Providing Effective Feedback to the Youngest of Writers

Primary grade children can excel as writers when presented with thoughtful and age-appropriate feedback.

By Mollie Moore

student and teacher working on a paper

Early elementary students can become overwhelmed or scared by the many facets of constructing even the simplest piece of writing. The fear of failure is often a child’s greatest enemy in writing. Teachers can help students succeed as young writers if they know how to provide both effective feedback and useful tools for self-assessment. Consider implementing some of the following strategies in your classroom.

Provide Timely Feedback

Young minds are especially active and are constantly taking in new information. If allowed too much time after submitting an assignment, they will likely forget details of the assignment and any feedback given will thus be less effective in changing future writing habits. A good time frame to aim for is within a week, although the sooner the feedback is received, the greater the yield will be.

Make the Praise Sincere 

People of all ages tend to best receive constructive criticism when it is sandwiched by a couple of positive remarks or compliments. Children can be especially sensitive to correction if they perceive their mistakes to be failures. Teachers can help by applying a form of the “cushion” or “sandwich” method, highlighting learners’ strengths and areas of noticeable improvement in a given piece of writing in addition to noting areas needing improvement. It is important that the praise be specific and sincere in order for it to be believable and effective.

Use a Rubric

Rubrics allow pupils to see clearly in what areas their writing meets the expectations of the assignment, and where they could improve. For the youngest writers, stickers or smiley faces marking the writer’s greatest strengths on the rubric may encourage a sense of accomplishment, as well as instill an eagerness to earn more stickers by improving in weaker areas. Allow students to preview the rubric you will use prior to completing the assignment so they know up-front what is expected of them.

Stay Focused

New writers have an abundance of new or fairly new grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules to hold in their developing minds. By choosing to focus on one of these at a time, you will guide your little learners to quicker mastery of all of the many rules for writing. For example, you may choose to announce to the class ahead of time that, for a particular assignment, you will be checking especially for proper punctuation at the beginnings and ends of sentences. Or you may wait to see in which area each individual child needs extra reminding or practice.

Occasional Verbal Feedback

At some point, preferably in the beginning of the year at the least, each child should have the privilege of meeting one-on-one with a teacher to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their writing thus far. Among many other benefits, this special time provides an opportunity for shyer pupils to ask questions. Ideally, these mini conferences are held several times throughout the year for each student.

Provide Models

Sample paragraphs, sentences, or phrases are helpful to show to both the class as a whole before giving an assignment and to individuals upon correcting their completed piece of writing. Some will do just fine without these, but others need a visual model to aid them in knowing what is their end goal.

Teach Students to Self-Assess

Ultimately, your pupils will grow most as writers when they are equipped to edit their own work, not to mention your job will become easier. See below for some resources with ideas for teaching self-assessment.

When provided thoughtfully and frequently, effective feedback, as outlined above, will lead your budding writers to significant growth and success before the end of the school year!


Descriptive Writing Assessment

This straightforward lesson plan provides a sample rubric to prepare young writers to be assessed according to pre-communicated expectations.

Take Five: Writing a Color-Coded Paragraph

By color-coding the most basic necessary components of sentences and/or paragraphs, children will learn to self-assess before submitting their writing.

Junior Writing Workshop

Particularly the “Language Development Diary” provided in this lesson is an excellent tool for young students to use in editing their own writing. The entire workshop packet is full of interactive ideas to teach early writers to both give and receive feedback to their writing.