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Taking the Frustration out of Grading

Posted December 2004: Kathy Paxton-Williams offers tips for making grading manageable for you and meaningful for students. See Dorothy Zemach's From A to Z column, "Grader's Block," Essential Teacher, Winter 2004 (pp. 16-17).

To make grading manageable for me and useful for students, each week I pick a new focus for correction, say, spelling or a grammatical point. Every day, the intermediate- and advanced-level students in my class do an activity called 5-minute writing. I write a question on the board (three of my favorite sources are McFarlane & Saywell, 1995; Nicholaus & Lowrie, 1996, 2000), and the students must either answer it or write about another issue for the first 5 minutes of class in a spiral notebook I hand out at the beginning of the year.

Once a week, the students pick a 5-minute writing to edit, revise, rewrite, and turn in. I grade only the focus area for that week. By zeroing in on only one point, I get a good idea of each student's writing style, I don't get bogged down in correcting everything, and neither the students nor I get frustrated by a large number of corrections.

The students save the writings I have corrected to refer to when we meet throughout the year for individual help. For example, with one student I would correct the weekly focus plus subject-verb matching, and with another I would correct the weekly focus and spelling.

More Grading Tips

For more grading tips, see these online sources:


Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. (n.d.). Responding to and grading students’ work. In Teaching resources: Teaching manual. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from

Davis, B. G. (1993). Grading practices [Online version]. In Tools for teaching (pp. 282-287). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from

Dunne, D. W. (2000). Teachers learn from looking together at student work. Education World. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from

McFarlane, E., & Saywell, J. (1995). If ... (questions for the game of life). New York: Random House.

Nicholaus, B., & Lowrie, P. (1996). The conversation piece. New York: Random House.

Nicholaus, B., & Lowrie, P. (2000). The conversation piece 2. New York: Random House.

McKinney, K. (2004). Tips for grading group work. Retrieved September 23, 2004, from

Zlokovich, M. S. (2001, January). Grading for optimal student learning. APS Observer, 14(1). Retrieved September 23, 2004, from c

Kathy Paxton-Williams ( teaches ESL at Grant High School in Portland, Oregon, in the United States.