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How to Set a Grading Rubric for Literary Essays

Instructor: Derek Hughes
Setting a rubric is an integral part of any essay assignment. This lesson will help you learn how to set an effective rubric so that your students understand what is expected of them.

What is a Rubric?

When assigning your students a literary essay, or a written work that focuses on and provides textual evidence for a theme or big idea, it is important that you also set a rubric. This rubric should detail what is expected of your students when completing the essay and should assign a point value for how well students meet those expectations.

This lesson will help you learn how to set a grading rubric for a literary essay by going through the process using an example essay topic. The rubric generated in this lesson provides the general framework for rubrics and should be adjusted depending on what your expectations are.

Setting a Rubric

For this lesson, we are going to be creating a grading rubric for an essay that asks students to compare and contrast Gale and Peeta from 'The Hunger Games' series of books. A rubric generally consists of broad categories that students will be graded on. Therefore, this lesson will move through each of those categories to show how to set a rubric. Our rubric will use a 1-4 graded scale for each category, with 1 being the worst and 4 being the best.

1.) Content

The first category for our rubric is going to be simply titled 'content'. This section will be used to determine how much work students did for the essay as well as how well the work was done. This category will change shape depending on what kind of essay your students are writing. For our compare/contrast assignment, this category will set expectations for how much information students included about both characters.

To earn a 4 in this category, students will have to include at least 4 similarities and 4 differences between the two characters. These numbers can be adjusted up and down to increase or decrease the length and complexity of student essays. As the scale moves down, students will have included fewer similarities and differences. Earning a 1 shows that students did minimal work in this category.

2.) Text-Based Evidence

The next category will set expectations for how much evidence from the text students should include. This category can be changed to represent outside research and sources, as well. For an essay, students must always support their arguments and ideas with facts. When comparing and contrasting two characters, evidence from the text is sufficient. However, more complex essays might require outside sources, such as books or websites.

Students who want to earn a 4 in this category will need to provide evidence for all of their arguments and ideas. For example, if students want to say that Peeta is shorter than Gale, they will need to find a line in the book that says so. Lower scores in this category means that students provided less and less evidence in their essay. A 1 means that students provided little or no evidence.

3.) Organization

This category, titled 'organization', is concerned with how well students structure their essay. Most essays will use this category in their rubric, as essay structure is incredibly important regardless of topic. Students should know that they are expected to organize their essay in a thoughtful way, including using an introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Determining scores for this category is a more subjective affair than the previous two sections. A 4 to one teacher might be a 3 to another. Grading this category comes from a general feeling of organization after you have read through the entire essay. However, a 1 should be easy to recognize, as this essay does not include the requisite components such as an introduction or conclusion.

In our essay about Peeta and Gale, strong organization would contain an introduction followed by several body paragraphs. These paragraphs can be organized in several ways. For example, students may want to go point by point comparing and contrasting the two characters. Or, they may want to use one paragraph to talk about all similarities and another to talk about all differences.

4.) Introduction and 5.) Concusion

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