Essay grading is a time-consuming task that every writing teacher would like to see made simpler. If you change your mindset about grading and make a few decisions about your grading system it’s possible to take back some time. These tips will help you simplify the grading process for expository writing and let go of things that don’t matter.
Essay Grading on Long Car Rides
The only thing I don’t like about teaching writing is essay grading. Essay grading takes so long and the giant stack of papers that you get from students is just too much to take. I would often grade essays on long car rides. On a car ride, I couldn’t avoid the boring and time-consuming task for very long. There were fewer distractions to get in my way. But it was still my personal time outside of school.
Do You Want Easier Expository Writing Essay Grading?
Have you spent your personal time on essay grading? It sucks to have to spend time on school work when you should be able to spend that time on what you want. It takes some work on the front end, but it is possible to make the grading process easier.
What is the Key to Faster Essay Grading?
Essay grading is going to take time, but my goal is that it will take less time when you implement some of these tips. The secret to faster essay grading is to create a grading system that works well for you. We use systems and processes to make so many parts of life easier and grading shouldn’t be any different. As we learn and change our systems and processes shift too. There is no instant fix for essay grading unless you simply toss out the papers and give everyone a 100%. You can take some of the ideas I share with you here and start to build a faster and more efficient essay grading process for yourself.
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Tips for Easier Essay Grading
Let’s get started on creating an easier expository essay grading process. These tips for essay grading are some of the ones that I think work the best for expository or informational writing. I’ve broken these tips into a few categories to make the information easier to wrap your head around. It could also help you locate tips in a particular area of essay grading. The ideas you try first may not work well for you, which is okay. Come back to this article to pick out some other ideas to try.
Essay Grading Before the Final Draft
You can start grading student work before they turn in their final draft. You don’t have to be stuck under a massive pile of papers. Here are a few ways you can get ahead of grading.
Better Revising and Editing Before Essay Grading
I often feel like we tell our students the expectations we have for revising and editing and then leave them to it. I often did it myself. I would assign work without teaching them the details of how to do it. Then I was surprised when my students turned in papers that were confusing and full of errors.
Give students more guidance during the revising and editing stages of writing. Provide them with clear steps, frequent check-ins, and feedback to help them learn to revise and edit successfully. Fast, focused, and frequent feedback will help them grow as writers. Students care about revising and editing suggestions while they are working on their papers so they can improve their papers and grades.
Things to remember during this process.
- You will not be reading everyone’s paper, just parts, and paragraphs.
- You do not need to write down anything, give your students that responsibility.
- If students haven’t done something on their own yet then they probably don’t understand it or know how to do it, so add some whole or small group lessons into your plan.
Need any ideas for revising and editing? Here are a few articles I’ve written about it.
How to Empower Your Students to be Strong Writers with Essay Revising
4 Ways to Easily Help Students Boost Their Understanding of Revising vs Editing
Easily Teach Editing to Your Students With These 23 Powerful Tips
Start Essay Grading During Writing Conferences
Writing conferences during writer’s workshop is standard in most classrooms. While you give your students time to write you meet with a few students each day and help them with their writing. Since you are already taking the time to read, mark, and talk about areas they can improve their work you have basically already graded a paragraph or two. While you are talking mark up their paper with suggestions. Then when they turn in their final draft you might already have several paragraphs graded. You simply compare the final draft to the previous ones you’ve marked to see if they’ve made corrections.
Essay Grading Through a Self-Check
Your students should have a rubric long before the final draft is due. When you have your students turn in the final draft have them fill out the rubric as well. They should spend time looking at their final draft and determining if they think they will get the highest grade possible or not. Then give them one last chance to make changes. Then there are fewer corrections that you need to make.
Essay Grading with Highlighters
Expository writing is complex. To make it simpler it’s a good idea to focus on just a few of the skills students are trying to learn over the whole school year. Before students turn in their final draft have them highlight the skill(s) you’ve been focused on for this assignment. The skills could be citing sources, supporting evidence, or key points. Then focus on grading these parts of the papers. Let other errors go and focus their grade on the skill they are trying to master. Let students know that you will not be marking other errors, just the focus skills.
Essay Grading Reflection Activity
When students are ready to turn in their final draft, have them work on some reflection first. They can write a quick list of corrections and changes they’ve made from their first draft. This simple activity gives them a chance to reflect and it’s metacognitive. You get a quick look at how they’ve grown as writers, which can make grading easier. If you are concerned that students won’t take this activity seriously offer a few bonus points if they do this well.
Plan for Essay Grading
Time is always against us. That’s why teachers take grading home, they simply don’t have enough time during school. These tips are intended to help you plan so you have more time and are prepared for how much grading you will do.
Essay Grading During Movies
If you show movies in your classroom be strategic and make a plan around them. Look at the calendar of when you plan to have essays due and make the next day a movie day. Imagine if you had a few more hours in class for essay grading because you planned ahead.
Plan How Much Essay Grading You Will Have to Do.
Essay grading is necessary and a time-consuming task. Take a look at your calendar at the beginning of the year and decide how many essays you want students to complete for a grade. Put them on your calendar. Having a plan like this will prepare you for how much grading you will need to do. Too much or too little wouldn’t be good for anyone. If you need some help becoming a curriculum mapper read this.
