3 Grading Tips to Take the Work out of Worksheets

Stop Drowning in Grading Worksheets!

Worksheets in grade 7-12 are used by teachers in all content areas. Worksheets are generally printed teaching resources that, when combined with good teaching, can help students learn important concepts

Worksheets are most often used as formative assessments which are used by teachers in order to

"...conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course." 

There are several arguments against the use of worksheets, and unfortunately worksheets do get a bad reputation as they are often associated with busy work. Worksheets also perpetuate the "grade-me" culture in education: the belief that every assignment , no matter how trivial, completed by a student deserves a grade.

Worksheets are also preferred in substitute lesson plans. These sheets are the student work that is left by a teacher who must, for one reason or another, be out of the classroom. Worksheets are often collected, but not graded, by substitutes. Usually, this means the teacher returns to class-behind in assessing- inundated with piles of worksheets to grade.

Since worksheets are added to the pile of papers for teachers to review-along with tests, quizzes, lab reports, or larger projects, the time commitment for assessing is one of the biggest arguments against their use.  When they are completed, these pages of low-priority student work can add to a teacher's pile of papers to grade.

What Kinds of Worksheets Can Be Reduced

Generally, the most effective worksheets are those that serve as formative assessments. These worksheets can be used by teachers in several different formats in every content area. These forms can be printed as hard copies or made available digitally, and they can include:

  • short answers
  • multiple choice questions
  • matching exercises
  • problem solving
  • fill-in-the-blank 
  • word searches
  • crossword puzzles

Worksheets can be given a grade (points or letter grade) or assessed merely for completion. Either way, the weight worksheets are given in a grading program should be minimal, for example 5% or 10%.

Stop Drowning in Grading Worksheets!

Since there is a finite amount of time a teacher has to grade worksheets, a teacher has to consider ways to speed up the grading process. In speeding up the grading process, the teacher is better able to provide each student with feedback in a timely manner while taking the pulse of the class in learning.

These three strategies also increase the amount of work students are doing, while reducing the amount of work teachers are doing. According to Thaddeus Guldbrandsen (Vice Provost for Research and Engagement at Plymouth College):

"We know from the latest neuroscience of learning that the person who does the work does the learning,”

Here are three separate strategies designed to put the work of the student learner while also speed up the grading process. Each allows the teacher the opportunity to grade papers and return them to students quickly. These three strategies also make sure that student doing all the work necessary, and that the teacher can quickly use the results to inform instruction.  By selecting the most critical questions in advance or by using a question randomizer or by combining student responses, teachers can help the work out of worksheets.

There are multiple resources for finding content specific worksheets, usually provided by textbook publishers, or teachers can create their own using an online worksheet generator.

Grade Only One Worksheet Question -Randomizing before Assessing

Use digital tools to select questions on worksheets. Marc Trigalou/GETTY Images


Even with multiple questions, every worksheet in every content area contains a high priority question (or two) that a teacher can use to determine whether a student understands the content or the concept. 

In this strategy, students first respond to all questions on the worksheet.

Once the worksheet is complete, and before the student turns in the fully completed worksheet, the teacher announces that only one (or two) question(s) will be reviewed for for a grade.

The teacher can choose which question(s) will be graded in advance. That announcement should be made only after students have completed the worksheets. 

For example, in a class of 26 students, a worksheet of 12 questions will generate 312 responses to assess and then calculate for a final grade. Using this method, a teacher will grade only 26 questions in total.

Students should be given a few minutes, an opportunity to double check, in order to review a response to that specific question before passing the worksheet in. ​

This strategy requires a student to answer many more questions then the one that is used to evaluate student(s) progress. Here, it is the student who is "doing the work and doing the learning.” 

Selecting which question will be used to assess student behavior can be done in advance.

There are times, however, when a teacher may want to use a randomizer (to order or select a question  to reduce bias and interference).

A teacher can pick a number (roll dice, numbered popsicle sticks, etc) and announce that number to the class as the worksheet question number that will be assessed. (Ex: "Today, I will be grading question #4 only.")

The following Digital Tools allow teachers to let technology choose which question(s) students should answer.

Wheel Decide:

"WheelDecide LLC helps us all make decisions when a coin just doesn’t have enough sides....Wheel Decide has also proved to be an engaging tool for businesses, education, and entertainment."


  • Enter a list of comma-separated items "question 1, question 2, question 3")
  • Click "Pick one!"
  • One selection will appear.


  • Students complete worksheet as a group;
  • Teacher announces only one question will be graded;
  • Teacher chooses the question OR uses one of the randomizers above.

Individual Student Choice on Group Worksheet

Have students work collaboratively on worksheet with each student responsible for a question he or she chooses. kali9/GETTY Images

In this strategy, students work together as a group on a worksheet with each student responsible for responsible for one (or two) question(s)on the worksheet.

All questions on the worksheet will be graded, but the number of sheets collected for the class is reduced. For example, a class of 27 students can be put into groups of three (3) which means there will be nine (9) worksheets collected.

When a teacher assesses the worksheet, each student receives a grade based on his or her individual answer(s). 

This activity is connected to the standards promoted by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in Productivity and Accountability categories. This standard recommends that students, "Collaborate and cooperate effectively with teams."

Using this strategy, even with the ordinary worksheet, is an example of requiring students to engage in critical thinking, communication skills, and collaboration. These skills are promoted by Tony Wagner and the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Students can choose their groups or be assigned. 

Students will have the opportunity to pick the question he or she chooses.

Teachers may need to prepare for this kind of group work that allows students to help each other with responses, a form of peer to peer coaching. 

The following Apps allow teachers to let technology choose students for groups for worksheets.

Team Shake: (iTunes/Android)

  • Easily Create Teams by Shaking your Phone
  • Create Multiple Class Lists for easy use
  • Add Names via Keyboard or Contacts

​Stickpick: (iTunes)

Popsicle sticks are digital -- and they can do a whole lot more than just display names. 

Random Students: (Android)
Free version allows teacher and educators to use the app for one class of up to 200 students. 

• device speaks name aloud
• track correct and incorrect responses
• create custom and random student groups

Randomized Collection of Worksheets

Collect the same kinds of worksheets in groups rather then from the whole class. Ableimages/GETTY Images


In this strategy, all students complete worksheets. 

The teacher then collects worksheets from several-not all-members of the class.The choice can be based on pre-set lists or through the use of a digital randomizer (to order or select a student names to reduce bias and interference).

For example, if there are 24 students in a class, and the randomizer selects six names, over the course of four weeks, all student work will be reviewed.

Using a name picker or randomizer, the teacher may announce, "Today, I will be collecting worksheets from the following students: Marco, Eleazar, Jessibeth, Keesha, Micha, and Truman."

NOTE: This strategy must be used with diligent record keeping so that every student has been included in the randomizing and has had a worksheet assessed. Students need to be aware that even if a paper was collected the week previous, their names could still be in the name selection pool.


This strategy is best used with worksheets that are similar in content. For example, if a teacher uses the same fill-in-the-blank vocabulary sheets every week or math problems every day, this strategy is effective because of the similarity in worksheet skill assessment.

The following websites allow teachers to digitally choose student or team names; each app allows students to be "removed" from previous selection:

Class Tools-Fruit Machine/Typewriter Randomizer: Input list of questions (by number) and then press either typewriter or fruit machine. The randomizer will select one of the questions with each "spin".

PrimarySchoolICT: Random Name Selector that uses sound as the names spin. (free-license agreement must be signed)