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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Designing Assignments

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Designing Assignments

This is the area that teachers new to "WI" courses, or instructors experienced at "WI" courses but confronted with a new "WI" course prep, ought to be most attentive to. There are a number of wonderful and no-nonsense web sites that address assignment design.

Creating Effective Assignments

The keys to effective assignments include

  • purpose—Identify your goals for the course and attach your assignments directly to them.
  • communication—Beyond articulating those goals and building everything you want students to do around them, make everything you want students to do for you transparent. Clearly describe to students the purpose of the assignment, the intended audience, the writer's role, the expected genre/form of the assignment, and the grading criteria. When in doubt, print out and distribute all of your student assignments, spend a little time confirming that your students know what you expect and what they need to attend to.
  • support—Help students through the assignment by using staged in-class activities, modeling required thinking and research processes, and conducting periodic classroom assessments during the process. If at all possible, show students what a good result for your assignment looks like. Most of them, like the person who is writing this, are visual learners. You may be surprised at what you'll gain by taking this extra step.
  • feedback—Provide in-process feedback from peers and/or from you to help students refine, focus, and revise.
  • sequencing—Increase standards or complexity from one assignment to the next, so that students build on past achievements as they confront new writing and thinking challenges.

The web addresses below speak directly to these issues, and more. You'll find them immediately useful.

Selected Websites

Integrating writing into your course

This Effective Assignments section on the UW-Madison Writing-Across-the-Curriculum (WAC) site is a little gem. It provides lots of different approaches to thinking about your assignments, some examples, and even some advice on why writing is difficult in college. It cuts through the jargon and will help you keep in touch with what you intend to accomplish in your course and what your student audience needs.

Creating clear assignments (GMU)

More common sense from George Mason University. "Creating Clear Assignments" is part of the Teaching Writing section of their WAC site. GMU's advice is completely student-centered. All assignments must be built with attention toward

  • purpose—what the instructor wants the student to DO with the assignment.
  • audience—who the student should direct the assignment toward, and how much that audience knows.
  • process—whether the assignment is meant to done in one draft or several staged drafts.

Additionally, this page shows the importance of identifying the key operations you want your students to perform on your assignments ("analyze"; "evaluate"; "assess"; "explain"; "interpret"; etc.) and the need to define these operations for them.

Designing effective writing assignments (UMUC)

Designing Effective Writing Assignments is connected to the Faculty Resources section of the University of Maryland University College's Effective Writing site. The homepage confronts the writing instructor—experienced or not—with a series of staged questions, the answers to which will lead to the construction of effective assignments. Follow the links connected with each question to access information that will help you consider the question from several angles:

Creating writing assignments (MIT)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's site to help faculty create good writing assignments packs a lot of information in a checklist format that is easy to read through quickly or to browse at your leisure. The major sections address

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