Guide for preparing a strong writing assignment

As opposed to informal or exploratory writing often undertaken to informally investigate ideas, practice concepts, work through problems and/or reflect on processes, formal writing projects require sustained effort, multiple drafts and some sort of finished prose. In order to engage students in learning experiences commensurate with the goals of your course, writing assignments must be developed carefully and thoughtfully. The following guide for creating strong writing assignments has been adapted from Chapter 5 of Bean’s Engaging Ideas:

  • Before you create an assignment, consider the kind of writing you want students to produce. What do you want them to accomplish through this writing project? Do you want them to learn course material through writing, to write to demonstrate knowledge of course material, to practice or demonstrate writing conventions in your discipline? How does the assignment support the learning goals central to your course?
  • Consider what thinking and writing processes you want students to undertake. How will your assignment create a rhetorical situation—audience, purpose, context, role of student writer, format or genre, and other parameters to guide students as they write?
  • How might you design and sequence steps to move students through the process of the assignment and what kinds of informal writing assignments or activities will you use to support students as they work?
  • Now that you’ve thought about the purpose and scope of the writing assignment, create a written document for students describing what you want them to do. A strong writing assignment handout includes the following:
    • Task: What issue, question, or problem will students address in their writing? What is the purpose of the writing? In what form/genre should it be presented? What are the formatting requirements for this writing task?
    • Audience: Who is the audience for students’ writing? You, the teacher? Their peers? Specialists in the field? A nonspecialist, general audience?
    • Support for Writing: What support will students have as they write? Will you provide feedback on drafts? Will they read each other’s drafts? Will they be able to revise? Will you hold individual conferences? Will they complete any writing activities in class? (See Writing Activities for Students.)
    • Criteria: Explain the learning goals of the assignment and on what basis it will be evaluated.
  • Make time in class to distribute and discuss your assignment. If possible, provide a model or models of what a finished product might look like.

For more information and examples visit: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/wassign/index.cfm

Questions for revising your writing assignment

  1. Is the assignment clear? Might a student misread the assignment and produce something not anticipated? Is its purpose clear? Will a student see how it fits into course goals?
  2. Does the assignment seem interesting and challenging? From a student’s perspective, how difficult is this assignment? How much time will it require?
  3. What kinds of students would this assignment particularly appeal to? What kinds of students might not like this assignment?
  4. Does the assignment specify or imply a suitable audience? Are the grading criteria clear?
  5. Are the mechanics of the assignment clear (due dates, expected length, manuscript form, other particulars)?
  6. Is the process I want students to follow as explicit as possible? Should I build checkpoints into the assignment (submission of a prospectus, abstract, peer review dates, and so forth)?
  7. How easy or difficult will this assignment be to grade?

Source: John Bean, Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Examples of Strong Writing Assignments

Example #1
Course: English 151 Writing: Rhetoric as Argument
Source: Chris Gallagher, Writing Teachers’ Sourcebook, 2007
Example 1 Word Document

Example #2
Course: General Science Course
Source: John C. Bean Engaging Ideas (p.91)
Example 2 Word Document