How do you give students feedback on their writing?

Writing is one of the essential academic skills students of all ages need to practice and perfect. As a teacher, it’s important to be mindful when providing writing feedback for students. Writing can be a deeply personal exercise, and even constructive criticism could have incredibly negative repercussions if it is not carefully curated based on the student receiving it.

After all, the ultimate goal in teaching is for our students to learn and grow. Therefore, we must always remain mindful and aware of this objective, even when stacks of papers are ready for review. To help, here are some tips to provide great feedback for your students.

feedback on their writing

Narrow your focus

Sometimes a student is on the right track, but they’ve lost their way in one or two locations. For situations like these, it’s easy to mark one or two places and call it a day.

On the other hand, some students may need a lot of help. At first, try identifying the most crucial areas where you’d like to see growth and focus your commentary on these sections while leaving out the rest.

It’s not that we’re trying to be dishonest with our students, but you risk them disengaging if they’re met with a sea of red ink notifying them that they blew it.

Editings vs Proofreading: Which one is accomplishing your goals for the lesson?

Although used interchangeably, there’s a big difference between editing and proofreading. Whereas editing focuses on clarity and content, proofreading simply identifies misspellings, grammatical mistakes, tense confusion, and other writing technicalities.

Most students will need work in both areas, but some will show a need in one area versus another. For instance, a brilliant student that hastily rushes through the assignment and leaves technical errors needs a proofreader to identify their mistakes. In contrast, students facing challenges might need a little more editing assistance to organize the structure of their content coherently.

Methods for giving students feedback on their writing

Once we know what we plan to share with our students, what is the best delivery method? Here are some tips.

End notes (aka notes in the margin)

The classic, tried-and-true approach involves writing your comments in the margins. Often, it’s important to highlight or place the section in question in brackets to clarify further what you are commenting on.

From there, you are welcome to share your feedback. Be sure to work in positives as well, for instance, that you like the idea the student presents but believe there is perhaps better phrasing that will illustrate the point with more clarity. When in doubt, invite the student to visit you after class to discuss.

Ask questions instead of making statements

As teachers, it’s often more effective to pose a question than make a statement. This way, the student is allowed the freedom to explore the notion and arrive at their own conclusion rather than have the conclusion spoon-fed from the jump.

With writing, it is even more important and effective because writing is subjective. Although we as teachers believe, at times, that we know best, we may question a clause and ask the student to reflect, “Is this the best way to introduce this idea?” After deliberation, the student may very well decide, “Yes. Yes, it is.” And they’re not expressly wrong in thinking that.


Rubrics are often necessary, as otherwise, a grade becomes arbitrary. For example, you may allot 20 points for proper spelling, use of grammar, composition, and other technical aspects of the piece, and so the student will be awarded 20 points simply for having it all correct.

This becomes slightly problematic when you receive an exceptionally written assignment and find one spelling error, costing the student a point. That’s disheartening, but fair is fair.

A rubric justifies grading and allows your feedback to center around an explicit set of parameters. The student should be aware of the rubric and consider it at all times, from the outline to the final draft.

Commenting forms

What do businesses use when they want to elicit feedback? Targeted commenting forms! Commenting forms go hand in hand with rubrics, as you have the opportunity to create a customized template that applies to each piece of writing and addresses specific areas of the piece.

For example, you can have an “Overall Feedback” section to provide general tips and subheaders for content, composition, technical skills, and other pertinent areas of writing.


Written feedback only goes so far, and conferencing with our students is crucial for those who regularly shine and those who struggle.

Sit down with your student and discuss the writing in depth. Draw their attention to the best sections and praise them for their abilities where the skill and effort are very apparent. Then, be ready to tactfully share what needs some refinement and be receptive to what happens next.

Some students are optimistic and will take that critique and run with it. Others might not even hear your words and only conclude, “This is bad. I’m no good.” Keep a close eye on their nonverbal cues and gauge your feedback accordingly. You’ll do them no good if they feel deflated after a meeting with you.

Screencasting or voice comments

In our modern day, the Internet does a great job of keeping us interconnected to various resources. If you’re particularly savvy, you may choose to screencast your feedback or record voice comments for the student to listen to or watch at their leisure.

On the one hand, this saves your hands from writing lengthy sections of criticism for possibly hundreds of students a week. But on the other hand, not everyone knows how to record and host this content so that it is available for their students, confidential, and coherent.

Be specific

Being specific is always preferred to general feedback. Your students will benefit much more if you draw attention to areas where the writing leaves something to be desired. Highlight or bracket these sections and place your feedback alongside them.

A simple, overarching “Needs work!” helps no one. Instead, always be specific with your feedback to best help the student.

TeacherMade helps teachers give more effective student feedback

TeacherMade converts your existing worksheets into online digital activities. It takes just a few minutes to convert a worksheet into an interactive activity. You can add an answer key for auto-grade capabilities as you add your questions.

You can focus on giving students more effective feedback with TeacherMade. Our feedback tools include the following:

  • Auto-grading: Know which questions your students miss instantly. See our submission screen here
  • Give comments while grading: Feedback given in the moment is one of the most valuable items for improving student writing. Read more about the process here
  • Add audio comments: Some teachers prefer talking through their feedback. Our audio comments make it easy. 
  • Add stickers to student work: Expedite your most common student feedback with our quick stickers. Read more here


“Since using TeacherMade in my classroom, I have seen a great change in my students. They are motivated and want to try again on their assignments. They also ask for another chance on an assignment rather than stuffing a graded assignment into their backpacks or leaving it on the floor. Not only that, but TeacherMade has also cut down on the time I would have normally needed to grade a traditional assignment.” – Rachelle P., teacher