Rough Draft Essay Rubric

Be clear with students about how you will grade their papers.  Most teachers break grades down into categories: A, B, C, etc., so consider including your students in a discussion about what is considered an “A” paper versus a “B” paper, and so on.  A discussion about grade ranges helps students understand the differences between the grades and what you expect from them.

Discussing what constitutes “good writing” in your discipline is also strongly recommended.  Ask students to identify successful examples from their own (or published) work.  Consider handing out sample student papers (with permission from former students) or fabricated examples.

Using Rubrics

Offering students a handout defining your grading criteria can be very useful, especially since the desirable features of a written text for one discipline can vary greatly from those for another discipline—something well known to faculty but not necessarily to students.  You may even want to involve students in the process of defining the rubric for a particular assignment.

Rubrics not only streamline your grading process and guide you to be fair and clear as you grade, but they also make it easier for students to understand how they might improve for their next assignment.

Handling the Paper Load

Grading papers can be the most cumbersome and difficult part of teaching writing-intensive classes.

Take a look at this list of “myths” about paper grading—the realities may help you shorten your grading time and, at the same time, give students the feedback they really need.

There is no simple solution to make the task of grading less daunting, but the following steps from Case Western Reserve University might help:

  • Set a timer for 15-20 minutes per paper.
  • Skim the paper to determine your priorities for commenting.
  • Focus your comments on two or three important points.  Often, students have a hard time picking out the important criticisms from lengthy commentaries.  Instead, identfy a few key concerns, and give students specific guidance on how to improve in these areas for the next essay.
  • Be sure to let students know what they are doing well.
  • Use student conferences to your advantage.  Meeting with students in a “rough draft” conference helps students know what they need to do to improve, so they usually turn in better final drafts as a result (and that reduces your grading time!).  Also, some instructors find that meeting with students for 15-20 minutes in a “post-paper” conference is more effective than writing extended comments.
  • Ask students to do a self-evaluation with their paper.  If a student admits to having an incomplete thesis, you can acknowledge that point and move on, rather than spending your time explaining a problem the student already knows about.

Grading with a Computer

As more communication with students happens via email, and as more students turn in assignments via a digital dropbox on Blackboard, many teachers are moving toward responding to student writing digitally.  Some argue that this is a simpler and more efficient way to respond to students and that students are able to benefit from the clarity and directness of in-text feedback.  For more information about grading with a computer, consult:

Evaluating and Commenting Upon Papers Using a Computer

Other Useful Links with Information About Grading Papers

Working with Multilingual Students

It is important to have knowledge and an awareness of effective strategies for helping multilingual students write successfully for your class.  Take a look at the following links with resources that explain important considerations and strategies for working with multilingual students.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.– Mark Twain

Why write a narrative?

I like to begin my ENG 101 class with the narrative essay. I call it an essay, but in my ENG 101 class, it is really a short story. The narrative has a twofold purpose. Because students are writing about an important event in their lives, students find it easy to write helping them get acclimated to college writing and expectations. And, since students are sharing about their own lives, the narrative helps me get to know them more personally building community in the class.

