Writing and Marking

Advanced-level students using laptops to produce film reviews
Advanced-level students using laptops to produce film reviews

Having just spent the morning marking writing from both Cambridge CAE and non-exam Advanced students, I suddenly remembered that one of the things I highlighted in my CAM action plan as an area to work on was presenting and marking writing. It seems a blog post is therefore in order…

Writing seems to be one of those areas which is quite ephemeral – a kind of ‘practice makes perfect’ for both teachers and students. Here are some of the things I’ve heard (and maybe even said) from each side of the divide:


  • I don’t have time to write.
  • I hate writing.
  • Arghhh! I can’t write. (after being presented with a sheet of paper covered in notes)
  • What [exactly] do you want me to do?
  • Why do we have to write?
  • Writing is boring and it takes too long.


  • I don’t have time to include writing in my classes. / Students never do writing for homework.
  • I don’t have time to mark writing.
  • My students don’t care about writing, so why should I?
  • I don’t really know how to mark [fill in appropriate level / exam] writing.
  • I don’t want to depress my students by covering the page in red pen.
  • Their spelling / grammar / handwriting is atrocious – I can’t read it.

So what can / should we do about it?

At the risk of over-bullet-pointing my own writing, here are some of the solutions I’ve found have worked with my students so far:

  • Setting homework through Edmodo: they have a range of different ways to do the writing, and are therefore (slightly) more willing to do it. They can also send homework later if they don’t have time during the week it’s set.
  • Presenting writing through a task-based approach (this will be the subject of a future blog post – watch this space), which allows students to do the writing in class in groups and produce two versions of it so they really see the difference before and after input.
  • Using a writing code: students soon get the hang of this, although it takes a bit of explaining at the beginning of the year. They occasionally hand back writing if they want to know how to improve it (depends on the student’s level of motivation).
  • Laptops: By asking students to bring in their own laptops, I created a language lab at a school with two computers 🙂 Students enjoyed being able to edit their work quickly. They could then reedit it at home and email it to me if they wanted to.

As you can see, there aren’t many of them (otherwise there would have been no point highlighting it on my action plan!) I will therefore set you a writing task of you own, so that you can get into the spirit of things.

Choose ONE (or TWO or THREE…) of the following to answer.

  • Writing for exams: should we always mark using the criteria for the exam? If not, what should criteria should we mark to?
  • How can we encourage students to correct their work and give it back, without creating a lot more marking for ourselves?
  • How much marking is appropriate? Where do you stop?!?
  • Handwriting: is it an issue? Does it matter if students handwrite or type their texts?
  • Spelling: How can we help students to improve it? How important is spelling for non-exam students?
  • Grammar: Is it possible for students to improve their grammar through writing?
  • Feedback: Do you use a writing code? If not, what do you use? What kind of comments do you give the students?
  • Should we give the marking criteria to the students before they do the writing? Or could this be too much for them? (thinking about exam-based criteria especially here)
  • How can we teach teachers to mark writing consistently with each other when sharing a class? How can we teach teachers new to an exam to mark writing at an appropriate level? (I was new to CAE this year, and this was particularly difficult for me, although after attending a seminar in December I feel much better about it)
  • How can we encourage both teachers and students to make time for writing inside and outside class?

Answers should be 120-150 words long in an informal-neutral tone 😉

Right, I think that about covers it. I look forward to marking your answers!


PS I have thought of blogging with my students – it’s a work in progress at the moment, as I’m still working out how the blogosphere works myself and computer access is scarce to non-existent at my school!

9 thoughts on “Writing and Marking

  1. An interesting blog post. Having spent Christmas and the New Year marking FCE and BEC exams is interesting and allows me the opportunity get some ideas for teaching skills for writing. The backwash/washback of Exam teaching is that the focus of teaching is on training students to pass the exams rather than to improve their overall writing skills.

    Some ideas that I use in class to improve writing:

    1. Let students self-correct their peers’ written work.
    2. Illustrate model answers and some model errors.
    3. Use a variety of sources to encourage comparisons within target language; stats, charts, etc.
    4. When students are typing on laptops, cover the screen so students focus on target language rather than hoping to be corrected by the software.
    5. Pass the laptop: give a topic to students to write about (e.g. “Writing in English”). Then students have to write on their laptops for two minutes then give their laptop to the person next to them. They write for two minutes and then change laptops and carry on. Ensure the monitor is covered by paper during the written process. After a short time of writing students compare their writing with their friends. This is a good activity to focus on writing rather on form.
    6. Have two pictures (could be two totally different objects; trumpet and a car). Students have to write a story which involves a trumpet and a car. This will get students to think creatively.

    Obviously the lessons suggested above may be considered inappropriate as students may expect exam focused classes rather than writing focused classes. However, a range of written practice will improve performance as students should feel comfortable writing in different styles (narration, reporting, story, etc).


    1. Hi Martin,
      Thanks very much for the tips. I especially like the idea of covering the screen – my students might take some persuading though! I agree that focussing on writing skills first and exam skills second should be beneficial for the students.


  2. Great tips!

    I used to eschew the writing code way but have seen it used successfully by a few teachers (meaning Ss were motivated/satisfied) and now teach it in my TEFL certificate course.

    I have had success, particularly with writing, in using screenr.com or any screencast to give live feedback. I just put up the Ss writing and then underling, circle , comment live. Ss are amazed and find this the most beneficial. easy as pie too, once you are set up .



  3. Hello Sandy ! I’m afraid I won’t answer in 150 words but you can have a look at my blog http://mafaldaleflecestsondada.blogspot.com/: the first three entries are about writing : a title generator (generates funny pompous titles in English, students can use it to imagine and describe a work of art, or a short piece of fiction); “spell with flickr”, a site that writes messages using photos found on Flickr (students can imagine a message and a story about the photo-letters, and can then embed the message in a blog), and a site called “telescopic text”, which allows students to write a text that enfolds, thus enhancing their ability to write more and more complex sentences. And of course if you read French, you can browse through my little blog to find writing activities under the tag “écrire”.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Thanks very much for the help! I heard about spell with flickr yesterday and really like it. The other two sites are new for me, so I look forward to trying them out. On my way to look at your blog now…


  4. It’s true that at times writing may be boring for students, so we should find ways to make it more interesting. We can do so by making writing indirect rather than direct. Give students writing activities like complete the missing words in a short paragragh, complete the punctuation marks and etc. When they have develop the writing skills then it might become a habit for them to write.


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