ESL Writing Grading Rubric | Evaluating English Writing

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ESL writing grading rubric

Do you teach writing to intermediate or advanced level English students, particularly in a university where you have to give grades? You’ve come to the right place! Keep on reading for all the details about my ESL rubric for writing that you can use to evaluate your students fairly.

Grade Fairly with this ESL Writing Grading Rubric

For English teachers, grading writing and speaking are not easy when compared to something like grammar or vocabulary because there’s no right or wrong answer. Everything falls on a continuum from terrible to excellent.

The challenge for teachers is to grade in a way that’s fair and that also appears this way to the students. To do this, you’ll need an ESL writing rubric. I generally use the same one with all my writing classes, and for a wide variety of topics. Of course, feel free to adapt it to suit your needs for each individual situation.

esl-writing-rubric
Writing rubric for ESL students

My ESL Writing Grading Rubric

My solution to ensure fair grading and also appear this way to my students is to use this ESL Writing Grading Rubric. I use it, even though within reading the first couple sentences of a 5-paragraph, 500 word essay, I usually know what grade the student will get. This is especially true if it’s gong to be an A, or D/F.

The middle ones require a bit of a closer look to separate the B students from the C ones. This ESL essay rubric started off more complicated, but over the years I’ve simplified it. The best ESL rubrics for writing are simple enough that students can clearly understand why they received the grade that they did.

The Categories I Evaluate for English Writing:

Each of these five categories has an equal number of possible points (from 0-5), for a total of 25 points. To make your grading life easier, if the essay is worth 30%, you can adjust the rubric to make each category out of 6 points. Or, for 20%, make it out of four points.

Here’s what I look at:

  • Sentences/paragraphs/format
  • Grammar/spelling/punctuation/vocabulary
  • Hook/thesis statement/topic sentences
  • Ideas
  • Task completion/effect on the reader

Here are more details about each of those things.

#1: Sentence Structure, paragraphs, format

The best essays have sentences and paragraphs that are complete and easy to read. A nice variety of conjunctions and transitions are used to join them together.

#2: Grammar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary

The best pieces of writing may only have 1-2 small errors in this area. There is a good use of higher level grammar and vocabulary.

This section includes pretty much all the formatting, language (vocabulary and grammar) that a student at their level would be expected to know, even if we explicitly haven’t discussed it in class.

#3: Hook, thesis statement, topic sentence

To get full marks, all of these will have to be very well done, and actually almost perfect. This is because I teach this extensively in class, and ensure that it students take away one thing from my writing course, it’s how to do this.

#4: Ideas

The ideas in the writing are clear, logical and well organized. Good supporting facts and information are used. If it’s a take-home assignments, I expect it to include real stats and facts. If the essay is for a test written in class, then good logic will have to be used.

#5: Task completion, effect on the reader

The best essays are easy to understand on a first, quick read-through. The student followed the directions for the assignment (word count, etc.)

Learn More about Assessing Writing for ESL/EFL Students

Can I Evaluate ESL/EFL Writing Without a Rubric?

You may be tempted to evaluate student writing without a rubric because you think it will save time. I don’t recommend this unless you’re teaching informally and the grades/feedback you give students doesn’t actually count towards an official grade of some kind.

But, if you’re teaching at a university in a credit class, grades actually matter. Beyond that simple fact, here’s why you should use a rubric to evaluate written work:

  • It actually saves time because students will understand exactly how they got the grade that they did. You won’t have a steady stream of students in your office disputing their grade!
  • The feedback is more meaningful and students have a better idea about how to improve their writing.
  • You have some proof of why a student got the grade they did, if someone were to ask. It happened to me a number of times when teaching in Korea.

Can I use This Rubric for a Paragraph? 

I used to teach academic writing to advanced students where they had to write five paragraph essays. However, the above rubric would work equally well for a paragraph. Just about the only thing that would change is that you wouldn’t have a topic sentence because you’d only need a thesis statement for the entire piece.

Quick Tip to Cut Down on Grading Time for ESL Writing

The other tip besides using ESL rubrics for writing is for when grading ESL writing. This tip will reduce the number of complaints by a lot!

Tell the students that of course they are free to ask you to re-grade their essay and you will do your best to look at their essay with fresh eyes but you’ll spend 3-4 times the amount of time you spent the first time around and get out your red pen and circle every single mistake they’ve made and not overlook anything. I always mention that I’m very kind and generally overlook almost all the small-medium things.

