Writing Rubrics

Writing is one of the most important skills we teach; and grading a writing assignment is part of the teaching and learning process.

A writing rubric will make your grading more objective and assist your students to improve.  These six steps will make the process more rewarding and productive.

Step One: Decide how much the assignment is worth

Writing takes lots of practice and effort; and it doesn't happen with one or two assignments. Students need lots of opportunity to write. However, if we give full grades to every piece of writing done, there will be little time left for any other educational pursuits. However, some students may avoid putting in much effort if their work is NOT graded.

Therefore, I have often assigned a weight of 5 points for a short assignment. It is worth it for the student to take the time to earn those five points for submitting well written paragraphs.

If the paper is one or two pages, it might be worth 25 points. A full paper is worth 100 points. It helps the student understand how much effort is expected.

Fully graded papers require planning, writing, and proof-reading on the part of the student. A writing rubric will give you a tool to measure and grade that work.

Step Two: How much weight should be given to mechanics?

Mechanics generally counts for twenty to fifty percent of a 100 point paper. Most of the time, I have used 30% as the weight given to mechanics; but there may be instances when you want to increase or decrease this focus.

On shorter assignments, there is much less focus on mechanics. Glaring errors that are beneath the expected level may prompt a re-write. Otherwise, I note any repeat mistakes, and take that as an opportunity to review correct mechanics with the student. These repeat errors also make their way into the rubric to encourage the student to self-correct them.

Step Three: Create Your Rubric
Here is an easy strategy is to develop an effective writing rubric with ten criteria. List ten items you want the student to achieve. For example, it might include these ten criteria:
Grading Criteria:

  • Well organized points
  • Introductory paragraph
  • Original ideas
  • Topic sentences in each paragraph
  • Meaning is clear (no awkward, hard to read sentences)
  • Stimulates the reader's interest
  • Concluding paragraph
  • Correct sentences (avoid fragments or run-on sentences)
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling

In this example, the last three items are related to mechanics. You can easily make this area count for more or less weight.

The example above is just that. There are many other criteria you could add. Others that I have used:

  • Variety in sentence structure
  • Thesis statement
  • Bibliography
  • Neatness and appearance
  • Level of vocabulary used
  • Use of transitions between paragraphs
  • Pictures and tables
  • Footnotes or endnotes
  • Completed on time

After you have used this technique several times, it will become easier to tailor the rubric to your students.

Step Four: Provide the list of criteria before they begin writing.
If the student recognizes the grading criteria, it will help direct their writing efforts. I have even had the student self-grade on each criteria before they submitted their paper. Quess what? They were inspired to self-edit a little more. This activity also helps students learn to follow directions.

Step Five: Read the whole paper through once before starting to grade

For your first reading, your main concern is the meaning of the paper and his or her organization of ideas. If it is well organized and communicates something of importance, the first step is passed.

What do you do if they do not pass this step? Give the paper back to be re-written. A poorly organized paper does not communicate. For an older student, there is no reason to continue the grading process; it must be re-done.

For those students struggling with organization, extra assignments need to be given to accomplish this skill. This skill should be introduced in upper-elementary grades. By middle school the skill of organizing points should be evident in their writing.

While this may seem harsh to some students, it is actually to their benefit. Poorly organized papers are a major problem for high school and college professors. There is simply no direction one can give to assist a student to improve their writing until they can organize points.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that you can continue to focus on this skill until it is developed. Fortunately, there are tools available to make this learning process both effective and enjoyable.

If, however, your student's paper does have organized points, it is time to proceed to the next step.

Step Six: Assign points to the criteria
Here is a scale that can be used for each of the criteria on the list:

9 Points - "B" The criteria was met.

8 Points - "C" The criteria was almost met, but improvement is needed.

7 Points - "D" The criteria was not met and is below the level expected.

6 Points - "F" The student failed to incorporate that criteria at all. (In rare cases, such as not including a bibliography when one is on the list, I might give a 0. However, I seldom give less than six points, as a 60% is an F grade.)
10 Points - "A" The student not only met the criteria, he or she excelled. To earn all ten points, you should be able to highlight specific parts of the paper that demonstrate that student accomplished more than expected.

While the first reading enables you to assess the organization, each additional reading allows you to assess two or three other criteria. In the end, you will have read through the paper three or four times. This allows better feedback than is often given in a classroom where the instructor has a stack of papers to grade. Careful reading produces specific feedback which helps the student learn. And considering how long it takes the student to produce their writing, it deserves the effort of focused reading.

For mechanics,  following scale may be helpful:

A - Less than one error per page
B - Less than two errors per page
C - Less than four errors per page
D - Less than six errors per page
F - Six or more errors per page.

Since the rubric has a total of ten criteria, assign ten points to each.  Then add up all the points. There you have it! An objective grade on a 100 point scale is produced.

However, the student not only has a grade that is truly reflective of their paper, they also have a roadmap to improve their next writing.


Karen Newell is the author of Write On: The Kid Friendly, Mother Pleasing, Gentle Way to Learn to Write.  She has free downloads of several different writing rubrics are available at Kid Friendly Homeschool Curriculum.

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