Larry Ferlazzo - four ways to give ELL students feedback on their writing

So much student writing and so little time to read and provide feedback!

What is a teacher and, particularly a teacher of English Language Learner, supposed to do to be effective and maintain his/her sanity?

Here are four ways I try to do both:

Peer Review

There does not seem to be clarity among researchers about the best ways to assist ELLs in revising their writing, but they all seem to agree that one of the best things teachers can do is to give ELLs more time - more time to write, more time to think, more time to revise. This need is one of the major reasons why many researchers recommend including an opportunity for peer review and feedback - this process provides more time, as well as providing social support.

Katie Hull and I have written extensively in our books about how we implement a peer review process in our classroom that actually works. Edutopia published an excerpt laying-out various strategies that includes many specific ideas, and you can read it at Peer Review, Common Core and ELLs.

One element that article does not include is this Downloadable Peer Review Sheet that we have students use in this process:

1. After students have completed their draft on the computer using Microsoft Word or Google Docs (taking advantage of the spelling and grammar tools available on each), they print out two copies of their essay - one is for their peer reviewer. Each student also gets one copy of the peer review sheet.

The first student who is getting their essay reviewed reads the essay aloud and the reviewer follows along on his/her copy. During this time, both the writer and the reviewer make notes about mistakes and improvements, primarily targeting grammar and sentence construction issues. After the writer is done reading, both he/she and the reviewer discuss the points they both noted. Then, the reviewer goes through the Peer Review sheet one section at a time taking a minute or so to silently read that section of the essay and noting suggestions on the sheet. After he/she is done with each section, the reviewer shares comments with the writer, who makes notes on his/her copy of the essay. This process is repeated until the entire sheet is completed, and then the roles are reversed.

Note that teachers will probably want to modify the Peer Review Sheet to reflect the essay their students are writing.

2. I'll then quickly review this “marked-up” version of the essay with the student and, depending on their English proficiency and overall confidence level, may give specific feedback on one or two grammar issues by pointing at the mistake and having students identify the correction. More importantly, I’ll note to ourselves what specific skills we need to cover in future lessons.

3. Students will return to the electronic version of the essay they saved and make the revisions identified in the peer review process and in the follow-up conversation we had with them.

Improvement Rubrics & Self-Assessment

Many rubrics use "deficit language" to describe what students have not accomplished. An Improvement Rubric, on the other hand, highlights what they have achieved. You can read more about how we use them at our school at “Instead of seeing students as Far Below Basic or Advanced, we see them as learners.”

At the end of each semester, I have students take-out (or I give them) all of the essays they have written in the previous months, along with an Improvement Rubric (You can download the rubric my students use here).

They then choose two of them, preferably one that they wrote earlier in the term and one they wrote at a later time. They proceed to analyze each one using the Improvement Rubric.

Next, students will complete a short series of reflection questions:

The questions are:

  1. Look at the scores you gave yourself on both essays. Overall, which essay was your strongest? Why?
  2. Look at the scores on your strongest essay. What did you do well?
  3. Look at the scores on your strongest essay. What are 3 things you need to get better at in the future?
  4. In what areas of your writing would you like your teacher to help you in the future?

Lastly, students will then choose one of those two essays to revise and rewrite.

Concept attainment

I've written extensively in previous British Council posts about how I use concept attainment in my classroom. It's basically a process of identifying common student errors, highlighting a list of writing examples that show the concept being applied correctly and incorrectly, and then challenging students to identify why the correct ones are listed in the "Yes" column and the incorrect ones are in the "No" column.

Read more about it at Four Strategies For Grammar Instruction and What Does Enhanced Discovery Learning Look Like in the ELL Classroom?


This is a simple way I provide feedback.

A number of studies suggest that correction -- either through prompts that point out the error to a student and require an immediate attempt at a "repair" or through "recasts" when teachers rephrase correctly what the student said -- can be a useful tool to assist language acquisition. When I see a written mistake, I commonly point to it - whether it be a word or a punctuation issue. Students are typically then able to correct it then and there.

I'd love to hear how other teachers of English Language Learners provide useful feedback on student writing and still find time to have lives!

Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has written nine books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. He writes a regular posts for the New York Times on teaching English Language Learners. Parts of this post originally appeared in his past books and will appear in his next book, co-authored by Katie Hull, which will be published in March, 2018.

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Submitted by KesslerRCS on Thu, 10/19/2017 - 14:13


I have quite a few teachers I have shared this with in the upper elementary grades and they are very interested in it. We were wondering if there was a narrative rubric and review sheet? We can definitely try to create one, but I thought I'd check with you first. Thanks!

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