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using rubrics

How to Teach and Grade Using Rubrics

  |   Curriculum, Hands on Activities, Teaching - all grades, Teaching Elementary School, Teaching High School, Teaching History, Teaching Middle School, Teaching Science, Teaching Writing   |   3 Comments

How many times have you assigned something to your homeschoolers and then were surprised when they turned in something completely different than you expected?


Several times? Me, too!

Until I  learned how to teach and grade using rubrics.


So what is a rubric?

A rubric is a table created by teachers. What it does is communicate with students exactly how an assignment will be evaluated.  It’s easier to show you one than explaining it!

Note that the criteria (what you want the student to do with this assignment) is in the first column on the left.

The other three columns have possible outcomes along with the point value of each one.

Why are rubrics so helpful?

As the teacher, it’s your job to clearly communicate what you want your student to do for an assignment. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Even when you have kids repeat instructions after you, sometimes in between hearing/repeating instructions and the time they start working on the assignment, they forget.

Having a piece of paper they can refer to that states precisely what you want them to do is gold. 

It doesn’t matter what type of homeschooling curriculum or methodology you use or how old your students are. Learning to teach and grade using rubrics will help you be a more effective teacher.  

This is especially true as you get into the middle school and high school years when assignments get more complicated.

how to teach and grade using rubrics


Why should you teach using rubrics?

You’re teaching and modeling clear communication when you use rubrics with your students. With a rubric, they can see not only exactly what you expect them to do. They also know exactly how you are going to evaluate their work.

Using a rubric often eliminates misunderstandings by:

  • helping you think through the assignment before you give it
  • giving you a clear, concrete way to explain what you want your student to do
  • providing a written reminder to your student of what he’s aiming for as he works on the assignment
  • giving your student a way to double-check to make sure his schoolwork is complete before turning it in
  • offering you the perfect tool to evaluate your student’s work and provide concrete feedback after it’s graded

Rubrics work equally well with written assignments, oral presentations, hands-on projects, or anything else you might dream up. You can use rubrics for history, science, language arts, and many other subjects you teach.

Just change the criteria to fit the assignment.

You can make your rubric as simple or complicated as you want, depending upon the age of your student and your grading criteria.


Sample Rubrics

I didn’t grade my children until middle school. I knew I’d need to grade them in high school, so I wanted them to get used to it.

But even though I didn’t give formal grades early on,  I often used a rubric to make sure that my kids understood what I expected they do for an assignment.

Following are two example rubrics.  The first is the one you saw at the beginning of the post. You might use this simple rubric with elementary-aged that are relatively new to writing stories.


Basic rubric for elementary student writing a story
















How to teach using this rubric

When you are going to use this rubric, start by talking about familiar stories at your child’s level.  Have your child help identify the beginning and the ending of a few favorite stories.

Also, discuss what it means for a story to “make sense.” After talking through a short story that’s easy to understand such as one of Aesop’s Fables,

Then make up a short story that doesn’t make any sense.  The easiest way to do this is first to think of a simple story you’re familiar with. Then, do one or more of the following things:

  • Change the original main character to another main character partway through the story.
  • Change the order of events so they aren’t in the correct chronological order.
  • Change the ending so there’s no point to the story.
  • End the story before it’s resolved.

Then talk about the “story that doesn’t make sense” with your child and see if she can figure out why the story didn’t make sense. Ask her how the story would have to be changed for it to make sense.


Upper grades rubric for teaching and grading a Narrative Essay

Here’s a more detailed rubric that I’ve used for a middle school or high school student. I love that you can make rubrics as simple or in-depth as you want, depending upon the age of your student and the type of assignment.

We used this particular rubric in our high school literature courses, such as Essay Styles (for 8th/9th grade) and General Literature (usually for 9th grade).

By the way, a narrative essay usually tells a story or retells an event.

Typically, the story or event is true and often reveals some change or growth in the writer.  Humor is often in narrative essays as a writer may share some foolish behavior that led to growth.  Overcoming fear is another common theme.

