How To Grade An Essay

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For many homeschoolers, the idea of having to grade an essay is a confusing one. And besides, how do we do it so that we don’t have a conversation like this:

“Mrs. Martin, Um… Can you look at my essay? What went wrong?”

“Well, Theresa, it just isn’t up to an A standard.”

Confidence crushed. 

Yes. This really happened.  I received no help or direction from the grading of this paper, and my teacher lost a vital opportunity to mentor my writing. 

How can we, as homeschoolers, grade an essay or give writing feedback that actually improves a student’s confidence and skills?  Marking Rubrics!

How to Grade An Essay: Use a Rubric 

A WHAT??

Have you ever felt like you were trying to hit a moving target? Felt like the definition of success kept changing on you depending on your superior’s mood or new goals?

That is exactly how many students feel when they write.  They are just unsure of what they need to do to succeed.  They want to do well, but they just do not know what that looks like.

As a parent, rubrics help you be consistent in your expectations and know exactly what you are looking for.  No more guesswork!

A marking rubric is just an outline of the expectations, so everyone is on the same page.

Rubrics allow your child to know exactly what is required to get perfect and they can do it – if they really want to!   This increases confidence and allows students to incrementally add skills.  They are never graded on something they cannot define or that has not been taught.  

  1. Start at the beginning.  When your student starts to write a sentence or a paragraph, give them a marking rubric.  When learning sentences it may just be a tick box list like this:
  • Capital
  • Period
  • Complete thought
  1.  Amp up your rubric as you teach skills.  Keep adding items one or two at a time (here are some ideas):
  • Capital
  • Period
  • Complete thought
  • Adjective / describing word
  • Handwriting skills (on a scale of 1-5 – 5 is beautiful for their age)
  • Connect two sentences with a coordinating conjunction
  • Comma as necessary

Marking to Mentor:

What are the steps to reading your student’s writing?

1.   Read it for Pleasure.  Read for the joy of reading your child’s writing.  Hopefully, it will be a pleasure; eventually, it definitely will be!  What are they telling you about their ideas and how they see the world? Are they making a good argument (even if I personally disagree – especially I disagree?)

2.  Read it for the Rubric.  Use that rubric and see how they did.  As your rubric becomes more advanced, this will take multiple readings.  Highlight one colour for grammar or punctuation errors and a different colour for spelling perhaps.  

Wondering what to include on a rubric to be able to effectively grade an essay for your children?

>> Get a Free Essay Rubric Starter Download <<

  1.  Write a Note.  Always start and end with what they did well and in the middle sandwich just one or maybe 2 things that will make the biggest improvement.   Always end with encouragement.  Often – especially if you use number or letter grades – students look there first and may be disappointed.  Give them the encouragement they need so they can know that they can succeed.
  1. Change the Rubric.  

If your student is struggling, go back and reteach concepts and change the rubric so that it is what they can do well and maybe one or two learning items.  

If they are not struggling and they are acing your rubric it is time to add more!

The in-between student that is doing pretty well, but not struggling in one area may need more tries with that rubric or the opportunity to improve their writing and be regraded. 

Remember: It’s not a test – it’s guided learning!

Writing is a learning process that is emotional for many students.  It’s scary and it takes a lot of practice but the personal growth in character and work ethic will pay off.  This is your opportunity to be a cheerleader. 

Everyone needs someone who has their back.  How much better is it when that person is your parent?


This is a guest post. Theresa Peters is a Language Arts Mentor with Discern to Learn.  In her spare work time, she writes and edits for a magazine, and attends to client needs for a private web agency.  Nothing makes her smile like seeing her students excel or knowing she has a few stolen hours (or minutes?) to curl up with a good book.

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