Quick Writing Assessments to Check Students’ Progress at the Beginning of the Year

Student Letters

At the beginning of the school year, you don’t have time to grade five-paragraph essays for a writing assessment. So, one easy writing assessment to conduct around the first day of school is to have students write you a letter. I used this quick assessment each year I taught third, fourth, and fifth grades:

  1. Write students a letter from you. This letter should introduce yourself to students and tell them some interesting details about your life. If you want to assess paragraphing skills, your letter should also include paragraphs. Your letter should be no longer than one page.
  2. After students read your letter, they write a letter to you, introducing themselves. Give students criteria for the letter such as, “Tell me three details about yourself, and two details about your family.”
  3. Make a rubric for an easy writing assessment. You can make an easy rubric. For example, you might use three symbols: a plus sign, a check mark, and a minus sign. One item on the rubric might be using capital letters properly. If the student always uses capital letters properly, then he receives a + sign. If he sometimes uses them, he receives a check mark, and so on.
  4. Think about your writing objectives for the year, and use these as items on your rubric. If you discover students have already mastered a skill at the beginning of the school year, then there’s no need to waste classroom time teaching it.

Story Starters

For a fiction writing assessment, you can do this quick exercise at the beginning of the school year. Again, it will help to have a rubric made (which you can always do over the summer) for easy grading, comparison, and observing.

  1. Type up a story starter that has the beginning and middle of a story. Make one copy for each student.
  2. Explain to students that you want them to finish the story. Give them a limit of no more than one page since you want this to be a quick writing assessment.
  3. Depending on the grade you teach and your writing objectives for the year, you will want to set criteria for the stories such as, "Please include dialogue, one scene change, and a satisfying ending."
  4. Use your rubric to assess students' stories and decide which objectives to teach during the school year.

Both of these quick writing assessments can be used in the middle and the end of the year to check students' progress.