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A Checklist For Grading Thoughtful Essays

Someone recently mentioned to a discussion group that it would be nice to have a list of the main points of each reading (in a particular curriculum) so that they could be confident about grading their student's essay.


OK, I might sound a little contrarian here πŸ™‚

​One of the most difficult things for me to learn was to let go of a 'right' outline or bullet points in any given piece of literature. My training in seminary was the most challenge because I was looking for THE OUTLINE in a particular book of the Bible...I was being graded by my professor AND God!

In time, I realized that there really is no authoritative outline in an essay or other kinds of literature; meaning there is no objective/perfect outline. Obviously, if a writer gives you the outline, then use it. On the other hand, what you are really trying to do is understand a point, the point, or a pattern in the piece.

Ephesians can be broken into chapters 1-3 and 4-6, divided at 4:1 when it talks about walking worthy (in light of chapters 1-3's high calling).

Another way to go is to divide it in terms of Sit, Walk, and Stand, which also fairly breaks it down into a pattern that makes sense:

       Position: SIT (1:1 – 3:21)

       Practice: WALK (4:1 – 6:9)

       Protection: STAND (6:10-24)

You could also simply use beginning, middle, and end as an outline πŸ™‚

My advice is that given the complexity and power of the human mind in its use of language... quit imagining that there is just one set of answers or points you have to make...especially when essays are the sharing of one's own view, often about the piece of literature at hand.

It could be that an answer key would be a help, but looking for the right answer doesn't help us as much when we are interacting with powerful-and-abstract-concepts. The wrestling with ideas isn't a 1+2=3 game. We are growing students who can think, period.

I'd be far more interested in the following kinds of questions for evaluation, rather than making sure a student got the right points:

1. Did I get the sense that the essayist (your child) clearly understood the literature (or debate topic) under discussion?

2. Did the essayist support their ideas with appropriate citations?

3. Was the essayist fair?

4. Was the essayist reasonable?

5. Can I say honestly, "I see your point." [Clarity]

6. Was I tempted to agree with the essayist? [Persuasion]

7. Was the essayist challenging and supporting the idea or ideas involved, or just attacking the person in view (ad hominem is not good)?

Anyway, that's a fair starter-kit. If we want to grow independent learners who are ready for life, they must transition from finding the right answers to thinking about the right questions, true? We are wanting their thoughts, their view, their reasoning bursting forth on paper (or screen).


Fred Ray Lybrand

P.S. Here are a few helpful links:

10 Creative Writing Prompts for Kids

Here's a quick list which will help kids (or adults) with their writing prompts. In our approach with The Writing Course, we encourage writing every single day in order to hone the skill of mastering the sentence and growing in confidence.

Sometimes it's hard to get started, so here are a few creative ideas you won't find together anywhere else or in other writing courses.

Creative Prompt 1: Describe a Thing
Get a pickle jar or a doll or a box of jewelry and simply write out a description. Imagine trying to explain it to someone who has bandages on her eyes. Details are good, and there is no reason to be flowery.

Creative Prompt 2: Spell Your Name
We love this one. Just spell your name and make up a word for each of the letters. Then look at the words a few times and start writing about at least one of them. So, my wife's name is JODY. In this creative writing prompt she might write Joke, Octopus, Dragon, and Yell. Next, she could start with, "The dragon started yelling at everyone, 'I know I have bad breath! Do you think it's fun to have fire explode from a tummy ache?'" From there...you just keep writing.

Creative Prompt 3: Free Associate
Just start writing word after word as they remind you of things. "Cat...dog...flea...flee...run away...I was running away that day, that was for sure. I couldn't take it anymore." Well, you get the idea.

Creative Prompt 4: Pick Up Where You Left Off
If you are writing everyday, then it is easy just to pick up where you stopped. Let it unfold as a story by reading the last few sentence from 'yesterday' and starting in today.

Creative Prompt 5: Steal and Change
Just take some other story you know as a beginning and then start changing it. You aren't publishing this, so it isn't really 'stealing' is it? So, you know the story of the Three Little Pigs... start there. "There were three pigs, a wolf, a grandma, and a lot of house problems. The pig smelled so bad the fairy godmother changed them into gardenia bushes and planted them outside of grandmothers house." Just keep going from there.

Creative Prompt 6: Ask Someone Else
Ask someone else, "Tell me something to start writing about." This isn't a place for you to say, "No, I don't like that one." Instead say, "Thanks and start writing." Face it, you are just practicing so it doesn't really matter if you write about someone elses suggestion.

Creative Prompt 7: Make a Ten Word List
Similar to your name, this idea just says you need a prompt to get you going. Write down ten words; perhaps things in the room. Next, start writing about how some of those things could be in a story or situation.

Creative Prompt 8: Don't Make Sense
We love this one because it is so hard to do. Start trying to write something that doesn't make sense and see where it goes. It's kind of like Lewis Carroll's Queen bragging that she thinks of six impossible things before breakfast. For example, "I caught the cold in my cupped hands and gave it straight away to the window pane; which is always waiting for just one lick of a baby to cure the paint in Martha's teacup in the car shed upstairs." Yes, I have no idea what I'm saying, but isn't it fun?

Creative Prompt 9: Create an Introduction
Create a standard introduction to a story and write it first; it should get you going. You know, things like "Once upon a time" and "In a galaxy far, far, away..." Your's could be "She had nothing to do with it, but it was happening anyway..."

Creative Prompt 10: Pray
Yes, if you are a praying soul. Give it a try and see what happens πŸ™‚ You could at least write your prayer down on paper: that would be a start!

Whether you are an adult or child, a public or homeschool student, a seasoned pro or a newbie, the key to learning to write is to write. How to get started sometimes alludes us, but you have 10 ideas here that can change it all! Give it a try and let us know how it goes πŸ™‚

Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand