Empowering learners with rubrics

Paul Spijkerbosch, Matsuyama University


Quick guide

  • Keywords: Rubric, learner autonomy, brain-storming, self-assessment, presentation, evaluation, feature description, feature categorization.
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: 90 minutes
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Pencil and paper


Reading or listening to a teacher’s expectations can be hard for students. In my classes, I have found inviting students to develop their own evaluation structure improves their motivation, interest, and performance in a project. For teachers wanting to empower their students by getting themmore involved in the learning and assessment procedure, rubrics can provide the ideal mechanism. The goal of this activity is toget your students to first construct a rubric, then use it to score their classmates’ 1-minute presentations.


The teacher may wish to consider a sample rubric before the class in order to facilitate discussion during construction of the class rubric. An example is provided in Appendix 1.


Step 1:Introduce the goal of the activity to the students (in this case, 1-minute informal verbal presentations). The teacher should demonstrate an example of both an ideal presentation, and a poor presentation.

Step 2:Divide the class into several work groups of five orsix students each, depending on class size. Students consider and brainstorm what features of the presentation they think are important. The concept of brainstorming may have to be explained.

Step 3:Group members tell the teacher and classmates their findings, group by group. Findings are immediately written up in a list, at the front of the classroom, for everyone to see.

Step 4:Synthesize the target features. “Can hear”, “big voice”, “understand words”and “can understand,”for example, may be synthesized into two features (volume and enunciation) with a common concept (clarity)—see Appendix 1. Each group discusses feature categorizations to ensure everybody is satisfied. The teacher may need to be quite involved at this stage to ensure that the target features are evenly represented in the rubric (depending on what is being assessed).

Step 5:The teacher introduces the rubric concept. The teacher demonstrates how each scale can be divided into varying stages of success.Volume, for example (see Appendix 1), can have four stages, ranging from “poor”to “excellent”. Scales may need further discussion, so that all class members understand the distinction between, say, “poor”and “insufficient.”Groups can expand on this through discussion. It could be important here to emphasize that simplicity would be best, considering that listeners will have limited thinking timeduring the presentations.

Step 6:The teacher molds the categories into a preliminary rubric through exchanges with students.

Step 7:Classmates prepare and perform their presentations in a second lesson. This, of course, is dependent on class numbers. Students grade their classmates’ presentations. Topics (for the presentations) can be selected by either the teacher or the students. I usually give titles 30 minutes before the first presentation. The 30 minutes allows enough time for students to consider structure and vocabulary, and even though some students present after others, they are busy assessing classmates’ presentations, so preparation time is equitable. Given this limited preparation time, speech memorization is not important, but the rubric is used to score presentations according to other selected criteria.

Step 8:At the conclusion of the presentations, students discuss the efficacy of the rubric that the class constructed. This can be done in groups, or as a class.


Almost any kind of output can be assessed using a rubric, including essays, stories, presentations, and dialog. Basically, we can use rubrics to mark a wide range of student output that can also serve as an effective feedback form. Students can directly relate their output to a rubric form, thereby improving grading transparency and arguably raising student motivation to autonomously prepare for the task. Rubric development takes time, and presents an opportunity for the teacher to appraise the rationale of the task. We need to ask ourselves what our goal is in any particular situation. What skill set am I asking the student to demonstrate? Do I need to teach a particular skill or requirement that would be reflected in the rubric?



Sample presentation rubric


(being tested):







































Listeners simply have to tick the appropriate box at the conclusion of the presentation, then add up the score for, in this case, a total out of 20.