I work in China, where a typical university class consists of anywhere from thirty-five to sixty students. Most of the classes I’ve taught have about forty-five students in them, and that presents me with more than a few problems to overcome. Chief among them, as an IELTS teacher who tends to focus a lot on writing, is getting the marking done. There’s nothing worse than coming home on Friday evening and knowing that you have a massive stack of essays to mark before Monday.

So how do you handle that much marking? I’ll share a few tips with you.

Don’t Correct EverythingMarking an essay

This first tip is really important and should become obvious to you after you’ve been teaching for a while. If your students are giving you an essay based upon the IELTS writing exams, then it’ll be at least a hundred and fifty or two hundred and fifty words long. There are probably a great many mistakes, and a bunch more things that could’ve been improved. If, like me, you have four groups of forty-five students, you could spend weeks slogging through all that work.

Instead, focus on correcting errors on recently learned language points. I cannot stress this enough. Just look for what you’ve been teaching recently, and catch those mistakes. Say you’ve been working on the passive voice and you’ve give your students a task 1 essay to write. Don’t worry about word order and punctuation; just make sure you catch the passive voice errors. That saves you time but also reinforces the stuff that is most important to the students – recent lessons.

Just remember to tell your students that this is how you mark their work. They should know that there are uncorrected mistakes in their work, otherwise they might think everything else was perfect.

They Don’t Always Have to Write a Whole Essay

So you want to teach writing skills and give the students some feedback…? Well, they don’t always have to be writing a whole essay for you. Sometimes it is more useful to work on a single part of an essay. In class, teach them how to write an introduction and then get them to do that for homework. You can then simply mark the introduction, which is much shorter and easier than going through an entire essay. It will also give the students something more concrete to focus on when they get their corrections. Looking at a whole essay full of suggested revisions and scribbled remarks can be daunting. But just one paragraph? That’s easy to understand.

This works, too, for other individual parts. You can ask them to write topic sentences or give them a sample essay and ask them to add a conclusion.

Group Work and Peer Checking 

Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavour. If you want your students to get some valuable writing practice, you can still have them work with a partner or in a small group. In fact, in many ways this is better. Sure, it’s not real exam practice, but they can help each other catch mistakes and create better structures. But there’s another benefit for the teacher… you end up with fewer essays to mark!

Here’s how it goes: Give your students the writing assignment. Instead of having each student write one essay, they write collaboratively. They check each other’s work and then hand in a single essay. If a class of forty students does this in groups of four, you only have ten essays to mark!

Another way is to get students to mark each other’s work. They give make corrections and suggestions. This obviously has its problems; namely, the students don’t have a perfect grasp of the language and won’t catch everything. However, they will catch some mistakes. You can also review their revisions in class to make sure they’re on the right track.

Marking Just a One or Two SamplesPile of essays

Let’s say your students are practicing writing for IELTS task 2. You have dozens of students working on essays and you don’t relish marking them all. One possibility is to choose just a handful of essays (or maybe just one). You can then mark this and present the marked work to the class.

My advice would be to keep it anonymous. It can be embarrassing for a student to have their work pulled apart in front of their peers. Take the essay, type it up and correct it, and then give the marked version to all students. You can draw attention to the mistakes and suggestions. As long as the essay you have chosen is fairly representative of the class’s ability, this should prove a very valuable exercise.

Another option is to have the class actually mark the essay before you show your own corrections.

Use Technology

I don’t personally do this but I had co-workers and even bosses recommend it, and one day I may give it a shot. Instead of having students hand-write or type and print their essays, get them to e-mail a Microsoft Word document. You can then put these through automated checks for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Again, like the peer checking advice, it’s not perfect. However, it’s a quick way to catch a lot of mistakes. You can let the software do all the work, and then you just check those corrections are reasonable. If you want, you can scan the document briefly yourself for more problems.