There is an expectation from some students for the teacher to provide as much feedback as possible, whether it is related to one of the skills speaking, reading, pronunciation, writing, etc. In fact, when students produce some written work in their L2, teachers usually go through the writing and provide some feedback. In today’s article, I will look at how to proceed with errors in writing. There have three main approaches to correcting student written work – there is a forth but I will not go into this in this post.

The first approach to providing correction and feedback on student writing is correcting everything that the student has submitted to the teacher. This is quite a traditional approach to writing, but it may impact on student confidence towards writing in their second language. The second approach to written correction is providing feedback on selected parts of a student’s writing. This will not overwhelm a student, and usually a teacher will choose a paragraph to analyse with some feedback. The final approach to providing feedback or correction for writing, is with the use of symbols or a coding system. The coding system relates to the particular error, with the teacher drawing student attention towards the error in the hopes that awareness of the issues.

Don’t forget that I share videos every Wednesday and Friday at 12pm (UK time)

In this article, I share ten common codings that teachers can incorporate with their written feedback for students. Obviously, before attempting to incorporate a coding system, I would recommend that teachers introduce this system to students in the classroom before immediately handing back any written work. Students will need to become accustomed to this style of feedback and it is more learner-centred, with students having to discover the problems with their text. Therefore, learner training and tutoring is a valuable and necessary part when including this style of error correction and feedback.

Mistake One: Spelling

The most common mistake that students make is associated with spelling in English. It includes ambiguous rules and the alphabet does not follow particular phonemic rules. Students may attempt to spell words using a phonemic logic, particularly if learners whose first language has phonemic script: Korean, Arabic, etc. What is recommended is that the teacher highlights spelling errors and in the margin of the text, write the code “S”. Students will then have to work out the correct spelling of the word that they attempted.

Mistake Two: Word Order

The second most common mistake that occurs with student writing is related to word order. I usually write out “WO” in the margin of a text and then highlight the word that is in the incorrect place. This will again encourage learners to review where they have placed the word and the best location.

Mistake Three: Wrong Word

The next mistake that can occur in a learner’s piece of writing is the use of a wrong word. This is usually a common error when a student’s L1 uses different verb and noun collocations but applies the same rule to their L2: “ride skis”, “ride a plane”, etc. I usually highlight the word and use the term ‘WW’ for wrong word within the margin of the text.

Mistake Four: Tense

The fourth error related to student writing is the use of tenses in a text. It is common for students whose first language that follows a style where the verb remains in the present yet uses time markers to indicate the text, and for learners to replicate this within their English writing. It can be quite a common error and it is necessary to highlight this early on, so that the student becomes more aware to reduce this from happening. I use the term ‘T’ to highlight this issue for students in the hope that they can ensure that the verb is used correctly in English.

Mistake Five: Subject / Verb Agreement

This next mistake is associated with the correct use of the ‘be’ verb and ensuring that it agrees with the subject. The most common error that occurs is a misunderstanding of uncountable nouns with the auxiliary verb. The way I highlight this error is using the code ‘C’ for concordance (as in formal agreement), and then get students to review their auxiliary verbs in their piece of text.

Mistake Six: Wrong Form

The sixth mistake that teachers may encounter with their student writing is the incorrect form of possessives: ‘ours’, ‘yours’, ‘his’, etc. I usually highlight this error by using the code ‘WF’ in the margin.

Mistake Seven: Missing Word

With the seventh error, students may miss words when writing. It is important to highlight this error to raise learner awareness of the issues that they may have when writing. You can either write ‘MW’ in the margin or use the arrow to highlight the mistake, or a combination of both. Rather than telling the student the word that they have missed, it would be more appropriate to get students to consider the word that they need to insert into the gap.

Mistake Eight: Unnecessary Word

This following mistake that teachers may encounter with a student’s piece of writing is using unnecessary words. This is commonly associated with repetitive words (using the same word two or more times in a sentence) or more than one adverb (or an incorrect adverb) within a sentence. I usually highlight this issues by putting brackets around the unnecessary word, but you can use the code ‘UW’ in the margin if you wish.

Mistake Nine: Unclear Meaning

Sometimes, the teacher may come across a piece of writing where the meaning is unclear. It is usually best to highlight by including a question mark above or beside the sentence and, if possible, highlighting the area where the meaning is unclear. If I encounter this error, I tend to speak to the student and ask what they are trying to express and it usually helps the student to rephrase the sentence as this tutorial. However, you could give a student space to rewrite.

Mistake Ten: Punctuation

The final mistake that students may make with their writing is associated with punctuation: full-stops, commas, question marks, etc. Whenever I notice this error, I highlight this by using the term ‘P’ within the margin and highlighting the parts of a text where the punctuation needs improvement.

Those are the ten errors that may occur during the writing process for students and it is important to incorporate some form of learner training. I find it valuable to share with students an example of the codes within the written feedback and some examples, so students are better prepared to review their writing while responding to feedback. You may face students who expect the teacher to correct everything, but it is important not to make the switch too quickly otherwise you may have students who are unwilling. As with any change, it is important to make changes slowly so students become accustomed to this form of feedback, especially as it is more learner-centred.