Use Criteria to Grade Writing

A checklist can make grading simpler.

A checklist makes grading simpler.

What was I looking for when I sat down to grade papers? At the beginning, it was simple: Was there a title? An opening sentence? Details that fit the theme? A closing sentence? Then other concerns would then creep in: spelling, grammar, title, neatness. What criteria did I need to guide me? What if the opening sentence was weak?

I began with the basics. I listed more specific expectations for the writing, such as:  An eye-catching opening; A solid closing; Interesting and variety of details; Variety of vocabulary; Applies punctuation regularly. Then, I posted the criteria in the classroom.

Whenever there was a minute, the students and I practiced the different criteria until they understood what was expected. Regarding spelling: During the early writing experiences, I told them how to spell a word, therefore, it was left off the criteria list. (See blog Improve That Spelling!)

Next, for each criterion, I ranked its use with a sliding scale.
5: Yes!     4: Most of the time     3: Uses somewhat     2: Doesn’t use at all

With the criteria to guide me and the ranking clear, I made a six column list.

The left column was their names.

The key words of the criteria were in the next 5 columns. Based on the above list, I used letters to indicate the word:

‘O’ opening, ‘C’ closing, ‘D’ details, ‘V’ vocabulary,’P’  punctuation.


Presto! As I read the papers, I filled in the columns for each student – ranking each student’s use of the criteria.

The grade was based on the total of their ranking numbers.

25 would mean a perfect paper ‘A’

20 meant the student was doing well ‘B’

15 was keeping up ‘C’

10 meant the student needed help ‘D’


Any totals in between were adjusted, such as ‘A-‘ or ‘C+’

The benefit? Grading was faster and more consistent.  (Yes, adjust your criteria to fit your students’ grade level and the assignment.)

Grade During Classtime

By looking over the shoulders of the students as they work, you can begin the grading process. Later, when the assignments are completed, part of your grades are done


Before the students begin writing, list the parts of the assignment you are grading where they can see them. For instance: title, opening and closing sentences, one good detail. (4 items) Discuss what you expect so they know how to get the best grade.

The  items to be graded/ranked might be:

TITLE Uses an eye-catching title.

OPENING Uses an opening that catches one’s interest.

DETAIL Uses at least one well-described detail.

CLOSING  Uses a closing that completes the ideas or draws it to a close.


Make a simple chart for your clipboard. List the students’ names down the left side. List the items to be observed across the top. (A rubric here!)

Identify your ranking numbers. I used:    3- Yes! Got it!    2- Sorta got it    1-Not quite yet


While they write, walk around the room and pause by each student. Read what has been written.  Rank what you can observe – it will depend on how long they have been writing.  Ranking can also be done when you are grading the papers. (See blog Grade Writing Fast!)

There may not be time to finish ranking, but you will have a head start!

After you finish and total their rankings, you can decide what the totals mean. (Change your expectations as needed. If the students are new to the work, there may be no perfect score of 12.)


Other items you might rank:

TOPIC   Keeps on the topic.
BOOKENDS   The opening and closing are similar.
EXAMPLES   Gives more than one detail.
VOCABULARY  Uses interesting vocabulary.

NOTE  Avoid a ‘zero’ as it is impossible for a student to overcome a ‘0’ when there are so few numbers to add.

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Grade Writing – FAST!


Students who write often will improve, but grading those papers is time consuming! To jump the hurdle of time, consider this method.

1. The students must know the criteria or expectations before they write. Keep it simple.

For instance, 1 Eye Catching Opening + 2 Interesting Details + 1 Fabulous Closing = 4 criteria) Spelling will or will not be graded. Let them know ahead of time.

2. Identify four areas on the floor while you sit in a chair. I moved from left to right.  Glance over each paper quickly, then toss it into an area based on that first impression. My stacks from left to right stood for: WOW, Well done, Fine, and Okay.  

3. Read over each stack and see if the number of criteria being met is similar. (For me, WOW meant 4 criteria were met. Fine meant 2 are met.) Switch the papers around between the stacks as you reread them. I now had the A’s, B’s, etc.

