Grading Sixth Grade Essays

An Easy Way to Grade Writing Quickly

Nothing spells guilt like a 4-week old stack of neglected, ungraded, sad-looking student essays sleeping on your kitchen table.

Now I know that YOU would never let your grading pile up for one month, but let’s just say I have a “friend” who used to routinely dump mounds of ungraded papers in her recycling bin while praying that her students wouldn’t notice.

They did.

English teachers are often pitied for having to spend long, torturous hours hunched over student writing pieces, but what if there was a quicker, dare I say, easier way to grade writing? I believe there is.

When I taught English, I knew I had to come up with an efficient way of grading writing, or I was going to have an incredibly full recycling bin and some extremely perturbed students. I set out to create a system that would provide my students with excellent feedback while cutting my grading time in half.

(If you’re interested in some other time-saving tips I’ve learned along the way, check out my podcast episode entitled, “25 Ways to Save Time & Take Less Work Home.”)

I once heard someone say, “…a problem well defined is half solved…”, so I began by identifying the grading practices that were wasting the most time; two stood out to me.

Grading Time-Wasters

  1. Writing a bunch of comments. Now don’t get me wrong. Students need feedback. They need to know how they can improve, and they need to know why they got that grade on their paper. But painstakingly writing dozens of individual comments takes so long, and it can be inefficient when you’re writing the same comments over and over on paper after paper. 

    It is also not uncommon for a kind-hearted teacher (like yourself) to thoughtfully craft a beautifully-written personal note on their student’s paper only to watch said-student look at their grade for 2 seconds, ignore the rest, and promptly toss their kind-hearted teacher’s time laden, carefully annotated assignment in the trashcan as they walk away without a second thought! Never again.  

  2. Doing the math on a rubric. I know many teachers love rubrics, but I have to say, I am not a huge fan for writing assignments. It doesn’t take long to develop a sense of what an A, B, C, D, and F paper look like, so trying to fill in the rubric turns into mathematical gymnastics of “how can I make these numbers add up to the grade I already know they should have?” (Or at least it does for me.) What a pain —and a huge waste of time! There had to be a better way.

With these two time wasters in mind, I set out to create a grading system that had the fairness and accuracy of a rubric paired with the specific feedback that writing individualized comments provides—all without the fuss of actually hand-writing comments on every paper or adding up numbers on a rubric for each student.

So I came up with (drum roll please……) a checklist system that has the best of both worlds, and it makes both teachers and students happy as a clam. What more could you ask for? Here’s how it works:

A Simple Way to Grade Writing Quickly

  • Create a checklist of everything you are grading. Your checklist will look similar to a rubric because you will include a list of everything that you want your students to do in the paper. For example, you can have a section for anything you are checking such as content, writing style, mechanics, formatting, etc. 

    The only difference between a checklist and a rubric is that you will not include any point values. The checklist also acts as a grading form because there is a space at the bottom where you can record the final grade. 

  • Give the students the checklist as part of the rewriting stage. This is optional, but I strongly recommend giving the students a copy of the checklist ahead of time. Not only will this help them write their paper, but it will also ensure that students are crystal clear on what you expect them to do and what you will be looking for when you grade their paper. 

  • Create a simple key. On the checklist/grading form, create a simple key that makes sense to you and your students. For example, the top of my grading checklist says, “Areas circled below are areas that need improvements. Check marks or smiley faces indicate areas that were well done.”

  • Use the key to indicate what areas were done well and which need improvement. When it comes time to grade the paper, all you have to do is go through the checklist and put checks (or smileys) by anything that was done well, circle areas that were done poorly, and leave the acceptable but not fabulous areas blank. This process ensures your students have a wealth of feedback without your having to hand-write a lifetime-supply of comments.

  • Give a holistic grade or use the number of “need improvement” items to assign a grade. It didn’t take me long before I could read a paper and know intuitively what grade to give. If you’re like me, then just go with your gut. All of the “need improvement” areas you circled will be enough to justify the grade.

    However, if you aren’t sure what grade to give, develop a simple calculation in your head. For example, each “needs improvement” in the content category could be 5 points off; and each formatting error could be 1 point off and so on. Quickly do the math and put the grade on the paper.

