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.

2006 March 1 download 296

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.