4. Put a positive comment related to the criteria. (Great opening!  You got my attention!)

5. Put the grade at the bottom so other students cannot easily see it.


Using specific criteria helped me give more writing assignments. In grading, I just looked for the criteria being met. Different assignments had different criteria. Spelling can be a grade by itself. (See the blog, Improve That Spelling!)

Keep them writing.  Keep the grading easy. Enjoy your evenings.


A Writing Process for Beginners

For the young child or beginner, make writing an easily repeated process. Each day, one component is the focus. Illustrating adds depth of understanding.

Day 1   Introduce the theme with a short film, a slide show, reading from a book, or a discussion question such as, What do we know about dinosaurs? Keep the theme highly interesting, simple and focused. Next, ask for words they think they will need. Make a list. Post it where the children can see it.

Use a title that is the theme. For example, ‘Dinosaurs’.

Day 2   Organize for the Ideas
Draw a row of boxes on the board. (Three to six. You know them best and more can be added.)
Above the first box write the topic – ‘Dinosaurs’.  Inside the box, write ‘Fact.’
Ask for ideas that are general such as when they lived.
‘Lived long ago.’
‘Not here now.’
‘Only bones now’

The second box is for Looks. Students use the word list from the first day to describe the dinosaurs. List the words they suggest under the box.
‘huge’    ‘gray’    ‘green’    ‘ferocious!’     ‘scary’

The other boxes might have these words written in them.
‘Food’     ‘Home’     ‘Size’     ‘Name’
Under each box word, have the students choose the words that describe the detail. Allow words not on the list.

For the last box, use a closing idea. Put the word ‘Ending’ in the box. Ideas to put in the box.
‘I like them.’
‘Where did they go?’

Day 3   Once the boxes are done – With each box having its own topic, and the details listed underneath, the students are ready to think of sentences!  The word list becomes simple sentences.

Example for ‘Looks’ they had: huge  gray  green  ferocious
The sentences might be:  A dinosaur looks huge.   It can be gray or green.   It is very ferocious!

Encourage writers to add their own details. (For spelling ideas, use blog Improve That Spelling!)

Put the sentences on the board.

Day 4   Students write the title, and copy the sentences they like.   Some students may only have one or two sentences copied.  As they become familiar with this process and become successful, they will speed up.

Day 5    Finish writing and create a picture. Or, provide a variety of pictures for them to color.


This focus on a writing process gives your students a pattern for successful writing. And, you have a great set of papers to grade!  [See blog Grade Writing Fast!)

Awesome summer cabbage.

An awesome summer cabbage.  A great descriptive writing activity.





The ABCD’s of Kindness

This is one of those ideas that sprang into existence with a simple statement of praise – “Kevin, you deserve a big thank you from the class!  You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty.”   Looking at the blank faces, it was clear that no one had a clue as to what the phrase meant. Launching into a brief explanation, I put the words on the board and looking at the first letters, an idea was born:  the ABCD’s of Kindness. Above and Beyond the Call Of Duty

The class contributed their ideas of how to be kind. Cards would be made with the words around the outer edge as the ‘logo’.  An enterprising young lady offered to design the card on her computer.  Copies were run off on slightly heavy paper.  As a class, we decided on values of one point, five, ten and twenty points. The teacher wrote the numbers on them.  The students took them home to design and color.  Last, the cards were laminated by the teacher and trimmed by the students. 

With the students committed and excited, it was only two weeks until a huge set of ABCD cards was completed.

The guideline was simple: If the teacher saw someone doing something kind, then points would be awarded with a card. A class discussion ensued to determine the amount of points related to the kindness involved. Much of this evolved over time as we returned to the idea for discussion and update.  After a few weeks,  the entire process was in place.  The students eventually joined in identifying kindnesses themselves.

Toward the end of the year the question arose, how would these points benefit the students who had earned them?  It was clear the teacher wasn’t trading them for dollar bills!

The final decision was an auction. Students and teacher brought in items.  On one of the last days of school, the auction was held. And, an interesting event took place.  One very thoughtful student had no ABCD cards. The class explained that he always gave them away.  And so it happened that the greatest act of selfless kindness received the privilege of choosing the first auction item.