    Boom! You’re done. Even though there is a little bit of math, the second method still ends up saving time because you don’t have to write down all of the numbers or double-check that they add up perfectly. No mathematical gymnastics here!

I love this system because it gives plenty of encouragement (remember all the smileys) while providing constructive feedback. And the truly miraculous news is — I can’t remember a student ever arguing with me about their grade. Even the most accomplished grade grubber can see what they need to fix in order to improve their score.

With this system, there is no reason to procrastinate on grading essays for fear of how long it will take, and your students will be overjoyed to have their writing promptly graded and returned.

Once you spread the word about this system, your teacher friends will never have to make up an excuse about how the classes’ ungraded essays accidently disappeared into the swimming pool, the cat litter box or last month’s recycling bin. I’d call that a win-win situation.

Want an editable grading sheet checklist? I include it – as well as an example of my entire system for teaching writing (as well as the rewriting checklists that match the grading sheet) in this free writing unit.

Click here to download the editable grading sheet as well as the complete writing unit.

(This is a total steal. It’s a full, complete unit that I’m giving away for free because I think you’ll love it & will want to get the whole bundle!)

Would you like more time-saving tips that will help you cut 3, 5, even 10 hours off your workweek? Consider joining Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Find out more about the program here. 

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May 19, 2017 in Academics (Teaching) , Teaching , Work/Life Balance

Sixth Grade Writing Standards

Writing standards for sixth grade define the knowledge and skills needed for writing proficiency at this grade level. By understanding 6th grade writing standards, parents can be more effective in helping their children meet grade level expectations.

What is 6th Grade Writing?
Sixth grade students are expected to produce cohesive, coherent, and error-free multi-paragraph essays on a regular basis. Sixth-graders write essays of increasing complexity containing formal introductions, ample supporting evidence, and conclusions. Students select the appropriate form and develop an identifiable voice and style suitable for the writing purpose and the audience. Sixth grade student writing should demonstrate a command of standard American English and writing skills such as organizing ideas, using effective transitions, and choosing precise wording. Sixth-graders use every phase of the writing process and continue to build their knowledge of writing conventions, as well as how to evaluate writing and conduct research.

 

Browse Standards-Based Middle School Writing Courses

 

The following writing standards represent what states* typically specify as 6th grade benchmarks in writing proficiency:

Grade 6: Writing Process
Sixth grade writing standards focus on the writing process as the primary tool to help children become independent writers. In Grade 6, students are taught to use each phase of the process as follows:

  • Prewriting: In grade 6, students generate ideas and organize information for writing by using such prewriting strategies as brainstorming, graphic organizers, notes, and logs. Students choose the form of writing that best suits the intended purpose and then make a plan for writing that prioritizes ideas, addresses purpose, audience, main idea, and logical sequence.
  • Drafting: In sixth grade, students develop drafts by categorizing ideas, organizing them into paragraphs, and blending paragraphs within larger units of text. Writing exhibits the students’ awareness of the audience and purpose. Students analyze language techniques of professional authors (e.g., point of view, establishing mood) to enhance the use of descriptive language and word choices.
  • Revising: In sixth grade, students revise selected drafts by elaborating, deleting, combining, and rearranging text. Other grade 6 revision techniques include adding transitional words, incorporating sources directly and indirectly into writing, using generalizations where appropriate, and connecting conclusion to beginning (e.g., use of the circular ending). Goals for revision include improving coherence, progression, and the logical support of ideas by focusing on the organization and consistency of ideas within and between paragraphs. Students also evaluate drafts for use of voice, point of view, and language techniques (e.g., foreshadowing, imagery, simile, metaphor, sensory language, connotation, denotation) to create a vivid expression of ideas.
  • Editing: Students edit their writing based on their knowledge of grammar and usage, spelling, punctuation, and other features of polished writing, such as clarity, varied sentence structure, and word choice (e.g., eliminating slang and selecting more precise verbs, nouns, and adjectives). Students also proofread using reference materials, word processor, and other resources.
  • Publishing: Sixth graders refine selected pieces frequently to “publish” for intended audiences. Published pieces use appropriate formatting and graphics (e.g., tables, drawings, charts, graphs) when applicable to enhance the appearance of the document.

