Canvas Spotlight

Using Rubrics in Canvas

Last updated on May 30, 2024

Tools: Rubrics, Assignments, and Discussions

Have you been putting off creating rubrics for your assignments, either because you don’t like them or don’t know how to create them? Would you be surprised to learn that rubrics not only help your students succeed, but they can also make your own grading process easier?

Rubrics provide a clearly defined set of criteria that serve as a basis for assessing student assignments and discussions. Using rubrics enables you, as an instructor, to give your students a clear outline of your expectations. Beyond this, they really do give your students the best chance of completing their assignments successfully because they know right up front what the assignment priorities are and can use the rubric as a guide to completing the assignment.

Rubrics help you as well. They can decrease the overall amount of time you spend grading and clarify your goals and expectations for a given discussion or assignment. Because they are essentially a to-do list of priorities and requirements, rubrics make it easier for you to grade impartially and consistently, and they present a clear relationship between a student’s work and the grade they receive. In other words, it makes grading straightforward and easy.

Tips for Writing Rubrics

Rubrics can be applied to subjective assignments and discussions just as effectively as they can for objective assignments and discussions. For example, in a reflective discussion in which you want to encourage the students to express themselves creatively, you may use rubrics to define expectations for spelling, grammar, or structure instead of content. 

Sometimes you can develop a rubric that is easily applied to multiple assignments or discussions to save time. For example, your discussion rubric may include criteria such as “use socratic questioning” or “respond to at least two classmates” or “does not use ‘me too’ or ‘I agree’” responses.”

If you prefer to leave the content of a given assignment or discussion completely up to the student, in an essay, for example, you may choose to use the rubric to clarify your expectations of their technical writing skills, the structure of their paper, or the number of required citations.

Finally, Rubrics work better for some assignments than others. For example, if you are using a third-party tool, such as or some integrated publisher-provided assessment tools, rubrics work differently (or sometimes not at all) and may be less effective.

Checklist for Creating Rubrics

Here is a helpful checklist to consider when creating a rubric:

  • Performance Levels (Columns)
    • There are three to five performance levels.
    • The labels/descriptions of the performance levels are distinct, clear, and meaningful.
  • Performance Criteria (Rows)
    • There are three or more performance criteria.
    • The labels/ descriptions of the performance criteria are distinct, clear, and meaningful.
  • Performance Level Descriptors (Cells)
    • The descriptors describe differences in performance that are observable and measurable.
    • The descriptors clearly articulate what the expectations are for each performance level for a given criterion.
    • For a given row, the descriptors evaluate the same criterion across all performance levels.
    • The descriptors represent meaningful differences in performance across the performance levels for a given criterion.

Best Practices

  • Consider what learning objectives the activity measures when you are developing your rubrics.
  • Build Rubrics in the Rubrics section of Canvas and attach to your discussion or assignment rather than typing them in the text of the assignments. This lets you use the rubric to grade directly from SpeedGrader.
  • Create more than three rating categories to avoid the “catch-all” middle category and to make criteria more clear and specific.
  • Provide clear evidence for each criterion and rating that relates to the skills, knowledge, or behaviors measured by the activity.

Let’s walk through it together

Create a Rubric

  1. Go to MSU Denver’s Faculty and Staff Hub.
  2. Click Canvas in the Teaching & Learning section.
  3. Log in to your Canvas Account.
  4. Select the Course you’d like to work in.
  5. Click Rubrics on the course navigation menu to the left.
  6. Click + Add Rubric.
    • Note: If you have existing rubrics, + Add Rubric will be located at the bottom of the current rubrics.
  7. Type the Title of the rubric in the Title Box.
  8. Click Edit (pencil icon) in the first box under Criteria to edit when the Edit Criterion window appears.
  9. Type the Title of the criteria in the Description Box.
  10. (optional) Type the description of the Criteria in the long description box.
    • Note: Students will see both boxes. The long description is optional as the detailed description will also be a part of the rating descriptions explained below.
  11. Click the Update Criterion Button.
  12. Check the Range Box if your criteria ratings include a range of numbers.
  13. Click the Blue + Icon between boxes under Ratings to create more rating levels as needed.
  14. Click Edit (pencil icon) in the boxes under Ratings to change the following:
    • Rating Score: The number of points assigned to that criterion.
    • Rating Title: The descriptive qualifier for those points (Full Marks, Acceptable, etc.).
    • Rating Description: The description of how to meet this rating level on that specific criterion (i.e., Full Marks [top-rating] on a criterion for grammar would state something similar to “there are no grammatical errors in the paper”). 
  15. Click the Update Rating Button.
  16. Repeat Steps 12-15 for each rating level.
  17. Type the Total Points for the criteria in the pts box under Pts.
    • Note: This will automatically adjust the points distribution within the Ratings boxes.
  18. Click + Criterion to create more criteria as necessary.
    • Select one of the Following Options from the Drop-Down Menu:
      • New Criterion: Create an entirely new criterion.
      • Duplicate: Choose a criterion to duplicate (this will also duplicate ratings, which will make it easy to simply update descriptions for criteria that are scored similarly).
    • Follow Steps 8-15 to create/update the criterion and ratings.
  19. Click the Create Rubric Button once you have finished adding criteria, ratings, and points.

Note: If you would like to write freeform comments in place of a criteria rating system, you will be able to determine that when adding the rubric to an assessment item.

Attach a Rubric to an Assignment

  1. Go to MSU Denver’s Faculty and Staff Hub.
  2. Click Canvas in the Teaching & Learning section.
  3. Log in to your Canvas Account.
  4. Select the Course you’d like to work in.
  5. Click Modules on the course navigation menu to the left.
  6. Scroll to the Assignment within the Module you’d like to edit.
  7. Click the Name of the assignment.
  8. Click the + Rubric button.
    • Note: These steps assume the rubric has already been created. To create a new rubric, follow the steps above or visit the “Create a Rubric in Canvas” tutorial.
  9. Click Find a Rubric. The Find Existing Rubric window will appear.
  10. Click the appropriate Course on the left side of the window.
  11. Click on the desired Rubric Title in the middle column. The rubric will be displayed in the right portion of the window.
  12. Click Use This Rubric, located below the rubric display.

Attach a Rubric to a Discussion

  1. Go to MSU Denver’s Faculty and Staff Hub.
  2. Click Canvas in the Teaching & Learning section.
  3. Log in to your Canvas Account.
  4. Select the Course you’d like to work in.
  5. Click Modules on the course navigation menu to the left.
  6. Scroll to the Module with the discussion you’d like to attach a rubric to.
  7. Click on Discussion Title.
  8. Click the More Options Menu (three vertical dots) to the right of the Published and Edit buttons.
  9. Select Add Rubric from the drop-down menu. The Assignment Rubric Details window appears.
  10. Click Find a Rubric. The Find Existing Rubric window appears.
  11. Click on the Title of the desired rubric.
  12. Close Window.