Tips for Teachers: Marking Papers
Teachers who assign writing often feel as if they spend more time marking papers than
their students do writing them. The objective in responding to students‟ written work is to
teach, but what is the most effective and efficient way to respond to student writing?
Here are a few suggestions from participants in a recent faculty workshop sponsored by the
1. Read the paper once without a pen or pencil in hand. This will help you focus on the paper‟s
content and avoid the temptation to edit.
2. Don‟t feel as if you have to edit, rewrite or mark all of the errors in a student‟s paper. By
doing so, you are simply doing their work for them. If you feel that considerable sentence-level
revision is necessary, editing one page, or even just a paragraph, will give the student an idea of
how they should proceed.
3. Use a criteria grid or checklist to respond to major elements of the paper. Consider attaching
this to your assignment sheet so students will have a clear idea of the criteria you will be using to
assess their work.
4. Address common errors, style or content problems in class, especially if you are responding to
rough drafts. This will decrease the time you spend marking repeated mistakes.
5. Finally, assign writing you will want to read. A writing assignment can be a great way to
explore new dimensions of a topic covered in class or research issues you don‟t have time to
cover in lectures. Getting a stack of papers on topics you‟re interested in reading about can
definitely lessen the pain of grading.
For more suggestions about responding to student writing, check out Traci‟s Lists.
A Session with Songwriter Scott Miller
Sugar Hill Recording Artist Scott Miller will be at the Writing
and Communication Center (409 Warf-Pickel Hall) at 4 p.m. on
Wednesday, September 6th to play and discuss some of the
songs that have made him a popular and respected songwriter
both in our region and across the U.S.
It would surprise hardly anyone familiar with his music that
Miller, who studied Russian at the College of William & Mary,
is an avid reader. He leans toward American history, as do many
of his best-known songs (“Amtrak Crescent,” “Highland County
Boy,” “Red Ball Express”), and his choices appear to reflect his
outspoken nature. He shared what he‟s currently reading with the WCC in a recent email:
1. Born Fighting by James Webb. It‟s about the Scots-Irish and why we‟re not to be messed with
(and now he‟s running for the Virginia Senate Seat).
2. No Place to Hide by Robert O'Harrow. It's nothing you didn't know, but it‟s what they know
that's scary. And now private companies (thanks, BellSouth) are only happy to sell it to the
government in the name of national security.
3. Andrew Jackson by H.W. Brands. I loved Marquis James' book on Sam Houston, The Raven,
so much, but realized that he was but a protégé of the man who ran this country for two decades.
4. Sudoku II. I've been flying a lot lately and those puzzles really take my mind off the hard
stares from the Air Marshal not happy with my "Hard as a ROCK" t-shirt (it‟s my lucky flying
shirt). It'll get me as far as the scene of the crash.
For more information on Scott Miller, go to his website.
The WCC: Helping Faculty Writers
Here‟s what two ETSU faculty members have said about their sessions in the Center:
“Writing and editing are not my strong suit. Thanks for working with me to help polish my
“At a Research I university we depend upon our writing for tenure and promotion, yet
after graduate school academics have few opportunities to spend time talking about and
improving their writing. After a session working with Rob Russell I felt more confident about
sending my manuscript before an editorial review board.”
WCC Director Rob Russell is available to work with ETSU faculty and staff who are working on
papers, presentations, letters or proposals. Email or call 439-7849 to make an appointment.
Some Speaking Myths Busted!
1. Introductions aren‟t important. Nothing will put an audience to sleep faster than a
poor introduction (e.g. “Franz Joseph Hayden was born in …” or “Webster‟s dictionary
defines boring as …”). Get the audience‟s attention and orient them to your topic by
starting with a descriptive example, a surprising statistic, or a provocative question.
2. Start with a joke. Humor has its place in public speaking, but do you want to risk
alienating, offending or simply boring your audience before you‟ve even addressed your topic?
3. Memorize your speech. Know your material and practice your presentation, but don‟t try to
memorize it word for word. Good notes and plenty of practice are more effective means of
developing a confident, conversational delivery.
4. Pick a spot on the wall. Audience members can tell if you are consistently looking over their
heads or to the side of them. Find some friendly, attentive faces in the crowd and make eye
contact. Focusing on communicating with individuals might also lessen your anxiety about
speaking in front of a group.
