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As a teacher, giving feedback to your students is one of the most important parts of your job. It shows them how they are going, and also answers the question, ‘Where to from here?’

Giving timely and constructive feedback has a major impact on learning progress and achievement because it both motivates and challenges the learner to develop skills and knowledge.

Academic Feedback – How to talk about mistakes

It’s important to give specific advice to your students about their work, and sometimes that advice needs to be about mistakes they have made.

It’s also important to remember that when feedback is mostly negative, it can lead to discouraging student achievement and effort.

Most students find it very difficult to hear or be receptive to criticism. You’ll find that even students that are usually friendly towards you can quickly change their tune if you bring up something they did wrong.

The negative impact can be more than you anticipate due to the stress and frustration your students have in trying to express themselves in a second language.

No one wants to look foolish in front of their classmates. And the last thing you need is to make a student feel worse, just because you were harsher than you needed to be.

One good strategy when you’re being negative is to also point out areas where they did well, or at least showed effort. By adding a compliment when giving a correction, you won’t come across as being overly critical.

Here are some good examples to get you started – all of these comments will need some elaboration, depending on the circumstances and what kind of work is being attempted:

  • You’re on the right track…
  • You’ve made quite a lot of improvement…
  • You have potential…
  • You’ll get even better results in the future if you…
  • You’ve made some good progress…
  • Your efforts are commendable
  • You’ve done quite well so far…
  • It’s great you’re trying your best…
  • You’ve put in a lot of hard work…

Behavioural Feedback – In class or after class?

It’s important for you to not just give feedback on academic results, but also on attitudes and behaviour.

Sometimes, you’ll need to set standards by showing what your expectations are in front of the class at the beginning or the end of a lesson.

This is most appropriate when student/s are:

  • Talking over the top of another student / talking out of turn
  • Late on multiple occasions
  • Not adhering to deadlines

Using a mobile phone

One strategy that’s really worked well for me is to set aside some time for your class to make a class rules list, with some appropriate penalties when rules are violated.

Even if rules you want to focus on aren’t included, you can develop a culture of good behaviour.

It’s also important to take immediate action when behaviour is so inappropriate, it upsets the recipient or seriously threatens classroom stability. All of the class needs to see your leadership in action and you taking a pro-active stance to address a major issue.

  • Causing a fight
  • Swearing at another student
  • Sexual harassment

On the other hand, giving behavioural feedback to a student outside the classroom is sometimes preferable.

One-on-one conferences work well when a student’s behaviour is not so egregious that it has to be dealt with right away and when you think there may be extenuating circumstances

  • Sleeping in class (problems at home, working long hours outside the classroom)
  • Lack of participation (having trouble understanding the textbook, student is shy)
  • Making fun of others (they THINK it’s just a joke and that they are being humorous)

Over time, you’ll develop an instinct on where and when it’s best to give behavioural feedback.

FOR ACADEMIC FEEDBACK: Provide examples and give clear explanations on how to Improve

If a student is struggling academically, one of the best ways forward is to provide examples of how to do things better.

For example, if you are teaching students how to write a descriptive paragraph and they are struggling with ‘blank page syndrome’, elicit examples of suitable adjectives and adverbs from the class and write them on the board.

Or you can choose an example of good writing from one of your better students and review it with the rest of the class.

Sometimes, just providing examples is not enough. Sometimes, key concepts need to be explained. It’s important for all teachers to develop the capacity to explain key concepts simply. Important tools for your teaching toolbox include:

  • Explaining slowly
  • Explaining something again
  • Using relevant material that they already know
  • Being patient
  • Using humour and visual aids


Let’s face it – things that are deemed to be OK in some cultures are not OK in others. I can still clearly remember a situation when, on the first day of class, a male student from South America tried to hug a female student from Asia as a way of saying hello.

The South American student was just trying to be friendly in a way that was totally acceptable to him. The Asian student visibly recoiled and was extremely embarrassed by something she felt was very inappropriate.

After talking about the situation with both students separately, they both agreed to have a discussion about cultural mores in class. Classmates were encouraged to ask questions in a respectful manner.

The conversation led to a greater overall understanding of how an individual’s cultural lens affects how we judge things – and the students became more open-minded and inclusive as a result.


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