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You’re Doing Great! Mastering the Art of Feedback for ESL Students

feedback for ESL students

Giving feedback to ESL students is more than saying “good job” or putting a gold star on a quiz. Relevant feedback can take many forms, from written to verbal to visual. Each of these forms will serve a different purpose, guiding and correcting your students’ learning approaches. Kind words and fresh insights will encourage their efforts and build confidence. The more you teach, the more you’ll find that using different types of feedback for ESL students is beneficial to both you and your students. Let’s take a closer look at forms of feedback for ESL students, some ESL feedback examples, and the benefits for you and your learners of giving feedback to students.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

What is feedback in language teaching?

Before you can learn how to provide great feedback, it’s important to understand the foundations and purposes of feedback. Within the ESL classroom, feedback consists of instructors communicating to students about how they are performing with the course materials and correcting any errors as they occur. To provide effective ESL feedback, it’s important to engage in testing to identify your students’ language levels and language goals. Good feedback will be appropriate to a student’s current proficiency level and goals.

Fundamentally, feedback is designed to further student learning, improve confidence and understanding, and increase student motivation. Feedback for ESL students can be either positive or negative regarding their performance, but no matter what, ESL comments to students need to be helpful and encouraging. Teachers can accomplish this by:

  • Starting negative feedback with a positive comment
  • Structuring feedback comments into specific goals
  • Praising the student for mastering a complex subject

But, communication is a two-way street! Feedback from your students is equally important as comments given to your ESL students. Some ways you can solicit comments from your students are to ask them if they are:

  • Achieving their goals
  • Spending time on subjects they feel are important
  • Engaged in the content

Anonymous surveys, a comment box, and office hours are ways to collect feedback from students so you can tailor your teaching approach to meet their learning needs. The ultimate goal of all feedback is for your ESL students to be able to assess their errors, self-correct, and improve their language skills.

Want to know more about giving effective feedback? Learn more about the Error Correction in the EFL Classroom Micro-credential course.

Bridge alum, Stefano, helping a student.
Bridge alum Stefano gives a student additional assistance.

Why is feedback so important for ESL students?

Why is any feedback important in life? It gives us a baseline for our performance and creates a dialogue around possible improvements, areas of strength, or new goals to set. With initial proficiency leveling, specific learning goals can be identified, and the feedback you provide can be tailored to meet those goals. As students see their progress, motivation increases and they become inspired to take an active role in their own learning.

Providing feedback for ESL students can achieve so much with minimal added effort from the teacher. Here are just a few ways that providing comments and feedback to your ESL students can make your class a more effective learning space.

Correcting student errors

What is corrective feedback and how effective is it with ELL students? Corrective feedback is the correction of errors made by students. First and foremost, providing corrective feedback will help students understand their errors so they can correct them and not repeat them. Feedback can be formal or informal, but It’s important to acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes during language learning, as it’s part of the learning process.

Find out more about error correction when teaching English with additional ESL feedback examples.

Acknowledging progress

When students stop making the same mistakes or excel in an area, it’s also important to provide feedback. By having students realize that they are making progress, they will take on English learning with more confidence. You can acknowledge the progress of your students formally or informally. Some ways to acknowledge your students’ language progress include:

  • Personalized verbal feedback
  • Written feedback on student work
  • Progress reports showing areas of improvement
  • Certificates and awards
  • Personal meetings to recognize growth and set achievable goals

Providing encouragement

Providing feedback that acknowledges a student’s progress is also directly linked to students feeling encouraged and motivated. When teachers provide feedback for ESL students, there is a high probability of better test results, more active classroom participation, and higher interest in general. ESL feedback is an integral part of a successful learning experience and helps teachers connect with their students on a deeper level, building a solid foundation of trust and rapport.

Here’s how to keep your students motivated when teaching English.

What are the characteristics of effective feedback for ESL students?

Of course, English language professionals have to be smart about how to give feedback to students. To obtain the best results, keep the following in mind when giving feedback to students.


Knowing just when to give feedback is fundamental. Timing is very relevant to how a student will hold on to and process ESL feedback. For example, whether you’re teaching a group of adults or a child online, it’s most effective to not correct a mistake the moment it is made. It’s best to wait for your student to finish their idea before correcting them.