5. Dress to make yourself comfortable. Certainly, you should not wear clothing that‟s
constricting or uncomfortable, but follow the dictum of dressing just a little bit better than your
audience. Not only will you feel more confident, it‟s only human nature to pay attention to
someone who is dressed professionally.
6. Don‟t worry about the facilities. Unless you are presenting in a room that you‟ve presented in
many times before, it‟s always a good idea to know the general layout (seating arrangement,
speaker‟s area) of the room and what equipment will be available (computer, projector,
overhead, marker board, etc.) beforehand.
7. Practice in front of a mirror. Check yourself out – distractingly dangly earrings or unkempt
hair should be avoided – but attempting to critique your own delivery while you are speaking is
nearly impossible. A better strategy would be to practice with a colleague or consultant, someone
you can make eye contact with, who will respond with meaningful feedback on the substance
and delivery of your presentation.
8. Don‟t worry about your accent or grammar. While our accents are a part of who we are,
standard pronunciation is something that we can all work on through correction and practice.
Inconsistencies and mistakes in grammar can also be embarrassing and damage your credibility.
9. Stand still! Move around! Movement should be natural – and it‟s not natural to either stand
stock-still or jump around the room. Keep the audience attentive and help release your nerves by
gesturing to emphasize a point or walking to different parts of the speaking area as you present.
10. You‟ve got no business being here. If you are being asked to speak, whether in an academic,
professional, or less formal setting, it is because it is assumed you have something to offer, share
or communicate that an audience wants, needs, or should hear. No one is expecting an earth-
shattering performance from you, so focus on communicating what you know or have learned to
your audience, not on whether or not you are an inspirational speaker or the best “expert”
Sources: Coachville: Resource Center, Presentationteam.com, Expert Magazine,
Abraham Verghese: Author and Reader
Dr. Verghese‟s first book, the memoir My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story, is set in East
Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Dr. Verghese was working as head of internal medicine at
the VA Hospital in Johnson City in the early 1980s, when the AIDS crisis first became a major
issue in our region. Reading was an important element in Dr. Verghese‟s choice to follow a
medical career path.
He will be speaking on Tuesday, October 10th in Brown Hall Auditorium at 7 pm. Prior to the
lecture he will be having dinner with students from ETSU‟s Academic Advantage classes.
Seating for the event is limited. Call Kathy Feagins in the Scholarship Office (439-7095) for
In an interview with Salon.com, he explains, “I really wanted to become a journalist before I
read Of Human Bondage. Somerset Maugham is an important influence on me, not as a writer
but as a physician.”
“I have this theory that there are novels that call people to medicine, at least for my generation.
For this generation it might be the show ER. But for me it was Of Human Bondage.”
Dr. Verghese is currently the Director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the
University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. Some of his current reading
suggestions can be found on NPR‟s website.
Creating Writing Assignments You Want to Read
1. Make an assignment sheet. If you tell students what you want, you are more likely to get it.
Include specifics such as due dates, length requirements, and whether research is required (and if
so, how many sources, of what type, and the preferred documentation style). Consider including
your grading criteria in the form of a checklist or rubric.
2. Have a goal in mind. What do you want your students to learn from
this assignment? What skills or knowledge do you want them to
demonstrate? The answers to these questions might not appear
explicitly on the assignment sheet, but they will help you when crafting
it, and also help you gauge how much instruction is required to prepare
students to do what you ask.
3. Vary format and audience. The 15-page term paper might be the best
format for writing on some topics, but asking students to write for different audiences in unusual
formats can help them see how knowledge can be communicated in a variety of ways. It also
helps demonstrate the link between writing and thinking. Have them write a song about the Ford
marketing plan, compose a memo to a fictional boss reporting on the progress of a software
development project, create a five-minute dramatization of a business law case, or write a poem
explaining a complicated theory to a class of fifth-graders.
4. Provide examples. If you expect a certain format, style or mode of writing, especially if it‟s
one your students aren‟t familiar with, provide them with a model – a published piece or even an
old student paper. Discussing and critiquing writing that‟s similar to what you‟re asking from
them will help alleviate students‟ anxieties about new types of writing and result in better papers.
5. Tell students where they can get help. The Writing & Communication Center is a great
resource for students at any stage of the writing process. Suggest that students go over their
assignment sheets with a peer tutor to brainstorm ideas before writing. Ask them to share their
rough drafts to get constructive feedback. Not only can this result in more thoughtful and
interesting papers, it can also reduce the amount of “work” you have to do when grading.
