In the Classroom, Standardized Testing, Strategies, Teaching, Writing

Visual Feedback: How Three Highlighters Can Improve Student Writing

Writing is full of visuals: authors use imagery and figurative language, stories sweep us away to new places, characters seem to come alive.

And yet, when it comes to providing feedback on writing, it’s usually anything but visual.

At best, feedback is meaningful and works to improve student writing–whether through comments or a rubric. However, often the time and effort spent grading becomes useless when students simply look for a grade and discard the work.

A few years ago, I was in the middle of a lesson about writing answers for open-ended questions when I picked up some highlighters. As I was walking around the room, I started using different colors directly on the students’ papers:

Blue – Part of the Question
Yellow – Specific Evidence from the Text
Orange – Explanation & Elaboration

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.

 

Students who didn’t have any blue on their papers knew instantly that they needed to add a sentence that included the key words from the question.

Students whose papers were mainly yellow could see they were relying too much on the evidence and that they needed to explain how the evidence connected to the question itself.

And students with mostly orange, or who didn’t have any yellow at all, knew they needed to dig more into the text to find specific evidence.

Almost immediately, students were actively improving their responses. They were now able to see their response the way that I was seeing it as their teacher.

Highlighters as Visual Cues & Freebies!

I’ve used highlighters to color-code feedback for the past three years, and it has proven to be the most effective way to teach students how to improve a structured, open-ended response.

Although it does take extra time to highlight responses, it requires very little else (once the students know what the colors mean, it eliminates the majority of written comments). Most students get the hang of this type of response after highlighting their work twice. For students who need continued support, I highlight as needed–usually when conferencing with them one-on-one.

You can choose any three colors you wish–as long as it’s consistent. I like to use green or blue for the POQ, yellow for the evidence, and orange or pink for the elaboration. I also wouldn’t recommend assigning more than two written responses at a time!

For a detailed, step-by-step explanation about the open-response structure (affectionately known as the “ACE” response for Answer/Cite/Explain), view the presentation below that I created for a professional development workshop: 

To access the free resources on a Google Drive folder, click here.
(Includes samples, rubrics, a sample ACE lesson to do with students, and questions!)

Samples of Student Responses

The samples below are from a quiz I gave this week based on the historical novel Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac. Questions 1-13 were multiple choice.

Question 14 asked students to make an inference: “Based on the first five chapters, what are Ned’s assumptions about white people?”

Question 15 asked students to evaluate and integrate evidence: “What happened at boarding school that was especially offensive to Navajo culture? Cite at least two examples.”

Score: 2/4

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.
This student received 2/4 for both of his responses, but for different reasons. Q.14 lacks elaboration (orange) and doesn’t connect the examples back to the question. Q.15 has the POQ in the middle of the response (“one thing that was offensive to his culture was…”) although some specific evidence and elaboration was provided.

 

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.
Score of 2/4: This student relied too much on the evidence from the text, and did not include the POQ at the beginning.

Score: 3/4

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.
Score of 3: This student successfully integrated evidence and elaboration, but did not introduce with the POQ. Only a brief mention with the word “offensive” occurs halfway through the response.

Score: 4/4

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.
Score 4/4: This student successfully included the POQ as well as thorough evidence and elaboration. Notice the use of paraphrase “This basically means that…” and tying the evidence back to the question.

 

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.
Score 4/4: This student clearly includes the POQ, summarizes information through the elaboration, and skillfully includes direct quotes and citations throughout.

 

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.
Score 4/4: This student addresses the two parts of the question separately, but it is effective since the POQ, evidence and elaboration is included for both.

 


 

Will this strategy help your students? Let me know in the comments!

Improve student responses by using three different colors of highlighters to give students visual feedback about their writing! Blog post includes detailed explanations on how to teach this method.

2 comments on “Visual Feedback: How Three Highlighters Can Improve Student Writing

  1. Where have you been my whole English teaching life. I LOVE your ideas! I will add this to my bag of tricks and attempt it as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and strategies. 🙂

    1. Hi Lisa! What a compliment… I’m so glad that my ideas are useful to you! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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