Use of technology: Sixth grade students use available technology to support aspects of creating, revising, editing, and publishing texts. Students compose documents with appropriate formatting by using word-processing skills and principles of design (e.g., margins, tabs, spacing, columns, page orientation).

Grade 6: Writing Purposes
In sixth grade, students write to express, discover, record, develop, and reflect on ideas. They problem solve and produce texts of at least 500 to 700 words. Specifically, 6th grade standards in writing stipulate that students write in the following forms:

  • Narrative: Students write narrative accounts that establish a point of view, setting, and plot (including rising action, conflict, climax, falling action, and resolution). Writing should employ precise sensory details and concrete language to develop plot and character and use a range of narrative devices (e.g., dialogue, suspense, and figurative language) to enhance style and tone.
  • Expository: Students write to describe, explain, compare and contrast, and problem solve. Essays should engage the interest of the reader and include a thesis statement, supporting details, and introductory, body, and concluding paragraphs. Students use a variety of organizational patterns, including by categories, spatial order, order of importance, or climactic order.
  • Research Reports: Students pose relevant questions with a scope narrow enough to be thoroughly covered. Writing supports the main idea or ideas with facts, details, examples, and explanations from multiple authoritative sources (e.g., speakers, periodicals, online information searches), and includes a bibliography.
  • Persuasive: Students write to influence, such as to persuade, argue, and request. In grade 6, persuasive compositions should state a clear position, support the position with organized and relevant evidence, anticipate and address reader concerns and counter arguments.
  • Creative: Students write to entertain, using a variety of expressive forms (e.g., short play, song lyrics, historical fiction, limericks) that employ figurative language, rhythm, dialogue, characterization, plot, and/or appropriate format.
  • Responses to Literature: Sixth grade students develop an interpretation exhibiting careful reading, understanding, and insight. Writing shows organization around clear ideas, premises, or images, supported by examples and textual evidence.

In addition, sixth graders choose the appropriate form for their own purpose for writing, including journals, letters, editorials, reviews, poems, presentations, and narratives, and instructions.

Grade 6: Writing Evaluation
Sixth grade students learn to respond constructively to others’ writing and determine if their own writing achieves its purposes. In Grade 6, students also apply criteria to evaluate writing and analyze published examples as models for writing. Writing standards recommend that each student keep and review a collection of his/her own written work to determine its strengths and weaknesses and to set goals as a writer. In addition, sixth grade students evaluate the purposes and effects of film, print, and technology presentations. Students assess how language, medium, and presentation contribute to meaning.

Grade 6: Written English Language Conventions
Students in sixth grade are expected to write with more complex sentences, capitalization, and punctuation. In particular, sixth grade writing standards specify these key markers of proficiency:

Sentence Structure
—Write in complete sentences, using a variety of sentence structures to expand and embed ideas (e.g., simple, compound, and complex sentences; parallel structure, such as similar grammatical forms or juxtaposed items).
—Employ effective coordination and subordination of ideas to express complete thoughts.
—Use explicit transitional devices.

Grammar
—Correctly employ Standard English usage, including subject-verb agreement, pronoun referents, and the eight parts of speech (noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, conjunction, preposition, interjection). Ensure that verbs agree with compound subjects.
—Use verb tenses appropriately and consistently such as present, past, future, perfect, and progressive.
—Identify and properly use indefinite pronouns
—Use adjectives (comparative and superlative forms) and adverbs appropriately to make writing vivid or precise.
—Use prepositional phrases to elaborate written ideas.
—Use conjunctions to connect ideas meaningfully.
—Use regular and irregular plurals correctly.
—Write with increasing accuracy when using pronoun case such as “He and they joined him.”

Punctuation
—Punctuate correctly to clarify and enhance meaning such as using hyphens, semicolons, colons, possessives, and sentence punctuation.
—Use correct punctuation for clauses (e.g., dependent and independent clauses), appositives and appositive phrases, and in cited sources, including quotations for exact words from sources.
—Write with increasing accuracy when using apostrophes in contractions such as doesn’t and possessives such as Maria’s.

Capitalization
—Capitalize correctly to clarify and enhance meaning.
—Sixth grades pay particular attention to capitalization of major words in titles of books, plays, movies, and television programs.

