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April 26, 2023

How to Provide Writing Feedback to Different Age Groups

As a writing tutor, you have the specific skill set to help support developing writers, ensuring that students receive the individualized support they need to thrive. Your feedback helps students identify where they can improve, correct repeated errors, restructure sentences for clarity, and develop skills that they will continue to utilize throughout their life. However, the feedback you provide looks incredibly different depending on the age and skill level of the student. For example, the feedback given to a high school student is much different than the feedback given to a 4th grader. That is why it is so important to learn how to provide writing feedback to different age groups.

To help you grow in your skillset as a writing tutor and identify not only how to provide effective feedback, but how to provide feedback targeted to the age of your student, we’ve created a quick guide to writing feedback for various age groups. Each section provides examples, however, feel free to use these examples as just a jumping off point as you grow your skills as an industry-leading writing tutor. 

Giving feedback to elementary students

For young learners, positive reinforcement is essential in ensuring students are building a positive-associated around writing and constructive feedback. Many young learners struggle with confidence when it comes to writing, and a high percentage may not enjoy writing at all. Positive feedback can help improve their confidence and give them a reason to put pencil to paper (or finger to keyboard) again in the future. 

As you read over students' work, look for ways to issue that positive feedback in a personal way. You don't want to just offer a generic "Good job!" or, "Way to go!" Instead, look for things that stood out to you about the specific piece of work. Highlight things you noticed. For example, you might say things like:

  • This part made me laugh. 
  • I really liked the way you phrased this section/sentence/paragraph.
  • You made me think really hard about X. 
  • Your piece made me remember...

In addition, if you are providing feedback for the same student over time, you may want to consider student progress. Often, progress is a better indication of what a student is accomplishing than a single piece of writing. Pay attention to things like how a student has improved with specific skills they may be working on in class, or how they have worked on better sharing their thoughts. 

When you do provide guidance for elementary school students, it may be highly focused on overall sentence fluency. Elementary school students are still learning how to put sentences, paragraphs, and content together, which means that you may need to guide them through how to structure those essential elements. 

Giving feedback to middle school students

As students progress to middle school, they should show higher overall levels of fluency when it comes to writing in general. They may need feedback, however, to help them develop their writing skills and become more confident in their abilities. For middle school students, try to provide actionable feedback that can help guide them. For example, you might say things like:

  • Provide a transition sentence here that helps with flow between body paragraphs. 
  • Use keywords and topics in your concluding sentence. 
  • This sentence needs a subject/verb/independent clause. 
  • You need to use more details here. 
  • This sentence doesn't relate back to your topic, so you can cut it. 

Clear, actionable feedback can be critical for helping students achieve new things with their writing. 

Working with middle schoolers reluctant to accept feedback

Some students are naturally reluctant to accept feedback on their writing. By giving it only a cursory glance and disregarding it, they may overlook the feedback, ultimately hindering the potential improvement in their writing. Therefore, those students may not be able to maximize the benefit of the feedback provided.

For many students, the barrier is fear. They've often put a great deal of effort into their writing, and they fear what someone else has to say about it. Tutors can help guide students to accept feedback by reminding students that they are, in effect, in the driver's seat. Students are in charge of their own writing and what they learn from it. They get to decide what they take in from it and how they will interact with it. Tutors can help encourage them to take ownership by giving them options for how to work through their fears. You may also want to make sure that you understand why students are reluctant to accept feedback and what challenges they may be facing so that you can guide them accordingly. Providing those solutions can be just as important for ultimate student success as the feedback you offer on their writing itself.

Giving feedback to high school students

High school students are becoming increasingly independent in their writing. They are working to form their own ideas and concepts, and those concepts often carry through to their writing efforts. High school writers are also building their own editing and evaluation skills. It's important, therefore, to give them the chance to see and address their own potential challenges. 

There are several strategies you may want to use in giving feedback to high school writers. 

  • Ask questions, rather than issuing statements. Give students the chance to think through their own challenges, evaluate their own writing, and come to a conclusion.
  • Work to understand where students are coming from. When possible, ask questions about their thinking and their research. By working with a writing tutor, students can often narrow in their ideas and create a successful essay.
  • Keep it positive. Even high school students will quickly shut down if they receive consistently negative feedback.
  • Take the time to read through a student's content once before responding. This may reduce the urge to mark down every minor error in the process. 
  • Focus on key areas in which the student most needs to improve. Students can quickly become overwhelmed by too much feedback, which may make it more difficult for them to respond appropriately. 

High school students are often striving to start writing at the college level. However, that does not necessarily mean that they are prepared for everything that college-level writing will require. By offering feedback one stage at a time and focusing on those key areas, you can help students grow without overwhelming them.

Put your review skills to use

Reviewing students' writing is critical to helping those students grow as writers and as students. Do you want to work as a tutor who can help students grow those essential skills?

Apply to become a tutor with Pear Deck Tutor (formerly TutorMe)!


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Amanda Nielsen
Writing Specialist

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