Colour Coordination: Highlighting those Skills

BossI am obsessed with highlighters! I never use to be, I could teach a whole lesson without the words ‘grab a highlighter’ but now this is not the case. Why? Because they are the best thing to help students focus on the task at hand. Now as many of you know I am a huge Inner Drive and Bradley Busch fan and find their research into metacognition extremely interesting OIP (1)(see The Science of Learning if you would like to know more).  However they do not advocate the use of highlighting as part of effective learning. I wish to disagree. Here are some ways that using highlighters can be very effective for learning:

Assessment strategy:


  • Students highlight the key words from the question in their answer. This will guarantee they have focused specifically on the words in the question and have adapted their essay answer to what the examiners have asked. An excellent or top mark essay will use the words in the question throughout an answer. Note: whilst students might think they have answered the question, only by highlighting the key words will they know for sure.
  • Give an essay and remove the question. Can students work out the question by highlighting the key words that are used throughout?
  • Highlight A01 and A02 in different colours.
  • Students use the examiner’s mark scheme to self assess their own essays by highlighting the relevant criteria that applies to their work.(See Improve Your Essays Using Mark Schemes for further help).78637489_2556535761294327_7496363354965934080_o


  • Using  general or whole class feedback given by the teacher, highlight your essay/ work where the comments apply to your answer. Then make the relevant changes.
  • Rather than writing the same thing throughout when marking a piece of work/ essay use highlights to draw attention to different things e.g. spelling in one colour, misunderstandings in another.


  • Different colours to differentiate work into C/B/A grade information
  • Highlight key words/ names/ ideas
  • Highlight exam board specifications in three colours: green (good to go I know), yellow (sort of know) pink (panic no idea) 121594890_2833204380294129_4732505121492207774_o


  • Read a section of text and highlight the key points/ names/ words (selective highlighting).
  • Find and highlight the mistakes in an essay

But what do my students say?

  1. “Highlighters for key words are beneficial”.
  2. “Highlighters are extremely useful and make a page of notes much easier to learn”.
  3. “I highlight my work in different colours because it helps the different points stand out. On my work I highlight names, books, quotes and key information as this helps me in revision”.
  4. “Highlighting is great in moderation – mindless highlighting is worthless. Must be focused e.g. on key words”.
  5. “Highlighters help with structuring essays”.

Thank you to all my students who contributed their comments.

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