Spelling
—Use knowledge of spelling rules, orthographic patterns, generalizations, prefixes, suffixes, and roots, including Greek and Latin root words.
—Spell frequently misspelled words correctly (e.g., their, they’re, there).
—Write with accurate spelling of roots words such as drink, speak, read, or happy, inflections such as those that change tense or number, suffixes such as -able or -less, and prefixes such as re- or un.
—Write with accurate spelling of contractions and syllable constructions, including closed, open, consonant before -le, and syllable boundary patterns.
—Understand the influence of other languages and cultures on the spelling of English words.
—Use resources to find correct spellings and spell accurately in final drafts.

Penmanship
—Write fluidly and legibly in cursive or manuscript as appropriate.

Grade 6: Research and Inquiry
In sixth grade, students select and use reference materials and resources as needed for writing, revising, and editing final drafts. Students learn how to gather information systematically and use writing as a tool for research and inquiry in the following ways:

  • Search out multiple texts to complete research reports and projects.
  • Organize prior knowledge about a topic in a variety of ways such as by producing a graphic organizer.
  • Formulate a research plan, take notes, and apply evaluative criteria (e.g., relevance, accuracy, organization, validity, publication date) to select and use appropriate resources.
  • Frame questions for research. Evaluate own research and raise new questions for further investigation.
  • Select and use a variety of relevant and authoritative sources and reference materials (e.g., experts, periodicals, online information, dictionary, encyclopedias, online information) to aid in writing.
  • Summarize and organize ideas gained from multiple sources in useful ways such as outlines, conceptual maps, learning logs, and timelines.
  • Use organizational features of electronic text (e.g., bulletin boards, databases, keyword searches, e-mail addresses) to locate information.
  • Follow accepted formats for writing research, including documenting sources.
  • Explain and demonstrate an understanding of the importance of ethical research practices, including the need to avoid plagiarism, and know the associated consequences.

Sixth Grade Writing Tests
In some states, sixth graders take standardized writing assessments, either with pencil and paper or, increasingly, on a computer. Students will be given questions about grammar and mechanics, as well as a timed essay writing exercise, in which they must write an essay in response to one of several 6th grade writing prompts. While tests vary, some states test at intervals throughout the year, each time asking students to respond to a different writing prompt that requires a different form of writing, (i.e., narrative, expository, persuasive). Another type of question tests if students know how to write a summary statement in response to a reading passage. Students are also given classroom-based sixth grade writing tests and writing portfolio evaluations.

State writing assessments are correlated to state writing standards. These standards-based tests measure what students know in relation to what they’ve been taught. If students do well on school writing assignments, they should do well on such a test. Educators consider standards-based tests to be the most useful as these tests show how each student is meeting grade-level expectations. These assessments are designed to pinpoint where each student needs improvement and help teachers tailor instruction to fit individual needs. State departments of education often include information on writing standards and writing assessments on their websites, including sample questions.

Writing Test Preparation
The best writing test preparation in sixth grade is simply encouraging your child to write, raising awareness of the written word, and offering guidance on writing homework. Tips for 6th grade test preparation include talking about the different purposes of writing as you encounter them, such as those of letters, recipes, grocery lists, instructions, and menus. By becoming familiar with 6th grade writing standards, parents can offer more constructive homework support. Remember, the best writing help for kids is not to correct their essays, but offer positive feedback that prompts them use the strategies of writing process to revise their own work.

Time4Writing Online Writing Courses Support 6th Grade Writing Standards
Time4Writing is an excellent complement to sixth grade writing curriculum. Developed by classroom teachers, Time4Writing targets the fundamentals of writing. Students build writing skills and deepen their understanding of the writing process by working on standard-based, grade-appropriate writing tasks under the individual guidance of a certified teacher.

Writing on a computer inspires many students, even reluctant writers. Learn more about Time4Writing online courses for sixth grade.

For more information about general learning objectives for sixth grade students including math and language arts, please visit Time4Learning.com.

*K-12 writing standards are defined by each state. Time4Writing relies on a representative sampling of state writing standards, notably from Florida, Texas, and California, as well as on the standards published by nationally recognized education organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.


You’ve been exploring the writing standards for sixth grade. To view the writing standards for other grade levels, use one of the following links:

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