Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

Improving Feedback for Students: Colours, Consistency, Corrections


Single Tree in a Green FieldI’ve been working to refine the way that I give feedback on written work. My efforts focus on both easily identifying a student’s issues and increasing their responsibility for their own learning. With that in mind my feedback now focuses on three things – Colours, Consistency and Corrections.

Colours as Codes: I’ve played around with various ways to identify errors or miscues in a piece of writing. Although I like the idea of ‘codes’ – they just don’t seem to be as quickly meaningful. A coded paper has to be ‘read’ to see where mistakes may be. I am a visual person and I want a quick glance at a marked paper to show a student which area requires reworking/improvement. So I’ve settled on two colours – blue and green.

Blue – You have made an error in your choice of/spelling of a word/words
Green – You have made an error in your choice of grammar to use/how you have used it

I highlight/underline the area with a problem. Sometimes I add a sample correction or suggestion if I feel its necessary. Ultimately it’s easy to tell if the student’s main issues are vocabulary or grammar related – or both!

Consistency -On-line/On Paper: I am all for student choice as to ‘how’ work is handed in. Some students are more comfortable composing on their phone, or on a computer than they are writing with a pen/pencil. No matter how a student chooses to hand a piece I want the feedback to be consistent across all of the options.

On-line: brought in to Google docs and marked up using the “Text Study Skills” add-on. I also use a copy of the rubric ‘copied’ and named for each student. At the top of the rubric is a reminder of what the colours stand for. I use header space for any additional comments. Then I use the ‘yellow’ highlighting colour to identify where the student falls on the rubric.
On Paper: I use either highlighters or coloured pens for this. In an attempt to save paper I will also try to photocopy the rubric onto the back of the submitted piece. It makes it more efficient – and no need to attach an extra page.

Corrections or Not?:  It’s my hope that students should want to know where they have gone wrong – but this isn’t necessarily the case. How to build towards that. I am shifting in how I approach this as well – looking to gradually build in a desire to know ‘where I went wrong’.

Year 1- 3: I often ask for corrections on a piece as we build toward summative assessment. The final mark (or completion mark) is not recorded until it is done. I review with a student as needed – but often they work together to find out where they have gone wrong.
Year 4: Typically students are not ‘required’ to do this kind of remedial work – and many come and ‘ask’ when they can’t see where they’ve gone wrong.

Feedback is as useful as it is easy to understand. As I work to streamline my way to give feedback I hope to make it easier for students to see where they need to improve. And, as always, corrections to this system may be needed to make it more relevant.




  1. I’m trying yellow for punctuation/accents, blue for word choice/spelling, green for word form, and maybe pink for extra/missing words?

  2. Great idea – I know that I’ve started with just the two (no need for accents for me). My Yr4’s say that they really like the quickness of the colour coding “I know really quickly what my issue is” said one student. I may expand the colour repertoire – I can see “pink” for tense issues coming!

  3. I’ve been doing something different with color on Spanish class timed writings. I highlight in yellow all correct verb forms, as conjugation is the thing that really seems to take time to master. Sometimes I highlight whole clauses, if they do an awesome job of putting words together. Yellow is “golden” I tell them–their goal is to get more and more yellow on their papers.

    Students have told me this really helps them and I find it to be a positive way to give feedback. It has also helped me notice what is right, rather than just what is wrong about their writing. Of course, there are those kids whose papers come back white… for awhile.

  4. Thanks Rita – what a great idea to incorporate! Although conjugation is something that I don’t have to worry about (!) the opportunity to show what is ‘correct’ is just as key as to ‘what needs reworking’. Thanks for your perspective on this! I think I might add a 3rd colour for ‘looks great’ to show them how well they are doing! Hope your year starts well! Colleen

  5. Another idea… If you think students might be confused by using colors for correct & incorrect elements on one paper, another idea would be to use the designated correct color for formative feedback on initial writing and your blue/green for showing incorrect structures for summative assessment.

  6. Thanks Rita. I typically don’t have a problem with confusion – and if it is consistent neither should they. It’s a great thought to use the two that I have been using and reserving one consistent colour for the ‘well-done’ feedback. And typically, as they get a lot of feedback in formative assessments, I don’t correct a summative assessment. I leave it to students to seek me out to find out ‘why I got what I got’ for those. Thanks again!

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