Grade Smarter (with Technology)

This post originally appeared at Ms. F’s Teaching Adventures. Reprinted with permission.

Grading. Especially as an English teacher, that word sends CHILLS down my spine. What I love about teaching is interacting with the students, presenting information, and getting creative. I do not like assigning grades and pouring over a hundred versions of essentially the same essay. I find it tedious.

I have attended several professional development sessions on assessment and I have taken classes in curriculum design. The common theme deals with figuring out what you’re trying to assess and to make sure your assessment focuses on that.

I think, as English teachers, we often try to assess EVERYTHING all at the same time and that is what causes us to take so long and to get so frustrated. Because of this I am currently experimenting with a few different grading techniques.

The first, is color coded grading. I had all of my students in my college class turn in their persuasive papers in via email. They had to color code their papers. I was specifically looking for persuasive techniques: Kairos, Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. I required them to highlight each of those items. I also wanted to make sure they had a strong thesis statement so I had them highlight that in another color.

This allows for a couple of things to happen.

1. Students, before turning in an assignment are forced to go through it one more time and see if they’ve included all the necessary elements. If they haven’t they can quickly fix it! Ideally this means we are getting stronger papers overall.

2. Teachers can quickly find all the elements that specifically need to be graded. And, more importantly can see if the students understand what these elements mean. Was the sentence they identified as a thesis statement truly a thesis statement?

Here’s my process with this technique.

I read the whole paper and focus on the grammar for the first two paragraphs. Then, I go to fill in my rubric (I always use a specific rubric with point values for this technique) and revisit each section. I write my comments and move on.

Because the submissions were made via files online I was able to type comments right in which, for me, is much faster.

I have a few other Grade Smarter ideas that I will be posting about soon.

What about you? What are your grading tricks?

TPT ProfileSara Fuller is a 5 year veteran English teacher with an MA in literature who has experience teaching students ranging from the middle school to college level. She blogs about her teaching adventures at Ms. F’s Teaching Adventures and young adult books at YA Lit, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly!
Full Bio

Keep Calm & Write On

How do you prepare your students for timed writing?  It’s a challenging task, and in this era of high-stakes testing, English teachers must strategize so their students will have success on these assessments.  With timed writing, students need to read and respond quickly to a prompt in a cogent essay or prose constructed response.

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

A typical prompt on the SAT requires students to consider an abstract idea and then write a persuasive essay.  On the AP English Literature Exam, students read literature excerpts and write essays analyzing the texts.   For the upcoming PARCC assessments, students will read several texts and then synthesize their reading into a prose constructed response.
For teachers who have often been trained to encourage the use of the writing process, all of this can seem overwhelming.  But if students are going to do well, they must practice. I’ve developed a warm-up activity that gives students this practice!
First, I search online for retired prompts (prompts that have been used on previous exams), or I write prompts in the style of the exam.  Here are  links to some:

Then, at least once a week, I project a prompt at the beginning of class and set the timer for several minutes.  Normally, I start with five minutes, and as students increase their speed, I reduce the time to three minutes.  If you don’t have your own timer, here is a link to an online stopwatch:

During the timed practice, students read the prompt and complete a brainstorm with the ideas for how they would respond.  They can write a list, modified outline, web, or any other graphic organizer that helps them.  Next, they share their brainstorms on the document camera and the class listens as each student shares her process and thoughts.  I also model how I would respond to the prompt.

Besides giving them time to practice, they learn from one another and see each other’s process.  And although they don’t actually write the essay (and I don’t have to grade it), they get practice understanding what the prompt is asking (sometimes they annotate it), writing a thesis, planning evidence and organizing their ideas.  Additionally, it is a safe way for them to practice because they aren’t graded on their brainstorm; they’re just expected to participate and be willing to share.
Ultimately, the research shows that when students take a couple of minutes to plan, even on a timed writing assignment, they will achieve a higher score!  As SAT tutor and Harvard graduate Bradford Holmes says in a 2013 US News and World Report article, “This may seem counterintuitive at first, as you might expect to spend the entire period writing. Yet brainstorming and outlining a plan is actually the most important thing students can do to improve their essay scores.”



Kim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.

Full Bio

Creative Writing and Transferable Skills

You still might not have warmed up to poetry and fiction writing because while it sure is fun and great for younger grades, or fine for a warm up exercise or a Friday treat, you think it isn’t rigorous or useful.

