General Tips for Assigning and Commenting Upon Student Writing:

by Christopher Thaiss, George Mason University

Assigning Student Writing

Assignments should be given in writing, to allow the teacher to think about criteria, to revise, and to allow for greater understanding by the student. Assignments should be written fully enough to eliminate most guesswork by students about criteria. Perfect clarity is not possible; however, most questions can be answered by the teacher who addresses the following issues when developing the assignment:

Commenting and Correcting Drafts

  1. Identify and praise success.
  2. Personalize comments. Address the author by name and refer when necessary to yourself.
  3. Never just correct a mistake in grammar and spelling (copy editing). Studies have shown that simply being presented with a corrected text leads to NO improvement. But, do flag a few mechanical errors and let the student know they matter to you. Many mistakes result from laziness, not ignorance. Students reason that they don't need to clean up and polish their prose if their readers don't care (or do it for them).
  4. Show how the problem could be corrected
  5. Relate a problem to the difficulty it causes the reader
  6. Phrase suggestions tentatively
  7. Criticize ideas and their expression, not the person who wrote them. This may mean controlling your exasperation and frustration. You are evaluating a paper, not an author.
  8. Bear in mind the purpose of these comments. Are you essentially trying to justify your grade by demonstrating how bad the paper is? Are you trying to push the student to think through and develop ideas in this paper? Are you trying to prepare the student for improvement on the next paper? Are you trying to feel super conscientious by spending a lot of time and ink on the paper?


Student Self Evaluation Form
(Thaiss recommends that students answer these questions and staple these answers to their paper when they hand it in)