Designing Assignments


Equip the student

  • review elements of research paper including outlining, footnotes, bibliographic format
  • provide citation standards and example
  • discuss importance of academic integrity and citing sources
  • make sure students know how to find legitimate material using databases and academic journals
  • arrange for a librarian to conduct a class session on library resources
  • make sure there is appropriate material available for topics
  • provide class time for research in library and assign specific task to be completed
  • explain what skills the students gain by doing the assignment

Equip Yourself

  • use a new set of topics for each new class
  • use very, very current topics
  • place useful items on reserve
  • keep a writing portfolio of each student's past written assignments for comparison
  • at beginning of term have students write one page in class to get evidence of writing level for future
  • plan to have several short papers during semester
  • do not allow students to change topics at the last minute

Make the assignment clear

  • use unambiguous wording
  • assign narrowly focused topics
  • be specific about your expectations — length, type of sources, currency, style, scope

Divide assignment into sections

  • periodically check specific parts of the paper or have specific parts due throughout term — title or statement of focus, thesis statement, preliminary summary, outline, note cards, first draft, draft of bibliography
  • structure assignment as a series of steps — abstract, bibliography, draft
  • require bibliography a week before paper is due to check for anomalies

Require interaction and feedback

  • have students defend their ideas via question period
  • have students present their papers orally in class
  • ask for examples of the students' own personal experiences relating to the topic
  • ask students to include a response to ideas developed in class discussions
  • have each student obtain written feedback from at least two other students
  • have students summarize or abstract main points of paper after it is handed in
  • have students write about the research process
  • have students write one or more drafts in class

Require Elements

  • ask for copies of cited or footnoted articles
  • require a certain type of source material (journal) as well as require recent publication date
  • have students create a 'person-noting' page acknowledging all persons who provided any type of assistance on their project
  • require one or more specific sources that must be integrated
  • require an annotated bibliography with one or two sentences describing the item
  • require an integrity statement attached to the term paper
  • use downloadable papers to demonstrate examples of poor writing

Non traditional formats

  •  ask for three possible openings to a paper
  • ask for a multimedia presentation rather than straight term paper
  • ask for a web page rather than term papers
  • require comparison of two viewpoints or documents on same issue
  • ask for a diary based on an historical event
  • have student adopt the point of view of an historical character
  • interview leading figures of the time
  • develop a flowchart of an historical movement
  • emphasize essential questions (A Questioning Toolkit)

Further resources on designing assignments