How to Grade a High School Essay

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I always struggled with grading my children’s writing, especially essays. If they had something good to say, I complimented and praised with delight, then tended to focus on their grammar and spelling. Well, that changed when I taught an essay course with my oldest daughter. She is an amazing teacher with a Master’s degree in English and experience teaching freshman English at UCF.


Be Positive

I was sharing my weakness in grading with my younger daughter’s creative writing professor at a recent wedding. He encouraged me by saying that studies have shown that positive feedback is the number one factor in children excelling at writing. That made me so happy that I had been so positive with my children’s writing. So, I pass that on to you. Be upbeat, positive, and full of true praise when you talk about their writing.

“I love the illustrations you used here! They are so creative!”

“Wow! That is a great quote.”

“I love your writing style.”

Tell them in person. Write notes on their paper. I used lots of smileys.

Now, onto actual grading. Grading’s purpose is always to help them become better writers. We always rewrite papers at least once. Here are the things to examine when grading.



Step back from the paper, ignoring the grammar and spelling. Does the paper say something that is interesting and valuable? If you know what teens are trying to say, you can help them to say it more effectively.



Is the paper interesting and readable? Does it make you want to read more? Are the sentences well-written? Are concrete words used to make the meaning clear? Is your young writer concise or do they ramble on and on?



Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is the cornerstone of the essay. It reveals the purpose of the papers and guides each paragraph.

Does the thesis make a provable point or is it too vague?


Thesis Statement & Each Paragraph

Does the thesis statement guide the paper so that each paragraph relates to the thesis statement?

I like to teach my teens to write a thesis statement that is very specific so that the paper easily follows by matching it.

Here is an example.

Dogs make better pets than cats because they come when you call, are easier to train, and like to ride in a car.

Paragraph one will be the introduction, paragraph two about dogs responding to their owner’s call, paragraph three showing dogs are easier to train, paragraph four proving dogs enjoy car rides and why that makes them a good pet, and finally, in the fifth paragraph, the conclusion.


Flow of Essay

The next thing to examine is the flow of the paper. Can you follow the argument? Does it transition well from one paragraph to another or are you lost? Are the points shared in a logical way?

Is the thesis introduced in the introduction?

Are quotes introduced in a way that they make sense to the reader?

Is the thesis restated and the reader called to action in the final paragraph?


Grammar & Spelling

Though poor grammar and spelling are the most irritating to me when I grade a paper, they are really less important than the true writing in the paper. I always have the kids correct their mistakes, but it is less than 10% of their final grade.

Here is an example of how to break down the grading:

  • Content 20%
  • Readability 15%
  • Thesis Statement 20%
  • Thesis Statement and each paragraph 20%
  • Flow of essay 15%
  • Grammar and spelling 10%

You will notice I grade heavily on the thesis statement and content.

Please share how you grade your teens’ essays so we can all learn from one another.


More Help with Writing

Turn an Essay into a Blog Post

How I Teach English in High School

Until next time, Happy Homeschooling,


Meredith Curtis


Meredith Curtis, homeschooling mom, writer, speaker, and publisher, loves to encourage families in their homeschooling adventure. She is the author of Communication 101: Essays & Speeches, American Literature & Research, and  Who Dun It Mystery Literature & Writing Course (all high school one-credit English courses). You can check out her books, curricula, unit studies, and Bible studies at Free Reading Lists for all ages are available at Read her blogs at ( and and listen to her podcast at Finish Well Radio

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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).