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ESL Writing Rubrics

Instructor: Erin Rowe

Erin is currently teaching English at a university in South Korea and has a Master's degree in Education.

There are many benefits to using a rubric in your ESL writing classes. Not only will the students expressly know what is expected of them, they can also use the rubric as a checklist when completing their assignments.

What is a Writing Rubric?

Imagine that you're a student in an ESL class. Your teacher informs you that your homework for the next week is to write an opinion paragraph about school uniforms. No other information is given.

Now imagine, you write said paragraph and hand it in, proud of your work. A few days later, your assignment is returned to you full of red marks, and the final score is 70%. Imagine the frustration you would feel. You might even feel resentment towards your teacher for not having clearly laid out the grading expectations.

It is in instances like these that a writing rubric would be very helpful and necessary. A writing rubric is a type of scoring guide that assesses a student's writing performance based on a set of established criteria. These criteria are clearly laid out, usually in the form of a chart.

Why Use a Writing Rubric?

There are many advantages to providing students with rubrics for writing assignments. First of all, a rubric clearly states the teacher's expectations of the assignment and gives very specific information about what needs to be included. This allows students to use the rubric as a guideline and to build upon their already existing knowledge to increase their writing skills.

Secondly, rubrics can be tailored to meet students' different levels of writing competence. A rubric for a more advanced student will have more complicated expectations and be vastly different than a rubric intended for a beginner.

Thirdly, rubrics allow the teacher to score assignments more objectively and with greater consistency. Additionally, a rubric can provide feedback regarding the effectiveness of the teacher's instruction and the students' level of understanding.

Helpful Writing Rubrics

The following rubrics can be used for reference for any ESL teacher. They can also be modified to meet the various needs and different levels of your students.

Basic Paragraph Format Rubric

This is a simple rubric designed to grade students based on their knowledge of basic paragraph formatting. This can be easily adapted based on the format you, as the teacher, are following.

The basic paragraph format rubric is generally used for beginners. It sets basic expectations for paragraph formatting, such as indenting the first sentence of the paragraph, following punctuation rules, using correct capitalization and following the correct style of sentence formatting in a paragraph. A basic paragraph rubric might look like:

Indent: 2 points
Correct punctuation: 3 points
Correct use of capitalization: 3 points
Sentences are in paragraph format: 2 points
Score /10

Paragraph with Supporting Examples

This rubric is a little more detailed and can be used once students are familiar with basic paragraph structure. It focuses more on the content of the paragraph and grammar rules. Generally, there are three columns: one with the expectation to be met, one with the point value and one for teacher comments.

This type of rubric can be easily printed out and attached to each assignment. Again, this rubric can be adapted to include exactly the type of writing assignment the teacher assigns. Let's look at an example:

Write a paragraph with supporting details 2 points for each section Teacher's Comment
Clear topic sentence
There are at least two examples to support the main idea
Paragraph format is followed (indent, margin, double spaced)
Punctuation and capitalization is used correctly
There are simple and compound sentences
Subject-verb agreement is correct
Score /10

Opinion Paragraph Rubric

This rubric focuses on opinion writing and should be used for students who are familiar with paragraph formatting and structure. It is more complicated than the basic rubrics and should be thoroughly reviewed with students so they understand exactly what is expected. This rubric is based on a 4-3-2-1 grading scale. Let's take a look:

Topic sentence includes a well-developed main idea 4 3 2 1
Topic sentence states the opinion of the writer in a clear and concise manner 4 3 2 1
The supporting sentences clearly support the topic sentence 4 3 2 1
Each supporting sentence includes at least one detail sentence 4 3 2 1
The conclusion sentence clearly re-states the main idea 4 3 2 1
Transition words are used and are used correctly 4 3 2 1
Paragraph format is followed correctly 4 3 2 1
Punctuation and capitalization is used correctly 4 3 2 1
There are simple and compound sentences 4 3 2 1
Subject-verb agreement is correct 4 3 2 1
Score /40

Essay Rubric

This rubric is more complicated and should be used with advanced-level students. It's very detailed and may work best for students if the teacher goes through each of the expectations in explicit detail and explanation. Here's an example of an essay rubric:

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I would definitely recommend to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

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Jennifer B.
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