Tuesday Tips: The Essay Grading (Feedback) Checklist

I’ve been grading research papers lately.  A lot of research papers.

I happen to have only about 160 students this year, but I have English teacher friends who have over 200 high school students at any one time.

Just think about that for a few seconds. 200 students. That means that every time the teacher assigns a 1,000 word essay, she has at least 600 pages to read.

And that is just one essay.

So, here’s the thing: I love my job. I really do. I love helping students become better readers and writers. I don’t, however, routinely say to myself, “Wow, I just love grading papers.”

But assessment is part of the writing teacher’s job, and as much as I’d love to just move on and deliver amazing lessons all day, I have to give students feedback on their writing. I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my grading more efficient for me but still meaningful for students.

The part that takes the most time in grading the paper is not the actual determining of the grade. I can read an essay and know, even as I finish the last sentence, what score it should receive.

What takes the most time is the feedback.

Now, I am a firm believer that students do want to see evidence that I actually read their essays; I know that I want to know that my teachers actually read my work.

This year in particular, I found that I was writing the same comments on many essays.  The progression through the year is pretty predictable; even as I teach particular writing lessons, I know that a large number of students will struggle with certain concepts at certain points in the course.  The first semester focuses mostly on idea development and organization, and the second semester adds a focus on style.   In the fall, I’m writing mostly comments about thesis statements and paragraph structure.  In the spring, if all goes according to plan, I’m moving on to a lot of comments about connections and sentence fluency.

Because the commenting takes a lot of my time, this spring I sat down and typed up a list of all of those frequently occurring comments.

Then, instead of rewriting these on student papers, I checked off the comments that were relevant to that particular paper.

Now, I have to admit that I have a little bit of guilt about this. There is this part of me that feels like I should handwrite all comments.

But here is what I do handwrite: positive feedback.

As this checklist is for constructive criticism, I use my handwritten commenting for writing two or three things that I really liked about the essay, aspects of the essay that I noticed were really well done.  I hope that this keeps the personal touch that I know is important to students and channels that personal touch into a positive direction. I want them to know that I’m noticing their growth, not just their deficiencies.  In a way, I suppose I want them to associate my handwritten notes with encouragement.

What are your ideas for making essay grading more efficient?  Do any of you do something similar to a checklist for commenting or feedback?



  1. I really like this idea of a checklist for frequently used comments. I started writing a letter to the class after writing assignments. I include what they are doing well as a class and what they need to work on, quoting from student papers anonymously. I go over the letter with them and then share it on Edmodo so they can refer to them throughout the year.

    I think the students like the letter. It gives me a chance to address the global concerns without writing the same comments on 100 different essays. The only negative is that certain students never think the suggestions for improvement apply to them. Maybe that is where an individual checklist would be appropriate. Thanks for sharing this idea!


  2. You’re welcome, Lindsey! I have been doing global debriefs after essays, but I found the same thing you did: the students who needed to listen were not the ones taking the information to heart!

    This has also helped me when I have students do a revision assignment on a particular essay. For their research paper, I asked students to take their original essay and add secondary sources and revise for the needed changes. It was very easy for me to see what changes they were supposed to have made and, consequently, if they did make those changes or not.


  3. Hi,
    Thanks for this post. Wold you be willing to upload your checklists? I am working on something similar for my advanced middle school students and would love to see what you have done while crafting my own. Thanks


  4. I’d love to have a copy of your checklist. This would be so helpful to do instead of writing them on each essay 🙂


  5. This is my first year teaching AP Lang and Comp and I am drowning in student writing. Your checklist would be a godsend — could you send it to me as well? Thanks!


  6. I like your idea of a checklist, and I am glad it works for you. I’ve tried using them in the past, but I haven’t quite figured out how to make it work yet. I get more mileage out of one-on-one conferences with kids, but it is so time consuming, and I do not do it often enough. I am able to move students forward in their writing much faster when I give them that kind of personal feedback. I’m wondering: do you use this checklist only when you are giving students their final score, or do you use it to guide your mini-lessons during their writing process? I think I would get more from my students using it the latter. Once they get a grade, they don’t care about what they did well or otherwise. I think a checklist at a draft check would be a good idea. “Everyone with such and such checked come over here for a group mini-lesson.” Then, on their final drafts only give positive feedback. Hmm. Thank you for getting me thinking here.


    1. Hi Amy! I definitely wouldn’t use the checklist instead of conferencing with students; it’s more just part of my overall plan. The checklist is divided into sections–when I wrote it I was grading papers at the end of the year, but the sections are arranged in order of how I teach the skills throughout the year. The first section is about thesis statements, which is the focus for our first major writing. The second is body paragraphs, which is the next focus. I teach the skills specifically, and then the checklist pertains directly to those skills. One way to adapt it might be to continue adding sections to the checklist as you teach the skills in sequence.

      As far as how the kids react to the feedback, this year I started taking time to process feedback. I take a class period, pass back the final drafts, make them read their papers again and then the feedback, and then they have to fill out a reflection sheet. One of the questions asks them to identify the checked areas on the list and to see if they were surprised by those at all. As they are filling out the sheets, they have good conversations with each other about their writing, and I walk around the room and have good conversations with kids about their writing progress. I’ve found this to be pretty effective really–they pay more attention when they know I’m going to ask them directly if they tried to grow from one piece to the next.


    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I agree writing comments on student essay can be repetitive and counter productive. An essay checklist seems to be the solution. Please send a copy of your checklist.


  7. What a great idea! I too have found that I write many of the same comments on papers. Could I get a copy or your list? I would tailor it for my own needs. I teach 9th grade English for a private school, and next year I will be teaching Creative Writing as well. I love giving students feedback on thier writing but it can be very time consuming.

    Btw, Linda DeLay Wallace sent me here (she is a distant relative).

    Dawn (DeLay) Lamprecht


  8. I, too, would love a copy of this list, but I don’t do Facebook. Is there something else I can do? Thanks, L


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