Do you have more piles of paper than grades in your gradebook? This easy grading system for teachers with a free assignment tracker will put you in control again.


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It’s the end of the grading term. Overwhelm hits you hard as you try not to look at all the piles of papers and digital assignments still needing grades. This is when you realize your grading system isn’t working for you. This easy grading system will wipe away that overwhelm. It won’t cost you a penny and it will help you gain control of all those papers and digital assignments and master quick grading. 

A pile of papers for grading and an A+ in red on the top paper.
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My fourth grade students was unsure if she’d handed in her last assignment.

“Did you get my report, Mrs. Pitner?”

“I’m sure I did,” I hedged. “You’re so responsible that I have no doubt you turned it in.” I patted the papers on the corner of my desk.

Her blue eyes took in the teetering tower. “Where in this pile is it?” she asked.

What they don’t teach you in your credential program

One of the things no one teaches you during your teaching credential program is how teachers deal with all that paper, all that data, and all that lack of sleep.

If you’re a secondary teacher you’re receiving probably 160 papers and digital assignments a day. If you’re an elementary teacher and you have 30 students you could potentially be receiving 100 to 150 papers a day.

When I say papers I’m not only talking about the physical papers that are worksheets or written assignments. I’m including the digital assignments that pile up. They may be sight unseen, but you know they’re waiting to be reviewed. They nag and niggle and induce the same anxiety teachers feel when there are piles of papers on their desks. 

Maybe you’re one of the teachers who puts all the papers away in a cabinet or drawer. I tried that once. It didn’t work for me. I preferred the leaning Tower of Pisa to be on top of my desk. 

Just knowing that you have all these assignments that need quick grading and assessing will sap your energy. Is there a way to change that and alleviate the stress?

Have you ever lost an assignment or two or more?

Recently I heard a parent complaining that her daughter had turned in some assignments, but they were showing as missing in the parent portal. She tried contacting the teacher but the teacher didn’t return her calls or emails.

I understood the parent’s frustration. At the same time, I understood what was probably happening from the teacher’s perspective.

The first thing that came to my mind was “The teacher doesn’t have a system that’s working for her to manage all the assignments and papers.”

The next thing that came to mind was, “The teacher maybe hasn’t graded it. Maybe they don’t know where it is.”

The third thing that came to mind was, “My heart goes out to that teacher. I can relate.”

It took me some years to figure out how to conquer the mountains of paper. I remember those stacks of paper so high on my desk, they spilled onto the floor in a paper avalanche a time or two. 

I was fairly well organized about keeping them sorted. I had the students use numbers with their names. As soon as the paper was turned in, I put them in order and clipped them together.  

I had an organized pile of grading. But it could be quite a while before I had time to look at them. The avalanche prone mountain continued to grow with every assignment, quiz, and test.

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An easy system that makes grading easy

Here’s an easy grading system that I came up with that worked for me. I started using it a few years into my teaching career and it totally revolutionized the way I handle assignments and grading.

I discovered this idea somewhere on the internet. However, I can’t tell you where I first saw this. If you’re reading this or listening to this and you’re a person who initially started this idea, thank you. Thank you so much. I’m eternally grateful to you.

That complaining parent prompted me to write this blog with my easy grading system for teachers. It’s so simple, yet so effective. I couldn’t believe how well it worked for me, no matter how many assignments there were. You might be interested in using this simple grading system, too. You know I’m all about simple systems here, right?

If you use this grading system as I describe it, I can practically guarantee you’ll be able to conquer those pesky piles of paper and digital assignments.

How to set up your quick grading system

You’ll be using three folders for three steps. I used the ever-popular stop light colors of red, yellow, and green. You can use any color system you’d like. For this post, I’m going to be using red, yellow, and green.

You’ll also need an assignment checklist. You can create one in your gradebook or spreadsheet. Or, if you want to save some time, download the one I created. It’s free and it’s in the Member Vault of this website. It’s a half-sheet of paper that you can keep on your clipboard or in one of the colored folders.

Assignment cover sheet with emoji erasers on colored paper.
Click the image to get your free assignment checklist.

Next, I had baskets for students to turn in their papers that were color coded by subject. That works well in multiple subject classrooms. If you teach different class periods, you probably just need one basket. You might also want to use color coded baskets for each section you teach.

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Timesaving Tip #1

Here’s a tip about the assignment checklist. Input all your students’ names on the checklist on the computer or by hand. Then copy or print enough assignment checklists to last you the term. 

Red folder with pens and a label that says to grade.

How to use the red folder in the grading system

The red folder is for holding on to papers that need to be graded. It’s out of the way, wherever you want to keep it. I had a tiered desk organizer, and that’s where I kept my grading system folders. You might prefer yours out of sight, in a drawer.