How to write the narrative?
  1. Narrative Essay – College Consortium Online Textbook
  2. Descriptive Essay - College Consortium Online Textbook
  3. Begin by identifying events in your life that taught you important life lessons. These events should have changed you somehow. We will be peer editing these papers in this class, so be sure to pick a topic that you feel comfortable sharing with other students.
  4. Once you identify the event, write down what happened. Focus on the actual event. You do not need to provide a complete build up to it. For example, if I am telling a story about an experience at camp, I do not need to provide readers with a history of my camp experiences, nor do I need to explain how I got there, what we ate each day, how long it lasted, etc. Readers need enough information to understand the event. So, I do not need to provide information about my entire summer if the event only lasts a couple of days.
  5. Utilize descriptions. As writers, we want our readers to experience this event as we did. We want to bring it to life. Descriptions put the reader in the moment. Make sure they are active descriptions, however. Do not simply tell the reader that it was exciting. You need to describe the event in such a way that the readers get excited. Do not simply state that it was hot. Provide a description so that readers think that it is hot.
  6. Use active voice. Active voice puts readers in the moment. They experience events as they happen. Think of a horror story where you experience running from the psychotic murderer right along with the hero. Here is an example of active voice:
    • "Nothing moved but a pair of squirrels chasing each other back and forth on the telephone wires.I followed one in my sight. Finally it stopped for a moment and I fired" (Wolff)
    • The verbs are all in active voice creating a sense of immediacy: moved, followed, stopped, fired.
  7. Use passive voice sparingly to add variety and slow things down. Here is an example of passive voice:
    • I had been aiming at two old people, a man and a woman, who walked so slowly that by the time they turned the corner at the bottom of the hill my little store of self-control was exhausted" (Wolff)
    • Passive voice uses the verb 'to be' along with an action verb: had been aiming, was exhausted.
  8. Once you have completed a draft, work on the pace of your story. Make sure you have included only the details that support your story. Get rid of any description that gets in the way of your story's flow. Use active voice as much as possible. Make sure your descriptions are vivid and clear. Remember to that people have five senses. You can appeal to the reader's sense of smell, taste, sight, sound, feel. Choose the memory that is the most vivid for you.
  9. Avoid cliches and idioms: the passion burns, as red as a rose, as big as a house, etc.
  10. Avoid giving inanimate objects emotions they do not possess: the evil flames licked the side of the house. Fire is deadly and can be devastating, but it is not evil.
  11. BE HONEST! Tell the story the way you would naturally tell it and not the way you think your teacher might tell it. Avoid what you think might be impressive language. Be exact in your descriptions. If you want to describe someone's hair, call it hair. Don't use tresses because that word sounds more sophisticated.
  12. Be Concise: Don’t get bogged down in in passive tense or long-winded sentences. Always remember: there is no exact way to write a story. Always think in terms of the point you are making. Does the information help make that point or does it get in the way.
  13. Avoid Awkward Language: Read your papers out loud. You can hear a sentence that sounds awkward or bad. You may not catch it reading it quietly.
    • Sample Awkward sentence: There are profound differences between the two types of personalities that scientists are just beginning to find out
    • Cleaner/More Concise: Scientists are just discovering profound differences between the two personality types.
  14. Redundancy: don’t be redundant!!! Now is the time to start building your vocabulary. Use a thesaurus and find better, more accurate words.
  15. Vary sentences: Don’t begin your sentences with the same word. Vary sentence beginnings, endings, lengths, and styles
  16. Point Of View: Be consistent in your point of view. Remember you are telling the story, so it should be in first person. Do not use second person.
  17. Consistent Tense: Write this in past tense. It doesn't work to try to write it in present tense since it already happened. Make sure you stay in past tense.
Sample Narratives

"On Being a Real Westerner" by Tobias Wolff

"Memento Mori" by Jonathan Nolan

"Coming into Language" by Jimmy Santiago Baca

"Shooting an Elephant" by Georgge Orwell

"Where the Danger Is" Student Narrative

Formatting the Narrative
  1. Be sure and utilize MLA formatting for the paper:
      • 1" margins all around the paper.
      • Double spaced
      • A header on the top right hand corner 1/2" from the top of the paper should include:
      • Last name and then leave a space and the page number
      • On the first page on the left hand side include:
        • Your full name
        • My Name
        • Course Title
        • Date
      • Be sure and type both the rough draft and final essay.
      • Click on the image below to see the full-scale version of the first page of an MLA formatted paper.

Wolff, Tobias. "On Being a Real Westerner." Radford Universeity. Web, 8 July 2013.

Writing the Narrative

  • Write a 2-3 page narrative/description
    • Make sure it is on an important event in your life.
    • Make sure you pick an event that caused you to learn an important life lesson.
    • You should pick an event that caused you to change and grow in some way.
    • Although you certainly do not have to write on something negative, most great steps or leaps in learning have resulted from negative events.  
    • That is the only good thing that comes from negative events.
    • Some of your best writing will come from them too.
  • Once you have written your rough draft, upload here.
  • Then click on the 'Next' button.
  • Use the "Editing Sheet" on the next page to edit your paper. The questions on the edit sheet are designed to help edit your paper and catch common mistakes that students make.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License by Lynn McClelland.

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