Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers

Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.
If there are two things my students know, it is that I assign paragraphs often, and that I grade them rather harshly -especially in the second semester. It’s not that I want them to fail, or that I have a fear of passing too many students stellar marks, but moreso, this is because I want them to succeed.


Students need to master how to write a paragraph before they can tackle an essay. I want my students to be able to write a defined and well-supported paragraph when they leave my classroom so that they are more confident when they need to write an essay. Also, as students get ready to take high-stakes standardized tests, they need to be able to respond to a prompt, provide evidence, and support the evidence in their writing.


I typically assign a paragraph every week in my class. The paragraphs are related to what we studied, and I follow a traditional Jane Schaffer format. I expect that my students can produce a clearly-defined topic sentence, related evidence, and supporting commentary and explanation. Their paragraphs are typically worth 20 points each. Students receive 5 points for their topic sentence, 5 points for their evidence, and 5 points for their commentary. The remaining 5 points are given based on grammar, cohesion, mechanics, and overall if students truly demonstrate their understanding of the topic. Even if the paper is filled with grammatical mistakes, the most I take off is 5 points. One reason why I do this is because many of my students learn English as a second language, and I believe that assigning punitive grades for grammar does them a disservice. When I grade harshly, I am looking primarily for content and ideas.
Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.

If the student is missing a topic sentence, or if it is off-topic, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student is missing evidence, if their evidence is not related, or if their evidence is too generic, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student is missing the commentary and explanation, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student does not answer the writing prompt, they receive zero points.


In order for this to work, I make sure that I provide my students with detailed comments and I provide them with an opportunity to redo their paper for full credit.
Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.


When I write comments on papers, I try to be as detailed as possible. When students need to be more specific, I prompt them with questions that will help them be more specific. If students need to include better commentary, I begin the sentence for them or provide them with different routes to take. Once students receive their paragraphs back, I allow them to redo the paragraph for full credit because this is where I believe the real learning takes place. Providing students with the opportunity to learn from their first drafts, revise their writing, and resubmit for a better grade encourages students to work all the way through the writing process. It also shows the students that you care about their learning.


While thoroughly grading 100+ paragraphs takes quite a bit of time, this strategy will pay off in the long run. Ever since I started grading paragraphs with a critical eye, I’ve seen improvements not only in their paragraphs, but also in their essays. This is something that transfers from paragraph writing to essay writing. I’ve also noticed that the more paragraphs I assign, the less time it takes to grade as the year progresses. As my students learn how to write better, I find myself writing more checkmarks (my sign for “yes,” “great point,” etc.) on papers instead of detailed comments.

Toward the end of the year, it is so rewarding to see a student who routinely scores a 10 or 12 out of 20 consistently earn a perfect score.

Here are some teaching resources that might interest you:

New Website Launch Giveaway

To help celebrate the launch of my new website, TheDaringEnglishTeacher.com, and first-ever newsletter, I am giving away two $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift cards.


My newsletter will be packed with teaching ideas, resources, sale information, product updates, free downloads, and more!


To enter the gift card giveaway and to sign up to receive my bi-monthly newsletters, visit TheDaringEnglishTeacher.com and signup to receive the newsletter. The giveaway will end on Saturday, January 28 at 9:00 pm PST.

There are two ways to enter: 1) simply sign up to receive the newsletter; 2) sign up for the newsletter and tag your friends on social media (FB or IG). The more people you tag, the better your chances are to win!

No purchase necessary to enter. Winners will be notified via email on Sunday, January 29. Winners will have 48 hours to claim the prize. You may earn ten additional entries, one per tagged person, on social media. People who tag their friends must also sign up for the newsletter.

Kindness Matters in the Classroom and Beyond

#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.
A little kindness and empathy can go a long way. Demonstrating kindness and empathy can completely change a person’s day, open new doors and opportunities, and mend hurting relationships. And while I firmly believe that teaching kindness and empathy should start in the home, as educators, we need to emphasize these qualities in our classrooms every single day. There is a link to a free resource to use in your classroom toward the bottom of this post!


