Six Steps to Writing Thoughtful Report Card Comments

By Brenda Power PhD, Kelly Chandler
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Need a nudge getting started writing those report-card narratives? This six-step plan jump-starts the process and helps you craft comments that are meaningful to both your students and their parents.

Begin with an adjective brainstorm. Create a list of your students' names. Beside each name, jot down one or two adjectives that describe the student as a learner, challenging yourself to avoid repetition. To help you brainstorm, refer to Favorite Words, Phrases for Report-Card Writers. Begin this process two weeks before you start filling in report cards so you have ample time to find just the right descriptors for each student.

  1. Take supporting notes. Once you've completed your list of adjectives, make brief notes during class time that confirm your observations. Virtually any situation an exchange during a workshop, a direct quote from a conference, an indication of growth through a piece of writing could inspire notes. It's more effective to provide parents with concrete, relevant examples of their child's performance than with broad, generic statements.
  2. Use sentence stems. This is an excellent way to get the juices flowing, especially for students who are difficult to describe. The following stems work well:
    • Jessica's best work this quarter was . . .
    • Jonathan has shown improvement in . . .
    • This term I was glad to see Connor . . .
    • Ask Sarah to talk about . . .
    • This term Melissa challenged herself by . . .
  3. Focus on the positive. It's important to emphasize what students do well so that your parents and students can build from those strengths. Areas for improvement can be revealed through other report-card notations, such as grades, conduct codes, or other descriptors. Often, negative adjectives can be reworked to suggest strengths. For example, restless and easily distracted students can be characterized as very energetic. Regardless of how frustrating a student is, a comment space is not the appropriate place for a disciplinary referral. A phone call to or meeting with parents is a better course of action.
  4. Write the easy comments first. You will develop comment-writing skills more quickly if you start with students who are easy to describe. As your confidence grows, you'll probably find that you have more to say about those enigmatic students than you realized.
  5. Ask colleagues for help. Once you've brainstormed some adjectives and incidents, you may want to elicit the support of colleagues in describing challenging students. Music, physical education, and art teachers might have been observing your students for years and could have just the insights you need for that student you're struggling to describe. Instructional aides and student interns may also provide valuable observations about the students with whom they have worked.


This article originally appeared in Instructor, published by Scholastic, and was written by the authors of Well-Chosen Words (Stenhouse, © 1998).

  • Subjects:
    Assessment, New Teacher Resources, Teacher Tips and Strategies

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