The goal of a narrative essay is for the writer to provide enough detail and information for the reader to be able to “participate” in the story, feeling as if she was there.  This essay requires writing that “shows” but doesn’t “tell.”

Narrative Essay Rubric













How to grade using this rubric

To grade using this rubric, expect to read your student’s narrative essay several times.  It’s best to read it through before evaluating, then read it another time for each area you are grading.

As you become familiar with the process, you may not have to read it so many times.

When you are evaluating the paper in each area, use a pencil and circle errors. For example, when you are evaluating the first criteria above, first decide whether your student intended to write from a first or third-person point of view.  If you aren’t sure which is which, this is a quick video to watch that explains it. You can have your students watch it, too!

When you’ve determined which point of view the story is written in, circle in pencil any times that your student didn’t write from the correct point of view.

Then look at the rubric and circle the box that covers the number of point of view errors you found.

Follow the directions below to continue scoring your student’s narrative essay.

Directions for scoring this rubric: An easy scale of 4-excellent, 3-satisfactory, 2-fair, and 1-poor works well when grading with rubrics like this one. Once you’ve determined the total points earned compared to the total possible points, you can develop a percentage score. For example, in the Narrative Essay rubric example above, a total of 24 points is possible. If your student scored 21 out of the 24, simply divide the total scored by the total possible and multiply by 100.

21/24 x 100 = 87.5 or 88%


Expert teaching tips for using rubrics


First of all, if one of my students turned in something that I would have had to grade as “poor,” I considered it unfinished. It went back to the student for more work.

You can tell if your student didn’t try to complete the assignment as you asked or didn’t fully understand what you wanted.

Secondly, the difference between ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ often reflects the student’s effort. If someone wants to do an excellent job, that student goes the extra mile to make sure the assignment is correct and complete.


How to make your own rubrics

Use the examples in this post to get started. You can do it on the computer or just a piece of paper, but it’s easier to modify or change it from the computer, of course.

  1. Decide which skills or concepts you want to evaluate.
  2. List them in the first column on the left.
  3. Create a table in a computer program or draw a grid on paper.
  4. You may add rows or columns if you would like a more fine-tuned system.


How to teach using rubrics

  1. Share the rubric with your student to explain your expectations for the assignment.
  2. Be specific. Using the elementary rubric you might say, “You will earn three points if your story has a beginning and an end.”
  3. Teach students to check assignment rubrics while they are working on the assignment and before they turn it in to make sure they didn’t forget anything.
  4. Evaluate the assignment using the rubric and calculate the points if you are giving your student a grade for that assignment.
  5. As the teacher, you determine the grading scale depending on the number of elements and whether certain elements are more important than others.

As I said, I actually waited as long as I could to begin formal grading. But whether you decide to grade earlier or not, rubrics will still go a long way to ensure you and your students are on the same page with assignments and evaluation.

Be transparent with your students by learning to teach and grade using rubrics.

Happy teaching,

dana -- teach and grade using rubrics



Have you used rubrics with your students? When did you start using them, and how have they worked for you?


  • Heidi | Oct 2, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    I love using rubrics! They are so helpful to both the student and the teacher, especially when dealing with things like narrative essays. Your tips are very helpful!

  • Lisa Tabachnick | Sep 25, 2019 at 2:42 am

    What a fascinating topic. This is useful for me to understand my children’s school assignments as their teachers use rubrics. This can even be applied to work projects/evaluations. Can I make a suggestion? Define the word “rubric” somewhere in the post.

    • Dana | Sep 25, 2019 at 8:46 pm

      Hi Lisa, thank you for your suggestion. A definition is now included in the post. Also, that’s an astute observation that rubrics would work to evaluate work projects. Rubrics certainly can be used for work projects or employee evaluations. Just like with students, rubrics would help a worker have clear goals to aim for and an objective way to be evaluated. Thanks for your comment.

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