Feedback for ESL students is best given in balance, that is, varying between positive and constructive commentary. Positive feedback will boost student morale and encourage correct English use. On the other hand, constructive feedback will help students realize what their mistakes are so that they (hopefully!) do not repeat them.


Feedback for ESL students varies quite a bit. There are different categories when it comes to classifying feedback and using all of them is a key characteristic of effective teaching. Giving a student verbal feedback during one lesson and providing written comments during the next one, for example, will give you better results. For online students, visual feedback in the form of videos can also be very productive.

How do you provide feedback in the ESL classroom?

Each classroom is different. As you get to know your students, you’ll find that ESL feedback examples vary by age group or whether you’re teaching in person or online. These are some ways to give feedback to students.

Giving assessments

Giving an assessment is a complete way of providing constructive criticism and praise simultaneously, as the student sees firsthand what they need to work on and where they excel. There are many ways to leverage English proficiency testing in teaching children and adult learners.

Many different English language tests can be used to assess the proficiency level of your students. For example, you can identify the language levels of your young and teen learners with the Cambridge placement test, Pearson’s Benchmark test, or the ACTFL K-12 Assessment.

Teachers of Business English, who will have adult students, can use tests like Linguaskill that are aligned to the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Language). Business English teachers with Bridge Corporate Language Learning utilize the CEFR, Bridge Language Levels, and GSE (Pearson’s Global Scale of English), which is aligned to CEFR levels, to identify a student’s language learning goals. The GSE provides learning objectives that target specific competencies students need to master, and includes assessment tools that can be used to track performance.

Looking for more ways to leverage English assessments in the classroom? Learn about ways to use AI tools for English language proficiency placement, leveling, and progress monitoring.

Bridge alum, Lisa, giving feedback to her online Business English student.
Bridge alum Lisa gives feedback to her online Business English student.

Using rewards

On the other hand, rewards are a great way to provide feedback for younger ESL students. Playing a game at the end of class or even watching a movie in English as a reward will be sure to encourage the little ones that they’re on the right track.

Learn more about using a reward system for teaching English.

Offering written, verbal, and visual feedback for your ESL students

As previously mentioned, giving feedback can vary quite a bit from student to student. Here are some ways to offer useful comments for ESL students.

  • You can opt for written feedback, which works both for online students and those in the physical classroom (limit use to older students).
  • Verbal feedback works well if you’re trying to get concise messages across.
  • And finally, visual feedback in the form of videos will probably make you a hit with the younger crowd online!

Praise can go a long way toward building the confidence your students need to continue their education journey. Remember, encouragement looks and sounds very different between young, teen, and adult learners.

Methods of feedback for young learners

Children thrive on verbal praise and physical rewards. Offering both in the classroom is a great way to boost confidence and guide learning goals. Students aren’t the only stakeholders, though! Written reports for parents and caregivers are a valid way to show progress or areas that need improvement.

ESL feedback for teen learners

Teens are a great group of students to provide feedback for because not only do they have a stake in their education, but they know the inherent value of what they’re learning. Those written reports will be handy but perhaps less persuasive in this group. Verbal comments and one-on-one conversations with these ESL students will go a long way to keep them engaged in their academic progress.

Learn more about teaching English to teens.

Feedback for adult learners

Providing ESL feedback to adult students will likely be more periodic and demonstrable than with younger classes. Adult learners will frequently benchmark their progress based on exams, report cards, and written notes on assignments. Have an arsenal of comments for these ESL learners – they’ll want to know how they’re doing! These students will also benefit from meeting with their ESL teacher one on one or in a focus group, especially if they are struggling with course material. Office hours, study groups, and additional independent resources are great ways to help adult ESL students implement your feedback and comments.

As an English language professional, you’ll soon find that feedback for ESL students is an important matter to consider. Whether using assessments, rewards, videos, or verbal constructive criticism, you’ll see that every classroom is different. In fact, every student is different. It’s up to teachers to find what works best in each scenario.

Ready to ramp up your skills in providing effective feedback? Take the Error Correction in the EFL Classroom Micro-credential course.

Freelance writer and journalist for 10 years specializing in culture writing. Savannah has degrees in Professional Writing and Business, living as a Digital Nomad with roots. Early adopter, coffee aficionado, people person.