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4 Proven Ways to Simplify Essay Grading

4 Proven Ways to Simplify Essay Grading


You can simplify essay grading using these tried-and-true methods. Stop using your personal time and get your weekends back!

Analyzing writing can provide us with valuable information that we can use to inform our instruction and provide quality feedback to our students. But as important as this process is, it can become overwhelming, especially if we teach multiple classes.

Many language arts teachers find grading writing a time-consuming task, and truthfully, it can be. Still, there are ways to streamline the process for you and your students. 

So if you’re tired of giving up your weekends to grade essays, this one’s for you.

How to Simplify Essay Grading

There are four ways I streamline my grading. My methods narrow the focus for assessment, help reduce student errors, and reduce the amount of feedback needed.

  1. Be proactive and scaffold writing assignments so students can be more independent.
  2. Offer feedback throughout the writing process.
  3. Provide a checklist for revising and editing and model how to use it.
  4. Identify key points and only grade those aspects of the essay.

Let’s look at each way in more depth…

4 Proven Ways to Simplify Essay Grading
Photo by SDI Productions

1. Be proactive and scaffold writing assignments so students can be more independent.

I always plan my writing lessons with gradual release in mind (I do, we do, you do) to ensure students have adequate instruction, examples, and practice before attempting to write.

Students benefit from scaffolding when learning any type of writing, whether it’s a smaller practice assignment or an entire essay. However, as they become more confident and independent with their writing, the scaffolds can be removed.

Some options for scaffolding a writing assignment include:

  • Provide example essays.
  • Provide partial outlines.
  • Provide sentence starters.
  • Color-code the passages and outlines.

Scaffolding will give your students more confidence in tackling a new type of writing, and it will simplify essay grading for you since they will fully understand what to do BEFORE they begin.

For more detail on how I provide scaffolding for paragraph writing with text evidence, read How to Teach Writing with a Structured Format (RACES and TIQAC).

2. Offer feedback throughout the writing process.

One of the most effective ways to simplify essay grading is to offer feedback throughout the writing process. This way, you can catch students who are off track and reroute them quickly. Also, you are using class time (not your personal time) to provide feedback.

Sometimes, we wait until after the essays have been turned in to offer feedback. However, the feedback is no longer valuable to our students when we wait this long. Then we may get upset when they don’t read it and apply it in the future. This can frustrate everyone, so we want to be proactive and avoid that.

Ways to offer feedback during the writing process:

  • Float around and read over shoulders. Stop and provide feedback as they are writing or typing. 
  • Conduct quick one-on-one writing conferences, and triage them so those needing the most help see you first. Keep conferences short and provide bite-sized feedback. Only choose a few aspects to focus on at a time.
  • Meet with small groups to conduct short mini-lessons on skills or strategies they need. Analyze their outlines or drafts beforehand and group them according to their needs.

We want our students to develop a growth mindset so they can work through challenges and value the process just as much as the final product. So prompting them to make adjustments along the way benefits everyone involved.

3. Provide a checklist for revising and editing and model how to use it.

Providing a checklist encourages students to develop independent writing skills while ensuring that you simplify essay grading for yourself. In addition, if they have a checklist to revise and edit their work, they will feel more supported and confident in their abilities.

Plus, you’ll have peace of mind because as they revise and edit, they’ll focus on the areas you identified as important.

To teach students how to revise and edit with a checklist:

  1. Make digital or print copies of the checklist accessible to students as they write.
  2. Have students take out/ open their drafts so everyone can revise and edit together.
  3. Take them through each point on the checklist. Give them a few minutes on each one so they can check their work.
  4. Guide them through this process until they can do it independently.

Teaching your students to use a checklist helps them develop an important life skill that can be applied to any task at school and in the future workplace. 

I developed an editable checklist that my students use for every essay they write. You can access this checklist and other writing materials in my Free Resource Library by joining my email list below!

4. Identify key points and only grade those aspects of the essay.

While squeezing every writing standard into one essay can be tempting, not every skill needs to be taught and assessed in one assignment.

To become proficient writers, students require a series of writing experiences with which they can practice. Therefore, a few new strategies and skills should be introduced with each new writing opportunity rather than trying to cram them all into one writing experience.

We are narrowing the focus when we only add a few new strategies and skills at a time.

How to narrow the focus for our students:

  1. Provide a rubric and review it before the writing process begins. Tell students which areas will be the focus of the writing assignment.
  2. Keep the rubric accessible to students as they write or type so they can refer to it as needed.
  3. Provide short mini-lessons on each focus area as the students need to address them in their writing (5-10 minutes per class). 
  4. Have them immediately incorporate what you’ve shown them into their writing after the mini-lessons to solidify their skills.
  5. Stick to your word and only grade the focus areas.

Narrowing the focus prevents struggling writers from being overwhelmed. Instead, it allows them to focus on a few areas and build them up. Then, once they feel confident, they’ll continue using those skills, and you can add new ones as they are ready.

Utilizing these four methods to simplify essay grading will help your blooming writers feel more confident and supported throughout the process, and it will ensure that you aren’t spending your personal time grading essays.

So try out these strategies and plan something fun for this weekend!

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Jan's File Cabinet Intermediate and Middle School Language Arts

Hello there!

I’m Jan. I’m a pet mom, an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and a MASSIVE book hoarder. My philosophy of teaching is simple… start where students are and build them up with the right interventions at the right time. I enjoy making digital and printable resources for upper intermediate and middle school language arts.

Gain instant access to the Free Resource Library when you join my email list!