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Work Smarter, Not Harder: Grading Papers Edition

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

English teachers: It is time we joined together and found a better way to grade papers. No more giving up weekends piled in papers or letting our over stuffed school bags stare at us and fill us with teacher guild. I’m done spending too much time grading papers, and you can be too with a few simple shifts in your grading process.

1. No matter how you grade, create a list of frequent feedback.

As you’re grading your next set of papers, keep a document open and assemble all of the comments you leave most frequently on student papers. Make sure your comments point out the rule behind the error and an actionable fix. The time you put in creating this list will pay off! If you want to save time, download my list of 54 comments here.

When you’re done, organize the list into categories. For example, you might choose to have a comma rules category, a sentence structure category, and a style category. Then, number your list.

To make this feedback list even more meaningful, make it shareable with students. Share your master list of feedback with students to refer to as they’re editing and later when they receive your feedback. Set it up like a checklist so students can tally and track their most common errors, giving them important data as they learn how to strengthen their writing.

Here’s where a major time saver comes into play: number your list. When you’re leaving feedback, leave only the number. If you and your students have this list handy, it’s easy to refer to the numbers on the list to see what error was made and how to fix it. If you're grading on printed papers, all you have to write is a number. If you're grading on a digital document, simply add numbers next to the errors. If you're grading on a Google Doc, see the tips below.

Think of how much time you’ll save by simply leaving numbers instead of entire sentences of feedback. The best part? The feedback is meaningful and actionable.

2. Add your comments to the Google Classroom comment bank.

The Google Classroom comment bank is MAGICAL. Take this next step and save HOURS.

When you’re in Google Classroom and have a student paper open, there is a grading area on the right side of the screen with space to record the student grade and leave a personal comment to the student.

There is also a small icon on the top left of that section that allows you to switch views to the comment bank. Click on that icon, then add to your comment bank.

Copy and paste the list of numbered comments you created in step one into your comment bank. Be sure that each comment stays intact with no spaces. Then, make sure you have one space between comments so Classroom registers them separately.

Once your comments are added to the bank, all you have to do is comment on student’s papers with the number, and the recognition software in Google will automatically pull up the entire comment. Watch this process here:

3. Make feedback count by giving students time to apply it.

Whether you're grading in Google or another format, when you return papers, share the numbered proofreading list with students. If you use Google, share the proofreading list right in classroom, making each student a copy to refer to all year. If you use another program, share the list by printing or through email.

When students receive their papers, model for them how to tally their errors, counting how many of each numbered error they have made. For example, if students have made comma error number 8 six different times, they would add six tallies next to that rule on their proofreading list.

After tallying their errors, give students time to fix their errors in class. Model this process, too. Show students how to read the comment and identify the fix.

Last, instruct students to set goals based on their most common errors. My students identify their most common errors, the fixes for those errors, then set goals based on their past mistakes.

See my video explanation of this process here.


Grading does not have to be torture. Simple "work smarter, not harder" shifts can change our relationship with grading. The biggest shift is choosing a clear focus that will help to make your grading process easier, and more importantly, leave students with meaningful feedback to strengthen their writing.

Do you have any work smarter, not harder grading tips? Share them below. We'd love to hear from you!

Want to save even more time? Download my already-made proofreading list for fast feedback and easy grading here.

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I'm a teacher in anon-SBG school/district. This book was EXCELLENT and easy to read. A great intro to mindset of SBG in the classroom and how to begin planning and thinking about implementing it. geometry dash


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