To write criteria is to write a set of questions. The questions help explain what is expected.

Each question relates to the topic. Each question points to an idea.

The critical thinking skills that use criteria are: decision making, productive thinking, and planning.

Improve Writing with Student Critiques


It can look like a hodgepodge of ideas, but with direction writing improves.

All together - beauty.


NOTE: Find a way to put written work up front so all can read along. (In the olden days, I made a transparency and used the overhead. 🙂 )

To begin, I wrote my own piece and put it up– no editing, some proofing.  I casually asked the class to read it.

Then I read it to them and laughed at some of my mistakes. (This was to encourage them not to turn mistakes into ‘I can’t write.’)


I then stated that this piece needed some work, and I was going to critique it.

(NOTE: A critique is different from criticism. The purpose of a critique is to discern what is good and why; and what could be improved and why. Criticism, however, does not tend to focus on improvement and can leave a person feeling helpless.)


First, I posted a list of sentence stems that pointed toward compliments. After reading them aloud, I used them to talk about my piece.


“The topic was worth reading because…”

“The title fit the piece because….”

“The beginning was clear/good because….”

“This (phrase, sentence, word) was good because…”

“The ending was clear/good because…”


Next, these sentence stems were posted, read aloud and applied to my writing.


“The topic needed to be…. (clearer, more interesting, more focused) …because…

“The title didn’t fit the piece because…”  “I think that this title is better…”

“The beginning would be better if…. because…”

“If you add this (word, phrase, sentence) it will be better/more interesting because…)

“The ending would be better if…. because….”

At this point, I rewrote my piece with everyone watching and my talking my way through the update. (Students did not do this when they had their turns.)

After the next class writing activity, I asked if anyone wanted to critique their own paper. As a guideline, only three compliments and one improvement was allowed. (This was to encourage their willingness to share.)

As their comfort level increased, they were allowed to critique each other’s writing pieces. But only if! the student who wrote the piece, asked for class input.


VIGNETTE. Elise’s work was short and plain. As she listened to the other students’ critiques, I noticed that her writing was improving.  One day, she excitedly raised her hand and volunteered her paper.  She said, “I want to hear what is good about my paper, and get some help to make it better.”

Elise, you made my day!


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.)