T          wrong tense used
WW      wrong word                                          
WO       word order incorrect

When you use these symbols in your marking, you are identifying the type of mistake, which allows your student to think about it and correct themselves.

With lower level students, you might wish to indicate the mistake and correct it for them. Otherwise, leaving them to work it out (and ask you if they are still not sure) isn't particularly time productive or effective. But correcting in this way can be very powerful in helping them recognise the issue and remember the correction.          

2) Use written mistakes as an aid to correction

Another idea is to give a written piece of work out with mistakes in and ask students to correct it using the key above. Get them to compare their corrections with their partners. Can they find the mistakes? How would they correct them? These could be mistakes made in a previous writing exercise and re-used as a revision tool. You can customise this for lower or higher level groups be they type of mistake. 

3) Students get creative!

How about this idea? In small groups, ask students to write three sentences with one mistake in each. Groups then exchange sentences and see if the others can find the mistake. Award points and (again) tackle problems that have come up in the class before by suggesting students write in a particular tense or use an item of recently learned vocabulary. This could work well as a warm-down activity or a filler for more advanced learners who have finished a piece of work early. 

4) Peer marking

Instead of you marking individual work, try peer marking. Students mark another student’s work using the key above and also write an encouraging comment at the end. Once they have given the marked work back to the ‘author’, encourage students to share corrections they don’t agree with as a class and decide together whether the correction was justified.

We hope that these ideas are useful for you if you are teaching. Try some of them out on your classes and give us some feedback below. What worked, or didn't? 

Watch out for our final blog on this series coming up in a couple of weeks. 


What next?

This is part two of a three-part series on correction.

  • View correcting spoken mistakes and errors (part 1) here
  • Author: William
  • Date: 16/05/2019

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Making the most of written correction