In-Class Activity for Helping Students Understand and Use Your Comments

shared by jbohle on December 12, 2015

Activity Summary:

This in-class activity is designed to help students understand the purpose of the comments you leave on their work. It also helps you get some helpful feedback on the effectiveness of your own comments.



Ideally when we leave comments on our students’ work, it helps students to see how they could improve that same paper in the future. However, teacher comments can also work as an “intermediary genre,” meaning a genre that helps the writer to take ideas either related to form or content in one genre and apply them to a different genre (Tachino). For example, imagine that you left comments on students’ summary assignments that will help them apply some ideas about how to write a summary to an annotated bibliography in a future history class. Your comments are the intermediary genre helping students transfer knowledge about form or content from a paper in your class to a future assignment, and are therefore quite powerful!

Therefore, the goal of this activity is to help students to:

  1. Read and understand your comments on their work.
  2. Learn how to use your comments as an intermediary genre.


  1. Immediately after you have given students their feedback on the first graded assignment (and introduced the following assignment), have students bring their comments from you on their graded paper to class.
  2. Begin class with a brief think-pair-share activity. Ask students to free-write on the following question: “Why do I leave comments on your papers? What can you do with my comments?” Then have students share their ideas with a classmate.
  3. Discuss the class’s responses to this question. If students don’t mention that the comments can help them revise for the portfolio, be sure to mention it. If students don’t come up with the idea that the comments can help them with future writing assignments, bring this up toward the end of the conversation.
  4. Once the idea that your comments can be used for future assignments comes up, ask, “How can the comments I give you help you with future writing assignments?” Give students a chance to think about this question and try to answer it, then explain that the rest of this activity is going to help them see how they can use your comments to help them on future papers in your class and future work in other classes.
  5. Explain to students that the categories on the rubric (context, substance, organization, style, and delivery) will be relevant in many future writing contexts. By understanding how they can improve just one area on the rubric, students will be better prepared for future writing. Additionally, you can invent your own categories, like support, focus, etc.
  6. Ask students to now get out the comments you gave them on their last graded assignment. Have students categorize your comments using the assignment rubric and/or some of your own categories. When they are done categorizing, ask students to write a brief paragraph explaining their biggest area of improvement and their biggest strength.
    1. During this part in the activity, circulate and ask students if there are any comments they find confusing. This is a great opportunity to clarify points for your students and get an understanding of what students are finding helpful or confusing.
  7. Now have students get out the assignment sheet for the paper they are currently working on. Have students work with a partner to write down an answer the following question, “What does this paper require us to do?” Discuss the students’ answers as a large group and clarify any misunderstandings/add any elements students may have missed.
  8. Ask students to individually write down how they can take their strengths and weaknesses they identified from the previous paper and apply it to the current paper. Discuss their ideas as a whole class.
  9. Finally, ask students “How do you imagine the strengths and weaknesses you identified in your paper could help you in writing projects for other classes?” Discuss this question as a whole class.