Don’t Accept Late Work
This seems harsh, but hopefully, by having a late work policy you won’t have to implement it that often. At my last school if students turned in late work the highest grade they could get was 50%. The students knew the policy and it helped to keep them on track most of the time because getting 50% for the same amount of work and watching your grade go down stunk.
There are always acceptions to this rule such as IEPs, family emergencies, and sickness. Also, if a struggling student came to talk BEFORE the due date then I rewarded their self-advocacy by coming up with an alternate plan together.
Prepare Yourself for Essay Grading
How you are doing is an important part of essay grading. If you aren’t in a good place to start a big task like this then it’s going to be harder and longer. Let’s review a few quick ways to prepare yourself.
- Grab your favorite pens
- Know what time of day your brain works best for this task and plan for it.
- Use a comments bank for digital grading so you aren’t writing the same thing.
- Limit distractions around you.
- Set a timer and race against it for each paper so you don’t linger on a paper too long.
- Grade essays before easier tasks because you will always find another thing to grade first.
Essay Grading Tips for Marking Papers
You are probably tired of writing the same comment over and over again. It takes time to tell students all of their errors. But you don’t need to tell them all their errors on every single paper. This is where you can save tons of time, but it will take practice to get used to it.
- KeyCode or Comment Code
Have you heard of a key code or comment code? It’s a paper of the common marks you make on an essay. Each item might be represented by a letter or number. When you come across a run-on sentence you write 3 instead of a “run-on sentence” each time. You will be writing fewer comments on each paper. Some teachers like to use highlighters to help them mark parts more noticeably too.
- Mark it Three Times
Don’t repeat the same comment throughout the whole paper. Mark the first few and they tell the student to check the rest of the paper. Some teachers have a rule of three. But pick a number that works for you and stick to it.
- A Check Marks the Line
Write a check next to the lines that have a problem and let your students find the problem themselves. This puts the responsibility on them and makes less work for you.
- Use Rubrics Effectively
If you use a rubric or checklist then just circle or underline the errors you see rather than write a comment.
- Not Ready to Publish
Return papers that are not ready for publication. If students hand you a paper that is just a mess return it. Don’t spend time fixing every error for them. Tell them it’s not ready for publication and it will be a zero until they fix and resubmit it. This method will make your grading life easier and give your students more responsibility.
Essay Grading Like the Most Experienced Teachers
Let’s talk about some tips and tricks from the most experienced teachers. Isn’t it great that we can learn quickly what these teachers spent their careers perfecting? They’ve got some great tips and suggestions. The biggest tip is that these teachers have learned to let go. Prepare your mind to let go and you will get back time and sanity in return.
Limit Length for Essay Grading
Usually, my 4th-6th grade students want to write the shortest paper possible. My question for them is usually if they have answered the question fully or written all the important information. But there are always students who want to write everything and I can’t figure out what a story about their dog has to do with the topic. Limiting the length will give you less to grade but will also challenge your students to be more concise with their writing. Writing can start to become too wordy and confuse the reader. By having students cut out unimportant information to limit their length they are learning how to determine what information is important and be more concise with their words.
Essay Grading Isn’t Required for Every Assignment
You are allowed to have your students practice writing without grading it or making it a huge project. The best way for students to learn to write is to write. The more writing they get done the more they will learn. If you feel like your students need motivation to put in their full effort here are a few ideas.
- Pick high-interest topics
- Let students pick their topics
- Give a participation grade
- Give a completion grade
- Have a classmate grade it.
Specific Skills Essay Grading
You can pick one skill or choose Focus Correction Areas (FCAs). Either way when you sit down to grade your students a good portion of their grade is going to come from mastering the specific skills you asked them to work on.
FCAs are 3-4 skills you are asking your students to pay close attention to. You want to be sure to let them know how many points each skill is worth. You can also simply let them know that you will be grading one skill. Have them highlight that skill in their writing and let most of the grade come from that. It should take you one read and very little marking. If it’s full of grammar and spelling errors you can still take away points, but you don’t have to mark everything.
Essay Grading for Content
You can choose to grade for the content of their writing. This means that you are looking for factual information that makes sense, and teaches you something. Read through their papers and consider the content only. If you see grammar and spelling errors keep tally marks on a sticky note and simply take away a few points. Let the majority of their grade come from writing the content well.
Group Projects Instead of Essay Grading
Assign group grades and group writing projects to your students. Let your students help each other. Wouldn’t it be great if they worked in groups of three or four? You cut your grading by 75% and students can support each other. If you want some group writing projects I’ve got you covered. Check them out here:
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What is the History of Halloween?
What’s the History of Valentine’s Day?
Develop Your Essay Grading System
Now it’s time for you to give some of these grading ideas a try in your classroom. See which ones work for you and your students to take back some control and time. My final tip for you is that when you are trying to determine if you should give students a 3 or 4, a B or B+, or are torn between two grades, scale up. Give your students credit for completing the work, putting in full effort, and turning it in on time. Don’t stress over which grade to give them when it’s so close.
Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry
I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing. Here is an entire lesson for FREE. My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets making this the perfect lesson for your classroom.