1. Consider your teaching goals of the assignment & entire
course as the first step to designing assignments. Consider
main units/modules, learning objectives, thinking skills required, most
difficult aspects, change in student habits, & making a difference
in their lives.
Some Teaching Goals
(from Marty Patton @ http://www.missouri.edu/~pattonmd//assgdesign.html)
- Explore (Write-to-Learn) - Privileges discovery over organization
or communication. Might be thesis-seeking, rather than thesis-supporting.
Might call for reflection or reader-response. Sometimes exploratory
writing is used as "pre-writing" for more formal assignments.
- Focus on Thesis - Presents
a proposition (a focused thesis, not a topic) that students are supposed
to defend or refute. Encourages students to use explicitly-stated criteria
in coming to a measured conclusion.
- Solve Problem - Gives
students a problem or question (not a topic) that demands a thesis
answer and supporting evidence.
- Utilize Data - Presents
students with a data set or graph and asks them to discover a thesis or
general statement that gives meaning to it. For science courses, these
essays offer practice in inductive reasoning.
- Apply Theory - Presents
a theory, model, aesthetic movement, or philosophy (not just a topic).
Then asks students to use the defining features of the theory to analyze
another text, work of fiction, or data set.
- Write in Disciplinary Format - The principles of a given format are usually
tied closely to the purpose and audience for the paper. One format
might be prescribed or several formats might be described. In the latter
case, the formats may function as a heuristic for students to rethink
a given problem through different lenses (different purposes, different
2. Communicate expectations clearly. Formal
assignments should usually include the following elements.
§ Task - Explain what the student is supposed to write
about, often presented as a problem/question to address, a thesis to support,
or a mode or form to follow.
§ Role & Audience - To place students in a "natural" rhetorical position,
ask them to address an audience who knows less about the topic or whose
§ Format - Specify length, manuscript form & other organizational
§ Expectations about the process to be followed - Specify
time schedule for drafts & revisions. [NOTE: To encourage students
to follow the recommended process & effectively discourage plagiarism,
ask students to submit all doodles, notes, outlines & drafts with the
§ Criteria for evaluation - Explain how the final product will be graded-holistically
3. Use handouts to explain the assignment. Putting assignments on handouts has several advantages:
- It meets the needs of 'sensing' or 'concrete' learners
- It gives all students a
- It assists WC tutors in
focusing their sessions;
- It helps the instructor
to identify problems with assignment & to clarify its purpose & focus
(Be sure to leave time for questions.)
4. Make the assignment concise. Don't overload with confusing language.
5. Consider class size