If you would like more information on any of these topics, either for yourself or your classes,
contact WCC Director Rob Russell by email or phone (439-7849).
Slaid Cleaves on Writing „The Dark Stuff‟
Read more about Slaid Cleaves; he‟ll be performing and speaking at a workshop at the WCC on
Wednesday, Nov. 8th @ 4 pm.
When I was five I would cry when I heard Hank sing “Poor Old Kawliga.” When I was starting
out, I learned everyone's saddest song. Hank's “Ramblin' Man” and “Six More Miles,” Bruce's
“The River” and “Stolen Car,” Tom Waits' “Hang Down Your Head,” Dylan's “Hollis Brown,”
Woody's “Ain't Got No Home” and “Poor Boy.”
In the winter of '99 I was putting the songs together for this album [Broke Down], and the
material I had written was all pretty bleak. There was the ghost of a rancher, a dying lumber
jack, two dead miners, a divorced couple, a couple about to break up, and a couple that never
quite got together, plus a couple of guys who are so far beyond depressed they're into defiance
and then some. I thought, well, either I need to write some happy stuff to balance this record out,
or I need to just go with the dark stuff. And then I had a little epiphany, and I said, Yeah. I'll be
the guy who writes the saddest songs, the tragic stuff. That's always been what's moved me.
When I was playing on the street in the late 80s I could do every song on Springsteen's Nebraska
(even the B-sides). So, that's obviously what I'm most interested in. And then I thought, Who
writes sad stuff anymore? Nashville's Hallmark greeting card writers pump out "uplifting love
songs" (publishers said that over and over while I was up there - that's all they were interested
in). And pop is full of adolescent angst and irony, which is fine for all the 16-year-olds. When's
the last time you saw a video that told a story of being down, being broke, struggling, facing
death? Well, I thought, there's my niche.
-- from “Thoughts on Broke Down”
What‟s On Your Syllabus?
Would a student looking at your syllabus know what to expect when they walk into your
classroom? Would they have an indication of your grading criteria, the amount of reading you
expect, the types of assignments they will be asked to complete, or how to effectively prepare for
class? Here are a few tips for giving your course syllabus a “fresh look” this spring.
1. Keep it concise and organized. A two-three page syllabus can be just as informative as a six-
pager. Write clearly and concisely, and organize your syllabus so that it‟s easy for students read
and understand: use section headings, bold type and italics for emphasis.
2. Let students know what to expect from the course. How will the course be taught – it is
primarily lecture, seminar or discussion? Is it an “intensive” course, and if so, what kinds of
writing, speaking or technology-oriented assignments will be required; what kinds of specialized
skills might they be expected to utilize (software programs, research documentation styles, etc.).
3. Spell out what you expect from your students. If your course requires lots of in-class
participation and collaboration, emphasize the importance of attendance; if students are expected
to be able to discuss the required readings in depth prior to the lecture, let them know. Students
are more likely to give you what you want in class if they know what you expect from them.
4. Discuss your grading system and evaluation criteria. Be specific when discussing your system
for computing grades (and consider keeping your grade book on Blackboard so that students can
keep track of their progress). Include your evaluation criteria for papers and speeches, if you
5. Provide some tips for success. If you‟ve taught this course before, you can probably offer
some suggestions to help students do well. What have you noticed about students who succeed in
your course? What topics or skills do students struggle with the most? What habits do successful
students share, and what practices seem to work best for learning the material?
Source: Adapted from The Center for Teaching & Learning at the University of Minnesota.
WCC: Jump Start Workshops
If you are teaching a Writing or Oral Intensive course, consider attending a “Jump Start”
Workshop at the WCC. Whether it‟s your first time teaching an intensive course or you‟d just
like some fresh ideas for creating assignments, evaluation or course design, these short (45-
minute) informal workshops can be a great way to start the Spring 2007 term. Email WCC
Director Rob Russell @ email@example.com or call 439-8202 to register! All workshops will be
held at the WCC in 409 Warf-Pickel Hall.
Writing Intensive “Jump Start” Workshops at the WCC: Monday, January 8th @ 10 am and
Wednesday, January 10th @ 11 am
Oral Intensive “Jump Start” Workshops at the WCC: Monday, January 8th @ 11 am and
Wednesday, January 10th @ 10 am
Got the “bad PowerPoint presentation” blues?
