Grade Mechanics Quickly, While Helping Students Learn

When you give your students a writing assignment, tell them that you will be grading them on mechanics by choosing only one page (but you don't tell them which page) from the assignment to note their mechanical errors. On that page, you will be putting a check in the left (or right) margin in line for each error without identifying what the error is or correcting it.

You set the standard in your rubric of how many errors on the page will affect the grade in what ways (e.g., 0-5 errors = 20 points gained for mechanics, 5-10 errors = 15 pts. gained, 10-15 errors = 10 pts., 15-20 errors = 5 pts., more than 20 errors = 0 pts.)

After returning the graded assignments to your students, make the required follow-up assignment of identifying and correcting all the mechanical errors (or as many as students possibly can) they have made on that page to gain back points they lost. They will get credit only for accurate correction. So students are motivated to get the mechanics right the first time, you should give them only half the value of the points they lost for each correction.

Tell the students to make their corrections on the actual page of the paper in a different color ink (or pencil) than black and the color you used. Give them three to four days to complete this follow-up assignment and provide them with references to one or more sources of English-language/writing handbooks. (The web has a variety of them.) Of course, you really don't care who or what they consult to identify and correct the errors.

When you collect these corrected pages, you need only look at the number of checkmarks you made in the margin and the number of correct corrections made. And the students will remember errors they looked up and corrected and won't want to repeat the errors again.

On the next paper, select another page for this procedure. Chances are that you won't see a student repeating the same errors. This second (and the third and the fourth) time around, you will catch new errors, and your students will teach themselves additional mechanics lessons.


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director
Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation
Clemson University