How to Respond Effectively 


  • Make your grading criteria absolutely clear (and numerical, if possible) on the assignment sheet. Example of grading criteria
  • Use a rubric which repeats those grading criteria (which you check off or on which you fill in appropriate numbers).
  • Skim about ten papers before you start grading in order to “norm” yourself.
  • In order to make yourself efficient, start by using a timer – don’t spend more than 15-20 minutes per paper. Once you pick up a paper, finish grading it. 
  • Skim the whole essay first and decide on the major issues to which you are going to respond – before covering the essay with marks. Those issues should be part of your assignment sheet – keep yourself honest! Force yourself to focus on the three or four most significant issues.
  • Use pencil or a bland-color pen. Never use red as if you want the paper to bleed.
  • Write some positive remarks in the margins!
  • For “corrections” in the margins, respond as a thinker, asking questions and “wondering” as opposed to telling the student that something is wrong.
  • Better to highlight (literally with a highlighter) grammar issues than to re-write the student’s essay for them.
  • In your concluding note, START by writing a short paragraph (or at least one long sentence) telling the student all the things you LIKE about the essay.
  • For the second paragraph of the concluding note, explain no more than three ways in which the essay could be improved. Prioritize! What will help the student the most?

Over the course of the quarter:

  • Always return your essays within seven days of receiving them.  
  • Try to have a short (five to fifteen-minute) meeting with each student as you hand back the diagnostic or first paper.  You can discuss the student’s writing and also get to know the student (academic goals, possible learning issues, time commitments).
  • Choose one important essay and go over a draft with each student. Building in a day for doing that will truly help the students and will result in much better essays. 
  • If your goals permit, try to have one essay build upon a previous essay, so that the student can revise the earlier one as she/ he uses it as the basis for a longer and more complicated later essay. 

On the day you hand back the essays:

  • If at all possible, try to make an overhead on which you give examples of student work and praise each one for some Good Writing -- Positive reinforcement!
  • As a grammar exercise, take one sentence from each paper, and group into grammar issues.  In bold, put the rule, and then underneath type in the incorrect sentences (anonymously). Use this as a one or two-day grammar workshop. 
  • Rules for Good Writing.
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