Rubrics will save you time, help your students improve their skills, and provide fair, balanced assessments. 

You can use an online rubric maker — or you can create your own that are balanced and fair.

Here is the secret “recipe” for creating and using your own.

Create just the right rubric by using this easy-to-use formula.  Make sure rubrics are meaningful teaching tools.  Includes free cheat sheet!

What’s a rubric, anyway?

Here’s your etymological lesson for the day:  waaaay back in the 14th century, the word rubric referred to the red lettering that manuscript writers used to call attention to important information in a document.  The root of the word is “ruber,” which means “red.”

Today, most teachers associate the word rubric with a list of criteria used to evaluate something.

Today, the meaning most teachers associate with the word “rubric” is a list of criteria used to evaluate something.

Why use rubrics?

They are beneficial to both you and your students.


  • understand how they’ll be evaluated
  • see exactly what they need to include in their work
  • determine if they have met all the evaluation criteria
  • develop responsibility in meeting the requirements of the assignment


  • can determine what is important to assess
  • pinpoint the objectives of a unit of study
  • provides ease in grading (you don’t have to grade “all the things”)
  • removes the question from students and parents:  “What do I need to do to get an A”
  • helps you “backward design” your lesson plans

When do you need a rubric?
How to create a custom rubric for any assignment

Not every assignment needs a rubric.  You probably only want a rubric for summative assessments that have multiple parts.

If you assign and assess writing journals, a rubric will be helpful in keeping students focused on the writing task, but a rubric for daily homework or a vocabulary study probably isn’t necessary.

Types of rubrics

You have options. You can use a holistic, analytic, single point rubric.

It’s worth experimenting with each of them.

The holistic rubric

If you’ve ever seen an SAT written exam score, you’ll understand the holistic rubric. The writing as a whole is scored. A piece of writing may get a 5 or 4.

The advantages of this type of scoring are that it’s fast. But the disadvantages outweigh that — holistic rubrics don’t provide much feedback or guidance to the writer.

The analytic rubric

This rubric has multiple areas for assessment. You can break down the product you are assessing into various, specific items.

When you create an analytic rubric, you can use your standards to break down exactly what you want to assess.

The advantages of an analytic rubric if you create it before you start your unit, it basically lays out all the steps you need to teach. You can use it for your mini lessons and to assure you’ve taught all your standards.

It is also specific enough for students to see what they need to do.

The disadvantage is that it does require more planning and time.

The single point rubric

This type of rubric is more general. It includes a description of general “targets” for an assignment.

So rather than going through a rubric, which is more like a checklist, you’ll be providing general feedback.


These types of rubrics are helpful when you’re providing feedback during the writing process. They’ll also a bit faster to grade. The downside is that is can be harder to pull a score from a single point rubric.

How to create them & what to include?

You can use an online tool like Rubistar to help you create quick rubrics; however, after spending waaay too much time trying to get the rubric just right, I decided to create my own with my own templates that I could quickly adjust to meet the needs of my students.

Creating custom rubrics without going crazy

  1. To get started, grab your standards and your project sheet.  If you don’t have a project sheet that’s okay.  Just decide what it is that you will be grading (speech, essay, poster, digital book report, whatever).
  2. Open a table document in your favorite word processing application.
  3. Start with the standards that apply to the assignment.
  4. Pick the non-negotiable.  Yes, all the standards are important, but you want your rubric to help you speed up your grading, so by including every single thing you will feel like you are chained to the rubric!  Pick a handful (that means 5!) standards you want to assess. (Examples in just a second!)
  5. Type the standards you want to evaluate in the left hand column.  So you might have: organization, introduction, conclusion, transitions, conventions
  6. Determine how many points you want on your scale.  I like 5 since it’s easy to have 3 as “average” rather than wondering if it is a 4 or 3 (above average or below).  Type the points across the top of your table.  I usually have four columns:   5, 4, 3, 2-0.
  7. Fill in your standards.  Start with the perfect score.  Write a short, clear description of what a perfect score would include.  Move across your scale with your description.

Nitty-gritty issues

Do I have to full out a description for each box?  

That depends on you and your students.  At the start of the year, it can be helpful to have a description in each box of the rubric.  However, if your students understand what “A clear, engaging introductory paragraph with a strong lead” means, you probably don’t need to write it in each box.

Sometimes, though, having a description in each box with help you determine the score for that item.

Do I have to have a column for each numbered score?

Middle school writers are fragile.  Like little seedlings just sprouting.  They need all the encouragement they can get to grow and thrive as writers (and people for that matter!).  It is too easy to trample new writers by pointing out every error.

That is why my last column is 2-0 (out of 5).

My descriptions might say:  “Your introduction is sparse or missing.”  That way I’m not picking out every little thing the student is doing wrong.  This gives me a lot of leeway with scoring below average work as well.

Must-have items

I recommend you always include an item for conventions and one for presentation.

These are important life-skills.  Imagine writing a resume without checking for conventions or wondering if it looks presentable.

A standard rubric?

This is the holy grail for writing teachers!  We grade soooooo much!  Wouldn’t a standard rubric make our lives easier?

Yes…and no.

Since ELA teachers grade sooooo much, the idea of a rubric is to shorten the amount of time we grade.  A custom rubric will score just the items you teach.  It isn’t fair to score students on something you don’t teach.  By making a specific rubric, students can focus on specific writing standards.

Getting the most out of your rubric

  1. provide students with a copy of the rubric as they start an assignment
  2. discuss the requirements of it — use them as mini lessons!
  3. discuss and brainstorm how your students can get the “Wow!” factor in the assignment.  This will help them understand what a perfect score looks like.

How to I grade it if it isn’t out of 100 points?

I have a formula for that! Just download this freebie and I’ll send it your way.

You can find ready-to-go writing resources (rubrics included) in my shop!

So, how do you use rubrics to make your teaching life easier?

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