10 Tips to Tame the Grading Monster

I almost titled this piece, How to Grade a Boatload of Papers During a Commercial Break. My fear was that people would start leaving questions asking me what size the boat is, and is it a barge or a cruiser, and do I prefer fresh or saltwater.

So I went the safe route. Please don't ask me about the boat.

If you are an ELA teacher, stick around. I'm fighting the same paper monster you are.  If you are a phys ed teacher, or a computer teacher, please stop laughing at us when you see us squirreled away in our classrooms grading papers during lunch. And go away. We have a wicked battle ahead. We need our strength.

 Tip #1: Give Kids Options

You never took an oath promising you would always grade everything. (And if you did, you really should talk to a union representative.)

After your kids have completed several similar assignments, present them with the evaluation criteria you're using, and have them evaluate their own work. Then, give them the option of choosing which one is worthy of a grade. The kids benefit from this because they learn to be critical readers. You benefit because you've dramatically reduced the grading. Plus, you've given kids additional opportunities to flex their writing muscles. Everybody wins.

                        Tip #2: Call it Practice and Give Away the Answers

Not everything has to be graded. Some assignments can be called practice.If you're dealing with a short answer assignment, have the kids work in groups, and provide each group with the answers. You can even set up answer stations, with each station "hosting" a different section of the assignment. Let the kids check their work and discuss the answers along the way. 

                                      Tip #3: Pick Your Battles

Tell students ahead of time that you will give them credit for completing the assignment, but you will only be grading one specific component.

For example, during a recent narrative writing unit, I told my students that while I conferred with them over one of their drafts, I would also be grading it based on how they punctuated the dialogue, which we'd covered in one of our mini-lessons. This was perfect, because during our conference I was reading the paper anyway, so I might as well choose something I could grade as I went along. The kids got their feedback, and since they were prepared to be assessed on the dialogue, they were able to refer to their notes to make it perfect.

                                                            #4: Take Turns

This is an oldie but a goodie. Check to see if everyone has the assignment completed, but only collect a handful to grade. For the next assignment, collect papers from a different group of kids.Everyone gets a turn, everyone gets a grade, and maybe you'll get to each lunch without smearing sriracha on Brittany's vocabulary assignment.

                                                Tip #5: Simplified Rubrics

Make a simple, easy to use, rubric. This works especially well when you just want to be sure the students completed something, such as homework assignments. Make multiple copies on a page, cut them out, and attach them to the assignment. Voila. If you'd like the one above, you can click it to download.

                                          Tip #6: Grade As You Go

Sometimes, before I collect something, I'll assign a "Do Now" and circulate around the room scoring papers as I go. Even if I only get to a few, those are papers I won't have to grade later. Plus, I'm circulating, not sitting at my desk with my feet up. That's never a good look.

                                    Tip #7: Use an App like Plickers

Plickers is an app that lets teachers collect formative assessment data in real time, right in the classroom. All you have to do is download the app and print out the Plickers scan cards. I printed mine on card-stock for durability. Give students multiple choice questions, and have them hold up an answer card. Scan the class with your phone or tablet, and you can immediately see which answers they have. It's great.

                                                    Tip #8: Shorthand

When scoring essays, use proofreading symbols and shorthand comments in the margins, rather than full words and phrases. This is not just a time-saver, it also helps students much more than circled words or x's. Most of my students like to rewrite for a higher score. If I circle their errors, there's no way for them to figure out what they did wrong, because I've done their work for them. I like the rewrite to be a learning experience, not a copying experience.


Again, call the assignment "practice" and go over the answers as a class. I don't know why some teachers are hesitant to do this and feel like they have to collect everything. Sometimes, going over work together is the best way for the kids to get feedback. If it's a writing piece with no definitive "answers," use a document camera to show sample responses from a few brave volunteers. Or simply read them aloud and practice listening skills too.

                                          Tip #10: Use Public Transportation

An esteemed colleague once gave me the most valuable advice ever. She said that every year, a teacher is entitled to forget a stack of papers on the seat of a train. If you don't take a train, feel free to leave your papers on a bus, airplane, bar-stool, stagecoach...or even a barge. 

Just please don't ask me what size the barge is.


  1. Great tips! #10 is my favorite. :)

  2. I am so happy to have found this post! I LOVE 1,3, and 7 - I will definitely check out Plickers!!

    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle