Minimal Marking

A Sane Method for Dealing with Errors

The minimal marking process helps students recognize, diagnose, and correct their own typical errors, without overburdening the instructor or overwhelming students by marking every error in a project. It also reduces the impatience instructors generally feel when they encounter students' errors repeatedly throughout the work. This activity is taken with permission from M.A. Syverson's Learning Record web site.

The teaching tip

Minimal marking allows students to work toward their goals of writing that is clean and error free. While I do not allow sentence-level errors (or their correction) to affect the project's evaluation, students cannot receive credit for completing the project until the minimal marking has been completed. I remind students that errors do have an effect on readers.

The teacher's process:

  1. Bracket a section of the student's work, usually from 2 paragraphs up to a page, that is fairly representative. I usually do not use either the first or last page unless the piece is short.
  2. Read that section closely for sentence-level errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. In the margin next to each line of that section, put a check mark for each sentence-level error in that line. I usually also put the number of the main section of the style handbook for the class next to the check mark, to help students locate the general source of the error (for example, punctuation). To make this reference work easier, I have photocopied the table of contents of the style handbook to refer to as I am doing the minimal marking. The style handbook reference number also makes it easier for me to remember which problems I've marked when students return their corrections.
  3. Either before or after minimal marking, I make the usual comments on the ideas, reasoning, organization, supporting evidence, and so on for the project as a whole. In either case, I am much less impatient about the errors I encounter, since I can disregard them at that point. If you are grading the project, you will probably want to record the grade for the project in pencil, to be inked when the student has completed the corrections.
  4. Return the project to the student, together with the student handout, below, and assign the minimal marking corrections.
  5. When the student returns the corrections together with the original page, you can quickly check to be sure all of the corrections have been successfully made, and credit the project. This takes me less than 5 minutes each. If the student has missed some of the corrections, simply circle the number of those sentences, and return the page for further revision.

From: M. A. Syverson, adapted from Haswell, R. (1983). Minimal marking. College English, 45(6), 600-604.