Giving constructive feedback to teenagers

Sanaa Bedri, a teacher at the British Council in Casablanca, shares her action research into effective methods for giving feedback to teenage learners of English.

According to the Cambridge English dictionary, feedback is:

'Information about something, such as a new product or someone's work, that provides an idea of whether people like it or whether it is good.'

However, what does it mean for teachers?

It is part of our duty to provide the students with feedback. In the teaching field, this word is commonly used to describe comments, advice, and praise given to students. But feedback isn't just that - it should help learners know if they're successful in tasks or not.

Looking back at my short experience as a teacher (six years), I have noticed that the students who need it (and often request it) are teenagers.

On one hand, most of them want to pursue their studies in English-speaking countries. They are aware of the importance of the language for their future. On the other hand, adolescents are very often hesitant when it comes to responding to tasks. They are worried about what their classmates might think or say about them.

Constructive feedback can motivate them and guide them. It can help them develop analytical skills as well as self-confidence.

This is what motivated me to conduct action research about providing productive feedback to teenagers.

My experience

I implemented various techniques in the teenagers' classes, mainly for speaking and writing activities.

The purpose was to find out which methods students considered both useful and motivating.

Feedback on writing tasks

Method 1

Correction with the code: Most of us already know this method. I have used (and still do) abbreviations that highlight mistakes in the writings. This method is student-centred. The teacher raises the students’ awareness and shows them where to look exactly, however it's their responsibility to correct their mistakes (either alone or with a classmate's help). It's only when they are unable to find the answer that the teacher provides it.

Method 2

Correction by the teacher: It is totally teacher-centred, I have corrected every single mistake on each written assignment. Most of my students haven’t even tried to find out what they have done wrong.

Method 3

General comment: I would also call it the ‘’lazy way’’. I haven’t highlighted any explanation whatsoever, just a written comment at the top of the copy, such as: ‘’Well done’’ or ‘’Not enough’’. Many students felt frustrated when I have done it.

Feedback on speaking tasks

Method 1

The detailed report: After speaking tasks, I have provided every student with a written document praising their strengths and highlighting their areas of improvement.

E.g.‘’Excellent pronunciation and vocabulary. Try to pay attention to the subject-verb agreement.’’

Method 2

General comment: As soon as the students would finish their presentation, I would give them orally and in front of their classmates a comment about their public performance, without any details.

The survey

After trying the previous methods, my teenage students (14 – 16 years old) were asked to fill a questionnaire about the different feedbacks they had received. Their choice was clear: The more personalized, the better.

Feedback on writing tasks

Questionnaires completed 33
No. of students who preferred feedback with method 1: Correction with code 22
No. of students who preferred feedbck with method 2: Correction by the teacher 9
No. of students who preferred feedback with method 3: No correction - just a short comment 2

Additional comments by the students on method 1:

"We feel more independent and we can think carefully about what we wrote."

"This method helps avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future."

Feedback on speaking tasks

Questionnaires completed 33
No. of students who preferred feedback with method 1: A detailed report with the strengths and areas of improvement 33
No. of students who preferred method 2: A general comment from the teacher 0

Additional comments by the students on method 1: 

"All the reports are different. It shows that the teacher takes everything into consideration and is concerned, which is good."

"With this method, I know my strengths and I can develop them more."

The methods they voted for personalized and very productive for the students. They allowed them to recognize their strengths as well as their weaknesses. 

From a teacher's perspective, they are time-consuming and require a lot of outside the classroom (from 15 to 20 minutes per report). However, it was worth it.


To sum up, teenager students need a clear and constructive feedback.  It has to be specific rather than general, involve specific information, focus on what students have said and done.

The constructive feedback gives students praise, advice, and encouragement. It indicates what they need to focus on to overcome their difficulties.

After each task, the students can read a note praising the positive details of their work and a "recommendation" about what should be improved.

For example: "Your ideas are well organized, you used the right adjectives. Next time, I want you to focus more on the use of past continuous".

Feedback helps learners know if they're successful in tasks. It can motivate them and guide them. And it can help them develop analytical skills. They learn why they're making errors and how to correct them.


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