My take is that you can’t afford to skip creative writing in the classroom. It is THAT essential in providing transferable skills in a challenging, intriguing and engaging way.

Whether you provide creative writing prompts, teach actual poetry forms, introduce particular fiction elements and have students write to that element (say dialogue, setting, or a character scene), you are allowing students to hone essential skills that are transferable to other writings, but are also FUN. The items listed below may be true for the essay, but are even more effective when used with fiction and poetry due to the structure, size, and nature of the form. In this way, working with fiction or poetry may actually strengthen one’s essay writing over time.

Just SOME ways in which creative writing is invaluable:

  • “Strongly encouraging” economy in students who are prone to being “run-on” writers
  • Encouraging proper word choice (Especially in poetry, where words are minimal)
  • Advances in critical thinking
  • Cause and effect
  • Explanation (background information, and relationships).
  • Using logic (structure, organization to a much deeper degree)
  • Use, proper placement and amount of detail
  • For poetry proper use of sound devices, scansion, subject, and to a certain extent how certain elements might relate to content
  • Argument: if the teacher decides to use the common core standards and create a poetry or creative writing prompt around this device.
  • Research: it is standard procedure for writers to look up background information in order to make a story, poem or scene more believable. No one asks them to do this they want to because the story demands it. Provide intriguing enough prompts and I guarantee you, they won’t mind doing some research.

In short the multitude of requirements necessary in an organic story and in a poem (organic or very structured) are such that to ask students – to challenge them – to write creatively is really to help them be their best and smartest selves.

Do not be surprised if, when they return to the essay form, they find that it is surprisingly much EASIER to do!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGina Perfetto is a contributing writer and blogger, who publishes fine teaching products. She lives in New Jersey with her husband Gene and cat Dude.

Perfetto Writing Room Blog
Full Bio

Spring into Science Writing

writingWith common core, we are more and more commonly being asked to integrate writing in science classes. This sounds much more intimidating than it is. There are a lot of ways to integrate writing in science classes, or across curriculum. Here are a few ideas:

  1. We can easily think of ways to address non-fiction (lab reports, research projects) in science (or social studies). This is commonly done, and can be expanded upon. To be more successful, consider explicitly teaching students skills for successful writing, and possibly giving sentence frames or scaffolds to students who struggle.
  2. Poetry or songs: Students can demonstrate their knowledge through creation of a poem or song. I have done this with the water cycle (my life as a water droplet, as a drop of water goes through the water cycle), or with macromolecules (what type of food is it found in, when does it get eaten, what does it get used for in the body after it is eaten?) Students really get into it, and they undoubtedly remember better when they create a rap or poem! Students can also sing songs or create a song to remember formulas. My 8th grade math teacher had a song for the quadratic formula, and to this day that’s how I remember it! Students love creating these songs themselves!
  3. Persuasive writing: Science and Social Studies, and even math can lend themselves to controversial topics, particularly in application. Current news events, natural disasters, historical events, microfinancing, taxes, and loans, are just a few examples. Think outside of the box into where adults apply these topics, and would be discussing them at a dinner or conference. This is breeding ground for your students to choose a position and write about it. Students can write a short, very scaffolded position where they choose a position, supply evidence, and write a conclusion (maybe with a handout to help scaffold it).  This can be done in several quick ways at the end of a lesson, through the use of a variety of exit tickets.  Alternatively, students can write a full length paper on a topic, with the inclusion of content facts.persuasive writingI have had students write on whether people should rebuild or move after a natural disaster, the use of stem cells, informed consent, several environmental topics, etc. Students really get into it, and it gives them a chance to process what they are learning in a different way, and see the relevancy and importance of it. I use this persuasive writing guide to help steer their writing (for higher students) or to create a guide (for lower students).

I’d love to hear your ideas of how you integrate different types of writing into your class!

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.

