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John Blake, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Feedback, directed writing
  • Learner English level: All levels
  • Learner maturity: Junior high to adult
  • Preparation time: 10-30 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-50 minutes
  • Materials: Writing task, worksheet & answer sheet, highlighter

Teachers preparing students for written examinations may be faced with an onerous marking load. This is particularly true for teachers with several large classes. Responding to writing can, without careful planning, snowball into a huge volume of marking far outstripping the time spent in class. The underlying cause is the necessity for the teacher to read and provide feedback on all the writing tasks. Certainly, there are cogent arguments for the use of peer feedback or automated feedback using computer programmes or online tools. Yet, given a choice, it seems that students prefer feedback from their teacher. Most students expect their teacher to correct errors and believe that such feedback is beneficial. In fact, not giving that feedback may negatively affect their evaluation of teaching.

Since students prefer timely feedback and teachers would prefer not to have to respond to writing outside of class, the ideal solution is to respond during class. One way to free up time during class is to get students actively engaged in a different task, giving the teacher the opportunity to read and respond to their work. A productive task could be a worksheet with answers, which includes activities related to anticipated errors students are likely to make in the writing task. This is aimed at preempting the need for explanations of these errors after returning students’ work. While students complete the alternative task, the teacher can respond to the writing task. On short, directed tasks, it is possible to highlight a few errors on each submitted writing task in a matter of seconds. Once students have completed the corresponding worksheet and the teacher has finished responding to the writing, the teacher can explain selected errors to the class as a whole. Finally, students work in pairs to correct their own errors.


Step 1: Prepare written instructions for a short directed writing task suitable for your students. The more controlled the task and the more homogenous the class, the easier it will be to anticipate errors and provide feedback.

Step 2: Write a model answer for the task.

Step 3: Based on the model answer, create a worksheet consisting of comprehension or language-based tasks that help students understand how to avoid making the errors that you anticipate they may make. I suggest using tasks, such as true/false comprehension questions, gap-fill and sentence completion. Ensure that the written instructions are clear so that your students will understand what to do. I aim for students to complete the worksheet in around 10 minutes.

Step 4: Create an answer sheet for the worksheet.


Step 1: Distribute the writing task. Allow students to complete the task in the set time.

Step 2: Collect students’ responses to the writing task. Distribute the worksheets for the students to complete. While students are busy answering questions on the worksheets, highlight up to three errors on each of the student’s responses.  Select errors according to your error correction policy, which should be related to the aim of your class. Surface-level errors are the easiest to identify quickly. Collect around 10 errors in total from the student responses to use with the whole class. Distribute answer sheet for worksheet.

Step 3: Display the list of collected errors for your class to identify, correct and/or explain. This can be done in pairs or in small groups.

Step 4: Provide answers and explanations for the errors displayed.

Step 5: Return the students’ responses.

Step 6: Encourage students to work in pairs or small groups and correct the errors highlighted. Deal with any questions.


This is an activity that teachers of writing can use to lighten their out-of-class marking load while still providing teacher feedback on students’ writing. The jury is still out on whether this is more effective than the typical delayed feedback, but my students enjoyed the immediate feedback.


The appendices are available below:

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