Marking with Impact: Highlighters, RAG and Codes

Term is well underway, and finding time to blog is proving difficult. The sheer volume of work can seem overwhelming at times, so finding ways to ‘work smart’ are a must.

As English teachers, marking is a constant mountain we are striving to plough through. We itch to write lengthly comments detailing exactly where students have gone wrong and options to improve, but realistically this is not sustainable or useful. It is truly soul destroying to have spent hours upon hours marking books, only to have students flick lackadaisically through them and then make the same mistakes in the next piece of work.

As such, we have been using a new system over the last few weeks which seems to be working really well. Time will tell if it has true impact, but the initial outlook seems very positive. We have adopted two colour highlighters for marking: green and orange. Green is for any strengths in the work; orange is for any issues, errors or weaknesses in the work. When we mark books, we simply turn to a key task we wish to mark and attack it with the highlighters.

This works for all task types, and allows detailed and focused marking for a task. Alongside this, we have our Top 10 list in the front of students’ books covering common errors.


It took a while to ‘let go’ of lengthly comments, and I still do write a lot on KS5 essays, but using this method means I can get through a class of books in about 2 hours. That’s a major improvement on my usual time, and their feedback is more specific because I don’t get marking fatigue in the same way.

I use this in conjunction with a whole class feedback sheet. These have been popular on Twitter for a while and take many different forms, but a basic template for me would look something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 11.37.23 am.png

I share this on students’ iPads, then we have a STAR (like DIRT) lesson where students spend the whole hour working through the list of tasks and responding to the highlighter in their books. IMG_7055.JPG

As you can see, they complete it (often at length) in green pen. This forces them to look at each piece of feedback and complete a relevant task to address it. There are also extension tasks on the slide for students who have fewer targets. They also have digital target trackers they can update and document their reflections using their iPads.


The final stage is to check students have made the effort to respond. This can be done in the feedback lesson or subsequent lesson, and takes very little time and effort. I stick a red, amber or green dot on the front page of books to clearly mark how well a student has responded:


GREEN: Getting it and reflecting effectively

AMBER: Reflecting but still some issues/errors

RED: Little/no effort with reflection

I then have a clear way of deciding a marking order next time around, and can monitor students depending on their colour. It’s also easy for them to see how they are doing!

Feedback from students has been really positive: lots ask for more time and the quality of talk from them is more driven and focused. We complete this feedback cycle for one piece of exercise book marking and one assessment piece every half term, so twelve pieces from each student in each academic year. This allows us to cover each strand in detail and to assess progress over time, without losing all life outside of work during the academic year.

How do you cope with your marking load? Do you use any of these strategies? What do you find particularly effective? Let me know on Twitter or down below, and thanks for stopping by!


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