• ESL Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique


          “I feel proud of myself when I see these.”

         “They are helpful because I feel that you are encouraging me and understand what I’m writing.”

These are two of the comments students wrote in response to my survey question: “On your essays, I underline in GREEN words, expressions, sentences, ideas, details and examples that were good.  Are these GREEN underlines helpful to you?”

Most Writing instructors like to give students positive feedback on their essays in addition to indications of where they have grammar mistakes or where they have content problems.  These positive comments often are in the form of a message at the end of the essay.  However, there are a few problems with giving feedback in this end-of-the-essay manner.

First, it takes time and extra mental energy to write these in a style that will be meaningful to students.

Second, they are usually too general to be of much use for students to apply to future writing assignments.

And third, it requires the teacher to write with clear handwriting, something that many of us don’t have a talent for.

In one program, on their essay rubrics, they now “include a section where students can earn points for successful language use rather than being strictly penalized for only misuses.”  This is admirable, but it (1) involves extra work and calculations for the teacher and (2) doesn’t specify exactly what the student did successfully in the essay.

The technique of using green underlines is very user-friendly time-wise and energy-wise for the teacher to use. 

S/he sees something good and merely underlines it in green.  Another strong point is its specificity.  Students can see the exact words, expressions and ideas that the teacher found to be exceptionally good.

Compare this to this typical end-of-the-paper comment by a teacher: “You had some interesting examples.  And you wrote some advanced-style sentences.  Good vocabulary, too!”

If I were the student reading those comments, I’d really like to know specifically  which examples the teacher thought were interesting, which sentences she thought were advanced and which words were good.

In response to my survey question, “Are these GREEN underlines helpful to you?” students wrote:

Yes!  I can know my good points clearly, and I can use them next time.

Yes, they are.  When I correct my essays, they motivate me, and I don’t need to worry about the parts that were written in green in my next draft.

Yes, I can keep doing what I’m doing.

Yes, it gives me confidence for my writing style.

For more details about using this technique for giving positive feedback on students’ papers, see Writing class: Easy, focused, POSITVE feedback on essays.

For more details about effective techniques for indicating grammar mistakes on students’ essays, see Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills

David Kehe

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