Step Away from the Red Pen - Part 4: Choices in Feedback

I hope my daughter never reads this post until she is a parent herself! She will uncover one of my favorite parenting techniques:  offering choices. It helps diffuse tension while also creating agency. Let me explain. One of our biggest challenges at home is getting ready in the morning, specifically selecting what to wear. She loves to wear her brother’s too-big-for-her clothes or his hand-me-downs that are often stained and torn. She also has a favorite pair of hole-y soccer pants that, if it were up to her, she would wear every day. I am not always okay with this since it goes against our golden rule of outfit choosing: you must look like somebody loves you. So, to follow our rule while also supporting my daughter’s individuality and independence, I suggest some outfit choices. 

Image credit: DovahFerret

Feedback in writing can take a similar approach. Unlike corrective feedback, we might offer choices to a writer so that they can hold onto their writing individuality and independence. For example, to connect back to an earlier blog post, instead of saying “Because you added dialogue you are ready to add inner thinking,” we might offer a choice. It may sound like: “Because you added dialogue you are ready to add inner thinking OR develop the heart of your story. Which would you like to learn about and try?”

This simple, yet powerful choice offering puts the decision making process squarely in the hands of the writer himself, yet includes choices that we know will develop stronger writers and writing. Traditionally, writers have had choice in topic (if any choice at all). Choice, however, should be given throughout the writing process. We can share possible choices in structure, elaboration, and grammar. Yes, grammar. This is not to say that grammar itself is a choice, of course, we use grammar as style. However, it is the writer’s choice as to when to make different grammatical choices. 

If you are used to correcting grammar, rather than offering grammar choices, the chart below will help out with punctuation and sentence structure.


Grammar and Choice Feedback Menu


Grammar skill



Use an exclamation point sparingly. Too much excitement ends up making nothing feel exciting. Vary your periods and exclamation points for the right effect.

When reworking sentences, you may want to try some different comma rules out:

  • Around an appositive (inserted bonus information mid sentence)
  • After a transitional word or phrase
  • In a trio of adjectives, using a comma between them
Sentence structure

Simple sentences can be very effective for stating something simply and clearly.

Compound sentences are effective when you are looking to create a sense of balance or contrast between two (or more) equally-important pieces of information.

A complex sentence is most effective when you want to create the effect of long, flowing, wordy language.


(From Feedback that Moves Writers Forward, Corwin, 2017)


Our feedback does not have to be all about studying student writing and making one next step suggestion. It can be offering more than one writing technique and letting that writer choose when and where to use it. Choices, in fact, grow ownership and agency in writing. Isn’t that a dream come true?


Patty McGee