I mention that it’s possible to get a higher grade but it’s also very possible to get a lower one. Finally, give the example of them getting 20/25, but they think they maybe should have gotten 21 or 22. In this case, it’s a terrible idea to ask me to re-grade it. However maybe I made a serious mistake and gave them 15/25, but their essay was actually quite good and they should have gotten 24/25. Then it would make sense to ask me to check again.

Mean-Yes. Effective-also Yes

Is this mean? Perhaps. But, it’s also quite effective and this past semester in my 3 writing classes, a grand total of zero students asked me to take a second look. I strive for total professional at all times, but I’m also not willing to let my job consume every last second of free time that I have.

Teaching ESL writing, the easy way. It’s possible! Use this ESL rubric for writing and you’ll be well on your way!

How Much Feedback Do You Give when using this Rubric?

It’s an excellent question! When I teach English writing, I’m ALL about teaching self-editing instead of having students rely on me to correct all their errors. During the semester, students are free to come to my office during my allotted hours for me to have a quick read-through of their writing. I’ll usually give feedback along the lines of:

“Your thesis statement is kind of weak. Have a look at that and see if you can make it more concise.”

“I noticed that you have very few transitions in your essay. It makes it kind of hard to read.”

“You have many grammar errors. For example, subject-verb agreement.”

“Can you try to use some more complicated grammar or vocabulary? It’s fine, but all the sentences are so similar.”

What about Feedback on Assignments and Tests?

Along with this rubric, I’ll write some comments on my students’ work, usually 3-4 sentences next to their grade. Throughout their essay, I’ll pick out around 5 things to circle as problems or errors.

I’ll put a check mark as a sign of a good thing like the thesis statement or topic sentences.

Is it necessary to correct every single error? Not really. It’s often more helpful to just point out mistakes that students have made more than once.

Which ESL Writing Textbook Do you Recommend?

Looking for an excellent textbook for teaching academic writing to ESL or EFL students? Stop looking right now and go buy this: Great Writing 4: From Great Paragraphs to Great Essays.

It’s an ideal introduction to writing an essay for high intermediate to advanced level English students. In my case, I used it when teaching 3rd or 4th year English majors at a university in South Korea.

How Do I Prevent Cheating in a Writing Class?

If you teach ESL writing in a for-credit class where you have to assign grades, you will almost certainly have students who try to cheat. There are a few things that I do to combat this and make things fair for the students.

Homework Assignments: Not Worth that Many Marks

During my course, I did have homework assignments. They just weren’t worth that many points, usually a maximum of 20% of the final grade.

The bulk of the grade was things we did in class: journalling and then the midterm and final exam that had to be physically written in class. This gave a better indication of who could actually write, without having the crutch of the Internet to assist them.

The Ultimate Thing to Do on the First Day of Class

On the first day of any writing class, I get students to complete a “Get to know you assignment.” I give them about 20 minutes to write 3 short paragraphs.

  • The past (high school days, growing up, etc.)
  • The present (university life and their thoughts about it)
  • The future (dreams, hopes, etc.)

This shows you how in a very clear way how proficient students are at the past/present/future verb tenses and it’s often quite obvious who will do well in your class and who will struggle.

Then, keep these papers and in case of a questionable homework assignment, you have something to compare to. For example, I had one student submit something that I myself probably couldn’t have produced. It was actually that good and had advanced level vocabulary that I had to look up.

I pulled out her assignment from the first day and found it riddled with simple mistakes like not using the correct past tense verb form and other comparable mistakes. She clearly could not have done that homework assignment herself and my guess is that she paid someone to do it because I was unable to find it through a Google search.

Midterm/Final Exam: Assign Random Topics

Some teachers assign a single topic for the exams and then allow the students to prepare their essay beforehand. During the exam, they just have to write it out basically. I try to avoid this.

Instead, I give students a list of around 20 possible topics. Then, I give students a slip of paper with two possible choices that they must choose from. Each student gets a random combination.

This allows students to prepare in terms of ideas and main points, but they can’t memorize an essay word for word and I find it a better test of actual writing ability.

Have your Say about this ESL Writing Grading Rubric

What do you use in your ESL writing classes to evaluate your students in a fair way? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom with us!

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself find this useful resource.

Last update on 2019-07-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


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