ESL Cover Letter Rubric (4)

One form of writing that native English speakers often have to do in order to get a job is to write a cover letter.  It is also possible that this could be an assignment for an ESL class, and as such I was able to find a rubric for a cover letter as an activity in an ESL class, which can be found here.  This rubric has five categories, each with a scale from 1-4, with 1 being the lowest proficiency and 4 being the highest.  The first category is format, which covers the design and layout of the cover letter, including there being an address, the date, the name, as well as an introduction, body paragraphs, closing paragraph, and signature.  The next category is salutation, and in order to achieve 4 points in salutation the student must have put the salutation in the right place, used an appropriate salutation, and properly formatted the addressee’s name, including capitalization and use of the proper title.  The third category is the body of the cover letter, also referred to as the content.  In order to achieve 4 points in the body category, the cover letter must have two body paragraphs that clearly state why the student is the best candidate for the job that they are applying for, as well as a complete description of their experience and education.  The fourth category is the closing and signature category, and states that the student must have a proper closing and signature with proper punctuation in order to achieve the maximum of 4 points.  The last category is the spelling, grammar, and punctuation category, which simply states that the spelling, grammar, and punctuation of the cover letter are mostly correct and do affect the understanding.

I found this rubric very interesting because I believe that a cover letter writing task could be very useful to ESL students, particularly those enrolled in a Business English course.  It is a highly authentic task to be assessed on, and being able to learn the format and structure of a cover letter, which is a requirement for most jobs, could greatly benefit those students who are hoping to work in an English-speaking country.  I would likely use this rubric in such a Business English course; however, I would first want to amend it.  I don’t think it is fair to have a category such as “salutation”, which is a very small part of the overall cover letter, to have the same weight as the category “body/content”, which is the entirety of the body paragraphs, including their content, style, and ideas.  I would want to break down the body/content category into several smaller categories, each one addressing part of the body or content.  For example, there could be one category for style, one category for appropriate word choice, one category for describing experience and education, and one category for explaining why the student is the best candidate for the job.  Previously, all of these topics were under one category.

I would also want to ensure that each category is extremely clear.  As stated in the article “Student-Generated Scoring Rubrics: Examining Their Formative Value for Improving ESL Students’ Writing Performance” by Anthony Becker, analytic rubrics such as this one tend to be more reliable because they they allow the rater to apply one scoring criteria at a time to the assessment.  Reliability is defined by Brown as consistency and dependability across raters and students, and so it is clearly an advantage to utilize a style of assessment that tends to be more reliable.  However, some of the categories in this rubric, especially the body content category, could be seen as vague.  I would want to ensure that all of the categories as well as what is expected of the students were completely clear to everyone involved.  This is also important because, as stated in the article “Rubrics for Assessment: Their Effects on ESL Students’ Authentic Task Performance” by Radhika De Silva, explaining a rubric is important to maximizing a student’s ability on an assessment.


Becker, Anthony. “Student-Generated Scoring Rubrics: Examining Their Formative Value for Improving ESL Students’ Writing Performance.” CATESOL, vol. 22, no. 1, 2011, pp. 113–130., doi:10.1016/j.asw.2016.05.002.

Brown, H. Douglas, and Priyanvada Abeywickrama. Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom Practices. Pearson Education, Inc., 2019.

De Silva, Radhika. “Rubrics for Assessment: Their Effects on ESL Students’ Authentic Task Performance”.  Open University of Sri Lanka, 136-14

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