Explore More

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 so many forms, ranging 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 ESL feedback is beneficial to both you and your students. Let’s take a closer look at forms of feedback to 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. Fundamentally, feedback is designed to both further student learning and improve confidence and understanding. 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 how to give feedback to students struggling with error correction? Take a Micro-credential course in Error Correction!

    Why is feedback so important for ESL students?

    Why is any feedback important in life? It gives us a baseline for how we’re performing and creates a dialogue around possible improvements, areas of strength, or new goals to set. 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 class a more effective learning space.

    Correcting student errors

    First and foremost, providing feedback will help students understand their errors so they can correct them and not repeat them. 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 here.

    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.

    Sallie, Teaching Online with TPR
    Online ESL teacher Sallie uses props, like this medal, to motivate her students.

    Providing encouragement

    Progress is also directly linked to students feeling encouraged. 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 that it is made. It’s best to wait for your student to finish their idea before correcting them.

    online English teacher
    EFL teacher Rachel Cordova offers positive feedback to students online.


    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.

    Want to learn more about what feedback strategies to use? Check out the Bridge webinar: “Oops, They Did It Again! Error Detection and Correction Strategies for the ESL Classroom.”


    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 you can try for yourself.

    Giving assessments

    Giving an assessment is a complete way of providing constructive criticism and praise simultaneously, as the student will see firsthand what they need to work on and where they excel. Keep in mind, these tend to be on the longer side, so it’s probably best to use them with teens and adults.

    online ESL teacher using ManyCam
    Online ESL teacher Krzl uses ManyCam stickers to reward her 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.

    Before you even plan your first lesson, you should conduct a needs assessment with your students. Find out more about how to create a needs analysis for teaching English!

    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.