The year ended. Although the cards were used other years, nothing seemed as wonderful as that first year when the whole class joined in an effort to acknowledge and reward their classmates who went ‘Above and Beyond the Call of Duty’ to be kind to their friends.

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One Minute to a Clean Classroom

A Teacher’s Dream – a room that is neat and clean.
At the day’s end, a classroom can be made clean and neat in a hurry!   Upfront planning with the students is well worth it.

What I did.
First,  the class and I identified a list of clean-up jobs that took less than a minute.  The details for each job were clarified by the students. If the work was loner than two minutes, then two students were assigned. The jobs were posted where students could read them.

On Monday, names were drawn and students chose their job for the week.  A student wasn’t allowed to choose the same job twice in one quarter. A few extra jobs allowed the last child to have a choice.

At the end of each day, a big deal was made out of starting the Clean-up Minute. Everyone was asked to look toward their job and think about what they would do. Then we watched the second hand until it reached the twelve. Ready!  Set!  Go!

When someone was done early, they offered help by calling out,  “Does anyone need me?”

As the minute ended, the teacher counted the last ten seconds aloud while everyone returned [Ran?] to their seats.  Admiration and pride for contributing to a great looking classroom was the final step.  (No criticism of anyone or anything. Joy is the purpose.)

When the last child flew out the door for home,  the room was beautiful – a joy to behold.  For me, this made teaching a lot easier.

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P.S.  The custodians loved this, too!

BONUS: During the day, the children were more alert to keeping the classroom clean and picked up.

Expand a Lesson: 15 to 45 Minutes

How many times have you faced a lesson too short for the time allotted?  This technique expands the lesson by heavily involving the students at the beginning and end of the lesson.
OVERVIEW: First, the students are challenged  to contribute to an overview. Next,the teacher teaches the topic/shows the film/reads the book, or the students read the assignment, etc. At the end of the class time, the students shared their ideas that fill in the overview.

VIGNETTE: A substitute for the music class found there was only 15 minute video on Bach for a forty-five minute class. “What do I do for the rest of the time?” she pleaded. I knew next to nothing about Bach. A teaching process was needed.

I suggested that she put the words ‘Bach’s Life’ is put in the middle of the board with a question at the top: “What can be learned about Bach’s life?”  Next, ask the students to contribute key ideas. Write them evenly spaced around ‘Bach’s Life.’ The ideas include: where born; when born; parents; marriage; famous for; problems; when died; etc. The open-ended beginning question kept them focused. [See 1008.] 

While watching the video, students were asked to record keys words/facts as they watched.

At the end of the video,  the teacher asked for their answers. As time ran out, the students just spoke their answers.

“Why do we remember Bach today?” ended the lesson. When the class was over, they still had ideas to contribute. Success was in the process, and the substitute succeeded.

NOTE: This diagram has many names. Two are a ‘concept map’ or a ‘mind map’.

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The Love of Teaching

My first college education professor asked all of us this question,  “Why are you choosing to be a teacher?” One my classmates answered, “I want to be a teacher because I love children.”  Boom! The instructor’s firm response was, in essence, “Loving the children doesn’t do it. You have to know what you’re doing.”  Now that I am on the other side of decades of teaching, here’s my take on it:  “When the heart of the student is touched by the love of the teacher, true learning takes place.”  Real learning for a student happens when a teacher appreciates the child for who he is.

VIGNETTE. A sixth grade student loved disrupting my class.  One day, as the class lined up in the room to leave, he decided it was time to teach me a lesson. Putting up his fists and taking a fighting stance, he offered to beat me up. [Mind you, he was a shade taller than I was!] That put the class on pause. My humor kicked in. I carefully copied his pose making sure he knew what I was doing. I set myself up as he was- fist up, feet spread, chin out – sighing deeply, I said with exaggerated sadness, “I know I’m going to lose, but if it makes you happy, I’m willing to take you on.” He burst into laughter – as did the class.  I don’t recommend this teaching technique, but letting him save face after putting us both into a lose-lose situation saved us.  At last the classroom was no longer a place for him to demand attention. He knew I wasn’t trying to win, I just wanted to teach. And, he realized that I loved him – just as he was.


Red rose…love.