This assignment checklist sheet that you have on top of these papers also has a place to record your grades. That way you can carry a pile anywhere with you (meetings anyone?) and you don’t have to take your paper gradebook, or computer, or open up an app on your phone. 

You can just mark your grades as you go right on that assignment checklist. I recommend having a paper copy of your grades. I’ve completely lost my grades in the past when I didn’t have a backup or paper trail. 

Back in the mists of time, I kept my grades on a thumb drive with my grading program. I thought I was so smart and efficient. That is, until I left that thumb drive in my pocket and then I washed it and dried it! Any cloud-based app or digital gradebook is a good way store your grades.

 Keep the ungraded papers in the red folder until they’ve actually been graded. Keep the assignment checklist clipped to the papers until you’re ready for the next step, which is the yellow folder.

Once the papers are graded, they advance to the yellow folder.

Yellow folder with a label that says graded. A tablet sits on it.
The image on the tablet is part of my digital assignment tracker.

Step two of the grading system – the yellow folder

This folder is for holding on to the papers and the checklist until you’ve entered the grades in your gradebook. 

This is because not all assignments are going to go in your gradebook, right? Sometimes you grade papers and you realize students need a do-over. Or perhaps they completed the work with a substitute teacher, and you want to have them try it again. In that case, you’ll hand back the papers and let the students know they didn’t go in the gradebook.

If you’re putting it into your gradebook, check off each assignment on the tracker as you enter the grades in the gradebook. Run a highlighter down the column of each assignment once it’s been entered. Then you’re ready for step three.

Timesaving Tip #2

Green folder that says to file. Also an apple, a pen, and some sticky notes.
When you get to the green folder, you’ve made it!

Step three – the green folder

Step three is to move the student papers into a green folder. Now they’re ready to hand back. Perhaps you want to save them in a portfolio. Perhaps you need to conference with the student about their work. Anything in the green folder is graded, recorded, and ready to handle however you think is best.

The assignment checklist gets filed in a pocket of your teacher binder, or some other safe location. You may want to hang onto these until the end of the reporting term or even the school year.  

Here’s why holding on to the assignment checklist worked for me. Sometimes a parent popped in or called with a question about an assignment. It was faster for me to grab the checklist than it was to open my gradebook on my computer.

If a student turned it in an assignment late. On occasion, I missed putting the student’s grade in the gradebook.  In those instances, I was super happy to have the grade on the assignment tracker. I could add the missing grades to the gradebook with no problems.

Digital assignment tracking system

If you have a mountain of digital assignments on various sites, a digital assignment tracker is a great tool. I created a data tracker similar to the paper assignment checklist during the pandemic. It has check boxes where you can check in the assignments, and you can add a column for grades if you need that. You can see it in the image with the yellow folder. 

Another note about the assignment checklists. I kept them in a pocket of my teacher binder by subject. All of the math assignment sheets were in one pocket. ELA were in another pocket. I had a pocket for science assignments. If you’re teaching several sections of one subject, you may want to separate them by section.

I even had my assignment trackers separated by standards. But that’s just an extra level of organization that you may or may not want. You might just want to just put them all in a folder.

Boom! There you go. 

Quick summary of the easy grading system for teachers

Teacher at a desk writing and the title, Teachers, How to set up a simple grading system.
Click this image to watch a one minute video recap of how to set up your grading system.

With this grading system, you’ll have:

You can start using this easy grading system today

This super super simple system doesn’t require much.

  1. Get your printable assignment tracker from the Member Vault. 
  2. Put your students’ names on the assignment checklist and make copies of it. 
  3. Grab some binder clips and three colored folders.

You’re ready to start!

If you’re teaching an upper grade level where you have different class periods with different students in each class you can still use this system. You’ll want to label these assignment checklists clearly with the class periods or subjects. Or you can use a different color of paper for each section. You can still use the same three folders. 

It’s so easy to manage. Once I began using this system it freed up so much time for me. I didn’t realize how much time I spent looking for lost papers and stressing about the paper piles until I used this grading system.

I hope that it can work just as well for you. If you’re interested in the Digital Assignment Tracker it’s in my TPT store. There’s also a Digital Data tracker page in my digital gradebooks that I sell on TPT. They’re available for any grade from kindergarten through 8th.

You can even find an assignment tracker, a gradebook, and a report card comments generator all in one resource. in my TeacherWriter store on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Standards based CCSS teacher gradebook for 5th grade.
These handy gradebooks are available in grades K-8. Some are also in TEKS.

The assignment checklist is in the Member Vault here on my website, and it’s free. Grab a copy and three colored folders and you’ll be ready to start using this simple grading system.