Correcting errors and giving feedback on writing can be tricky. If you correct everything, there is a danger of covering the work in comments and ‘red ink’. This can be both demotivating and unhelpful because the students either give up or they just write out the piece again with all your corrections inserted. Alternatively, if you decide to focus only on certain errors or give feedback only on certain parts of their work, the students will wonder at a later stage why you didn’t highlight all the mistakes to begin with.
One way to help them is to develop a correction code. This is a series of symbols that you use to indicate errors.
Write the symbol above the error so that the students have to think about what the mistake is rather than simply read your correction of it. So a sentence in an essay might look like this:
C WW WO SP
john was very sensible and didn’t take well critisism.
The symbols above indicate that the sentence needs a capital letter (C), sensible is the wrong word (WW) (having been confused with sensitive), the word order (WO) of well criticism should be criticism well and there’s a spelling mistake (SP) in the final word.
Having to find their own mistakes like this creates a greater challenge for the students.
Note: If you are marking computer-written texts, the same principles apply. However, you can insert your comments using different colored fonts or use the comments function, which creates small boxes in the margin of the text with a space to give feedback.
Here are the most useful 10 symbols you could put on your students’ writing in order to help them notice their mistakes.
This indicates a spelling mistake in a word.
If students write words in the wrong order, such as an adjective after a noun (house big instead of big house), write WO to indicate the problem.
You can write P to let your students know there is a punctuation problem.
When students make a mistake with verb tense, you can write a T above the verb. In the following example, the student has used the present perfect when the tense should be the past simple:
I’ve started work here in 2001.
“Wrong word,” tells the student they need to replace a word because it doesn’t have the right meaning.
This indicates a missing word in the sentence and usually you put it under the sentence or inserted between the two words where a word is missing, like this:
I’m interested “ learning more about English.
7. [ ]
As well as missing a word, students sometimes add an extra incorrect word. You can use the square bracket symbol around the incorrect word or above it, like this:
All you need is [the] love.
WF stands for an incorrect word form. For example, perhaps a student has written the adjective form instead of an adverb (e.g. I ran quick) or the verb form instead of a noun (e.g. Let me give you some advise).
If a student has turned one word into two words, then connect them with this curved line, like this:
‘I can’t see them any~where!’ Gavin said.
Sometimes students will run one sentence into another, so you want to indicate that they should create two separate sentences. Use a backslash symbol, like this:
We walked for over an hour / suddenly there was a loud crashing sound!
In longer pieces of writing, you can also indicate that the writer needs to start a new paragraph. Many teachers write double lines (//) at the end of a sentence to show that the next sentences should be the start of the next paragraph.
Most of the previous symbols are fairly standard in English language teaching, though you will come across others. The important thing is that you should be consistent with your symbols when marking your students’ work. It’s a good idea to give them a brief guide to your marking symbols at the beginning of a course so that they are familiar with the symbols you are using.