When the topic of PowerPoint comes up in my discussions with faculty, I
often get to hear some very amusing stories. Somewhat surprisingly (or
maybe not), most of them involve other faculty members – not students –
presenting at workshops or conferences. The usual suspects, in terms of
PowerPoint foibles, are repeated again and again: speaking to the slide
show instead of the audience; creating slides that are too busy, confusing,
or with text too small to read; and misuse or overuse of animation, sound
effects and other “gimmicks” that quickly become distracting.
While our students might not be the main offenders in these tales of
presentations gone wrong, instructors often ask me to speak to their
classes about the best ways to use PowerPoint when giving technology-assisted oral
presentations. I‟ve come up with a few basic tips that you might consider passing along to your
students – or to a colleague!
1. Use PowerPoint to enhance your presentation – not take the place of it! For most academic
assignments (but not all), PowerPoint should be considered no more than a visual aid, adding
visual elements to emphasize points or make certain ideas clearer to your audience through
pictures, graphs, bullet points, and even video. It can be a very effective supplement to your
presentation, and it can even be deeply integrated into how you present, but your slide show
should serve your delivery of the presentation, not the other way around.
2. Keep it brief and clear. Slide shows should be designed so that audience members in the back
row can see and read every item on every slide. Consequently, slides should not be crammed
with information: it is the speaker‟s responsibility to elaborate on the ideas that are being
emphasized by the graphics or text on the slides.
3. Show your face, not your back. Nothing frustrates and bores audiences more (except maybe
number 4) than speakers who spend the bulk of their presentations reading aloud from the slides.
The audience should be engaged with gestures, movement and, yes, eye contact the same as they
would if the slides were not there.
4. To handout or not to handout – that is the question! This is a touchy subject, since it is very
commonly done, but I‟ve heard numerous instructors and conference attendees complain about
speakers who give their audience handouts of their entire slide show before giving the
presentation. While there may be some advantages to this, it takes away from the audience‟s
focus (and the effectiveness of the presentation) by tempting them to read ahead and not listen to
the speaker. My advice is to offer handouts after the presentation, not before, if you plan on
making them available.
For more information, contact Rob Russell at the Writing & Communication Center.
Tips for Helping International Students Succeed
Last semester, ETSU enrolled 385 “international” graduate and undergraduate students from 75
countries, representing a broad range of languages and cultures. These students face some unique
challenges, both linguistic and cultural, that can make it difficult for them to succeed:
1. Teaching and Learning Styles – Many of ETSU‟s international students come from countries
where instruction is much more teacher-centered than in the U.S. Students are expected to listen
to the instructor and take notes; questions and discussion are rare. In addition, students are
expected to memorize information and respond to exams with answers that are taken verbatim
from lectures and texts.
2. Academic Writing – Students coming to ETSU from non-western higher education
backgrounds are much less likely to have extensive writing experience, even in their own
language. For instance, Chinese university students might be asked to write only one long paper
(more than ten pages) and three or four short reports during their entire university education.
3. Definitions of Academic Integrity – Definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and other forms
of academic misconduct are often very different in other cultures, especially those where ideas
regarding individual authorship and giving credit to sources are fairly new.
4. Speaking and Listening Skills – Difficulties regarding oral communication are not restricted to
speaking. Often, international students have difficulty keeping up with lectures and
understanding instructions because their listening skills are not as advanced as their spoken or
written English skills.
What can instructors do to help our international students adapt and succeed in this new learning
environment, especially in courses/majors with a high concentration of international students?
Here are some strategies to consider:
1. Meet with your international students outside of class to discuss class policies; indicate your
willingness to answer questions about lectures or assignments after class, if they prefer (many
international students would consider it unthinkably rude to ask a question in class).
2. Give those students who appear to be struggling additional time to complete writing
assignments – they will be less tempted to plagiarize and more likely to submit readable work.
3. Encourage them to use the services provided by the Writing & Communication Center. We
have a weekly “English Table” where international students learn about U.S. culture and practice
their spoken English (see below). We also offer individual tutoring for writing and speaking
assignments, as well as tutors who specialize in helping them improve English pronunciation and
For more information, contact Rob Russell.