How to Use Sound Devices in Spring

springSky1. Supply whatever poetry you are currently working on.
2. Create a sheet with the terms listed in yesterday’s post (all of these devices or just some of them).
3. Introduce these terms (even if students have heard of them before, we know a refresher always helps).
4. And there is no limit to YOUR imagination application! Have a poetry “read aloud” activity, do an aural (sound) equivalent of a word search where students can mark up the page to show the devices (feel free to invent your own key of odd markers to differentiate devices). For your more advanced classes, extend this Introduction and Application model into a Mastery segment, where students write about the effects such sound device have upon the poem itself and the person reading or listening to it (reader response, poetry sound device analysis).
5. Go outside if you can. The world is a beautiful place.
6. For high school students the transcendentalists or romantics are fantastic opportunities for close-reading and taking apart a poem.
Step one: read for enjoyment;
Step two: read for understanding/discussion;
Step three: read for sound and the assignment at hand.
7. Students should always write their own poetry if only because it gives them a sense of pride, respect for the form, and deeper knowledge.
8. A poetry unit is even better when students mix different disciplines into their work. Why not have students use technology? Students can record their own renditions of sound device poetry, and include pictures of nature or pictures reminiscent of the poems they studied, along with sketches or other media for a cross-disciplinary (art, literature, and technology) ode to spring.
Thanks for Reading!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGina Perfetto is a contributing writer and blogger, who publishes fine teaching products. She lives in New Jersey with her husband Gene and cat Dude.  Perfetto Writing Room Blog

Sounds a Lot Like Spring! – Poetry and Sound Devices

springSkyWith April running away from us all and students seeing the light . . .
of spring,
and of the impending end of school,
it’s even more important to keep them fascinated.

Spring is the best time to read, enjoy and analyze poetry. I thought I’d give you all a quick sprint into literary sound devices you can use with your students. I am more than happy to share with you the devices I have used in my class, followed by suggestions for use. There is no better time than RIGHT NOW to enjoy the beauty of poetry.

The Sound Device Arsenal!

The Big Three – These are the devices we usually associate with sound devices in poetry
1. Alliteration: repeating consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are near each other.
2. Assonance: an example of this might be date and main, in which the vowel sounds in words near other are very similar and create a pleasing sound effect. The consonant sounds end differently, so the words do not rhyme.
3. Consonance: Consonance is when words end in similar consonant sounds though they do not rhyme. An example of this is coat and night.

Other MAIN CONSIDERATIONS! – Remember that without these devices below, we might not have poetry (or at least certain types of poetry…) !
4. Cacophony/dissonance— the use of jarring sounds that are discordant and do not sound pleasing. This may be used to mimic the atmosphere of the poem or the activity occurring in the poem. A line from Hart Crane’s poem “The Bridge: “Under the looming stacks of the gigantic power house/Stars prick the eyes with sharp ammoniac proverbs,/New verities, new inklings in the velvet hummed/. . .” What is important to note here is that you might find some words that are alliterative, or have consonance. The overall effect, however, is one of a “mashing together” or a “grating” or “grinding.”
5. End rhyme – Rhyme found at the end of lines of poetry that are near enough to each other to be a stanza, AND to be remembered be the reader. End rhyme makes stanzas and rhyme scheme possible and creates unity to the poem and a pleasing sound.
6. Euphony – the opposite of cacophony. Pleasing sounds, usually accomplished on purpose, through a variety of ways: assonance; alliteration; rhyme; consonance; which all result in harmony.
7. Internal rhyme – Rhyme that occurs in the middle of a line of poetry. Yet another unifying and effective sound device. The internal rhyme may rhyme with an end rhyming word nearby, an end rhyme in its own line, or another internal rhyme. An example is Rudyard Kipling’s “Pink Elephants:”

Now, Jenny and me were engaged, you see
On the eve of a fancy ball
So a kiss or two is nothing to you
Or anyone else at all.

8. Near-, eye-, slant-, half- or off-rhyme – scholars may argue a difference between these terms – these are all terms for words that almost or nearly rhyme and contribute to the overall sound quality. For example home and come, close and lose. You can debate whether these are also assonance or consonance, or you can also call them off-rhymes!
9. Onomatopoeia – Oh, one of our favorites. Words that are created in such a way that they sound like what they are meant to represent. Flip-flops really do flip, and flop as they move across the pavement. A dog does bark and that is what it sounds like, isn’t it? When something plops into the water, it sounds very different than a plunk or a thud. All of these words and more, are onomatopoetic, and they add sound and fun to your writing.
10. Meter, rhythm, accent – the basis for our most traditional poetic verse. Accents are significant stresses in words that put together into units, form the basis of meter, the feet that make up our iambs, trochees, dactyls, spondees and anapests (there are more, of course!). And all of this is the rhythm of poetry, and the art of the written word.

Visit with us tomorrow for more information on sound devices.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGina Perfetto is a contributing writer and blogger, who publishes fine teaching products. She lives in New Jersey with her husband Gene and cat Dude.  Perfetto Writing Room Blog