I start every class period with a bell ringer. Bell ringers provide students with the perfect routine that helps them transition from the craziness that happens in the halls during passion period, to the more structured setting of a classroom. Some of my favorite bell ringers to use with my students are sentence combining bell ringers, growth mindset bell ringers, and bell ringers that force students to use their critical thinking skills. I have my students track their bell ringers on this free tracking sheet, and I stamp it every single class period after I take attendance.
#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.

To provide my students with opportunities to grow as intellectuals and think about love, acceptance, tolerance, diversity, and kindness, I created this set of 40 bell ringers: Bell Ringers to Establish Community. Each bell ringer includes a thought-provoking quote from someone who has made a positive impact on the world and a quick writing prompt that encourages critical thinking.

I typically give my students the first five minutes of class to respond and share their response to each bell ringer. During these five minutes I am able to take attendance, answer student questions, talk with students who were recently absent, stamp all of my students’ bell ringers, and have two or three students share their responses aloud. I look forward to hearing my students respond to these prompts.


To help you decide if these bell ringers are right for you class, I’ve posted a FREE SAMPLER. The free sampler includes 5 different bell ringers that are sure to inspire your students.
#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.

#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.



To help show that kindness matters, I’ve teamed up with some amazing educators and resource authors to provide teachers with free resources to teach kindness in the classroom. This #WeHoldTheseTruths and a #KindnessMatters blog hop is hosted by the Secondary Smorgasbord: The ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures.






Using Art to Teach and Analyze Literature

Using art to teach literary analysis
“But what does any of this have to do with English?”
“So, I guess this is an art class now”
“I’m not doing it.”

These were some of the reactions I received from my (reluctant) sophomores when I told them we would be looking at art to learn how to improve our literary analysis skills. By the end of our art analysis stations day, they were hooked, and I was thoroughly enjoying walking around and listening to their conversations and interpretations of each piece.


You see, there are actually many similarities within all of the arts. Visual arts and compositions all have tone, create mood, and tell a story. What’s even better is that the arts contain rich symbolism, foreshadowing, and other literary elements. This is a good activity before reading a short story, novel, or poem.


This fun activity contained several different elements. Before we began, I told my students that we would be looking at how a single story can be told from many perspectives and in many different formats.


First, I introduced students to the story of Icarus and Daedalus. We read a version from the text, watched the Lego version (which is truly awesome), and then completed the art exercise.


Before setting the students free to complete the task, I gave them each a chart and explained to them the various elements they were to look for in each piece of art. I wanted them to analyze the artwork first before I gave them any input.
Using art to teach literary analysis

Then I organized the students into six even groups and gave them five minutes per station to complete the chart for each piece of art as best as they could. Only five minutes isn’t enough time for the students to complete a thorough analysis, but it is enough time to introduce them to the art so that they are more comfortable talking about it in a whole class setting.
Using art to teach literary analysis


I had six stations throughout the room. Each station had one painting. I used the Google timer to display how much time was remaining for each station, and the students worked.


As the students discussed the art, I went casually around the room pointing out various things about the art. I would ask them about the colors, light, focal point, etc. After about the third station, students were more confident in analyzing the art, and they were even talking about symbolism and foreshadowing.
Using art to teach literary analysis



All-in-all, it was a great activity and a perfect introduction. After this lesson, I plan to review the  art more in-depth in a whole class setting, and then show students how we apply the same skills to analyze poetry and literature.








5 Inspirational Quotes about Education from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This Monday, January 16, the nation will observer Martin Luther King Jr. Day in observation of the work, dedication, and ultimate sacrifice Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave to this country. In honor of him, here are a few great and inspirational quotes that we can use in the classroom.



Inspirational quotes for teachers from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Inspirational quotes for teachers from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Inspirational quotes for teachers from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Inspirational quotes for teachers from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the classroom, I use my Digital “I Have a Dream” Rhetorical Analysis activity to teach rhetorical analysis and teach the speech to my students. This activity includes several different rhetorical analysis and annotation activities that students complete digitally within Google Slides. There are also three writing prompts that require students to rhetorically analyze the speech. For more resources to use in the classroom to teach about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., click here!