See it in action:

Great Feedback is Prioritized

When you are giving feedback, prioritize the 2-3 areas of strength and 2-3 areas of growth that will have the biggest impact on the writer. Prioritizing makes your feedback clear, concise, and digestible for students. 

Carol Jago, the author of Papers, Papers, Papers and a leading thought leader in the field of effective feedback, used “The Sweet Sixteen” as guidance about the features of effective writing for her students. Some version of these 16 high-level focus areas are included on most standard rubrics.

When you are prioritizing which 2-3 areas of strength and 2-3 areas of growth for a given student’s paper, it may be helpful to consider “The Sweet Sixteen”. The features listed in Ideas & Organization have the potential to have the greatest impact on the writing as a whole. However, each student response, assignment, prompt and rubric are different, so it is always best to prioritize using your best judgement.

The Sweet Sixteen



  • Unity: You have one clear thesis that responds to the assigned task, and all the ideas in your essay help support that thesis.

  • Insight: Your ideas are thoughtful and stimulating, yet reasonable and true to the material.

  • Argument: You prove your ideas clearly, logically and completely. You fully prepare the reader to understand each sentence and its purpose in your paper.

  • Evidence: The quality and quantity of evidence strongly supports your ideas and shows through knowledge of the material.


  • Introduction: Your first paragraph engages the reader and introduces a clear thesis or purpose.

  • Paragraphing: Each body paragraph sticks to one idea, and each idea is discussed in only one body paragraph.

  • Flow: Your main ideas are presented in a logical and effective order, made clear via topic sentences, paragraph conclusions, and transitions.

  • Conclusion: You conclude with a graceful reminder of your thesis.


  • Conciseness: You express ideas simply and clearly without wasted words or unnecessary repetition.

  • Vocabulary: Your choice of words is interesting and precise but not pretentious.

  • Sentence Structure: Your sentences are strong, graceful and suitably varied in length and structure.

  • Vividness: You enliven your writing with concrete language, fresh and specific detail and metaphor without cliche.


  • Sentence Sense: Your writing is free of run-on sentences and fragments.

  • Grammar and Usage: You follow the rules of Standard English.

  • Mechanics: Your spelling, capitalization and punctuation are accurate.

  • Format: You follow the conventions of documentation.

© 2005 by Carol Jago from Papers, Papers, Papers. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.



Read the first two paragraphs from a Document Based Question Essay below.

The prompt: Why did many colonists die in Early Jamestown?

Areas for Growth:

Try to explain your argument using your own words and use the evidence as support. In your first body paragraph, you chose a relevant and interesting quote, but it overpowers YOUR argument and voice. How can you integrate the most compelling pieces of this quote with your own words?

In the first body paragraph, your analysis of the quote you used feels very formulaic and unnatural. Your analysis can explain the quote, but it should also help develop your argument about why colonists died. Why would “unhealthy and bad” water cause people to die?

Areas of Strength:

Your thesis answers the prompt and gives the reader a clear idea for what to expect in the essay. To push your thesis to the next level, could you be more specific with your three reasons?

You organize your first two paragraphs very well. I like how the topic sentence of your body paragraph directly aligns with the first reason in your thesis statement.




Why is this a good example of prioritized feedback? 

It focuses the two areas of strength the student does best: thesis and organization, and it focuses on the two areas of growth that will have the biggest impact on the writing: integrating evidence and analyzing evidence.

This feedback incorporates each of the 7 Hallmarks. It is student-friendly because it is personalized. It is actionable because it directly references the student work and includes actionable questions for the student. It is goal-oriented in that the feedback is tied back to the prompt and how well the student answered it. 

Let's Review: The 7 Hallmarks of Effective feedback

Goal-oriented - Feedback on student work should be tied to specific, measurable learning goals, objectives, or standards. When giving feedback, link your comments to the expectations laid out in the assignment prompt and rubric. Directly reference the prompt and rubric components, using similar language where possible. Help students understand where they are in relation to the stated goals.

Prioritized - Feedback should be concise and focused on the areas of strength and growth that will have the greatest impact on the student's writing. It isn't feasible or advisable to provide feedback on every aspect of a student's writing. Concise, prioritized feedback is more digestible for students and easier to internalize and implement. You will have to make judgement calls on where to focus. Make your selections with the goal of the essay in mind.

Actionable - Feedback should be so specific that the student immediately knows how to take action. Your comments should clearly describe their successes and shortfalls and directly reference the student's work in order to point the student to their next steps. To  enable students to self-assess their work, ask probing questions that will spark thoughtful reflection and a new understanding for how to develop their work.

Student-friendly - Feedback should be personalized and engaging to ensure it reaches the student. To aid student acceptance of feedback, respond like a reader who is seeking to understand what the student has written. An encouraging, positive tone will go far in helping students accept your feedback and apply it to future work. Be sure to use language that is clear and not too technical.

Ongoing, Consistent and Timely - To be effective, feedback must also be ongoing, consistent, and timely. This means that students need ample opportunities to use feedback and that feedback must be accurate, trustworthy and stable. When feedback isn’t timely, students are disengaged and demotivated. As a Graider, it is your job to meet all deadlines and ensure you deliver consistent, calibrated feedback.